When you enter Wapakoneta from the north on old 25 you pass a VFW building with a sign that reads Alvin W. Metzger Post 8445. Like me, you may have wondered who was Alvin W. Metzger?
Alvin was born in 1916 and grew up on East Benton Street in Wapakoneta, like most kids playing baseball and basketball. When he graduated from St. Joe High, he joined the 136th National Guard Field Artillery Medical Unit.
On Dec. 20, 1937, he joined the U.S. Navy and was sent to Great Lakes Training Center. After completing basic training, he was eventually assigned to the cruiser USS Houston as a machinist mate. Serving in the Navy in any capacity is an honor, but especially so in 1938 if you served on the Houston. The Houston was called by President Franklin Roosevelt, “his favorite ship.” In the pre-World War II days before there was Air Force One, the President traveled to foreign destination by ship. President Roosevelt chose the Houston as his flagship. When FDR was on board, the ship would be fitted with special ramps and hand rails. The presidential flag flew from the mast.
The Houston escaped damage at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, due to being assigned to the Dutch East Indies to protect American interests there. In the days after Pearl Harbor the Japanese also launched attacks on the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island and allied bases in the Dutch East Indies. When the Japanese bombers destroyed a base at Cavite, they were convinced that the Houston was one of the allied ships sunk.
As the American forces scrambled to reinforce the allied bases in the area, the Houston served to escort convoys and attack enemy targets of opportunity. As reports of the Houston, a ship the Japanese believed destroyed began to surface, the crew took pride in a new nickname given the Houston, “The Ghost of the Java Coast.”
On the night of Feb. 27, 1942, the Houston and the Australian Cruiser Perth was sent to intercept a Japanese invasion force. After midnight the Perth being in the lead, struck the Japanese first. It soon became apparent that they we’re outnumbered and outgunned. With Perth being sunk, the Houston fought on alone against the overwhelming Japanese force.
Alvin, in the engine room, was kept busy responding to the constant changes in orders of the changes in course and speed as the battle progressed. A signalman stated, “there was no place to find cover. We were receiving enemy fire from all points of the compass.” At one point a Japanese destroyer fired a torpedo that missed the Houston but went on to sink one of their own transports.
When battle damage to the Houston became too great and the ship began to go under, the captain gave the order to abandon ship. The Houston never struck her colors. Of the Houston’s 1,100 crew, Alvin Metzger was one of the 732 who were killed in action. The surviving 368 crew were captured and sent to a POW camp in Burma immortalized in the book and movie “The Bridge over the River Kwai.”
Alvin W. Metzger was the first serviceman from the area to be killed in World War II. When the VFW 8445 was formed they honored him by taking his name for their post.
The captain’s widow, Mrs. Edith Rooks, said of the crew of the USS Houston, “There is no greater loss to bear … but we will bear it for our men and their deeds will live on in the lives and love of their families.”
Sources: The Wapakoneta Daily News and “Ship of Ghosts” by James D. Hornfischer