Cudmore: The Flying Dutchman, the U.S.S. Amsterdam

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A light cruiser named for Amsterdam, New York, was among the American ships anchored in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered September 2, 1945 to end World War II.

Through his range finder on the Amsterdam, radar operator Steve Fitz could see General Douglas Macarthur and Japanese officials who were on the battleship Missouri for the surrender.

Fitz, from Schenectady, went on to a career as a talk radio host when he returned home.

After stints on WGY, WSNY and WQBK, his last radio work was a daily commentary on Amsterdam’s WVTL, done up until the month he died in 2012.

The commander of the James T. Bergen American Legion post, Arch D. Anderson, had contacted the Navy in 1938 to begin the campaign to get a warship named for Amsterdam.

The city Chamber of Commerce got behind the idea as did Mayor Arthur Carter, who knew President Franklin Roosevelt from Roosevelt’s days as New York governor.

Work began on the cruiser Amsterdam, nicknamed the Flying Dutchman, in 1943.

Mrs. Frieda Hasenfuss christened the ship on April 25, 1944 at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in Virginia.

Mrs. Hasenfuss, who lived on Northampton Road, was Amsterdam’s first World War II Gold Star Mother.

One of her nine children, Army PFC William Hasenfuss, Jr., was killed at Hickam Field in Hawaii in the 1941 Japanese Pearl Harbor attack.

“I was thinking of William when I smashed that bottle.” Mrs. Hasenfuss said as the vessel slid into the James River.

Mrs. Hasenfuss was overcome with emotion when shipyard workers gave her a diamond-studded wrist watch.

Also at the ceremony was Amsterdam Mayor Wilbur H. Lynch, who had succeeded Mayor Carter.

Carter had become a U.S. Army major and was serving as city administrator in Bologna, Italy.

Lynch said Amsterdam is “a splendid city” and “the cruiser Amsterdam is a splendid ship.”

On January 8, 1945 Frieda Hasenfuss and her husband William, Sr., returned to Newport News when the Amsterdam received her commission under Captain Andrew Lawton of Youngstown, Ohio.

The ship had a crew of 1,400 officers and men.

The Amsterdam earned a battle star for protecting aircraft carriers that launched planes to bomb Japan in July 1945.

Seaman Fitz said. “All of us were happy when (America) dropped the nuclear bombs. We knew we would be part of an invasion of Japan and there would be a great loss of life.”

After shore leave in Japan, the Amsterdam sailed back to America, picking up wounded and battle-weary Seabees in Okinawa.

The ship took part in Navy Day on the Columbia River in Portland, Oregon. The vessel sailed to San Francisco and the crew painted her.

The sailors were honorably discharged.

The ship’s battle flag was presented by Captain Lawton to Mayor Joseph Hand in a 1946 ceremony in Amsterdam.

The vessel was decommissioned in 1947 and stored in San Francisco. The ship was later moved to San Diego and scrapped in 1972.

Fitz said that some Amsterdam politicians were reluctant to let U.S.S. Amsterdam veterans stage one of their reunions and a parade in the vessel’s namesake city, fearing things might get out of hand.

The reunion did take place in Amsterdam without incident but the ship’s veterans never come back to the city for another gathering.

Fitz attended the reunion in Amsterdam and found it very emotional.

“There is bonding when you are stuck in a place like that,” he said. “What it did was it taught us that you’ve got do what you’re told and when you’re told. It made men out of a lot of boys.”

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