A BRIEF HISTORY OF USS LCS(L) (3) 32
by Joe Wiskotoni
Our ship, LCS 32, was one of the 130 ships that were built on the East and West Coasts. There were three LCSs commissioned on September 23, 1944: LCSs 14, 32 and 52. It took about 38 days to build our ship.
The Skipper, J. M. Evans, was the first from our ship to arrive at the Amphibious Training Base, Solomons, Maryland. He had been an instructor at the Celestial Navigation School. In June of 1944 two groups were formed, one to train in seamanship at Solomons, Maryland, and the other in gunnery at Fort Pierce, Florida, under the command of David Wellnitz.
We took a cruise on an LCI for a couple of weeks for more training, off Virginia Beach, Virginia, out on the Atlantic, and then returned to base. The gun crew went on the USS WYOMING for their training. In August the two crews merged and became Ships Company. Our training was over and we went to Washington D.C. by bus and boarded a troop train. Most of the Communications Division and the Black Gang met us there, and joined us for the cross-country cruise in the cattle cars to Portland, Oregon. We arrived there August 22, 1944. Portland had a very nice USO for the sailors to enjoy themselves.
On Saturday the 23rd of September, 1944, Lt Comdr. Creim of the Western Naval District ordered Ensign J.M. Evans to read his orders and assume command. Ensign W.F. O’Connell was assigned the first watch. The next few days we were busy getting outfitted, and had the ship depermed (demagnetized).
On 10/03/44, we left Portland, Oregon on the Willamette River in company with the 31 and the 52, enroute to Astoria, Oregon. We stopped there for the night. While we were there, a group of tuna boats came in and gave us some fresh tuna. The next day we set sail for San Diego, California. Very rough weather was encountered on the cruise down the coast, and except for nearly all hands being seasick, there was no damage to the ship.
Arriving in San Diego on 10/08/44, an extensive training program in gunnery and ship handling was carried out. Three of our plankers (original crew members) left the ship, including Kostantine Konopisos, who ended up being an Admiral in our great Navy. Seven new people were assigned to our ship to bring our complement to 74, six officers and 68 enlisted personnel.
On 11/08/44, in company with five other LCSs, the LCS 32 sailed for Pearl Harbor, arriving there on 11/17/44. During the following weeks we trained at Maui and Kahoolawe, Hawaii, with shore bombardment and antiaircraft fire. On 12/31/44, Dave Wellnitz was injured while diving into the ocean from a port ready box. The injury consisted of a six inch gash in the left side of his skull. He was treated by our pharmacist and received further treatment from the group doctor. (55 years later we had a ship reunion in San Diego, on 09/23/2000, and we awarded him a purple ribbon for his mishap).
We left Pearl Harbor enroute to Eniwetok and Saipan, arriving there on 02/10/45. During our stay there, a group of B-29's was taking off on its way to Japan. One of the planes did not make it and crashed at the end of the runway. On 02/15/45, the final leg of our voyage to Iwo Jima began. On our way to Iwo we heard a Tokyo Rose radio broadcast that said, ”We know you will be here on the 19th, and we have a reception waiting for you.”
On D-Day, 02/19/45, at 0738, we began the initial run on Yellow Beach at Iwo with our automatic weapons firing away. It was believed a small Jap ammunition dump was hit by our fire, as a large quantity of smoke was observed in that area, also a small group of the enemy was killed. We fired two test rockets and then a salvo of 118, and the 4 1/2" rockets hit as planned near the water’s edge. We then executed a turn 9, speed of 8 knots, with our guns firing away. The beach was now so obscured by clouds of fine lava dust raised by rocket explosions that the results could not be observed. We reloaded our rockets and made a second run on the beach, and our rockets hit about 200 yards inshore.
We were blasting away with our automatic weapons as return fire of heavy mortar and machine gun fire was observed. Several bursts hit within 100 yards of the ship, and some shrapnel hit the ship, but no damage or casualties were sustained. We spent the rest of the day firing at different targets, which were requested by the invasion force.
We saw both raisings of the American Flag: the first one, and then the second one for publicity purposes. We heard the reason for the second flag raising was that the first flag was not large enough. We left Iwo on 02/26/45, heading back to Saipan to obtain supplies. After refitting the ship at Saipan, the gunboats were off again, this time for Leyte, Philippines. The trip was completed without incident, and on 03/09/45 the ship dropped anchor at Dulag, San Pedro Bay, Philippine Islands.
During our R & R and training period there was a gasoline dump that caught on fire 03/20/45, and our Skipper volunteered our ship to assist in putting out the fire. After beaching the ship, about 300 yards from the burning drums, all fire hoses were brought into play. With hard work on the part of all hands, including the ship’s cook, the fire was extinguished. This was the first of the three major fires the ship fought in a period of three months.
The rehearsal for the Okinawa invasion was completed on 03/21/45. After refitting the ship, in company with a large invasion force, LCS 32 set sail for Okinawa. Extremely heavy weather was encountered enroute, finally clearing on 03/31/45, at which time the ship was again ready for action. Love Day, 04/01/45, and H-hour, 0830, was on Easter Sunday. We were assigned to bombard Purple Beach Two. Upon passing the gunfire line all craft were to open fire with 40 MM guns. When the range to shore was 1200 yards, ranging rockets were to be fired until it became apparent that a salvo would land near the waters edge, at which time a full salvo of rockets was to be fired. Automatic weapons fire was to be continued. Rocket launchers were to be reloaded and a second salvo fired when the first wave had closed to 100 yards, and support craft were 700 yards from the beach. The “32” reported to Commander Transport Group Dog for salvage and fire fighting duties.
That evening at 1903 we went to General Quarters and commenced laying a smoke screen for the larger ships. We opened fire with all guns on enemy planes approaching from the northeast at medium altitude. Fire was concentrated on one plane crossing our ship’s bow from port to starboard a few hundred yards out, and it dove into the USS WEST VIRGINIA (BB-48). At 1940 we were directed to report to the USS ALPINE (APA-92) for salvage duty. An enemy suicide plane had crashed into an open hatch forward on the starboard side and had started a fire in holds 2 and 3. We moored alongside starboard to starboard and commenced putting streams of water on the fire through a large hole in the ALPINE’s hull. This was the second major fire for the “32” to successfully bring under control.
Now to the nasty part of our mission: The Kamikaze Kids were out making suicide runs against any ship they could find. The LCSs 32, 33, and 52 were ordered to patrol Radar Picket Station 2-R. The operation plan provided that the ships take outlying stations for the purpose of radar and visual detection and interception of enemy airplanes. We spent twenty days on picket duty in the months of April, May, and June. From April 1 to July 6, 1945, we went to General Quarters more than 150 times. In repelling 10 suicide attacks, we shot down 3 planes, and assisted in the destruction of 12 others. We took off the wounded from the USS LCS 116, and later transferred them to a destroyer. We took the 116 in tow until a sea going tug came along and relieved us of the task. During this time the LCS 33 was sunk.
On April 30, 1945, we successfully fought our third fire, on the ammunition ship SS HALL YOUNG, which had been hit by a suicide plane. We protected her from further attacks and prevented the loss of the ship and its critical cargo.
In Hagushi harbor we made smoke screens for these battleships: NEW MEXICO (BB-40); NEW YORK (BB-34); TENNESSEE (BB-43); TEXAS (BB-35); and WEST VIRGINIA (BB-48); and many other ships in the harbor.
While on picket duty a Corsair crashed 1000 yards ahead of us after the pilot, 1st Lt. D.T. McLennon, USMC, bailed out. William DiGregorio jumped into the ocean and rescued him. (At a ship’s reunion 53 years later in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, DiGregorio was awarded a medal for his bravery by none other than the Lieutenant he pulled out of the water).
On May 6, while LCS 32 was nested in the outboard position with other LCSs alongside an LSD (Landing Ship, Dock), the bow 40MM on the LSD started firing at an incoming kamikaze. General Quarters was sounded by Quartermaster Connell Medley in the pilothouse, who ran out to man the .50 caliber gun on the signal bridge that Charlie Beck manned during GQ. Cookie Ecker ran out of his galley, manned the .50 caliber on the starboard side, and hit the pilot as he passed over the ship at about 75 feet. The pilot fell back against his headrest, pulled the stick back and veered up over us to land in the water about 100 yards off our bow.
On July 6, 1945 the 32, in company with various ships, left Okinawa for repairs and relaxation in the Philippines.
The war with Japan ended on 08/14/1945, when the Japanese accepted our terms. Officially, the war ended on the deck of the Missouri on 09/02/1945, when the peace treaty was signed.
However, our task was not yet completed. There was still the occupation of Japan, and on 09/25/45, in company with other LCSs, the “32” was sent to Wakayama, Honshu, to support the landing of the occupation troops. The occupation was completed without incident and the ship stayed in the area until 10/27/45, on patrol duty. Dan Wachter tried to sink one of our ships by ramming the USS LSM 394, and putting a hole approximately 5' X 6' in her. There were no injuries to either crew. Then there were a few Japanese fishermen that came too close to our ship, and Wachter commenced firing at them with a rifle.
From 11/01/45 to 11/19/45 the ship was in Shanghai, China for some R & R for the crew, and to make preparations for the next operation.
On 11/19/45 LCS 32 set sail for Kuirum, Formosa (Taiwan today). We arrived there on 11/21/45 and began demolishing the mines that had been laid by the Japanese. We fired at 32 mines and sank 29 of them. On 12/01/45 we participated in a burial at sea for J. F. Cooper GM3/c of the LCS (L) 56. He had been killed by a piece of shrapnel from an exploding mine.
We soon started to lose some of our crew members who were going home to be discharged. On 12/19/45 we left Formosa and headed to Shanghai, China, arriving in time for the Christmas Holidays to get some relaxation. While we were there we received some crew replacements.
On 01/20/46 we left Shanghai to start our long journey home. We left one of our shipmates, Cecil Harris, at Saipan. He had a case of smallpox and we were quarantined there for 12 days. On our way to Pearl Harbor Bill DeGregorio became ill and was put ashore on Wake Island. Both sailors recovered and made it home eventually. We arrived at San Pedro, California, on March 10, 1946 with less than half of the original crew aboard.
Beckstead, O’Connell and Wellnitz, and most of the crew left the ship. J.M. Evans was transferred and took command of LCS 40. On 04/24/46 J.E. Shriner assumed duties as acting Commanding Officer. On 05/03/46, Phillip Perkins came aboard and took command of the ship. The “32” stayed in the Los Angeles area until 06/19/46, where it was retrofitted with supplies and more new crew members. The next journey was through the Panama Canal and on to New Orleans, arriving there on 07/11/46. The ship tied up at berth 17, Naval Repair Base, New Orleans (Algiers), Louisiana. All of the ammunition was then removed from the ship. Wray A. White relieved Phillip Perkins as commanding officer. The LCS 32 was then moved to the Boland Machine and Manufacturing Co., Esplanade Wharf, for pre-inactivation overhaul.
Final entry in the log: On 10/10/46 a party from the 8th Naval District came aboard the ship for preparation to be decommissioned. 1430: Assembled crew at quarters for ceremonies. 1432: M.H. Leighninger read orders authorizing him to accept custody of the ship. 1435: Wray A. White read orders from Sixteenth Fleet Commander, to decommission the ship. Robinson, D. D., MoMM1/c, was directed to bring down the ensign and the commissioning pennant, and the U.S.S. LCS (L) (3) 32 was placed out of commission, in Reserve.
The ship was used as a Reserve Training ship, and was stationed at Vicksburg, Mississippi. The ship was there from August 1947 to April 1950 when she was scheduled for deactivation. On 05/22/50 the “32” was declared excess baggage and was stripped and readied for sale.
On 11/20/50 the LCS 32 was sold to Southwest Steel Corp. Inc., Memphis, Tennessee, for $7,313.12, and stricken from the Naval Register on 12/20/50.
MEDALS AND RIBBONS EARNED BY LCS (L) (3) 32
World War Two Victory Medal
2. Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Ribbon with three stars: Iwo,
Okinawa, and mine demolition near Formosa
3. Navy Occupation Medal (Asian clasp)
4. China Service Medal
5. American Area Campaign Medal
6. Philippine Liberation Medal
7. Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon
8. Navy Combat Action Ribbon
9. China War Memorial Medal
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