Patriot, Chapter 1919
(Navy, WWII, Pacific)
Article April 1997
This Navy WWII veteran survived the sinking
of the Cruiser, ASTORIA in the battle of Savo Island, off Guadalcanal.
Later, Steve served with distinction aboard the new Cruiser SANTA FE. He
then traveled and made public speeches in War Bond Drives with the famous
screen actor, Cesar Romero, whom he greatly admired. Postwar, he was a
foreman for Bill Milburn Homes, helping make them the biggest homebuilder in
Austin. Until Steve’s death in 1999 he treasured the many personal
correspondences that he had exchanged with Cesar Romero through the years.
Here is Steve’s story.
Lyster S. (Steve) Conditt
was born in Hillsboro, Texas in 1919. His family moved to Austin
where Steve dropped out of school during the depression and took a
construction job. Steve enlisted in the 36th Infantry Division, Texas
National Guard in July 1937. War with Japan seemed increasingly probable, so
Steve enlisted, Regular Navy on July 5, 1940.
He was soon assigned to the heavy cruiser
USS ASTORIA, initially serving as "Pointer" in the 5-inch gun directory. The
ASTORIA was 700 miles west of Pearl Harbor, escorting the carriers, at the
time of the sneak attack on December 7, 1941. ASTORIA was in numerous
desperate sea battles early in the war; some of the larger of which were
Coral Sea and Midway. Luck ran out for ASTORIA on the night of August 9,
1942, following the landing on Guadalcanal when a powerful Japanese force
under Admiral Mikawa swept past and inflicted heavy losses on the American
and Australian cruisers and destroyers assigned to protect the beaches. The
ASTORIA was badly damaged in the night action. Hours later with
uncontrollable fires amidships, the last of ASTORIA's crew, isolated on the
bow and the stern, were taken off by the destroyers BAGLEY and BUCHANAN.
Shortly afterward, ASTORIA rolled over on her port beam, and sank by the
stern. 216 crewmen were killed outright or went down with the ship, and 186
of the survivors were wounded; a total of 402 Purple Heart Medals from
ASTORIA's final action. Steve Conditt, with fragmentation wounds to both
legs and to his head above the right eye, and also sustaining concussion and
severe flash burns on both hands, was among the wounded survivors.
After several weeks of hospitalization,
Steve joined other ASTORIA crewmen being assembled at Pearl Harbor. They
were all returned to the United States together and put on 30 days
"survivor leave". Many, including Steve Conditt, then reported to the
Philadelphia Navy Yard for assignment to the recently launched USS SANTA FE,
still being fitted-out. SANTA FE joined the Pacific Fleet in February 1943
and served in nearly all the big operations in the Pacific until war's end.
Steve remembers riding out a monster typhoon in which two of the smaller
ships sank with all hands, and the flight decks cracked on several aircraft
carriers. He also tells of the March 1945 action off the coast of Japan in
which SANTA FE risked its own destruction by coming alongside the stricken
and burning aircraft carrier FRANKLIN, hit by a kamikaze plane, to
render aid and fight the fires. Soon afterward, SANTA FE was sent back to
Long Beach, CA for boiler replacement and Steve was chosen to go on a public
speaking tour with Hollywood celebrities. Steve was a big hit speaking in
California aircraft factories, war plants, and meetings of industry
executives; so he was picked for an extended tour of all 48 States but just
then V-J Day ended it all. Steve's favorite on the team was Cesar Romero,
with whom he continued to correspond until that actor's death many years
later. Steve was Regular Navy and had to remain in service until July 5,
1946 when finally discharged at Camp Wallace, Texas. He was soon back home
in Austin and working in the building trade.
construction supervisor for a young developer and helped make Bill Milburn
Homes one of the biggest builders in Austin. Now retired, Steve and his wife
Leona ["Lilli], make their home in Austin, Texas.