During the first months of World War II in the Pacific, the North Hampton heavy cruiser USS Houston was erroneously reported sunk on several occasions, earning her the nickname the Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast.
The nickname has been long-lived, but the Houston was lost in the early morning hours of March 1, 1942, less than three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Houston, along with the H.M.A.S. Perth of the Royal Australian Navy, were sunk during a prolonged engagement with the Imperial Japanese Navy at the Battle of Sundra Strait.
Of the 1,060-man crew of the Houston, Merritt Eddy was one of 368 survivors captured and interned by the Japanese for the remainder of the war. A month after Japan's announcement of surrender on Aug. 14, 1945, Eddy return home, married fellow Navy veteran Maxine Weaver, and continued his Navy service, retiring in 1956. Though a recipient of multiple service medals throughout his career, the Navy did not recognize Eddy's 3½ years of captivity during World War II.
Over 30 years following Eddy's retirement and three years after his death in 1986, his daughter, Sandy Swanson, discovered paperwork her mother had completed requesting the Navy recognize Eddy's captivity by awarding him with a Prisoner of War (POW) Medal. Swanson submitted the paperwork and waited. The reply from the Department of the Navy stated that her request had been “forwarded.”
In 1994, Swanson's son Justin independently requested that the Department of the Navy investigate his father's eligibility for the POW Medal, but was told that a fire at the records center in St. Louis had destroyed Eddy's service records.
Sandy Swanson continued her efforts on her father's behalf through 2013, each time receiving the same familiar reply from the Department of the Navy: “request forwarded.” After working for over two decades to have her father's captivity recognized, she decided to use a bigger hammer, contacting U.S. Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado's 4th Congressional District in February 2015.
Molly Ford, Weld County area representative of Buck's office, inquired with the Navy on behalf of Swanson, and by the end of the spring, the Department of the Navy sent Buck's office a notification of the award and Eddy's Prisoner of War Medal.
On Aug. 27, just a few days short of the 70th anniversary of Eddy's release from captivity, a ceremony honoring him and his family was held at American Legion Post 82 in Elizabeth.
“It is our honor to support today's recognition of a fellow service member's sacrifices to our nation,” said Chris Richardson of the American Legion, who served as master of ceremonies for the event.
During the ceremony, Buck presented Swanson with the commendation and expressed his pride in her effort to pay tribute to her father.
“I'm very proud of you for your perseverance and diligence in bringing us together today,” Buck said, going off script before beginning his official remarks. “I want to thank you very much before I start these remarks. This would not have been possible without you and your family.”
Prior to the event, Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards, adjutant general of the state of Colorado, presented Swanson with a copy of the book “Korea Reborn,” and in his remarks during the ceremony, he recognized Eddy's continued service after World War II.
“He wasn't done after World War II; he served in Korea during the Korean War,” Edwards said. “He had a dedicated life of service even though so many of those years were taken away from him.”
Eddy's family was also recognized by Sue Kreutzer, president of the USS Houston CA-30 Survivors Association and Next Generations, who presented commemorative pins on behalf of the association.
“You've always been a member of our family,” Kreutzer told Swanson, giving her a tearful embrace. “We just didn't know it.”
According to regulations, the Prisoner of War Medal is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces taken prisoner and held captive while engaged in military action against an enemy of the United States. It may be awarded posthumously, and the Department of Defense places no time limit for applications.
There are currently eight surviving members from the USS Houston.