The USS Astoria was a heavy cruiser that saw duty during World War II’s Battle of the Coral Sea and at Midway, then was sunk in August of 1942 at the Battle of Savo Island. On board in the fight for Savo was Signalman 3rd class Elgin Staples. Sometime around 2 a.m. on the ship’s final day, Staples was blown overboard when one of the Astoria’s gun turrets exploded. In the water, wounded in both legs by shrapnel and in a state of near-shock, Staples was kept afloat by a narrow lifebelt which he had activated by a trigger.
In his book, “The Grand Weaver,” Ravi Zacharias tells the fascinating story of what happened next.
Four hours after being blown into the Pacific, Staples was picked up by a passing destroyer and returned to the Astoria. Even though the cruiser had been severely damaged, her captain was trying to beach the ship in order to save her. When his attempts failed, Staples found himself back in the water. By now, it was noon.
This time it was the USS President Jackson that plucked him out of the water. On board, Staples studied that little lifebelt which had saved his life twice that day. He noticed the belt was manufactured by the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio, and carried a registration number.
Allowed to go home for a visit, Staples related his story to the family and asked his mother, who worked for Firestone, the purpose of the registration number on the belt. She pointed out that the company was holding employees responsible for their work in the war effort, and that each worker had his/her own number. Staples recalled everything about that lifebelt, including the registration number. As he called it out, his mother’s eyes grew large. She said, “That was my personal code that I put on every item I was responsible for approving!”
His mother had made the belt which had saved his life twice.