By Brad Dison
On Memorial Day, we honor the armed service members, both male and female, who died while serving in the U.S. military. Each day, visitors to the Bienville Parish Courthouse walk by, but rarely give the Veterans Memorial more than a passing glance. While the Bienville Parish Veterans Memorial gets far less numbers of visitors in a year’s time than the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. gets on a stormy day, each of the nearly one thousand names affixed to its granite walls is equally as important. This is the story behind just one of those names.
In the first week of September of 1940, eighteen-year-old David “Zack” Andrews, Jr., a recent graduate of Gibsland High School, enlisted in the Navy. He and many other sailors were immediately transferred to the naval training station in San Diego, California. Zack’s occupation in the Navy was as a pharmacist.
Following his training, Zack was stationed aboard the USS Houston (CA-30), a Northampton-class heavy cruiser with 8-inch (203 mm) main guns. The Houston was powered by oil-fired steam turbines and was capable of traveling at faster speeds for a longer period of time than its predecessors. In addition to the main guns, the Houston boasted other improvements which included above deck torpedoes and more effective 1.1 inch (75 mm) anti-aircraft guns. Shortly after Zack arrived on the Houston, the ship became the flagship of the Asiatic Fleet.
On February 4, 1942, several allied ships including the Houston searched for Japanese ships which were reportedly at Balikpapan, a seaport city in Indonesia. 36 Mitsubishi G4M1 “Betty” and 24 Mitsubishi G3M2 “Nell” bomber aircraft attacked the allied fleet. The ensuing battle became known as the Battle of Makassar Strait. Houston’s gunners shot down four Japanese planes, but one bomber evaded the barrage of anti-aircraft fire. With pinpoint precision, the bomber dropped a single bomb which struck the deck near the rear gun turret. The ship shook violently from the explosion. 48 crewmen died as a result, and the rear guns were destroyed. Without fighter protection, the allied ships were forced to withdraw. Zack had survived uninjured.
On February 10, the Houston escorted a convoy of seven ships which carried reinforcement troops from Tjilatjap, Indonesia, to Timor, an island in Southeast Asia. Within hours of their departure, allied sailors noticed a Japanese plane flying toward the convoy. The plane dropped its load of bombs, but none hit the allied ships. Before noon on the next day, Japanese aircraft attacked the convoy in two waves. The Houston put up such a barrage of anti-aircraft fire that, as one witness reported, it was “like a sheet of flame.” The Houston shot down seven enemy planes. Allied forces learned that a Japanese fleet which included aircraft carriers and several other warships was lying in wait for the convoy. The allied ships returned to Tjilatjap.
Admiral Karel Doorman received reports that a large Japanese invasion force was approaching Jawa, an island in Indonesia. Admiral Doorman sent the Houston along with four other cruisers and ten destroyers to attack the Japanese convoy of four cruisers and 13 destroyers. In the late afternoon of February 27, 1942, cruisers of both fleets opened fire in the Battle of the Java Sea. The Japanese launched torpedo attacks in two waves. Within minutes, the Japanese fleet had sunk two allied destroyers and a heavy cruiser. In another torpedo attack, another allied destroyer was sunk. Having exhausted their torpedoes, the Houston was ordered to withdraw. The Battle of the Java Sea was the largest surface engagement since World War I.
On the following day, February 28, the Houston and the HMAS Perth, a Royal Australian Navy light cruiser, reached Tanjong Priok, an Indonesian port city, for fuel and to restock their ammunition and other supplies. With no fuel or ammunition available, the Houston and Perth were ordered back to Tjilatjap for supplies. The two cruisers were supposed to be escorted by a destroyer, but it had been delayed. To get to Tanjong Priok, the ships had to pass through the Sunda Strait. Intelligence reports indicated that the Sunda Strait was free from enemy ships, so the Houston and Perth departed without the escort.
Just after 11:00 p.m., a lookout on the Perth spotted an unidentified ship in the strait. Once the crew realized it was a Japanese destroyer, the Perth began firing. In the darkness, several Japanese warships surrounded the Perth and Houston. The Perth tried to force its way through the destroyers, but the ship was hit by four torpedoes and sank within a few minutes. Crewmen aboard the Houston carried shells from the disabled rear main guns to the forward guns. A torpedo struck the Houston and the ship began to lose speed. Three more torpedoes struck the Houston in quick succession. Among those killed in the three-torpedo attack was Houston’s Captain Albert Rooks.
The damaged and burning ship came to a full stop. Japanese destroyers closed in on the Houston and used machine guns to mow down sailors on the deck of the Houston and those in the water near the ship. Minutes later, the Houston slowly rolled over and sank in the Sunda Strait. Of the 1,061 sailors aboard the Houston, 368 survived only to be captured and held prisoner by the Japanese for the remainder of the war. 77 of the sailors who survived the Battle of Sunda Strait died in captivity.
On March 16, 1942, Zack’s father received news from the naval department that Zack was missing following the sinking of the Houston. Within days, newspapers in Louisiana began reporting that Zack, listed as a seaman second class, was among the sailors reported missing from the Houston following its sinking in the Battle of Sunda Strait. In its official report, the Navy noted that “the classification ‘missing’ covers those who can not be accounted for, some of whom may be prisoners, some of whom may have been rescued at sea and landed at isolated spots and have no opportunity to communicate with the United States naval authorities. In brief, the term ‘missing’ does not mean that the person named is dead.”
Later that month, children at Gibsland High School purchased a war bond called a “Memory Bond” in honor of Zack. Zack’s younger brother Billie Ray Andrews held up the “Memory Bond” along with a photograph of his brother for photographers.
Zack’s family in Gibsland spent years in a sort of limbo state. The Navy was unable to confirm whether or not David had died. A little over three years later, David’s family found new hope when they read an article in the Shreveport Times in which Lieutenant Colonel Nicol Smith said that “anyone having relatives on the crew of the Houston can be very optimistic.” Approximately 300 survivors from the ill-fated Houston had been located in a Japanese prison camp in Thailand.
When the survivors of the Houston were liberated from the Japanese prison camp, Zack was not among them. None of the survivors could recall seeing Zack after the ship was struck by the three torpedoes. The Navy eventually listed Zack as killed in action during the Battle of Sunda Strait. Zack was posthumously awarded the purple heart. A bronze plaque was placed above an empty grave in Gibsland Cemetery in memory of David Zack Andrews Jr.
David Zack Andres, Jr. is just one of the nearly 1,000 names on the Bienville Parish Veterans Memorial. If you know of a Bienville Parish veteran who is not yet included on the memorial, contact Eddie Holmes, Clerk of Court. There is a small fee to have the plates engraved and affixed to the monument.
Do you have information, photographs, etc. about a veteran who resides in or has resided in Bienville Parish? If so, please contact the Journal at BPJNewsLA@gmail.com
1. The Monroe News-Star, September 5, 1940, p.10.
2. The Shreveport Journal, December 9, 1941, p.6.
3. The Shreveport Times, March 17, 1942, p.7.
4. Tensas Gazette (Saint Joseph, Louisiana), March 27, 1942, p.1.
5. The Shreveport Journal, March 31, 1942, p.3.
6. The Shreveport Journal, March 17, 1942, p.11.
7. The Shreveport Times, May 15, 1942, p.1.
8. The Shreveport Times, August 29, 1945, p.1.
9. The Shreveport Journal, August 25, 1961, p.30.
10. Hornfischer, James D. Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the Uss Houston, Fdr’s Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors. New York, New York: Bantam Dell, 2006.
11. “David Zack Andrews Jr.,” Find A Grave, accessed May 24, 2021, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/53227992/david-zack-andrews.
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