Preview to War In the Atlantic

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, the United States government chose to remain neutral in the war raging in Europe.  Groups of German U-Boat submarines were patrolling the Atlantic in what the British sailors called "Wolfpacks."  These underwater menaces were a threat to the lives of any person or ship caught on the high seas.  For the first two years of the war, American ships carrying badly needed war supplies to England had managed to escape the deadly torpedoes of the German U-Boats, killers  in the sea.

September 4, 1941 was two years and two days after the English government declared war on the Fascist government of Adolph Hitler and more than three months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. On that day, the United States Navy found itself involved in an incident, which came to be known as the "Greer Incident."  The name came from the naval destroyer involved in the incident, which would begin the process of propelling the United States into a war with Germany.

The U.S.S. Greer, a destroyer which had been launched during World War I and decommissioned in 1922, was back in action in 1930.  When the winds of war were blowing across Europe in October 1939, the ship was re-commissioned and assigned to duty in the Neutrality Patrol in the North Atlantic in February 1940.  During the next twenty months, the destroyer patrolled the waters of the Caribbean during the winter. The Greer joined the American ships in the North Atlantic in 1941.  These ships patrolled the waters around Reykjavik, Iceland and Argentia, Newfoundland.  The commanders had explicit orders not to attack any German submarines.  German attacks on British shipping began to accelerate.  War was inevitable.

On the morning of September 4, 1939 at 0840 hours, the Greer received a signal from a British plane which was flying overhead southeast of Greenland.  The pilot signaled the destroyer, which was on a mail and passenger run to Argentia, that a U-boat had just crash-dived ten miles dead ahead.  The Greer's sonar crew picked up the echoes of killer sub.  The Captain ordered the helmsmen to follow the course of the U-boat.  The plane dropped four depth charges and returned to its base.  The Greer kept up the chase.    The submarine began a series of evasive moves before firing a torpedo at the American vessel about forty eight minutes after noon.  The Captain ordered a hard left.  The torpedo missed by some one hundred yards.  The destroyer attacked, firing a pattern of eight depth charges, and barely avoided a second torpedo by three hundred yards.

After losing contact with the submarine, the Greer's men desperately looked for any sign of the U-boat.  About mid-afternoon when contact was reestablished, more depth charges were sent toward the German ship. The U-boat slithered away from its only deadly enemy, the destroyer.  The incident was the first involving United States and German vessels.    The "Greer Incident" prompted President Franklin D. Roosevelt to hold another of his famous "fireside chats."  Roosevelt told the hundreds of thousands of radio listeners  that war with Germany was coming. He declared that the German U-boat’s acts in the North Atlantic amounted to piracy.  Roosevelt amended the orders not to shoot first, giving the naval commanders the right to "strike the deadly blow first."   The President told the American people, who listened to every one of his words, "From now on,  if German or Italian vessels enter the waters the protection of which is necessary for American defense, they do so at their own peril."   Roosevelt's ire had clearly been raised.  He cited one incident after another of German attacks on merchant vessels, some of which were flying under the American flag.  The incident with the U.S.S. Greer  was different.  This time it was a ship of the American Navy.  The acts of the German U-boat were tantamount to acts of war.  Although there was no official declaration of war, the United States had unofficially begun its entry into World War II.    Calls for the repeal of the Neutrality Act rang out.

Six weeks later on October 17, 1941, the U.S.S. Kearney was torpedoed by a U-Boat.  Eleven of her crew were killed.  Roosevelt was livid, declaring that all of America had been attacked.  German submarines paid no attention to Roosevelt's warnings.  Two weeks later on Halloween, the U.S.S. Reuben James, was sunk of the coast of Halifax.  One hundred and fifteen souls perished in the icy waters of the North Atlantic.  War was just around the corner.  The Greer remained on patrol duty in the Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas as well as in the Atlantic Ocean for the remainder of the war.  The ship was decommissioned two and one half weeks before the end of the War.

The U.S.S. Greer was the first American ship in World War II to fire upon a German vessel. The incident accelerated American's entrance into the war.  It was a time when we knew war was coming.  We just did not know exactly when.  The incident was reported in national news reports and in the Courier Herald.

What the folks in Dublin did not know was that one of their own was on board the Greer on that fateful day.  Elbert “Dink” Brunson, Jr. of Dublin, an 18-year-old graduate of Dublin High School the year before, was serving in the United States Navy and was stationed onboard the Greer when she was attacked the German navy.  Brunson, a former Dublin Green Hurricane running back,  transferred to the Pacific for duty aboard an aircraft carrier.

As soon as “Dink” was able to return and tell his family of the event, he wrote in a letter to his grandparents,   “It was plenty of exciting!”   The teenager was anxious to get into the war.  He proclaimed, “ We are going to give this bunch of yellow dogs and thick-headed Germans plenty of h--ll!”

What the folks in Dublin did know was that Elbert Brunson was not the only Elbert Brunson serving in the United States Navy.   For you see, the Elbert Brunson, Jr., who was aboard the U.S.S. Greer and later promoted to First Class Petty Officer, was the son of Chief Petty Officer, Elbert Brunson, Sr., making the pair one of the few father- son tandems of petty officers in the entire U.S. Navy.

Elbert  Brunson, Jr.  was awarded the Purple Heart in 1943. Brunson was wounded again - though no details of the degree of his wounds were ever published.   He returned to Dublin after the war to serve briefly as a recruiting officer here.  He remained in the Navy for several years before his retirement.

Elbert “Dink Brinson, Jr., died on March 2, 1982 and was buried in Northview Cemetery in Dublin.  He never forgot those days, 75 years ago this week, when he had an up close and personal view of the time that first American naval ship fired upon the German navy.