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Lt.(jg) Kenneth F. Machacek, Commanding Officer
While the LCS 31 was being built in the summer of 1944 on the west coast, her crew was being assembled and trained on the east coast. 43 men were assigned to the crew of the 31 for training at Little Creek, Virginia in July under the command of Lt.(jg) Kenneth Machacek and the assistance of four designated officers: Ens. Robert Rahn, Executive Officer; Ens. Frederick Morris, Eng. Officer; Ens. Shelby Harbison, 1st Lt.; and Ens. James Smith as Communications Officer. 22 men were assigned to gunnery training at Fort Pierce, Florida, with Ens. Laurance McKenna in charge. After two weeks of training this group was shipped to Chesapeake Bay for a week of training aboard the BB WYOMING, after which the crew was united aboard the LCI 694 for a week’s training.
Upon completion of training the entire crew was shipped to Portland, Oregon for pre-commissioning duty, arriving there on 16 August. The LCS 31 was built by Commercial Iron Works, was launched Sept. 2, passed preliminary trials Sept. 17, and was commissioned Sept 20. She departed Portland Oct. 31 to complete outfitting at San Diego. The 31 was assigned to LCS(L) Flotilla Three, Group Seven, Division Thirteen. During shakedown and training duties she became the flagship for the Commander of LCS(L) Group SEVEN, Lt. Commander Frank P. Stone.
The first firing of the 4.5 rockets from an LCS was done during this training, and we experienced difficulties in launching ours. We loaded all ten launchers but decided, to be on the safe side, to fire only one launcher at first. But when the master switch was pressed, all launchers fired and firing was finished for the day! We then decided that inasmuch as we were running the full ship’s current through a sealed cable from the firing panel to the launchers, enough current was induced in the other enclosed wires to fire all rockets. One of the specifications of the rocket what that it be sensitive enough to be fired from a Jeep mounted launcher with a flashlight battery. The two chaps at Cal. Tech who had developed the rocket came down to San Diego and came to the same conclusion. All launchers thereafter had resistors installed to cut the excessive induced current.
On November 7 the 31 departed for Pearl Harbor for further training, and on Jan. 24, 1945 the 31 proceeded in convoy to Iwo Jima as part of the gunfire support force aiding in the assault and occupation of that island, commencing on Feb.19. The 31 in a line-abreast formation with the other eleven LCSs of Group Seven laid down two rocket barrages ahead of the initial assault waves. Her duty thereafter was to supply close ‘call-fire support’ for the advancing troops. Firing was conducted at ranges from 150 to 500 yards, and personnel, pillboxes, armored vehicles, machine gun nests, observation posts, mortar and artillery positions were type-targets to be either crippled, neutralized or destroyed. The ship also conducted night harassing fire, and served as an artillery observation post ahead of the enemy lines for a Marine Observer squad. The LCS 31 was also found to be effective serving as a close-in photographic platform.
Upon release on March 9 the 31 returned to Saipan for repairs. On March 25 she proceeded to Okinawa Island where she participated on April 1 and 2 as part of a diversionary invasion force on the southeastern coast.
The 31 was subsequently employed during the next three months of the Okinawa campaign in a variety of tasks: radar picket support; anti-suicide boat patrol; ‘close-in’ support for reconnaissance units; escort duty and smokemaking; the most important of these being radar picket support.
During the Okinawa operation the LCS 31 was credited with the destruction of eight enemy aircraft. The first was while on screening station at the Nago Wan anchorage on the night of April 21. The second occurred during a night attack while on a radar picket station sixty miles north of the Hagushi beachhead. The morning of May 4, on the same picket station, was the ‘moment of truth’, when the 31 was asked if she was ready or not, and the ship may have survived only through ESP on the part of the captain. The ship had secured from the usual morning ‘Condition Two’ watch and settled down for breakfast when Captain Machacek exclaimed, “Gentlemen, I don’t feel right. Sound General Quarters.” Before all stations could report in as ‘manned and ready’ all hell had broken loose. Estimates claimed that fifty Japanese planes arrived. The 31 destroyed six. She herself was hit by three suicide planes. The DD INGRAHAM, hit by a kamikazi, and down 14 feet by the bow, backed under her own power to Kerama Retto (ship’s graveyard). The DD MORRISON, receiving four hits, and the LSM 194 one hit, both sank.
As a result of the three hits received on the 31, Radioman Marshall Wyvell and Seaman Al Murll were blown over the side, Wyvell with both arms broken. Not knowing whether the other man in the water was American or Japanese, Seaman Murll swam to Wyvell, then towed him to a life-ring. In subsequent maneuvers as the ship came near these two men, a life raft was dropped to them. When things had calmed down, the 31 returned to the raft and Lt. Shelby Harbison went over the side to help. As another group of planes came swooping in, the 31 got underway again. Later, the three men were picked up by another ship. Raymond Mousley, Seaman, was also blown overboard. As the ship came around to drop a life raft, he was able to grab a life-line, pull himself aboard and return to his duty station. Nine members of the crew were killed. Twelve were wounded, six of them seriously enough to be transferred to the Hospital Ship. The 31, with the forward twin 40, the aft director and two 20MM destroyed, remained on station until relieved. The ship was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for her part in this action. Captain Machacek was awarded the Silver Star.
The 31 spent the next three and half weeks in a state of repair. She made the trip to Kerama Retto with carte blanche to pre-supply herself with any equipment need, by simply cannibalizing ships there that were being scrapped. This included an entire twin 40MM gun and a Mark 51 director. As the twin 40 came from the stern mount of another LCS and was placed in the forward position on the 31, it required removing the ‘stop fire’ cam plate from the old gun and installing a new one, so the new gun would not be guilty of shooting off any portions of the ship when in use.
On May 6 Commander LCS Group Seven, LCDR Frank Stone, who had been serving on LCS 31, moved his flag to the LC(FF) 484.
The shooting down of the 2nd plane that the 31 dropped was of particular interest. The radar on an LCS was good only up to 15 degrees above the horizon. It was designated strictly as a surface scan unit. On the night under discussion the 31 was travelling alone when the radar watch called the bridge to inform the OOD that he could see the blip of a plane coming in off the port bow, just clear of the water. The forward twin 40 and the two forward 20MMs were manned, and as the bearings of the approaching plane were given by radar, the bearings were repeated to the guns. The plane broke out of the mist about 10 degrees off the port bow crossing directly across the bow of the ship. ‘Open fire’ was given at once; the 40 was under director control. The fifth round out of the 40 was a direct hit and the plane splashed. Both flyers of the plane were fished from the water dead.
In one of the long evenings when the ship was tied up for repairs after the 4th of May, three of the Petty Officers came up with a stunt to raise morale. While in training at Pearl the ship had recovered a nylon target sleeve; no claim as to having shot it down was made. The sleeve was now resurrected and a pair of tight-fitting shorts was made from it, just large enough to tightly cover the derriere of one of the Petty Officers. All members of the crew were sent out from the mess hall. Then, blindfolded, they were allowed to return, one at a time. As each returned his hands were guided so he could feel the shape of the shorts; then he was allowed one gentle ‘pat’ as he made a wish!!
Another result of the time in repair was that each member of the crew received a Japanese rifle as a memento. It came about thusly: It came to the knowledge of certain of the officers who were making frequent trips to the supply depot that the troops ashore had acquired a great many captured rifles that were being destroyed. Of course they were available for swap, that is if there were anything worth swapping for, like BEER. Now it just happened that the 31 had twenty cases of beer under lock, in a void space, waiting for the time when there would be a ‘Shore Party’. There were no such parties in prospect, and members of the crew surely wanted to possess such mementoes. So a deal was struck: The ship would receive enough rifles so every man aboard could have one. In exchange, the ship would offer ten cases of beer. Key in hand, the Exec descended to the void to count out ten cases. To his astonishment he found ten cases of beer, and ten cases of empty cans. It would seem that the Chief Petty Officers, enterprising men that they were, lived over a bolted-down manhole cover. So with a little wrench work they made it a practice each evening to open the cover and pop a man down into the void. There he would remove six cans of beer and return to his quarters. The six chaps in on the scam each had a can of beer while they meditated on the inconvenience of being away from home. At the conclusion of the meditation the empty cans were returned, so their being empty would only be known if the cases were picked up. So at the time of this discovery the beer was half gone. The Exec. realized that if he had to tell the captain what had happened, there was going to be some unpleasantness aboard.
A meeting of some of the more devious minds aboard came up with a solution. We would still trade ten cases of beer. However, the requisition would read ‘twenty’ cases of beer. The work party that passed the cases over to the Army would consist of the beer drinkers who could put on a good show, as if the empty cases weighed as much as the full ones. The people who received the cases were instructed to keep their mouths shut when they realized that half of the cases were empty. The requisition was duly made out, the transaction was completed, the Captain was glad to see that all the beer was gone, and everyone got a rifle! The rifles were very inferior, however. Each one had a ramrod attached that could be used after firing, for the spent brass was frequently not ejected by the bolt action, and had to be forced out by the ramrod. The troops of General Custer had the same kind of dependable equipment when they lost the battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.
The LCS 31 was released from her Okinawa assignment July 6 and set sail for San Pedro Bay, Leyte, Philippine Islands. Enroute, the 2nd day out of Okinawa a careless sailor neglected to make the routine inspection of the steering gear in the aft steering compartment. A mishap indeed, for in the rough seas the rudders were getting a lot of use and enough water leaked up through the rudder post bushings to flood out the electric motor that moved the rudders. Shortly after midnight the ship found herself with no steering control and three feet of seawater in the aft compartment. It was necessary to first pump the compartment dry; then resort to manual steering. The latter was accomplished by setting a seaman in the compartment with earphones. Orders came from the conn telling what rudder movements were needed. The helmsman then cranked a geared winch that forced the rudder into the correct position. The work was hard, and the sea rough. A helmsman could not stand more than fifteen minutes on duty before becoming violently sick. Every fifteen minutes a new man would have to descend into the compartment and do his duty until he was relieved or got sick, whichever came first. Considering the conditions, the ship was ordered to take up position at the end of the column of ships. But this did not keep the ‘Flag’ from sending frequent messages to do a better job of ‘keeping station’.
It was while at anchor in the Philippines that word came of VJ day. We were all privileged to see one of the great fireworks displays of all time, as every ship in the bay proceeded to fire off her entire supply of pyrotechnical ammunition.
On the 16th of September, her steering engine in good order, LCS 31 set sail for Japan, via Okinawa, and into the tail of a typhoon. The waves became so high that it was necessary for the small ships to reverse course and spend the better part of a day riding out the storm headed south. The waves were so high that as the ship dipped down into a trough it would be impossible to see the next ship that was in the adjoining trough. When storm conditions had lightened enough, it was reverse course again. Arrival at Okinawa showed how devastating the storm had been to ships that had tried to ride it out at anchor. Some 20 ships had been beached, some being up beyond the high water line. Most impressive was the Destroyer Repair Vessel AJAX. Sitting up on the sand and erect, her crew had lowered ladders that they might go ashore.
On September 25 the 31 ‘supported’ the troops that landed at Wakayama, Japan. From there she proceeded to Nagoya, again to participate in ‘occupation’. The main function of LCSs at this time was to go out with minesweepers, and as they cut the mine cables so the mines would rise to the surface, the LCSs would take them under fire to either sink or explode them. The 31 got her fill of mines on the day that she raised her anchor, only to find a mine entangled in the anchor. If the anchor were pulled in against the ship there would be a vast explosion. So while the ship steamed slowly ahead to keep the mine from making contact with the ship, Gunner’s Mate Kurlewicz, in bathing trunks, in case he fell in, hung from the anchor guard and unbolted the anchor so it fell free into the water, with the mine.
November 13 was the date we left Japan for Inchon, Korea, then to Mokpo, where we guided LSTs through the fast current of the 30-foot tides sweeping into the narrow entrance of the harbor. The LSTs were repatriating Koreans who had been taken to Japan as forced laborers. As they came ashore from the LSTs they stripped, were deloused and given clean clothing.
On December 7th, Memorial Day, word came that the LCS 31 was to return home, via Tsingtao, China and Saipan. It was on her entrance to Tsingtao that the crew saw some of the human price of war. Chinese in bumboats, swarming around the ship, scooped dehydrated potatoes from the sea that had been dumped there as the crew cleaned their mess trays, and fervently ate them and any other scraps they could rescue. Realizing we had mutton and canned food that the crew would never eat, arrangements were soon made to break out long-handled brushes for the bumboat crews. In four hours the ship was painted battleship gray from stem to stern, from the deck to the waterline, for $50.00 worth of food.
The 31 arrived in Saipan on Christmas Eve, then on to California. With a skeleton crew, many of them fresh from boot camp, the trip led on to New Orleans for ‘mothballing’. Upon approaching this, her last port, the good ship USS LCS(L) 31 was run onto a reef that ripped such a hole in her hull that it was decided she should be scrapped. Sic Transit Gloria!
SECRETARY OF THE NAVY
The President of the United States takes pleasure in
presenting the PRESIDENTIAL UNIT CITATION to the
UNITED STATES SHIP LCS(L) 31
for service as set forth in the following CITATION:
“For extraordinary heroism in action during an attack by enemy Japanese suicide planes north of Okinawa Jima, May 4, 1945. Promptly opening fire on an overwhelming force of suicide planes which attacked the flotilla of ships, the U.S.S. LCS(L) 31 maintained a steady barrage from her antiaircraft guns, scoring repeated hits on two of the targets but failing to stop the terrific momentum of the craft which crashed, one between the conning tower and forward 40-mm gun and the other across the main deck aft. Perilously crippled by the resultant fires, extensive damage and personnel casualties, LCS-31 quickly shifted to emergency steering and remained in action; she responded gallantly to the determined and aggressive efforts of the officers and men who controlled her fire; she continued the desperate fight, destroying the third and fourth attackers close aboard and, despite severely reduced fire power, scored two more kills at longer ranges. Returning to pick up the men blown overboard by the crashes, LCS-31 completed a record of heroic achievement against overwhelming odds, attesting her own indomitability and the splendid seamanship, the courage and fighting teamwork of her officers and men”.
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