“Those Irish, they… fought like cannibals down there, at the end of that road.” Place Names of Humboldt County
Terri’s great-great grandparents, William and Bridget O’Leary immigrated to the U.S. from County Cork Ireland in 1857. Heading to San Francisco, their ship went down in a storm as they rounded the tip of South America (Cape Horn). They both were eventually rescued but they had been separated and each thought the other was dead.
Living as widowers, William and Bridget went about their lives in San Francisco for several years. Then one day, as they were both walking down a city street, they ran into each other! Suddenly together again they got on with their lives, started a family and moved on.
After briefly living in Nevada, they moved to the North Coast of California, where they homesteaded in the Eel River valley. After trying potato farming, they switched to dairy ranching. This part of California truly was (and still is) a place for “happy cows,” with 40″ of rainfall annually and lots of grass year-round.
After William and Bridget, three more generations of O’Leary’s lived and worked at the ranch on Cannibal Island Road. This includes Terri’s mom, Blanche, who lived there until she moved to San Francisco at the start of WWII. In the 1970’s we visited Terri’s grandparents, Art and Laverne O’Leary at the ranch several times. On Terri’s final visit in 1980 she took this picture. Art and Laverne had lived together on Cannibal Island Road for 60 years. This would be the last photo Terri would take of them. They were both gone just two years later.
William and Bridget O’Leary and two of their children are buried in the pioneer Catholic cemetery in Ferndale California, just across the Eel river from Loleta. Their plot is at the very bottom of this photo. Terri has another set of great-great grandparents buried here, and also two great-great-great grandparents. The cemetery is in a beautiful, natural amphitheatre setting. The most common visitors are deer, who munch on fresh flowers that have been placed on the graves.
In 1941 Terri’s dad, Vincent Michael Sojat was a 21-year-old sailor on the cruiser USS Honolulu based at Pearl Harbor. On December 7th at 7:30 in the morning he was on the deck of the ship getting ready to go to mass when the Japanese attack began. The Honolulu did not take a direct hit but was damaged from a near miss when a bomb exploded 20 yards from its stern. Below I’ve posted the ship’s Plan of the Day. Despite everything Vince had to do that day (including trying to stay alive) he had the foresight to remove it from the ship’s bulletin board and save it for posterity.
Vince and his shipmates on the Honolulu saw sustained, intense action in WWII, including sea battles fought at night in “The Slot” near Guadalcanal where hundreds of Japanese and American ships today lie at the bottom of “Iron Bottom Sound.” In 1943 the Honolulu was torpedoed and its bow was severely damaged. It sailed backwards to Australia to have the bow replaced. We believe that the sailor at the far right in this photo is Vince. He was a carpenter’s mate but clearly he wasn’t going to be able to repair this damage.
Later in the war the Honolulu was torpedoed several more times. The photo below shows the damage from a “dud.”
In 1944 the Honolulu was hit 0nce again during the Battle of Leyte which is considered the largest naval battle in history. To save her from sinking the captain had the ship beached. This effectively marked the end of the Honolulu’s active service in WWII.
The USS Honolulu earned eight battle stars during the war including a star for the heroic actions of Vincent Sojat and her crew on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor.
In an earlier story I posted a photo of my grand-daughters Alexandria and Lily standing in front of my great-grandmother’s house at 3201 Norton in Everett Washington. In this photo of the same house we’re going back about 110 years to about 1903. The house was just a few years old when this photo was taken and the street wasn’t paved yet. The little boy on the porch was my grandfather. My mom was born and raised in this house and my brother Larry lived here as an infant during WWII.
When Bart Simpson came on the scene in 1989 suddenly my name was cool. I was bombarded with Bart Simpson jokes, sayings and trivia. Even to this day when I’m introduced to strangers someone often jokes (pathetically) that I was named after a cartoon character. Idiots.
A few years ago Terri and I drove up to the North Coast of California for a quick getaway. Terri’s family (O’Leary) settled in the Loleta/Ferndale area in the 1870’s and had a dairy ranch for over 100 years on Cannibal Island Road. Ferndale is a small Victorian town across the Eel River from Loleta that’s lost in time. We were walking down Main Street past the the very quaint gingerbread storefronts when Terri suggested we see what the town looked like from its alleys. We walked between two buildings and suddenly we were in another place and another time. While the storefronts were kept painted to attract tourists, it was obvious that the backs of the buildings hadn’t seen a coat of paint in maybe a century. Two doors that I photographed tell the story.