- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2005

World War II Navy veteran Edward “Skip” Scibek remembers holding on to his rosary beads for 15 hours the night the USS Cooper sank near the Philippines.

“I don’t recall the explosion,” said Mr. Scibek, 83, a Connecticut resident who was a signalman 3rd class aboard the Cooper. “When I woke up, I was in the water. I had no idea where I was or what had happened.”

Scuba diver Robert Lalumiere of Lebanon, N.H., dived 720 feet Saturday to lay a plaque on the Cooper, which sank Dec. 2-3, 1944, during the Battle of Ormoc Bay in the Philippines. The plaque honors the 191 men who lost their lives on the American destroyer. Mr. Scibek and 167 others survived, rescued by Catalina flying boats.

“It’s a commemoration,” says Mr. Lalumiere, 50, a scuba hobbyist. “It’s an unmarked grave; 191 men died on that ship, and nobody’s ever put anything on it for them.”

The USS Cooper Memorial Project honors the “Navy sailors lost that night and who continue to stand watch for their country for all eternity,” the 40-pound bronze plaque proclaims.

Mr. Lalumiere, a specialist in large equipment repairs, became interested in diving in 2000 when his work took him to Ormoc City on Leyte island. A year later, he started to train in deep shipwreck diving.

During a dive in 2002, Mr. Lalumiere found the Japanese destroyer Kuwa that had sunk the Cooper. The Kuwa was 330 feet below the surface and about a mile from the Cooper, he said.

“The whole story intrigued me,” said Mr. Lalumiere, whose father had served in the Navy during World War II in the North Atlantic. “I telephoned a couple of the survivors. … They really struck a soft spot in my heart. They fought a hard battle, and they all said, ‘I wish I could do something for my shipmates.’”

The plaque will give them the chance.

On Dec. 2, 1944, the Cooper, with the American destroyers USS Moale and USS Allen M. Sumner, steamed into Ormoc Bay, a supply depot port for Japanese forces.

The battle that ensued was one of the least known in the Pacific theater of World War II, said Irwin J. Kappes, 80, of Pinton Falls, N.J., who served as a radarman on the Moale.

“The Japanese were concerned that if Leyte fell to the Allies, then the entire Philippine archipelago would fall as well,” Mr. Kappes said.

Japanese forces fired on the Cooper, Moale and Sumner from the eastern shore of Ormoc Bay. The three destroyers returned fire as they began to retreat.

“The Cooper was suddenly hit by a torpedo. She broke in half and went down in about 30 seconds,” Mr. Kappes said. “We were stunned by the fury of the attack and by the firing of our own ship, all the noise and excitement. It’s a terrible strain for a young fellow to be under.”

Mr. Lalumiere identified the site of the Cooper sinking with the help of William “Ron” Babuka, 41, son of late Seaman 1st Class Sumner William “Bill” Babuka. Mr. Babuka had graphically represented the Battle of Ormoc Bay using handwritten ship logs that represented the course, speed and time of the three ships’ movements. He created a map and put it on the Internet.

Mr. Lalumiere contacted Mr. Babuka, a computer programmer living in Ithaca, N.Y., in the summer of 2003 to ask him about the accuracy of the map, which showed where the ships engaged Japanese forces. Mr. Babuka agreed to work to improve the map while focusing on the navigational aspects to help Mr. Lalumiere with his dives.

In the meantime, Mr. Lalumiere used Mr. Babuka’s map and local knowledge and found the Kuwa. Mr. Babuka then got documentation of the Moale’s course from Mr. Kappes. Mr. Lalumiere compared the Moale’s course with the map and confirmed that he was diving in the right area to find the Cooper.

“It’s an amazing thing. He’s risking his life to put a reminder for all future generations who these men were,” Mr. Babuka said.

William Dallam, 79, of Harrisburg, Pa. said he was glad to put the battle to rest.

“It really is an emotional story,” said Mr. Dallam, secretary and treasurer of the Battle of Ormoc Bay Association, who served as a gunner on the Moale the night the Cooper sank. “Even years later, it’s hard to talk about. … There’s some guilt, because we left [Cooper survivors] behind. It was Navy protocol.”

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