Maryland Nautical Sale’s president Bob Davis is a history buff, especially where history links nautical gear to real people. His recent acquisition of a pair of Wilfrid O. White parallel rules revealed the story of its former owner, and shed new light on the valiant actions of the men of the USS Emmons during World War II.
Wilfrid O. White was the founder of the chandlery and chart agent that has since evolved into Maryland Nautical Sales. Australian shipbuilder Wilfrid studied in Scotland with Lord Kelvin, and immigrated to the United States in 1898. There he married Ruth Eldridge, daughter of George Eldridge, originator of the Eldridge Tide & Pilot Book. Wilfrid established the American firm of Kelvin & White, Co. in 1919, later renamed Wilfrid O. White and Sons, Nautical Instruments & Chart Agents.
The firm operated on Baltimore’s Water Street until the company was purchased in 1957 by Captain John Hart and renamed Maryland Nautical Sales, Inc. The Davis family purchased the company in 1985, greatly expanding the business and line of products and services.
For several decades, Wilfrid O. White produced and solid brass 24” hinged parallel rules. One of these parallel rules came to be owned by Raymond “Pappy” Diehl, who served onboard the US Navy destroyer USS Emmons as a fire control Chief Petty Officer during World War II. Ray was fortunate to survive the war and return home to his family, where he mounted the parallel rules over his workbench. He looked up at them frequently, his son Robert observed, but never revealed his wartime stories to his son until much later in life, when the stories were somewhat garbled by time. Robert is well aware of the horrors of war, having experienced them in Vietnam from 1966-1967.
When Ray died in 2012, the parallel rules were passed to Robert. He did some research to discover their purpose, and decided to contact a few chandleries to see who might be interested in preserving this piece of history. Bob Davis of MNS responded, and after a series of emails, Bob now has the parallel rules displayed in the Baltimore office, along with a 1941 Wartime Event Cover from the USS Emmons.
Ray’s son Robert and the USS Emmons Association provided MNS with a brief history of USS Emmons, DD‐457/DMS-22. Launched in 1941, the ship’s history is filled with great moments of heroism by her crew. After shakedown diplomatic cruises in Central America, Emmons operated in the European theater, participating in nearly every major landing in the European Atlantic, including the momentous sea land engagement at Normandy, France.
As the war in Europe came under control, Emmons moved to the Pacific theater to engage the Japanese. She fought valiantly until April 6th, 1945 – a tragic day near Okinawa where she was hit by five kamikazes and was put out of commission. Despite valiant firefighting efforts, a heavy explosion ensued and the order to abandon ship was given. All night, the burning Emmons drifted toward shore, and the US Navy gave the decision to scuttle the ship before she reached enemy hands. She now lies approximately 140 feet below the ocean’s surface, with a bronze monument giving the names of the 60 brave men who perished that awful, fateful day.
The USS Emmons was awarded 5 Battle Stars and the Naval Unit Commendation. One of her four commanding officers, Edward Baxter Billingsly, authored the book entitled “The Emmons Saga”, detailing the valiant story of the USS Emmons.
Robert expressed that he is proud and honored to be Ray Diehl’s son, and is happy that the parallel rules have found a home where they will be displayed - honoring, in some small measure, the heroic and noble men of the USS Emmons. After 70 years, it seems the parallel rules have returned to family.