USS Slater Header

 

Christening

Frank O. Slater The USS SLATER is named for Frank Olga Slater, born in Fyffe, Alabama, on 19 December 1920. Slater, one of twelve children born to a sharecropping family in Kennamer Cove Valley, enlisted in the United States Naval Reserve on 23 February 1942. Upon completion of basic training, Seaman 2/c Slater was transferred to the Receiving Station, Pearl Harbor, for reassignment. He served in the USS SAN FRANCISCO CA38 from 4 April 1942 to 12 November 1942, the day he was killed in action when a Japanese bomber crashed into his battle station. The men at his gun continued to fire right up to the moment of impact. Slater was buried at sea but his sacrifice was immortalized with the christening of the USS SLATER in 1944. Frank Slater was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for gallantry in action.

To read the full story of the attack on the USS SAN FRANCISCO CA38, click here.

Navy Cross Citation

Grave marker for Frank Slater"For extraordinary heroism as a gunner aboard the USS SAN FRANCISCO during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands area on November 12 and 13, 1942. Courageously refusing to abandon his gun in the face of an onrushing Japanese torpedo plane, SLATER, with cool determination and utter disregard for his own personal safety, kept blazing away until the hostile craft plunged out of the sky in a flaming dive and crashed on his station. His grim perseverance and relentless devotion to duty in the face of certain death were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave up his life in the defense of his country. "



The marker on the left is at Arlington National Cemetery.



Period newspapers accounts describe the christening of the USS SLATER

From a DeKalb County, Alabama newspaper - ca. 1943.

In Memory of Our Dear Brother and Son, Frank Slater

Frank SlaterFrank was killed at the awful battle at Guadalcanal which was fought November 9th, 10th and 12th, 1942. We don't know just which one of these days he was killed. He was on the USS San Francisco, the ship which led the way into the Jap fleet. It is being decorated for being the hero of the battle, but that doesn't do the dear dead boys any good. Frank leaves to mourn his passing his parents Mr. and Mrs. J. L. Slater, three sisters, Mrs. Lucille Walls, Misses Dorothy and Marie Slater, six brothers, J.D., A.R., Thomas, Elam, Charles and Paul, all of Fyffe. Frank would have been 22 years old the 19th day of December, 1944. He joined the Navy in February, 1942 and never did get a leave to come home. Oh! how we would have liked to have seen him in his uniform.

Mrs. Ice Brown, Fort Payne, Route 3, composed the following poem about Frank:

About a year ago Frank joined the boys all
      dress in blue.
It wasn't long until he went to a place he
       never knew.
It was upon the water, fighting on the
       briney deep,
That Frank went down in horror and left his
       folks to weep.
He died like others that we might be free to
       serve God any place;
Oh how thankful now are we for God's
       redeeming grace.
Frank loved his people, as you and I, they
       dearly loved him, too,
And to the family one and all, my sympathy
       is for you.
No one can realize or know until this comes
       into our homes –
Let's all humble down and ask God to keep
       America's darling sons.
He can save them on the waters just the
       same as on the land;
We know it's in His power if we will trust
       His guiding hand.
We can't put any flowers upon Frank's
       watery grave,
But we can trust God's power our darling
       boy to save.
Now Father, Mother, and all of you draw
       near to God each day,
And maybe God will reunite us in a
       heavenly place some day.


- His sister-in-law, Mrs. Una (Willkie) Slater



From a DeKalb County, Alabama newspaper - ca. 1943.

He Died Hero's Death, So Vessel To Bear Name Of Frank O. Slater

Tenant Farmer Wife Will Christen Ship; She's Never Seen Sea

Mrs. SlaterFYFFE, Ala. – Because somewhere in the Solomons a DeKalb County boy kept pouring bullets into a Japanese plane until it crashed, flaming, into his station, his mother will be sponsor at the christening of a destroyer escort vessel to be named for that boy.

She is Mrs. James L. Slater, wife of a tenant farmer of Fyffe, and her son was Frank O. Slater, seaman second class, U.S. Naval Reserve, who lost his life aboard the cruiser San Francisco in a battle near the Solomon Islands, Nov. 12, 1942.

After a lifetime on the farm, Mrs. Slater has never seen a ship nor the sea, but she shows no timidness in the face of the event which will focus the attention of thousands upon her.

"Naming a ship after Frank doesn't take the sorrow away," she said, "but it makes me so proud of him that I will be able to stand up and smile as I christen that ship."

Born in McMinn County, Tenn., and married at 14, Mrs. Slater, the former Ms. Nora Morgan, is now 45. Mr. and Mrs. Slater are the parents of 11 children, nine of whom are still living. One son, Thomas, 20, is in the Army overseas.

Navy CrossThe Navy Cross, which Mrs. Slater has pinned on the pocket of Frank's uniform, was presented in the name of the President of the United States and accompanied by a citation from Secretary of the Navy Knox.

Mrs, Slater has this citation framed. She is proud of it and of a letter she received from the young Comdr. Bruce McCandless, who brought the San Francisco into port after all of his superior officers had been killed.

Comdr. McCandless wrote in part:
"I know how poor must seem any words of ours in trying to console you for the loss of your son, but he and his comrades, who died that others might live and his ship might be saved, have our undying admiration and respect. If ever a person died like a man, your son, Frank, did."

This being the greatest known honor to come to DeKalb County, the three county papers, The DeKalb Times, The Fort Payne Journal and The Collinsville New Era are soliciting funds to defray the expenses of Mr. and Mrs. Slater and their nine children to the scene of the launching.

The Slaters have been sharecroppers or "worked the halves" until recently. They now own their stock and farm implements, but they do not have sufficient funds to make the trip. "Even if they did," a DeKalb County citizen said, "we wouldn't let them pay their expenses. We are too proud of them."

Mrs. Slater said that she had made some dresses to wear to the launching and her husband said, "I'm getting ready. I've bought my first suit of clothes in 27 years."

As is the custom when visitors come to a farm home in warm weather, Mrs. Slater went to the well and drew a bucket of water and offered her guests a drink from the dipper. She pointed to the well and said, "Frank helped dig this well. See," she said, "there is where he wrote the date it was finished in the wet cement."

In Frank's writing in the sand was "November 13, 1939," which was exactly three years before he was buried at sea in the Pacific.

When she learned that some ships have been christened with water, she expressed a hope that the christening committee would permit her to use water from the well Frank dug to christen the Frank O. Slater.

When Frank O. Slater joined the Navy in Birmingham Feb. 20, 1942, he was 20 years of age. A few months later this Sand Mountain farm boy, who never went to high school, brought honor to Sand Mountain, to DeKalb County, to Alabama and to America. He died like a man.



Tampa Tribune, 20 February 1944

14 Members of Hero's Family Will Help Launch Ship in Tampa Today

Launch of USS SLATERWhen Mrs. James L. Slater, of Crossville, Ala., christens the USS Frank O. Slater this afternoon at the Tampa Shipbuilding company yard, the big destroyer escort will take with it the blessings of its sponsor, her husband and their six sons, three daughters, one son-in-law, two daughters-in-law and six grandchildren.

Fourteen members of the family, plus three men – neighbors who drove them down in three different automobiles, will witness the launching of the ship, named after Mr. and Mrs. Slater's son, Seaman Frank O. Slater.

Seaman Slater was 21 years old when he was killed in action Nov. 12, 1942, aboard the cruiser San Francisco in the flaming wreckage of a Jap torpedo plane riddled by the bullets of his machinegun.

More at Home

"My daughter, Lucille, left her husband and four of her children at home and brought only her three-months old baby, Frankie Ruth, with her," Mrs. Slater said yesterday. "Tom couldn't come, of course, because he's in North Africa. Has been overseas a year today."

Thomas SlaterPvt. Thomas Slater, 20, an M.P. in the army, wrote his parents he'd give his right arm to see the christening and told them to walk from Alabama to Florida for the launching, if they had to.

"That wasn't necessary, though we would have done it, for the folks at home saw to it that we got here – all of us – in comfortable style," said Mrs. Slater.

"Three county papers made up the money to bring us. Since there were so many of us and travel being so crowded and expensive, the county ration board gave us enough gasoline for the three cars. Then three old friends, our neighbors when we were tenant farmers at Fyffe, not far from Crossville, drove us down."

Her Longest Trip

Dressed in light blue, tailored suit, with navy accessories, Mrs. Slater told about their trip down to Tampa, her first visit to Florida and the farthest she's ever been from Alabama, the state where she was raised:

"We started early yesterday morning – got away about 7 – and drove until 8:30. Everything went well except when two of the cars stopped one time and the third didn't see us and went on up in front.

"I was pretty worried, but figured that was what happened. We finally caught up with them. Then about 8:30 the little ones got tired and we stopped for the night just up above the Georgia-Florida line.

"When I woke up this morning, the first thing I thought of was fixing my breakfast and making the beds. Then I realized I was on a vacation. We're just country folk, you know, and used to working every day."

Navy Meets Caravan

The Slater caravan arrived here yesterday afternoon and was met by a navy official who escorted it to the Edgewater hotel, where 17 reservations had been made.

Slater Family at ChristeningOut of the three automobiles piled Mr. and Mrs. Slater, a son, J.D. Slater, 28, his wife, Verlin, and their four-year-old daughter, Peggie Ann; a second son, A.R. Slater, 26, and his wife, Una; a third son, Elam Slater, 18, who will enter the navy Friday; a fourth son, Charles Slater, 8; a fifth son, Paul Slater, 6; the eldest, a daughter, Mrs. Lucille Walls, and her baby; two other daughters, Dot Slater, 15, and Marie Slater, 11, and the three men drivers. The registration desk was swamped.

Working hard and having 12 children (one died in infancy) seems to have agreed with the Slaters. They haven't had earthly wealth, but they've had the good earth itself, health and their own happiness. Frank's death, that of a hero, has been their great sorrow.

"My daughter, who has 5 children, has asked me many times how I could have more than twice as many and still keep my senses," the mother laughed, then said soberly, "I've even taken Frank's death as best I could."

"He was the grandest boy and everyone loved him. Never had to get a doctor for him.

Kept Shooting

Frank Slater"It was like him, as his sailor buddy told us, to stick to his station when he might have run to save his own life. He just kept shooting until the plane crashed down upon him.

"He enlisted in the navy Feb. 23, 1942, just a short time after Pearl Harbor. I never did see him after he left, nor have I seen Tom since the day he went off to camp.

"Frank was my boy, even more than the others – mostly because he favored me and my side, while the others resemble their father and his family.

"I was proud of him, too. Now I have his navy cross and the citation he won when the San Francisco and its crew were cited."

The Slaters live on a farm, near Crossville, which they're buying with the service insurance money left by Frank. It's the first time they've owned a place of their own. There they raise cotton and corn and livestock.

Following His Wish

"I'll never feel quite right about it, having something that cost my son's life," said Mrs. Slater, "but his buddy told us that would have been Frank's wish and I knew it, too. I'm going to devote the rest of my life to making it as he would have wished."

The navy department notified Mrs. Slater of the new ship-to-be last summer. When she read the notification, she was a little stunned at the words "the name Slater will be added to a ship." For just a moment she thought he had been found alive, then realized its meaning.

"I was thrilled," she exclaimed, "as I am now. Tomorrow I will hold my head high and stand by my post, as he did. Then I'll follow the Frank O. Slater's fortunes as I did those of Frank himself and pray his ship comes through this war."



From a DeKalb County, Alabama newspaper - ca. 1944.

Mrs. Slater Writes of Trip To Tampa To Launch Ship

Crossville, Ala., Route 1.

Dear Editor and Staff:

We wish to thank you and the people of DeKalb County for sponsoring our trip to see the grand launching of the USS Slater. I believe God will reward each of you. We thank each and every one of you.

I will try and tell as much as I can of our trip there and back. We left Fyffe Friday, February 11, at 7 a.m. and drove till 8:30 that night. We stopped at a nice tourist camp in Valdosta, Ga., and spent the night not far from the Georgia and Florida line. We left there about 6 Saturday morning and drove till about 1 p.m. We reached Sulphur Springs, Fla., and called Mary Robertson, Ensign USNR. She led the way to our hotel the Red Cross had reserved for us. It was a nice clean place. On Sunday morning, Feb. 13, Mary Robertson called for the family at the hotel in a Navy coach and took us to the Gulf, where a dinner was sponsored for the Slater family. They served turkey, French fried potatoes, cranberry sauce; too many things to mention. After we had dinner we were driven back to our hotel by a new street that crossed a bridge 7 miles long. The children waded in the ocean and we saw our first jelly fish. After we got back to the hotel we had 45 minutes to get dressed and get to the shipyard for launching.

Mrs. Slater Christening ShipIt was the greatest experience of our lives. It was almost like going to Frank's funeral. The destroyer sure is a beauty, so large. The USS Earl K. Olsen was launched at 4, and the USS Slater at 5.

There will be two days in our lives we will always remember. I was presented with a beautiful cedar chest with a brass plate with the USS Slater and Mrs. James L. Slater engraved on it. Also a beautiful silver punch bowl and tray with the same engraving on it. I also received the broken bottle in the chest; the one I used to launch the ship. I am giving each of the county papers a piece of the bottle as a souvenir. The ship builder gave us a grand supper. His wife, two waves, Mary Robertson and Mr. Hicks ate with us. I met so many people I can't remember their names. The Wave, Mary Robertson, was wonderful to us.

Launch of the USS SLATERWe made the trip there and back with only one puncture on the way back. We drove almost a hundred miles in one of the worst rain storms I have ever seen but had such good luck.

I would like to have had all the Editors and staffs of DeKalb County papers, and everybody else to have seen the USS Slater slide into the water. She is a grand ship.





From a DeKalb County, Alabama newspaper - ca. 1943.

Slater Enters Navy

Elam SlaterBirmingham Ala. – Elam Slater, 18, brother of Frank O. Slater, for whom the destroyer escort, USS Slater was named, was inducted into the Navy here Saturday, Lt. C. S. Carroll, Officer in Charge of Navy Recruiting and Induction, announced.

Young Slater said that he is eager to serve aboard the ship bearing his brother's name, and that he will apply for duty aboard that ship as soon as he completes the recruiting training.

With 13 other members of his family, Elam stood last Sunday in the shipyards at Tampa, Fla., and watched his mother, Mrs. James L. Slater, christen the USS Slater with a bottle of champagne.

Frank O. Slater, a seaman, remained at his post aboard the USS San Francisco in the face of sudden death and continued to fire at a Japanese plane until the plane fell burning on his gun station and killed him. For his heroism he was awarded the Navy Cross posthumously and the Navy named a ship in his honor.

The Slaters, formerly of Fyffe, live now at Crossville.

Back to top