The Cambrian

Last survivor of torpedoed SS Montebello will be at Cambria Historical Society this Sunday

L ocals returning to visit displays of their heritage in the Cambria Historical Society will be able to “Meet and Greet” the rotation of new and renewed exhibits this Sunday.

Members and prospective members of the Cambria Historical Society are invited to a reception today, Aug. 16, from 5 to 7 p.m., as volunteers and staff of the Piedras Blancas Light Station will be dressed in period clothing to present their depiction of the history and mission of the lighthouse. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the group’s efforts to restore the edifice to its former state, and the property to its natural state.

The public is welcome on Friday and Saturday during regular hours, 1 to 4 p.m., to view the exhibits.

Special guest Dick Quincy will be “on deck” Sunday, Aug. 19, from 1 to 4 p.m. to discuss his experiences during and after the oil tanker SS Montebello was torpedoed and sunk on Dec. 23, 1941.

Quincy, a 92-year-old resident of Danville, was a young seaman on watch just before dawn, and is the only living survivor.

He spent a harrowing hour after spotting the sub and escaped in a lifeboat with the rest of the crew until rescued by Cambrians about six miles off the coast

The fully loaded Union oil ship was destined for Canada; after it sank, the crewmen were diverted to San Francisco. Due to military news blackouts, Quincy was called a liar when he told his tale, even while carrying his identifying life jacket.

During subsequent years, more information was disseminated about the incident and other attacks along the California coast by the Japanese submarine, I-21.

The Montebello’s cargo was explored recently by a NOAA deep submersible to determine whether the oil was a hazard, reputed at those depths and temperature to possibly be the consistency of “peanut butter or cheese.” No oil was found, having dissipated over the years.

Quincy had stopped by the local museum after being directed here by Robert Schwemmer at the Maritime Museum in Santa Barbara, where they were celebrating the 70th anniversary of the sinking and rescue. Other crew may have been older, but Quincy was the only one aboard that day.

He said was pleased about the exhibit, which was created by historical society volunteers, and pledged to return.

The public is invited to “meet and greet” him Sunday. There is no charge for admission to the museum and heirloom gardens, but donations will be accepted.

— Consuelo Macedo