|Birth: ||Feb. 21, 1921|
West Pike Run Township
|Death: ||Feb. 11, 2001|
West New Brighton
Richmond County (Staten Island)
New York, USA
Adolph L. (Al) Seton, a veteran of three wars and a sailor aboard the only major warship to make it to the open sea during the attack on Pearl Harbor, died yesterday at St. Vincent's Medical Center in West Brighton. The retired television executive from New Dorp, who became an eloquent spokesman against the scuttling of the vessel, the USS St. Louis, was seventy-nine.
Mr. Seton's military career spanned six decades, with active stints during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War framed by service in the Naval Reserve. He enlisted in the Navy in 1939 and rose to the rank of commander in the Reserve before retiring in 1981.
His civilian endeavors followed a similar upward arc. A journalist by training, he joined ABC during television's infancy and rose to the executive rank of publicity manager. He was a charter member of the New York Chapter of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the organization that runs the Emmy Awards.
But Mr. Seton was best known, on Staten Island at least, for his exploits during the Pearl Harbor attack, and for his later championing the plight of the USS St. Louis, the storied warship that was sold after the war to Brazil.
On the morning of December 7, 1941, the twenty-year-old petty officer was below decks on the St. Louis, a 10,000-ton light cruiser moored not far from "Battleship Row." Most of her crew had gone ashore for the weekend and the young man was getting a suit ready for his upcoming liberty.
"I was living in the gunnery office so I knew this wasn't a drill," recalled Mr. Seton in a 1991 Advance retrospective on the infamous attack, one of dozens of interviews he gave on Pearl Harbor in his lifetime.
Coming topside, "I could see this ugly olive-drab plane with a meatball on it about as big as a moon and the pilot was bent over the stick and intensely interested in what he was doing. My thought was he was berserk and had somehow gotten into the harbor and was thumbing his nose at the U.S. Navy . . . As I went up my field of vision became greater, and I could see the sky just covered with planes making attacks, I could see one of our battleships rolling over, the Arizona in flames.
"I stopped and looked around and saw the whole damn defeated fleet and there was nothing between us and California." The St. Louis' crew, which had for weeks been drilling for such scenarios, got the vessel under way within two minutes. It downed six planes as it steamed out of the harbor at 25 knots, guns blazing while the ship dodged torpedoes, the burning hulks of American gunships and the shallow reefs near Diamond Head. It also is credited with destroying a mini-submarine.
In a 1975 Advance interview, Mr. Seton vividly recalled the devastation: "Never in my life have I witnessed such rapid destruction, pollution of every kind and description, and needless loss of life as took place."
Equally riveting was Mr. Seton's description of the St. Louis' return to port several days later, and the shock registered on the faces of thousands of sailors who had heard an erroneous report that the ship had been torpedoed.
"This one ship became the entire Pacific fleet in pursuit of the attacking Japanese fleet. When the St. Louis returned to Pearl Harbor . . . all top-side work stopped in the Naval base. Cheers roared out in one of the greatest, spontaneous ovations anyone has ever seen."
The "Lucky Lou" -- the nickname earned that day -- went on to fight in ten more Pacific battles and campaigns. It was sold to the Brazilian Navy in 1951. In 1976, when he heard of Brazil's plans to sell the vessel for scrap, Mr. Seton, the editor of a monthly newsletter for his former St. Louis shipmates, started a campaign to save the ship. He became the crew's most eloquent spokesman in a four-year lobbying battle with American officials and Brazilian diplomats.
He also fought on the frontline of public opinion, flooding newspapers with press releases and opinion letters. One 1976 missive, to the editor of the Advance, described the ship almost lovingly: "The USS St. Louis is a museum piece in every sense of the term. Slim, fast and beautiful, she is the last of the world's true gunships and considered by many to be the finest cruiser every built. Built on a 10 to 1 ratio of length to beam, she is slimmer than even some destroyers. Designed to battle it out in surprise gun duels under cover of darkness or low visibility with enemy ships of larger tonnage, heavier guns and longer range, she mounts a forest of turrets . . . bristling with guns."
Despite his efforts, the St. Louis met an unceremonious demise, sinking off the coast of South Africa as it was being towed to a Taiwanese scrap yard. At the time of the sinking, only one other Pearl Harbor warship -- the USS Phoenix, which was sold after the war to the Argentine navy -- remained afloat.
Mr. Seton served aboard many other ships during his long Navy career. In 1945, while aboard the USS Borie, he suffered burns to his leg during a kamikaze attack. He received the Purple Heart for the wound.
Mr. Seton eventually was offered an officer's commission and went on to serve stateside during the Korean War, from 1951 to 1953.
In 1967, as the Vietnam War escalated, Mr. Seton, then a commander in the Naval Reserve, requested and received a special ninety-day active assignment in Vietnam. A worried father, he wanted to be near his son, Cpl. John Seton, who was attached to the Marine Air Squadron near Da Nang. An Advance report at the time told of the duo's exploits, including Mr. Seton's efforts to get his son and his son's enlisted buddies into officers' clubs. By then, he was moving in the exclusive circle of admirals, the report said, and was easily able to pull rank on one club officer who resisted the lowly sailors. He and John later met his younger son, sixteen-year-old Philip, in Hawaii for R and R.
Born in West Pike Run, Pennsylvania, Mr. Seton moved to Tottenville in 1949 and few years later to New Dorp.
After World War II, he earned a bachelor's degree at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, and later received a master's degree from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, Manhattan. He did graduate work at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, and Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.
He had a passion for journalism, working as a teen-ager for small Pennsylvania papers and becoming a reporter at the former Providence (Rhode Island) Journal-Bulletin. In 1953, he joined the American Broadcasting Co. as a copy chief and climbed the ladder at the fledgling network to trade news manager and assistant publicity manager. In 1955, he was named publicity manager.
In the late 1960s, Mr. Seton worked at Manhattan marketing and public relations firms and in 1970 was hand-picked by the chairman of PepsiCo, one of his corporate clients, to help get the word out about the National Business Alliance, a program started by the Lyndon Johnson administration and designed to encourage corporations to hire and train the chronically unemployed. As part of his role, Mr. Seton visited 143 American cities and once briefed President Richard Nixon, who continued the program.
Mr. Seton was active in the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, the Fleet Reserve Association and the Knickerbocker Chapter of the Retired Officers Association. As an officer in the Naval Reserve, he commanded the former training center on the Tompkinsville waterfront. He also was named an honorary Navy recruiter.
A parishioner of Our Lady Queen of Peace R.C. Church, New Dorp, he was a member of the Holy Name Society. He was also a member of the Manresa Council of the Knights of Columbus, New Dorp.
"When you look up the word grandpa in the dictionary you will find it means Al Seton," said his daughter, Jeannie Seton-McDonough. "He was 'Grandpa Seton' to so many kids. We all miss him so much already."
Surviving in addition to his son, John, and his daughter, Jeannie, are his wife of fifty-five years, the former Stella Urbanczyk; a sister, Frances Zuchowski; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
His son, Philip, died in 1993.
The funeral will be held tomorrow from the Hanley Funeral Home, New Dorp, with a Mass at 10:30 a.m. in Our Lady Queen of Peace Church.
Burial will follow in Resurrection Cemetery, Pleasant Plains.
Published in the Staten Island Advance on February 12, 2001.
Cemetery of the Resurrection
Richmond County (Staten Island)
New York, USA
Created by: Ryan Curtis
Record added: Feb 11, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 65527707
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