The William Slough USS Houston Letters contain letters sent from William Slough, S1C, to his family from 1934-1936 while he served on the USS Houston (CA-30). The collection also includes copies of Slough’s “Crossing the Line” document and subpoena, a photograph of Slough in his Navy uniform, and one letter from a shipmate to Slough’s family. These letters provide a glimpse into both the day-to-day life and the larger concerns of a sailor in the years before World War II.
William Slough was born on May 19, 1914, in Missouri but later moved to Texas, where he lived before joining the Navy. He started his service on May 15, 1934, just a few days shy of his twentieth birthday. His first letter in this collection, sent to his mother, is dated May 27, 1934. In the letters, Slough talks about spending time in the sick bay, his supplies and equipment, training, and leisure activities. He worries about his family, money, romances from home, promotion, and trouble with officers. He also talks about learning to love travel and his plans for the future, which include a career in the Navy and putting off marriage. Slough married in 1939 and had two children. He died in Victoria, Texas, on Dec. 9, 1991.
During the course of these letters, Slough is a Seaman First Class. In addition to serving on the Houston, a heavy cruiser, he also served on the USS Cowpens (CVL-25), an aircraft carrier. He served in World War II and reached the rank of Chief Warrant Officer, and after the war he continued in the Navy Reserves for 20 years. Slough was proud to say that with his service, every generation of his family had served in the United States military, beginning with Matthias Slough in the Revolutionary War.
The USS Houston was commissioned on June 17, 1930, and became the flagship of the Asiatic Fleet in 1931. In 1933 the Houston left the Asiatic and became part of the Scouting Force, based in Long Beach, California, and most of Slough’s letters originate from California. During the 1930s the Houston also hosted President Franklin D. Roosevelt, an avid fisherman, for four leisure cruises.
The Houston returned to the Asiatic in March 1941, and following the attack on Pearl Harbor served in the Pacific theater as part of a multi-national force. On February 28, 1942, as the Houston and the HMAS Perth, an Australian ship, attempted to leave the Java Sea, they encountered a Japanese force in what became known as the Battle of Sunda Strait. The Houston was struck by torpedoes and began to sink, prompting an order to abandon ship. Seven hundred of the 1068 crew members perished. The surviving crew members were taken prisoner by the Japanese and were held until they learned of the war’s end on August 16, 1945.
The original materials are available in UH Libraries Special Collections.