Monday, January 26, 2009


The USS Pittsburgh, a Baltimore-Class heavy cruiser, didn’t enter the second world war until early 1945, when she sailed with two carrier groups destined to support the invasion of Iwo Jima with wave of air strikes on the island and any surrounding enemy fortifications. During the early days of the attack on the island, plans from the Pittsburgh’s carrier group routinely provided close air support to the Marines floundering in heavy fighting in the island’s black, volcanic ash. Well before the 35-day battle had even ended, the entire carrier group was reassigned to pound airfields and other targets on the Japanese-held island of Kyushu.

The carrier group launched their attacks on the 18th of March and planned to continue throughout the next day as well, were it not for a fierce retaliation by Japanese fighters that left the carrier Franklin ablaze, halfway destroyed, and powerless. After fending off the fighter attacks, the Pittsburgh, with the assistance of a sister ship, the light cruiser Santa Fe, plucked 34 sailors from the sea. Yet then the Pittsburgh executed an historic feat of securing a tow line to the still-burning Franklin, and slowly towed the mammoth, crippled ship to safety while her crew fought to restore power. Over 700 sailors died on board the Franklin that day – more than a quarter of her crew.
(Official U.S. Navy Photograph - National Archives Collection)

As the little ship fought to tow off their companion big deck, she and the Santa Fe also had to contend with holding off two additional waves of Japanese fighters, returned to finish off the Franklin. The Japanese were unsuccessful, due in large part to the constant gunning from aboard the Pittsburgh and Santa Fe as they churned the sea, hauling an 872-foot ship to safer waters.

Captain Gingrich, aboard the Pittsburgh, spent a continuous 48 hours at the conn during this ordeal, retiring for rest only after they had achieved some degree of safety, and restored power to proceed slowly elsewhere for repairs. Three days later, they left with the carrier group to support the invasion of Okinawa.

For over a month, the Pittsburgh and her sister ships repeatedly held back Japanese fighter attacks and rescued downed pilots with her scout plane. By June, she was caught in a typhoon with winds exceeding 70 knots and 100 foot seas. During the storm, her starboard scout plane broke lose from its catapult and rammed into the deck, eventually causing the front 104 feet of her bow to buckle and break off.

Still under power, still battling high seas and now a potentially sinking ship, her crew performed emergency repairs and began a 6-knot steam towards Guam. They had lost not a single man. (See pictures below)
(Photo from US Naval Institute)

(Photo is in the public domain)

Aboard this ship for all her perilous exploits, was William Russell (Peanut) Bingler Jr, of Charlottesville, Virginia. As a shipfitter and deep sea diver, he probably found himself hanging over the exposed end of a ship in gale-force trying to weld shoring to a vessel carrying well over 1,000 men. At any rate, his efforts, and those of the men aboard, saved the ship, which eventually made it stateside without further incident. The hull, incidentally, then humorously nicknamed “McKeesport,” a suburb of Pittsburgh, was spotted by another vessel and later towed into Guam.

Peanut died on the 17th of this month, leaving behind a large family who, for the most part, was unaware of the details of his service during World War II. He was a loving, gentle man with a decidedly odd sense of humor that many of us found endearing. I enjoyed what little time I spent with him, and regret that no further opportunities are now possible. His whole generation is fading quickly – good men who, having survived the impossible, are now aged, feeble, and disappearing rapidly. His loss will be keenly felt by his family, but also the halls of the locals VFW and American Legion posts – they're also my posts.

His obituary reads as follows:

William Russell "Peanut" Bingler Jr.

William Russell "Peanut" Bingler Jr., 86, of Charlottesville, died Saturday, January 17, 2009.

He was born on October 11, 1922, in Charlottesville, the son of the late William R. and Florence Maupin Bingler. Sisters, Waverly Bickers and Mildred B. Delozer; and two brothers, Hugh A. Bingler and Johnnie Bingler, also preceded him in death.

Peanut served in the Pacific with the United States Navy aboard the USS Pittsburgh as a shipfitter and deep sea diver during World War II. He was a life member of the USS Pittsburgh Association and a member of the VFW, American Legion Post #74 and the Cherry Avenue Christian Church. Peanut had a long career as an untrained visionary artist. His work received awards at numerous art fairs and exhibitions throughout the state and he was honored to be included as a part of the opening exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. He retired from the Martha Jefferson Hospital as the Director of Plant Operations, with over 30 years of service.

He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Merle Addington Bingler; their children, William R. Bingler III and his wife, Vickie, of Charlottesville, Steven Bradford Bingler and his wife, Linda, of New Orleans, Louisiana, Deborah B Shifflett and her husband, Steve, of Charlottesville, Harold Timothy Bingler and his wife, Sharon, of Charlottesville, and Sharon Kaye Drumheller and her husband, Larry, of Charlottesville; 13 grand-children; 10 great-grand-children; and his siblings, James T. "Monk" Bingler and his wife Fredell of Charlottesville, Alice B. Eades and her husband, Walter, of Earlysville, Joseph L. Bingler and his wife, Betty, of Ivy, and David Bingler and his wife, Betty, of Charlottesville; and many beloved nieces and nephews.

Peanut had an unwavering love for his wife and family and a warm humor that will be missed by everyone.

A graveside funeral service will be held 11 a.m. Wednesday, January 21, 2009, at Monticello Memory Gardens with Scott Carter, Senior Minister of Cherry Avenue Christian Church, officiating.

The family will receive friends from 6 until 7:30 Tuesday, January 20, 2009, at the Cherry Avenue Christian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Those who wish may make memorial contributions to the Hospice of the Piedmont, 675 Peter Jefferson Way, Suite #300, Charlottesville, VA 22911 or the Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad, P.O. Box 160, Charlottesville, VA 22902.

Friends may send condolences to the family at

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved


  1. Because of you, Peanut now has a voice and face outside Charlottesville.

  2. Peanut is one of many who never talked about their military service in WWll. Maybe it was "no big deal" in his mind or there were painful memories but yes...this was a "big deal" and an important story that needed to be told. Thanks to you, now his grandchildren know their grandfathers role in the "greatest generation"

  3. All I can remember about Mr. Bingler Sr. was that bird foot mounted in his living room. He shot it because, as displayed, it was giving him the finger.

    And we made butter in a Mason jar. That was at his house, wasn't it?

  4. Thank you Ben Shaw and all who posted for paying tribute"s" to my Father, known by all as Peanut Bingler. He was a wonderful caring husband, father of five and foster father to many whom he helped during his life. He was a giving man and someone who certainly made a difference in ways unimaginable. Service to the United States in the Navy was something he was so very proud of. We miss him terribly but we all know..he's in a Higher place now. Thank you all for capturing his spirit.

  5. Today I learned my foster father, Peanut is gone. I was lucky enough to be taken in by Peanut, Merle and family when I was 14. I am saddened for Peanut's family to hear of his death. His effervescent personality brought joy to those around him. The unconditional love provided to me during my years with the Bingler family not only turned my life around but help shape who I am today. I am grateful I had the opportunity to tell Peanut and Merle what a difference they made to me.
    Love to the family,
    Vicki Lucas Myers