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Origin of ship's name a mystery

September 25, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer, Waynesboro

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - There's a Greencastle, Pa., a Greencastle, Ind., and a scrapped World War II warship named the USS Greencastle and it's anyone's guess whether there is a common denominator among them.

The ship, PC-1119 was a 173-foot-long submarine chaser, a patrol craft built in Michigan in 1942. It racked up a proud war record in some of the major battles in the Pacific, having shot down three Japanese planes and earned five battle stars.

A photograph of the ship and a bayonet worn by one of its sailors hangs in a frame in the Greencastle Borough Hall, along with a narrative of the ship's history, war record and claim that it was named after "the city in Franklin County in southern Pennsylvania."

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A history of the ship provided by the Department of the Navy said it was named the USS Greencastle on Feb. 15, 1956, nine years after it was decommissioned and just before it was struck from the Navy list. It was sold for scrap in 1958.

Navy cruisers were named after cities. The Navy started naming smaller ships after small cities and towns, said a Navy Department official in a letter to U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., in 1988. The letter said Navy records "do not indicate why this particular name was assigned to this particular ship."

Harold Hoffman, 78, of Greencastle, remembers a parade in 1947 when local VFW members built a replica of the USS Greencastle as a float for a parade that year. Max Izer, a VFW post charter member, remembers that the float was built in a garage near the square.

"If we knew there was a ship named for Greencastle in 1947, then I don't understand how the Navy can say it wasn't named until 1956," Hoffman said.

Hoffman learned that the photograph of the ship and the bayonet existed in 1987 when Edwin Bittner, then Greencastle`s borough manager, received a letter from Paul A. Hout of Appomattox, Va. Hout served on the ship and wanted to sell the photograph and the bayonet, Hoffman said.

"I sent him the money and he sent them to me," he said. He declined to say how much he paid for the items.

Hoffman had them framed and loaned them to the borough.

Hoffman said the fact that the bayonet handle is inscribed "USS Greencastle PC 1119," adds to the mystery of when the ship was named.

The ship was commissioned in New Orleans in December 1942 and went right to war. It was in action from March 1943 to August 1945 and took part in major campaigns from New Guinea to the Philippines, according to the Navy Department's American Naval Fighting Ships.

According to the Navy, PC 1119 was "a little ship with a number instead of a name (that) compiled a Pacific war record that equaled many a larger ship."

John Baughman, 72, official historian of Greencastle, Ind., a small city of 10,000, said he never heard of the USS Greencastle and doesn't believe it was named after his city. It was founded in 1823 by Ephraim Dukes of Maryland, and his wife, Rebecca, who is believed to have come from near Greencastle, Pa., Baughman said.

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