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Philip Carleton Koelsch Papers, 1962-1991 (bulk 1989-1991): Finding Aid

Published in September 2019

Summary Information

  • Publisher: United States Naval Academy. Special Collections & Archives.
  • Publisher Address:
    589 McNair Road
    Annapolis, Maryland 21402-5029, USA
    Phone: 410-293-6917
  • Call number: MS 528
  • Location: Special Collections & Archives Department - Manuscripts
  • Title: Philip Carleton Koelsch Papers
  • Dates: 1962-1991
  • Bulk Dates: 1989-1991
  • Size: 0.21 linear feet
  • Container Summary: 34 folders
  • Creator: Koelsch, Philip Carleton, 1921-1993
  • Language(s) of material: English
  • Abstract: Philip Carleton Koelsch was a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy Reserve and a member of the United States Naval Academy Class of 1943. The Philip Carleton Koelsch Papers span from 1962 until 1991, with a bulk of the material produced between 1989 and 1991. The papers consist primarily of the manuscripts for Koelsch's episodic memoirs recalling his career as a Torpedo Officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II and his command of U.S.S. Wren (Destroyer: DD-568) from 1961 until 1962.

Biography of Philip Carleton Koelsch

Philip Carleton Koelsch was born on March 29, 1921 in London, England to Henry Augustus Koelsch, Jr. and Beulah Anne Hubbard Koelsch, and spent his early years in London and Switzerland while his father was serving overseas as an executive for the City Bank of New York (later Citicorp). The family returned to the United States in 1927, splitting time between New York and Washington, DC, only to return to London in 1932, when Koelsch's father was appointed Manager of the English Branches of the City Bank of New York. While living in London, Koelsch initially attended the Gibbs School, after which he was sent to the Westminster School.

Following the death of Koelsch's father in December 1937, the remainder of the Koelsch family returned to the United States. After establishing a residence in Virginia, Koelsch received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy from Senator Carter Glass, and subsequently began attending the Columbia Prep School in January 1939 in preparation for the Naval Academy entrance examinations. Having passed the examinations, Koelsch was admitted to the Naval Academy as a member of the Class of 1943 in June 1939.

After graduating from the Naval Academy in June 1942, Koelsch was assigned to duty as a Torpedo Officer aboard destroyers the Pacific, where he participated in the Battles of Guadalcanal and Vella Lavella. At the end of the war, he was attached to U.S.S. Frank Knox (Destroyer: DD-742) as Executive Officer, serving in Chinese waters. In 1947, he was appointed Flag Lieutenant and Aide to Vice Admiral Francis X. McInerney.

In 1949, Koelsch was ordered to Washington to study law and serve as an aide at the White House. Later that same year, rather than transfer to the JAG Corps, he resigned his regular commission in the United States Navy and accepted a commission in the Navy Reserve. Following his resignation, Koelsch enrolled at Georgetown University Law School, and ultimately completed his law studies at the University of Houston. Having returned to Texas, he joined Armco Steel Corporation.

In 1961, Koelsch was approached by the U.S. Navy to take command of the reserve destroyer U.S.S. Wren (Destroyer: DD-568) out of Galveston, Texas. Shortly thereafter, U.S.S. Wren was recalled to active duty during the Berlin Crisis of 1961. During her recall, U.S.S. Wren served first in the waters off Cuba and the Dominican Republic, and ultimately with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. In 1962, the Wren returned to reserve duty, whereupon Koelsch returned to Texas and founded a lime and dolomite production company. Concurrent with his return to inactive status, Koelsch assumed command of the Navy's six reserve destroyers of the Eighth Naval District in the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1972, Koelsch entered into a law partnership and was selected for promotion to flag rank. As a Rear Admiral, he commanded the Tenth Readiness Command, with responsibility for all naval reserve activity in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. Koelsch retired from the United States Navy Reserve in July 1979, from the Board of his lime company in 1981, and from his law partnership in 1983. Philip Carleton Koelsch died on June 4, 1993 in Houston, Texas.

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Description of Contents

The Philip Carleton Koelsch Papers, comprising 0.21 linear feet of documentation, span from 1962 until 1991, with a bulk of the material produced between 1989 and 1991. The papers consist primarily of the manuscripts for Koelsch's episodic memoirs recalling his career as a Torpedo Officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II and his command of U.S.S. Wren (Destroyer: DD-568) from 1961 until 1962.

Included in the collection are memoirs, correspondence, photographs, and a newspaper clipping.

The Koelsch Papers are arranged alphabetically by document type into a single series with no subdivisions. The bulk of the collection consists of drafts of Koelsch's autobiographical essays. Titled collectively as "The Ears of Buddha," and published episodically in the Naval Academy Alumni Association's Shipmate magazine, the memoirs discuss Koelsch's experiences as a Torpedo Officer in the Pacific during World War II, duty as Flag Lieutenant to Vice Admiral Francis X. McInerney, command of the reserve destroyer U.S.S. Wren, and views on the moral implications of nuclear weapons, as well as reminiscences from his time as a midshipman. Included with the memoirs are letters sent and received from the Naval Academy Alumni Association and classmate C. Fred Wortham regarding the publication of Koelsch's reminiscences. Several additional documents pertain to Koelsch's command of U.S.S. Wren and his promotion to Rear Admiral, including his official portrait.

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The Philip Carleton Koelsch Papers are arranged alphabetically by document type.

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Access and Use


Access is unrestricted.

Copyright and Permission

The Philip Carleton Koelsch Papers are the physical property of Nimitz Library. Copyright belongs to the authors or creators of the works, or their legal representatives. For further information, consult the Head, Special Collections & Archives.

It is the responsibility of the researcher to secure written permission to publish, reprint, or reproduce material from Special Collections & Archives. The researcher assumes responsibility for infringement of copyright or literary or publication rights. Please contact the Head, Special Collections & Archives for permission to publish and for further information.

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Acquisition and Appraisal

Provenance and Acquisition

Gift of C. Fred Wortham in November 1996. Accession No. 96-77.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Material

Additional material pertaining to Philip Carleton Koelsch in this repository includes Koelsch's Midshipman Personnel Jacket (sealed until 2041) and Alumni Jacket.

Additional material pertaining to Philip Carleton Koelsch and the Koelsch Family can be found in the Philip Koelsch Papers, 1812-2016, MS 568 at Rice University's Woodson Research Center.

Materials Cataloged Separately

No materials have been removed from this collection and cataloged separately.

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Processing and Other Information

Preferred Citation

Philip Carleton Koelsch Papers, MS 528

Special Collections & Archives Department

Nimitz Library

United States Naval Academy

Selected Bibliography

The following sources were consulted during preparation of the biographical note:

Koelsch, Philip Carleton Alumni Jacket, RG 405, Special Collections & Archives, Nimitz Library.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by David D'Onofrio in September 2019. Finding aid written by David D'Onofrio in September 2019.

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Subject Headings

Name and Subject Terms

  • Destroyers (Warships) -- United States -- History -- World War, 1939-1945
  • Koelsch, Philip Carleton, 1921-1993
  • McInerney, Francis X. (Francis Xavier), 1899-1956
  • Nuclear weapons -- Moral and ethical aspects
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Naval operations, American
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives, American
  • Wren (Destroyer : DD-568)

Genre Terms

  • Correspondence
  • Manuscripts
  • Memoirs
  • Photographs
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Contents List

Box 1 Folder 1

Correspondence - Alumni Association, 1990-1991

Primarily correspondence with Colonel James W. Hammond regarding the publication of Koelsch's essays.

Box 1 Folder 2

Correspondence - Navy, 1962, 1973

Commendations for the operations of U.S.S. Wren (Destroyer: DD-568) and congratulations for selection to flag rank.

Box 1 Folder 3

Correspondence - Wortham, C. Fred, 1987-1991

Primarily regarding the publication of Koelsch's essays.

Box 1 Folder 4

Essays/Memoirs - Introductory Material, 1989

Includes the table of contents, foreword, biographical materials, and an explanation on the origin of the title of Koelsch's collected memoirs.

Box 1 Folder 5

Essays/Memoirs - 1: Sagami Wan - War End Reflections, 1989

Reflections on the end of World War II.

Box 1 Folder 6

Essays/Memoirs - 2: Cheers, 1989

Reminiscences of mess time at the Naval Academy as a plebe.

Box 1 Folder 7

Essays/Memoirs - 3: A Tale of Two Doctors, 1989

Reflections on two Navy doctors and being enlisted to help with emergency triage.

Box 1 Folder 8

Essays/Memoirs - 4: Guadalcanal - Place or Emotion?, 1989-1991

Thoughts on "Iron Bottom Bay" and the close-in nature of naval battles at Guadalcanal during World War II. Includes correspondence with C. Fred Wortham.

Box 1 Folder 9

Essays/Memoirs - 5: A Tale of Two Admirals, 1989-1991

Comparison of Admirals Halsey and Spruance. Includes one congratulatory letter.

Box 1 Folder 10

Essays/Memoirs - 6: Farralones Patrol, 1989

Discussion of the hastily formed patrol off the Farralon Islands by the Twelfth Naval District in San Francisco after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Box 1 Folder 11

Essays/Memoirs - 7: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, 1989

Anecdote of having to threaten to shoot an ammunition passer to stay at his post during Kamikaze attacks.

Box 1 Folder 12

Essays/Memoirs - 8: Viceroy, 1989-1991

Short term diplomatic work in Amoy following the end of World War II. Includes a 1991 letter to C. Fred Wortham.

Box 1 Folder 13

Essays/Memoirs - 9: Read the Book, 1989-1991

Koelsch's first experiences as Flag Lieutenant to Vice Admiral McInerney. Includes a 1991 letter to C. Fred Wortham.

Box 1 Folder 14

Essays/Memoirs - 10: Pony Express, Chinese Style, 1989-1991

Recollections of the New Cathay Cabaret in Shanghai. Includes 1991 messages from C. Fred Wortham.

Box 1 Folder 15

Essays/Memoirs - 11: There is a Monkey in the Wine, 1989

Cold War drinking competitions with the Russians and a banquet in which Vice Admiral McInerney eat a monkey's brain.

Box 1 Folder 16

Essays/Memoirs - 12: Hang Him High at the Starboard Yard, 1989

Vice Admiral McInerney's sentencing of a Navy Captain to death for crimes in China.

Box 1 Folder 17

Essays/Memoirs - 13: The Dragon Lady and Li Tsung-Jen, 1989

Essay never written.

Box 1 Folder 18

Essays/Memoirs - 14: A Decisive Moment in History, 1989

Robert E. Lee's decision to surrender rather than engage in a protracted guerilla war.

Box 1 Folder 19

Essays/Memoirs - 15: Was the Anchor Digestible?, 1989

Essay never written.

Box 1 Folder 20

Essays/Memoirs - 17: A Moment of Truth, 1989

The importance of properly berthing U.S.S. Wren for the first time following reactivation from the reserves.

Box 1 Folder 21

Essays/Memoirs - 18: How to Get an Expense Paid Trip to the Mediterranean, 1989

Blockade of Santo Domingo harbor with U.S.S. Wren following the assassination of Rafael Trujillo and Koelsch's decision to potentially sink Cuban ships running the blockade.

Box 1 Folder 22

Essays/Memoirs - 19: To Flores in the Azores, 1991

Cover letter only.

Box 1 Folder 23

Essays/Memoirs - 23: The Moral Line on Nuclear Weapons, 1989

Thoughts on the moral outrage against nuclear weapons compared to conventional weapons.

Box 1 Folder 24

Essays/Memoirs - 24: Vella Lavella, 1989

Battle of Vella Lavella while Koelsch was serving as a Torpedo Officer.

Box 1 Folder 25

Essays/Memoirs - 25: "They Also Serve" and "Standby to Repel Boarders", 1989

Koelsch's transit to Colon aboard M.S. La Playa to join his assigned ship in June 1942, the sinking of U.S.S. Erie (Gunboat: PG-50), and the battle between U.S.S. Borie (Destroyer: DD-215) and U-405.

Box 1 Folder 26

Essays/Memoirs - 26: Leadership - A Born Leader, 1989

Thoughts on Walter Hering.

Box 1 Folder 27

Essays/Memoirs - 27: Genius Without Portfolio, 1989

Carl Smith and the Cerro de Mercado mining operation.

Box 1 Folder 28

Essays/Memoirs - 28: From Foe to Friend to ?, 1989

Thoughts on how quickly the Japanese accepted surrender.

Box 1 Folder 29

Essays/Memoirs - 29: To Put the Genie Back in the Bottle, 1989

The ethics of the use of the atomic bomb on Japan.

Box 1 Folder 30

Essays/Memoirs - 30: First Impressions of the Middle Kingdom, 1989

First impressions of China and the Yangtze.

Box 1 Folder 31

Essays/Memoirs - 31: Reflections on First Going into Battle, 1989

Recollections of Koelsch's first offensive torpedo attack during World War II.

Box 1 Folder 32

Essays/Memoirs - Extracts From The Ears of Buddha, 1989 April

Includes 19: To Flores in the Azores, regarding the reception of U.S.S. Wren in the Azores and Gibraltar; 20: Flog Him, regarding rumors that Koelsch had one of his men flogged aboard U.S.S. Wren; 21: One That Worked, regarding Koelsch's efforts to reform a troubled seaman; and 22: Finale, regarding Koelsch's time as Commander Reserve Destroyer Division Eighth Naval District.

Box 1 Folder 33

Newspaper Clipping, 1962 (approximate)

Article regarding the recall of U.S.S. Wren to active duty circa 1962.

Box 1 Folder 34

Photographs, undated

Official portrait of Koelsch as a Rear Admiral.

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