Memorial dive marks sunken US Navy ship’s 75th anniversary

Aziz Idris & Izah Azahari

Charges d’Affaires at the United States Embassy in Brunei Darussalam Scott Woodard and members of Poni Divers organised a memorial dive on Friday at the American Wreck.

The event marks 75th anniversary of the sunken United States (US) Navy ship from World War II, the USS Salute.

The American Wreck is one of Brunei’s iconic WWII wrecks, easily accessible by speedboat, about 45 minutes from Serasa Beach and 1.4km away from the Australian Wreck.

Prior to the dive, a moment of silence was observed to pay respects to those who lost their lives during the war.

“It is a real privilege to honour the sacrifices of those who fought to defend our freedom 75 years ago,” stated Scott Woodard.

Two wreaths were laid on-board the wreck by Scott Woodard along with other divers to mark the historic event.

The ‘American Wreck’, originally called the USS Salute AM 294, was a US Navy minesweeper.

Charges d’Affaires at the United States Embassy in Brunei Darussalam Scott Woodard and members of Poni Divers place wreaths on the American Wreck. PHOTOS: PONI DIVERS
A sketch of the American Wreck

The ship was laid down on November 11, 1942, by Winslow Marine Railway and Shipbuilding Co, Seattle, Washington and launched on February 6, 1943.

Salute sailed from San Francisco on March 21, 1944 for Hawaii.

Between April and September 1944, she escorted convoys between Pearl Harbor, Majuro, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Guam, and Saipan, before reporting to the 7th Fleet at Manus on October 8 for the Leyte invasion.

On October 20, she joined her division – Mine Division 34, off the Leyte beaches in the Philippines for a four-day sweep of the main transport channel, and then anchored with the transports to provide anti-aircraft support.

Salute participated with her division in most of the subsequent landings in the Philippines.

She carried out pre-invasion sweeps between December to January 1945.

On February 13, Salute and her division began pre-invasion sweeps in Manila Bay.

While sweeping off Corregidor on February 14, the minesweepers came within 4.5km off the island and were repeatedly straddled by Japanese fire before supporting ships silenced the island’s guns.

Salute continued sweeping in Manila Bay through February 18, and her division earned a Navy Unit Commendation for the operation. With Mine Division 34, Salute came to Brunei Bay and began the pre-invasion sweep on June 7, 1945.

The ship struck a mine and both its bow and stern began to sink.

Two landing craft attempted to salvage the minesweeper, but they were unable to control her flooding, and the ship sank on June 8, 1945, with the loss of nine lives.

The American Wreck lies broken in two pieces, one lying across the other.

It is a popular and challenging dive site with numerous artefacts both on and nearby the wreck.

On November 14, 2019, a gentleman by the name of Wayne Shafer reached out to a local diver, Alan Goh, and thanked him for sharing short video of his dive at American Wreck in Brunei on a wreck diving forum he posted nearly a year ago.

Wayne Shafer was the brother of Ralph Clyde Shaffer who lost his life in the USS Salute incident.

Alan Goh, Stuart Goring, Poni Divers staff Maclen Torres and Akim Samaan, and Oscar Woo and his wife, Jing, from China, placed a memorial plaque inside the USS Salute on December 1, 2019, in memory of Ralph, MM Petty Officer 2nd Class who lost his life at the age of 21.

Business Development Director of Poni Divers Anna Aziz said, “Brunei is a wreck enthusiasts’ haven, with four World War II shipwrecks in our waters, it’s also important that we treat these wrecks which are essentially war graves with respect.”