February 18, 2016
Broken Trumpet From WW II Wreck May Hold Player’s DNA
By Michael E. Ruane
The Washington Post
Washington (AP) The old, bent trumpet is dripping with water as Shanna Daniel lifts it from its basin in the conservation lab at the Washington Navy Yard.
It’s a B-flat horn, made around 1934, with a bell that was smashed in battle, a missing mouthpiece, and brass tubing that is split and pitted.
Daniel, in a white lab coat and lavender rubber gloves, rests it on a layer of hard foam and lowers a magnifying light over it. She picks up a surgical scalpel and begins to scrape deposits from the surface.
She is very careful. The object has traveled a great distance, and sealed inside may be the DNA of the sailor who played it.
The trumpet arrived at the lab 21/2 years ago, handed over by an Australian diver who found it in the wreck of the USS Houston, a World War II cruiser, off the coast of Java in Southeast Asia.
The Houston, which had been President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s favorite vessel, was the elegant flagship of the Navy’s Asiatic fleet when it was sunk in a fierce battle with the Japanese three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The USS Houston in 1934
Hundreds of sailors died as the Houston and the Australian cruiser HMAS Perth blundered into the Japanese warships at night and were illuminated by enemy searchlights and attacked.
The Allied ships fought valiantly - the Houston fired flares at the enemy when it ran out of ammunition. But the Japanese pounded away with guns and torpedoes. The Perth sank first, followed by the Houston shortly after midnight March 1, 1942.
About 650 U.S. sailors, including many members of the Houston’s band, died.
Three hundred others survived and most spent the rest of the war in brutal Japanese prison and labor camps.
The trumpet, battered in the ``sinking event,’’ as Navy senior conservator Kate Morrand put it, came to rest about 100 feet down as the Houston settled on its starboard side in the murky waters outside Banten Bay, west of Jakarta, Indonesia.
Despite its condition, and its 70 years on the bottom of the ocean, the instrument may hold clues to its owner, said Robert S. Neyland, head of the underwater archaeology branch of the Naval History and Heritage Command.
Conservators have found the trumpet’s serial number, which helped track its date of manufacture by the C.G. Conn instrument company of Elkhart, Ind.
But they’re hoping for more.
There is ``the possibility of examining the interior of the (trumpet’s) valves and potentially locating some DNA remains of the individual who played the trumpet,’’ Morrand said in a recent interview at the Navy Yard.
It’s a long shot, but the theory is that the owner may have left his DNA when he took it apart to clean it. And, sealed in when he reassembled it and then by seven decades of marine encrustation, the DNA may still be there, Morrand said.
``If we could recover DNA, and if there are descendants that we could match with (we could) identify who the owner of the trumpet was,’’ Neyland said. ``It kind of pushes the technology and pushes the science, but it would be pretty exciting.’’
On Feb. 4, 1942, electrician’s mate Howard E. Brooks, 22, the son of a Tennessee tobacco farmer, was a member of a damage-control team near the Houston’s rear turret when Japanese bombers appeared overhead. The Houston was steaming in the Flores Sea, north of Australia, and as enemy bombs straddled the ship, Brooks was called to fix an ammunition hoist elsewhere on the vessel.
While he was away from his post, a 500-pound bomb struck near the turret, and when Brooks returned, he witnessed a scene of carnage. Scores of shipmates lay dead or dying. And the massive turret, with its three huge guns, was askew and on fire. Inside, there was nothing left of the turret officer except for his shoes and a hand still wearing a Naval Academy ring, according to a history of the ship.
``Oh, boy,’’ Brooks, now 96 and one of the few living Houston survivors, said he thought to himself. ``This is war. It came so quick.’’
It was nine weeks after Pearl Harbor, and the tide of Japanese conquest was sweeping across the Pacific.
In a recent interview at his home in Mount Laurel, N.J., Brooks said that when the attack ended, the Houston, damaged but seaworthy, steamed for the friendly port of Tjilatjap on the island of Java.
En route, the dead were collected, put in canvas bags and laid out on the fantail, he said. Once in port, the crew built coffins for the 48 men killed, a Houston officer, Walter G. Winslow, wrote later. And as the coffins were carried ashore, the ship’s band played Chopin’s funeral march.
Japan announced that the Houston had been sunk. The announcement was premature.
In the summer of 2013, Australian diver Frank Craven, 68, was diving with a group on the wrecks of the USS Houston and HMAS Perth. The ships were about three miles apart, near the mouth of Banten Bay.
The water was warm, the current was strong and the divers had to pull themselves down on anchored ropes.
Visibility was poor. And Craven, a retired cattle rancher who lives north of Sydney, was an older, less-experienced diver. He thought he must be crazy. ``Hardest dive of my life,’’ he texted his son.
But his mother’s first husband had been killed on the Perth. She had just died, and he wanted to leave a lock of her hair in the wreckage.
The next day, the divers went to the Houston, he said in an email.
The ship, which had hosted Roosevelt on four cruises in the 1930s, rested on its side. Its prow was broken off and there were holes in its hull made by enemy torpedoes, according to a 2014 U.S. Navy survey of the wreck.
Remnants of its 60-foot-high foremast were present, as well as evidence of damage caused by Japanese shell fire. There were no visible human remains. But the ship’s fuel oil was still leaking and drifting to the surface.
As Craven swam along the keel with an underwater flashlight, he noticed hundreds of ammunition shell casings, large and small. ``What a battle they must have had,’’ he said he thought.
Then, amid the shell casings and other wreckage of war, he spotted a trumpet.
He wondered: ``Who would be playing a trumpet in the middle of a battle?’’
He picked it up and brought it to the surface, thinking he might somehow get it back to the United States.
By Feb. 28, 1942, the Houston and the Perth were two survivors of an Allied force of American, British, Dutch and Australian ships that had been decimated by the Japanese navy. Five Allied ships were lost, along with more than 2,000 sailors.
The two were steaming under a full moon on a calm sea, headed west for the Sunda Strait, which separates Java from Sumatra, according to Winslow’s account.
If they could get through, they might escape the Japanese onslaught and make for Australia. On the damaged Houston, only six of nine heavy guns were working. Both ships were low on fuel.
The Houston was at ``condition 2,’’ Howard Brooks remembered. ``You’re not manning your guns, but you’re sleeping by them.’’ He was up on deck, under the guns of the rear turret, clad only in white skivvies because of the hot night.
Suddenly, about 11:30 p.m., there were gun flashes from the Perth as it fired on an enemy vessel it had spotted.
``That’s what woke us all up,’’ Brooks said.
``The next thing we knew, the whole sky lit up’’ with flares fired by the enemy, he said.
The battle of the Sunda Strait had begun.
The two Allied ships had stumbled on a huge enemy force in the process of landing troops in Banten Bay. The Houston and the Perth found themselves virtually surrounded and assailed from all sides. Brooks said enemy vessels came so close that Japanese sailors could be seen on the decks of their ships.
The fighting went on for less than an hour, when about 12:10 a.m., the Perth was spotted in the distance, sinking, recalled Winslow, the Houston officer.
All enemy guns were now trained on the Houston. ``From that moment on .?.?. we began a savage fight to the death,’’ he wrote.
The Houston held its own for a time but then was hit by three torpedoes. It slowed and began to sink. The captain ordered the crew to abandon ship.
Brooks grabbed a gray kapok life jacket, and as the ship slowly rolled over, he clambered down the hull and jumped into the water.
``I wasn’t scared,’’ he said. ``I wasn’t frantic. I’m saying, `Well, what do I do now?’?” He reached a life raft filled with injured sailors and hung on. As they watched, he said, the sinking Houston was illuminated by enemy searchlights, its battle flag still flying from the rear mast, he said.
He couldn’t recall whether anybody said anything when the ship sank. But he remembered how silently it went down.
Three years later, when Brooks and other POWs were finally freed from Japanese captivity, their American liberators questioned them: ``Sailors? What ship were you on?’’
The USS Houston.
``Never heard of it,’’ he said the rescuers replied.
When the Houston sank, 11 members of its 18-man band went down with it, according to researcher Marlene Morris McCain, whose father, Edgar, played trombone in the band and survived the sinking.
The trumpet recovered from the USS Houston
Those who perished included Severyn ``Steve’’ Dymanowski of Gary, Ind., who played trumpet. Three others known to have played the trumpet in the band survived the sinking, but they died in the 1960s and ‘70s.
The instrument Frank Craven found may have belonged to one of those four.
A week after his dive, Craven emailed John K. Schwarz, head of the USS Houston CA-30 Survivors’ Association and Next Generations, to say he had found the trumpet and wanted to give it to the association.
Schwarz, whose father, Otto, also was a Houston survivor, thanked Craven but said that the wreck remained the property of the Navy and that it was illegal to remove objects from it.
He told Craven to contact the Navy heritage command’s underwater archaeology branch. Craven apologized for taking the instrument, reached a Navy attache in Australia and arranged for the transfer.
The trumpet was cushioned in bubble wrap and shipped to the Navy lab in Washington in November 2013, senior conservator Morrand said.
The instrument was placed on a foam pillow in a tub of deionized water to start drawing out the corrosive salts eating at the metal.
One recent morning, conservator Daniel hunched over the trumpet, scraping off corrosion with a No. 15 scalpel. The deposits came off as a fine green dust.
``We feel a lot of responsibility,’’ Morrand said. ``It went through a lot to get here. And we want to make sure .?.?. it’s going to stick around a lot longer.’’
Yep, Einstein Was Right About Gravitational Waves Existing
By Seth Borenstein
Ap Science Writer
Washington (AP) - It was just a tiny, almost imperceptible ``chirp,’’ but it simultaneously opened humanity’s ears to the music of the cosmos and proved Einstein right again.
In what is being hailed as one of the biggest eureka moments in the history of physics, scientists announced Thursday that they have finally detected gravitational waves, the ripples in the fabric of space and time that Einstein predicted a century ago.
The news exhilarated astronomers and physicists. Because the evidence of gravitational waves is captured in audio form, the finding means astronomers will now be able to hear the soundtrack of the universe and listen as violent collisions reshape the cosmos.
It will be like going from silent movies to talkies, they said.
``Until this moment, we had our eyes on the sky and we couldn’t hear the music,’’ said Columbia University astrophysicist Szabolcs Marka, a member of the discovery team. ``The skies will never be the same.’’
Albert Einstein, figuring something out
An all-star international team of astrophysicists used an exquisitely sensitive, $1.1 billion set of twin instruments known as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO, to detect a gravitational wave generated by the collision of two black holes 1.3 billion light-years from Earth.
``Einstein would be beaming,’’ said National Science Foundation director France Cordova.
The proof consisted of what scientists called a single chirp - in truth, it sounded more like a thud - that was picked up on Sept. 14. Astronomers played the recording at an overflowing news conference Thursday.
``That’s the chirp we’ve been looking for,’’ said Louisiana State University physicist Gabriela Gonzalez, scientific spokeswoman for the LIGO team. Scientists said they hope to have a greatest hits compilation of the universe in a decade or so.
Some physicists said the finding is as big a deal as the 2012 discovery of the subatomic Higgs boson, known as the ``God particle.’’ Some said this is bigger.
``It’s really comparable only to Galileo taking up the telescope and looking at the planets,’’ said Penn State physics theorist Abhay Ashtekar, who wasn’t part of the discovery team.
Physicist Stephen Hawking congratulated the LIGO team, telling the BBC: ``Gravitational waves provide a completely new way of looking at the universe. The ability to detect them has the potential to revolutionize astronomy.’’
Gravitational waves, postulated by Albert Einstein in 1916 as part of his theory of general relativity, are extraordinarily faint ripples in space-time, the continuum that combines both time and three-dimensional space. When massive objects like black holes or neutron stars collide, they generate gravitational waves that stretch space-time or cause it to bunch up like a fishing net.
Scientists found indirect proof of gravitational waves in the 1970s by studying the motion of two colliding stars, and the work was honored as part of the 1993 Nobel Prize in physics. But now scientists can say they have direct proof.
``It’s one thing to know sound waves exist, but it’s another to actually hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony,’’ said Marc Kamionkowski, a physicist at Johns Hopkins University who wasn’t part of the discovery team. ``In this case, we’re actually getting to hear black holes merging.’’
In this case, the crashing of the two black holes stretched and squished Earth so that it was ``jiggling like Jell-O,’’ but in a tiny, almost imperceptible way, said David Reitze, LIGO’s executive director.
The dual LIGO detectors went off just before 5 a.m. in Louisiana and emails started flying. ``I went, `Holy moly,’’’ Reitze said.
A technician working on the optics of the LIGO
But the finding had to be verified, using such means as conventional telescopes, before the scientists could say with confidence it was a gravitational wave. They concluded there was less than a 1-in-3.5-million chance they were wrong, he said.
LIGO technically wasn’t even operating in full science mode; it was still in the testing phase when the signal came through, Reitze said.
``We were surprised, BOOM, right out of the box, we get one,’’ Reitze said.
Reitze said that given how quickly they found their first wave, scientists expect to hear more of them, maybe even a few per month.
Detecting gravitational waves is so difficult that Einstein figured scientists would never be able to hear them. The greatest scientific mind of the 20th century underestimated the technological know-how of his successors.
In 1979, the National Science Foundation decided to give money to the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to come up with a way to detect the waves.
Twenty years later, they started building two LIGO detectors in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana, and they were turned on in 2001. But after years with no luck, scientists realized they had to build a much more sensitive system, which was turned on last September.
Sensitivity is crucial because the stretching and squeezing of space-time by gravitational waves is incredibly tiny. Essentially, LIGO detects waves that pull and compress the entire Milky Way galaxy ``by the width of your thumb,’’ said team member Chad Hanna of Pennsylvania State University.
Each LIGO detector has two giant perpendicular arms more than 2 miles long. A laser beam is split and travels both arms, bouncing off mirrors to return to the arms’ intersection.
Normally, the two beams are aligned so that they balance each other out and there’s nothing to hear. But if there’s a gravitational wave, it creates an incredibly tiny mismatch, which is what LIGO detects.
A giant team of scientists had to keep the discovery secret until it was time to be announced. The study detailing the research in the journal Physical Review Letters had 1,004 authors.
Kip Thorne, the Cal Tech physicist who co-founded LIGO and has been working on gravitational waves for more than half a century, said he kept the secret even from his wife until just a few days ago. When he heard about the wave, he said, ``it was just sort of a sigh of happiness.’’