Please report any broken links or trouble you might come across to the Webmaster. Please take a moment to let us know so that we can correct any problems and make your visit as enjoyable and as informative as possible.
NavSource Online: Amphibious Photo Archive
A BRIEF HISTORY OF LCS 55
Louis V. Plant
Staff Signalman, Flotilla 3
My connection with the LCSs began in Norfolk, Virginia where I was quartered after returning from 18 months overseas duty in South Pacific campaigns on the LCI 24, which became the converted gunboat LCI(G) 24. For my second Pacific tour I was to be assigned to LCS Flotilla 3 staff on the Group 7 flagship LC(FF) 484 in October 1944, but did not wind up on the 484 until May 1945, when it finally became ready. Until then I served aboard LCS 55.
In Norfolk I meet George Dean, the Bosun on the 24. He tells me he is the Master At Arms of this barracks. He says, “I’ll find some seaman that has screwed up to scrub your canvas while you and I go to the PX and have a beer.” He also says that he is living ashore with his wife, so I might as well move into his private quarters in the barracks, no one will bother you there. So for the rest of my stay in Norfolk I have it made. No more reveille, no watch duty, no nothing. It is like I don’t exist. I only have to get up so that I don’t miss breakfast. I can stay up as late as I want. George has a little radio and I can listen to swing music quietly and read into the night if I want to. Life is good. Norfolk is a miserable town, so we don’t go there much. The entertainment for the evening is to have a few beers and watch a movie on the Base, unless you want to go into town and visit the ladies of the evening. I don’t.
All relatively good things must come to an end. We get the word that we are being sent to that God-forsaken base at Solomons, Maryland, again. We are to be at the dock at 8:00 am the next day in Dress Blues with all our gear. Dick Leisenring has to say goodbye to his wife and make arrangements to send her back to her Parent’s farm in Ohio. We wait at the dock for three hours before the same old tub that took us to Solomons in October 1942 arrives. We chug up the Chesapeake Bay in what seems forever. We are fed when we arrive and are told that no barracks are ready, so we sleep on the drill hall floor in our Dress Blues. The next day we find our gear and are assigned a barracks. Dick and I grab bunks next to each other. Our tailor-made Blues are a mess from sleeping in them.
We start walking around the base. It has doubled in size since we were here two years ago. The original Base Commander was relieved because of the poor job he was doing. Things are better, but there is still enough chaos to go around. We find that they have built a full size wooden mock-up of an LCI command ship for training purposes. It has a round conning tower and the weather decks have been covered to provide more living and eating space for the crew. It sort of looks like a pregnant whale, but is more livable. We soon learn that we will be given “training” on this model vessel by people who have never seen the ocean. We will be “trained” to do jobs we have been doing for the last two years. Such is life in the Military. We make the best of it.
Officers and men alike are bandied about. One day I am ordered into a classroom to teach a group of officers semaphore. “Just stall them,” the instructor says. I walk in and the Officers start firing questions at me regarding their fate, of which I know nothing. It is obvious that they are in as much of a quandary as the enlisted men. All is confusion, but there is a war on and a massive effort to gear up is to be expected. I am not complaining here, but only trying to show what a tremendous effort it is to coordinate efforts to train people in a time of war. This base was in more turmoil than others, but at least living conditions on it were better than they were in 1942.
All of us returning from overseas must be interviewed by a psychiatrist. Rumors fly all over the place as to what number he assigns you after the interview which affects what your next assignment will be. The psychiatrist asks me if there is anything bothering me. I reply that I don’t want to go back into the combat zone and get shot at again. He replies, “Son, all of us feel that way,” as he sat there in his nice soft chair. He gives me a number. When I get outside I show it to a fellow Signalman from the LCS 21. His face drops and he says, “You are going back overseas.” He is close to having a nervous breakdown and will be assigned duty near his home State. The 21, 22, 23 and 24 were all hit during the Solomons campaign and the crewmembers have all been affected in some way. Some more severely than others.
Having had a taste of home life, I have a case of the blues. There were many acres of woods at the base and I decide to take a walk in the woods. The uniform of the day is dungarees (now called blue jeans). I wear those along with my Marine combat boots and head for the woods. When I get back Leisenring tells me that the Officer of the Decks office has been paging me for about two hours. I report to the OD’s office and he says, “Where in the hell have you been? I have been paging you.” I said, “Well, here I am.” The OD tells me to pack my gear and be back in 30 minutes. He says, “You are going to San Diego to be Staff Signalman on an LCI flagship for a group of LCSs.” I ask him what an LCS is and he says, “You’ll find out when you get there.”
I go back to the barracks and tell Dick my fate. He says the mail has just arrived. In it is a loaf of nut bread from my sister Adele. Dick and I sit down and polish off the whole thing. I now have about ten minutes before reporting. Dick and I shake hands and promise to keep in touch, which we have done for 56 years. Dick will make Chief and be assigned to another LCI. The war ends when he is in San Diego and he thinks he will be discharged and go home to his wife, but he has to go to Hawaii before he is allowed to be discharged. I will not see him again until I visit him and his wife Mary at her Parents’ farm near Cincinnati..
I return to the OD’s office and am told to board a bus that is outside. I climb aboard, and lo and behold, there is Calvin Dickman from the 23. He is also a Signalman on the staff. I didn’t even know he was on the base. The Staff consisted of various ratings: Troy Yost, Chief Yeoman, LeRoy Garrett, a Storekeeper First Class from Toledo, another Storekeeper whose name I don’t remember, an Electronics Technician named Hawley who is a bit eccentric and when we finally go to sea he will etch his name on any tools that are lying around no matter who they belong to. All of these people have been riding out the War in the States. They have no idea what sea duty is like.
Other experienced men are a First Class Radioman Kenneth Smith who received the Navy Cross for bravery in New Guinea. His LCI took a hit on the bridge and all the officers there were killed. Although severely wounded, “Smitty” took over the helm and took the ship out of danger. We didn’t know any of this until the ceremony here when he was awarded his medal. A quiet man. There are a few other men with sea duty experience: Chief Bosun Downey, a First Class Shipfitter named D’Avigo, and a First Class Electrician. We also have some men fresh out of training school: Radioman Third Class Alvarez from the Mohawk Valley in New York, Radioman Third Class Anderson from Terre Haute, Indiana. There were 14 men on the Staff, plus Officers. The rest of the names I don’t remember. I forgot to mention another Radioman fresh out of training school, a character named Ken Stevens from Pittsburgh, PA who referred to himself as “Old Salt.” He will be good for many laughs in the days to come.
We take the bus to Washington, D.C. to board a troop train. Dickman and I manage to get in a few snorts at the bar before the train leaves. We board the train and thus begins a rollicking six day trip to San Diego along the Southern Route through Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and finally California. The Navy traveled First Class in those days, and we rode in an air-conditioned Pullman car. We saw houses in Virginia where the upper floors were used as hay mows and the lower floors were used as living quarters. Wherever you went in America in those days you saw the worst areas along the railroad tracks. This particular train pulled over on to a side track frequently to let faster trains pass on the main track. This gave us an opportunity to load up on beer for what turned out to be a six-day party.
Attached to our trains were many troop-carrier cars full of soldiers. We called these cars “cattle cars.” The poor soldiers aboard traveled in atrocious conditions, but we rode along in the lap of luxury. We had a 12-hour layover in Atlanta, another 8-hour layover in New Orleans. We try to go to the French Quarter in New Orleans, but it is off limits to the military. I go to a bar and order a Mint Julep. It is a little bit of sugar and mint and a lot of whisky. I don’t like it. I get back to the train to find a thoroughly plastered Dickman trying to sneak a prostitute aboard. We get rid of the prostitute and climb aboard. Dickman opens the water cooler to get some ice for his drink. The poor Porter’s sandwich falls out and Dickman steps on it. He gives the Porter $20.00. I take the $20.00 from the Porter and give him $5.00. He settles for that.
Before we leave New Orleans another car is attached. It contains German prisoners of war from Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps. They are in an air-conditioned car like ours. They are being treated better than our own troops. We start talking to them. They are an arrogant bunch telling us how we are going to lose the war. The conversation gets pretty heated and the MPs chase us away.
We continue rolling across the country making frequent stops, replenishing our beer supply when we can. At one long stop in the middle of the desert the soldiers are ordered off of the train and put through close order drill while we sit in our air-conditioned car and watch, while sipping beer. Troy Yost runs out into the desert and digs up a little cactus which he nourishes until he can ship it back home. Our stop in San Antonio provides the opportunity to get enough beer to last us the rest of the trip.
We arrive in San Diego to report to the flagship. The only problem is there is no flagship. It is still being outfitted in Bremerton, Washington. We are assigned to a barracks, and told we have “open gangway,” that is we muster at 8:00 am and are free to go on liberty until 8:00 am the next day. We run into many shipmates who have returned from the Solomons Campaign. Dickman and I run into the former cook on the 24. He is shacking up with a local in exchange for providing her with items from his ship that are rationed to civilians. It is easy to smuggle items from his ship in his overnight bag. We have many a party in her apartment. We also visit the bars in San Diego. One time we take Garrett, a preacher’s son with us. We go to a bar called the Busted Bulkhead. It is so small that the band is perched on a shelf along the wall. The drum is about level with Garrett’s head. He drinks quite a bit. The next morning he says he can still hear the drum beating in his head.
After daily muster we would crawl up on a pile of lumber and sleep in the California sun. After two weeks of this an Officer says we are giving all of you two weeks leave. Now the choice is: do I stay in San Diego or do I take a chance on catching a flight home. Flight tickets are issued on a priority basis. I do get on an American Airlines flight and head for home. No non-stop flights those days. The DC-3 was used on commercial flights. It won the right to be a commercial airliner because it could fly over the Rocky Mountains on one engine if it had to. It was also the workhorse of the Military. I hop aboard. Our first stop is Salt Lake City to refuel. During the engine run up prior to take off the port engine catches fire. We get off and the airline puts us up for the night in a hotel. I get to see some of the City, but the night desert air gets to my thinned blood and I have to get inside.
We take off in the morning. After a layover in Chicago we take off for Detroit. I arrive around midnight and bang on the door to get my parents out of bed. They were frightened, thinking it was the dreaded telegram saying that my brother or I had been killed. I check around the neighborhood to see if any of my old buddies are home on leave. They are not. We visit the relatives. My thoughts are often with my shipmates on the 24. I get a guilty feeling that I am home, knowing what they are going through. I enjoy being with my family, but like all civilians they have no idea what it is like in combat. You just keep it to yourself.
When my leave is up I head for the airport with my Mom and my sister Agnes. As I board the plane I turn back to wave and I see my mother crying, just as she did in 1942 when I left for boot camp. No mother could show more love than my stepmother did. She married my Dad when I was three years old. I was her baby.
I arrive back in San Diego late because of delays. I expect to get into trouble for being Absent Over Leave. I walk a mile or so from the Main Gate to the barracks. I learn that our LCS Flotilla has arrived and is out around Catalina Island doing gunnery practice. Nobody knows I am late. I get my gear from the Bosun’s Locker, shift into dry clothes, having had to walk in a pouring rain to the barracks. I hit the sack and get a good night’s sleep. I hook up with another member of the Staff and we talk the base out of a Jeep because we had to go pick up the flotilla mail. We ride around San Diego like conquering heroes. I don’t think anybody was impressed, but it was fun while it lasted.
The flotilla comes in and I finally get to see what an LCS looks like. It is built on the basic LCI hull, but is much improved. It has evaporators for making fresh water, and ample food refrigeration. It has a PA system for making announcements, a mess compartment, a fire fighting system and roomier crews quarters. Music can be played over the PA system. The ordinance consisted of a single 40mm cannon forward, a twin 40mm amidships, a twin 40mm cannon aft, and four 20mms. They also had 50 caliber machine guns in various places. In addition to all this they had launchers that launched 4.5” rockets. I remember thinking at the time that if I do get back into combat that at least we will have enough fire power to do the job right.
When the flotilla returns from gunnery practice I learn that we are designated as LCS Group 7 Staff. A Group is made up of about a dozen ships. I don’t remember how many ships were in a flotilla. We are told that a Flagship is an LCI loaded with all kinds of communications equipment and repair equipment plus medical equipment. The only problem is that our Flagship is still in Bremerton, Washington, being outfitted. So we are a Flagship Staff with no Flagship. We are told we will have to board the LCSs in our group; we will be split up until the Flagship arrives. I shop around until I find the ship I think has the best cook. I move aboard.
LCSs in another group are leaving for overseas duty. Many are playing “Anchors Aweigh” over their loudspeakers and shouting “good hunting” at each other. The poor fools don’t know what they might be in for! They are anxious to see action, just like we were on the 24 back in 1942. They will probably get their wish and then some. I still have open gangway when the ship is in port. I spend a lot of time with old shipmates. There is much drinking and carousing, because we know what some of us will be in for in the future. Some of the crew resent my being able to come and go as I please when we are in port, but that is their problem, not mine. We spend a lot of time on maneuvers and practicing gunnery, which is badly needed by the crew.
We finally get our sailing orders and leave San Diego with the rest of our group in November 1944. Still no Flagship. I sit on the fantail and stare at the receding shoreline. I wonder how long it will be before I see home again. We are told our destination is Hawaii. We have an uneventful trip, arriving off Hawaii 10 days later. We circle around for a few hours awaiting permission to enter Pearl Harbor, the scene of the Jap Carrier attack in December 1941. We are directed to an area called the West Loch, which is quite a distance from where the attack took place. We anchor in a cluster there. We see a battered and completely rusty LST there. We are told it was an ammunition ship that exploded and sank. They have raised it to clear the anchorage area.
We have many liberties in Honolulu. However, there is a curfew, and all military have to be back at their bases or ships by 6:00 pm. Civilians have to be off the streets by 11:00 pm. A hangover from the surprise attack, I guess. Calvin Dickman is on one of the other ships. He gets in a rumble somewhere. The Shore Patrol is very strict here. They put him in the Brig and radio his ship to pick him up. One of his buddies gets wind of it and goes to the Shore Patrol office, saying he is there to pick Dickman up. They release him, the Radioman tears up the message and the officers never hear about it.
We spend many days around Maui practicing landings with the Marines. Maui was a beautiful place, I went swimming there Christmas Day, 1944. Quite a treat for somebody from Michigan. During this time we also went to a remote island that was used for target practice. We fire rockets one at a time, no salvos, just to train the crew on how to use them. This is something new for me as well as them. This looks like a fearsome weapon.
We return to Pearl Harbor to top off our tanks and take on supplies. We go on liberty at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. The Navy has taken it over and it is used as a residence by submarine crews after they return from patrol. They tie up their submarine and leave it for a well deserved rest. Navy yard crews and a relief crew get the sub prepared for the next patrol. These men deserve and get the best. They are an elite group. Unfortunately their casualty rate will prove to be the highest of the Services during the course of the war.
We are allowed on the grounds and to Waikiki Beach, but not into the hotel. The grounds are beautiful with tame tropical birds strutting around. There were many beautiful flowers on the grounds also. It is hard to believe the hell that is going on a few thousand miles from here. There are beer pavilions here, of which we avail ourselves. One day they are serving Stroh’s beer, which is made in Detroit! Just like a liquid letter from home.
One day, Jack Lentz, my Communications Officer, pulls alongside in a Higgins boat. He tells me to pack my gear, we are moving on to another ship in the group. We go to another ship and pick up Ken Stevens, one of the Staff Radiomen. I get settled aboard my new home, LCS 55. We take on food, fuel and rockets. Jack Lentz was a good officer. Very laid back with no B.S. The Officer-Enlisted man relationship was there, but in an understanding yet businesslike manner.
We eventually get our sailing orders and rendezvous with the entire Flotilla out at sea. It is quite a sight to see. The Commodore is at the lead in the acting Flotilla Flagship, the LCS 31, with all the LCSs following. We head for Eniwetok and Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands. On the way there we are in a tight convoy. The young Ensign who is Officer Of The Deck, wanting to sound like an experienced person called down to the Radar man and says, “Radar man, how much water is there between us and the ship ahead?” Back up the voice tube in the Radar man’s southern drawl comes, “How do you want that sir, in quarts or gallons?” I almost choke trying to suppress my laughter.
As we approach Saipan before dawn, I am sound asleep when the Captain calls me up to the bridge. There is heavy anti-aircraft fire over the island. The Captain says, “What do we make of that?”
I tell him that is just “Washing Machine Charlie” keeping everybody awake. I figure if the Commodore is not worried, why should I be? I return to the sack. We arrive at Saipan without further incident. We spend time there preparing for the next invasion. We watch the B-29’s leave early in the morning to go bomb Japan. We watch them fly overhead in the afternoon as they come back. We can see holes blown in them from AA hits they have taken. It is a long run from here to Japan. These islands were taken to provide a base closer to Japan, but is still a long run to the target.
The skipper calls the entire crew together and tells them that we are going to be part of the invasion of an island called Iwo Jima, which is approximately 500 miles from Japan. It is the halfway mark for the B-29’s. He spreads out a map and shows everybody where we are to form up to make our rocket bombardment on the beach. This is a far cry from the secretive days of 1942-1944.
My biggest fear is not going into combat, but of going into combat with a green crew. These men have not “Seen The Elephant Yet” and it worries me. We have 500 miles to go into enemy territory. Fortunately we do not see one enemy plane. Our Carriers have swept the skies clean. One day I came off of watch and head for the mess room. A mess cook sweeping the deck asks me if we are all going to get killed. I tell him I hope not and go back to eating my chow.
As we approach Iwo in the darkness before dawn, I can see the familiar flashes of gunfire as the Navy proceeds with its pre-invasion bombardment. I have never seen this much firepower before. Soon it becomes daylight. We cut inside the line of bombarding ships and make a turn 90 degrees to port and head for the beach abreast of each other. My ship is underneath the guns of one of the old Battleships at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Every time she fires a salvo from her main battery I am shoved forward as if being hit with a sledgehammer. We hope her gunners are accurate and don’t blow us out of the water. The feel of the concussion is frightening. I have never seen so many ships blasting one island before. The tables have turned since we skulked around the Solomons in 1943. The firing continues as we approach our predetermined distance from the beach. The Japs have placed artillery shells in a trench on the beach. Their plan is to blow them up as the Marines near the trench. Our job is to blow them up before the Marines land. We reach our launch point and come to a dead stop.
The Japs could have blown us out of the water at that time, but they are saving everything for the Marines when they come ashore. We launch all 600 of our rockets at once, as do the other ships in our group. The noise is deafening and the rockets temporarily suck the oxygen out of the air making it difficult to breathe. We did not know it at the time, but two or three days before we arrived the LCI(G)s carrying underwater demolition teams, whose job it was to clear out underwater obstacles prior to the landing were heavily damaged or sunk by the Japs.
As soon as the Japs opened fire they were knocked out by our ships. They decided to hold their fire until the Marines were ashore. We were sitting ducks while we launched our rockets, but taking fire at that moment was not to be our fate. When all those rockets detonate at once there is a tremendous blast and the mast shakes from the concussion. We make another turn 90 and turn broadside to the beach, strafing with everything we have as we run parallel to the island.
We strafe Mount Suribachi as we head out to sea. Another wave of LCSs takes our place and launches their rockets as we head out to sea to reload our launchers. Our decks are covered with 40mm ammunition for strafing. A hit would have blown us to pieces. We reload and head back for the beach. Again we go under those big guns. As we go in this time, a heavy pall of smoke partially blocks out the sun. An eerie scene. We launch our rockets again. As we prepare to leave, a flight of B-24 bombers comes over and drops its bombs on Mount Suribachi. On our starboard side I see a huge bunker with what appears to be a 7-inch gun sticking out of it. It has been knocked out. I also see a Jap landing craft about the size of an LST that has been knocked out.
Somewhere prior to our coming here, someone had picked up a War Bond Drive banner that said, “Back The Attack, Buy War Bonds.” With permission from the skipper we make a flag hoist out of it and fly it as we go past the Battleships and Cruisers on our way into the beach. We are letting them know our job is tougher than theirs! A bit of humor. You had to be there.
On the next run we don’t turn and leave. We hold our position. The bow doors open on the LSTs and the Marine Amphibious Tractors (AMTRAKS) come down the ramps and head for the beach. Again we are sitting ducks, but the Japs don’t fire on us. It was nerve wracking to say the least, anticipating what might happen to us. We provide covering fire for the Marines. They use our masts as a guide for heading toward the beach. As they pass us I see small arms fire splashing around them and us. In spite of all the bombarding, Jap soldiers are firing their rifles at us. We don’t get hit. We keep firing our 40mms as the Marines go past.
As the Marines land we are ordered to provide harassing fire on the base of Mount Suribachi. I see the Marines lying on the beach. I don’t know if they are dead or pinned down. Their left flank and Mount Suribachi is a real problem. The Japs are looking right down their throats. We spend the rest of the day and all that night providing harassing fire. No sleep that night. During the night the Japs come out of their caves and attack the Marines. The bombardment ships fire star shells all night to illuminate the island. The combination of smoke, flares and noise makes me think that this must be what Hell looks like. We are brought sandwiches and coffee up on the bridge. I keep thinking about those poor Marines ashore. The Jap artillery has opened up now, and the Marines are taking a pounding from both ends of the island.
We are eventually told to stop firing our rockets unless we are specifically told to do so. We are running low on our rockets. We do run out of 40mm ammo and have to go alongside one of the Battleships to get more. I finally get time to leave the bridge for a while. It has been about 36 hours with no sleep. I look at the island and think what a God-forsaken place this is. I also wonder why God would let a terrible thing like this happen. About this time, Navy Dive Bombers from the Carriers appear and blast the Jap positions on Suribachi.
Corsair Fighter planes strafe and shoot rockets at the Jap positions. They also drop phosphorus bombs. This goes on during daylight hours. Not one Jap plane appears, although one night we are on the outer perimeter of the area prepared to lay down a smoke screen if so ordered, when a Jap plane drops a stick of bombs that creeps toward us, but stops far short of us. I think that this was one Jap that wanted to keep on living. He just dumped his bombs and went home.
On about D-Day plus two we are ordered onto the beach to pull off wreckage. The surf has kicked up and the beach is covered with broached Higgins boats and other craft, making it difficult to bring in more equipment and Marines. As our crew prepares to hook on to a Higgins boat I look to starboard and see a row of dead Marines stacked up like cordwood. They are awaiting burial or removal from the island, I do not know which. I hope my brother is not among them. A feeling of revulsion and guilt comes over me; somehow I feel that I could do something to stop all this, which of course I couldn’t. I am relieved when our job is done and we return to our patrol area.
Two days stand out in my memory. The first is the day the Marines reach the top of Mount Suribachi. A message comes over the radio station that Suribachi has been taken. I train my binoculars to the top and sure enough, there is our flag flying. A great cheer goes up from all the ships. A very emotional moment. The second incident was the day a crippled B-29 landed on the airstrip returning from a raid on Japan. All we could see was its tail sticking up. The word went out that it was going to attempt a take off after repairs were made. This was a strip for fighter planes, not bombers. A million dollars was probably bet that day among the ships whether he would attempt a takeoff and whether or not he would make it if he did. Soon we could see the tail moving. He took off and flew right over enemy lines, turned right and flew right over the ships, wagging his wings as if to say, “Thanks for letting us get back to Saipan.”
Another day a TBF (Torpedo Bomber) flies low over us with its underbelly on fire. The bottom gunner bails out, but the plane is too low. His chute partially opens and he dies when he hits the water. The pilot tries to ditch into the sea but crashes. Nobody survives.
We take on a couple of Marines who will tell us where to fire our guns. We fill them with fresh food and drink. We are proud of them for their courage. They feel guilty about not being ashore fighting with their buddies. Believe it or not, but they tell us they admire us because we cannot dig a hole to get into when fired upon like they can. We go in close to shore so they can make their observations. They are looking at maps and talking calmly. I hear a constant swishing sound and suddenly realize we are under small arms fire! Bullets are whizzing all around us. It does not bother them, but my knees sort of buckle. Since I don’t have anything in particular to do, I head for cover. The Japs are firing a crude type of rocket from cover behind a ridge and the Marines are trying to get the coordinates so that our bombers can knock it out.
We return to the beachhead and put the Marines ashore. We pick up a Marine Officer who is a Japanese-American. He has a captured Jap soldier with him. The Jap soldier is bowing and saluting everybody in sight. The Marine Officer tells him to take off all of his clothes so that he can take a shower. He is filthy from many days hiding underground. He practically dies of fright. He thinks he is going to be pillaged by the crew. He is cleaned up and fed. The Marine Officer tells us the soldier was drafted into the Army, and he has to fight, just like us. The Japanese-American Officer does not refer to him as Jap, but as the enemy.
Anyway, the reason they are aboard is for the Jap soldier to talk to his buddies ashore into surrendering. We go in very close to shore and he talks to them via a “Beach- master” loudspeaker we have attached to the mast. They reply with small arms fire. In the meantime a destroyer lying out to sea is on a firing assignment, and shells are whizzing very near us. We are getting it from both sides. We are ordered alongside one of the old Battleships to take on 40mm ammunition. While we are waiting our turn to go alongside we spot a body sewn up in canvas floating nearby. Somebody has attempted a burial at sea, but did not put enough weight in it so it would sink to the bottom. We are ordered alongside and do not see the body when we are done. We put the officer and the Jap ashore.
We leave Iwo Jima about March 1st. The Marines are far enough inland that our guns and rockets can offer them no support. We head back to Saipan. This is something new for me. We have been here less than two weeks and are leaving. A contrast after hanging around the Solomons for over a year. Things are moving fast. We return to Saipan without incident. We see no enemy planes. It is obvious that air superiority is ours.
Upon return to Saipan we prepare for the next invasion. We watch a continuous stream of B-29s taking off to bomb Japan. They will soon have fighter escort from Iwo Jima. Also, they can make emergency landings on Iwo Jima for repairs and fuel if needed. Their losses go down and they inflict heavy damage on the Japanese people.
Our Flagship is still nowhere to be seen. I signal Dickman who is on the 31. I ask him if he knows anything about the Flagship. He does not. A crewmember on the ship I am on asks me what the message is. I tell him we are going back to the States. By the time he spreads the rumor around it comes back to me with even a day and date!
Between the Iwo Jima and Okinawa invasions we have time on our hands. We go ashore for recreation, which consists of sitting on the beach and drinking beer. We are allowed to draw beer rations based on the number of men in the shore party. We get the Yeoman to type up a list of fake names and a fake ship name. The Chief in charge of the fake party then draws a ration of beer. He trades uniforms with me and I draw the legitimate ration for our ship. We now have lots of beer. We switch uniforms again.
The Navy allowed enlistment at 17 in those days. A lot of these kids did not drink beer. We would trade our candy ration for their beer rations. Therefore, we had enough beer for a proper beach party. The trip back to the ship at day’s end was a sight to see, believe me. Getting your mind off of the war for a while was good for the soul if not the stomach.
We are told that we will be leaving within 48 hours to participate in another invasion. We are to be part of a diversion force during the landings at an island called Okinawa, which is about 350 miles from Japan. We will be operating on the opposite side of the island from the actual invasion site.
We proceed to Okinawa and see no enemy planes. The night before D-Day I wind up in the Bosun’s Locker with a bunch of crewmembers drinking “raisin jack.” I don’t drink too much because I need my wits about me the next day, which is D-Day.
D-Day is April 1 (April Fools), D-Day and Easter Sunday all wrapped up into one. It is a cool, crisp day. If anything good is to be said about the Iwo Jima and Okinawa invasions is that at least we didn’t have to suffer from the heat and humidity of the Solomon Islands. We rendezvous with a Cruiser and a couple of troop transports. We lay down a smoke screen and the Cruiser lobs a few shells at the beach; the transports lower a few Higgins boats, which circle around for a while. All this is done out of sight and sound of the actual invasion. There is no return fire from shore.
We leave the area. As we proceed, a Jap fighter streaks across the sky. He ignores us, which is good, because the crew just stands there and watches him instead of running to their battle stations. They still do not realize that they are participants in this war, not spectators.
We are ordered to patrol an area close to the island. It is here that I see my first Kamikaze attack. Three Jap planes dive on a DM (Destroyer Mine Layer). The skipper takes evasive action and all three planes crash into the sea. Many, many other ships will not be as lucky. This time we are at General Quarters, but all of the gun crews are gawking at the attack on the DM instead of keeping a lookout in their own area of fire. I tell the Captain that they should be watching their own sector, because an attack could come from any direction. He relays that message to the Gunnery Officer who is known as “Bones” Wiley among the crew because he is extremely thin. He instructs the gunners accordingly. I become extremely unpopular with some of the crew, but I am more interested in saving my life than I am in winning a popularity contest. To this day I still cannot believe that a man would deliberately kill himself in an attack, as these Japs did.
During patrol we spot an LST that is on fire. As we approach we can see she is abandoned. There are several explosions occurring from the weather deck, just forward of the bridge. It looks like ammunition explosions. We hope they don’t send us in to put out the fire. They don’t and we leave the LST to its fate and resume patrol.
The night of D-Day we are ordered into a bay, which will later be named Buckner Bay in honor of a general who was killed during the campaign. We patrol all night seeing no action. As we are pulling out at dawn we see a PC hit a mine and sink. Right in the area in which we had been patrolling. Our luck stays with us.
Around the time President Roosevelt died we are ordered into the island to beach and take on some Marines that have been on reconnaissance in the area. We take them to another area to check out a village. Some of the crew goes ashore with them. The village is abandoned and its occupants are hiding in caves. The crewmembers go into the village and collect souvenirs from the caves. The Marines flush out the caves but find only women and children. We soon break out with lice from either the souvenirs or the Marines, and have to be deloused.
We go into the landing beach area to dump off the Marines and to take on fuel and supplies. I have never seen so many ships before. This is a different Navy than the one hanging on for dear life in the Solomons Campaign in 1942-43.
While we are at the beachhead we see a Pittsburgh class Cruiser take a direct hit on the #2 turret by a Kamikaze. Later a cruiser of her class will be sold to the Argentine Navy and renamed the Belgrano. She will be sunk by a British submarine during the Falkland Islands war many years later.
After action subsides we are ordered to an island called Kerama Rhetto. It has a large harbor. We are stunned to see many of our Destroyers that have been hit by Kamikazes. Many of the crewmen have been killed. The remaining crewmen are doing repairs or salvage work. A sobering sight. The crew of the ship I am on begins to realize what could happen to them.
One day I am on watch at dusk when I see three Kamikazes flying low to the water. They come in with no warning. I hit the General Quarters alarm, but it is too late to do anything. They have come in on us undetected by Radar. I follow one as it comes right past our bow, turns left and crashes into a seaplane tender, which is the biggest thing in the harbor. I don’t know what happened to the other two. This one hits the tender just below the boat boom on the port side. We weigh anchor, get our fire hose nozzles working and head for the tender. The Captain of the tender waves us off. He will fight the fire on his own, which is O.K. with me, because the Kamikazes might be back before dark. They do not return. We have been hit by the enemy without firing a shot in return.
The Kamikaze attacks increase. The Navy will suffer its heaviest casualties and ship losses in history during this campaign. Our Destroyers have formed a picket line around the entire island about 100 miles out in an effort to intercept the Kamikazes and keep them away from the troop ships at the beachhead. The Destroyers have suffered so much damage that we are ordered to join them on the Radar Picket line where we will be for the next 30 days. We see many ships hit and many planes shot down. There is a constant patrol of Navy planes circling us during the day. The constant roar of plane engines and the guns firing gets on one’s nerves. But we do not get hit, and no planes make a run on us, although we fire at many.
There is respite at night because the Kamikazes do not attack at night. Also, our air cover is not patrolling at night. Our turn to be attacked comes one day, inevitably. A group of us is sitting on a gun mount playing the card game “Hearts.” I look up to see several Kamikazes flying very low on the water below Radar detection. They are on us in a flash, but fly right through our formation without attacking. They are headed for the beach to try to hit the troop ships. I get to my station on the bridge and get on my life jacket and helmet. I look to the direction the Kamikazes came from and I see another one turning to port to make a run on us. I tell the Captain who alerts the Gunnery Officer, but by this time the crew has already gone to Battle Stations. They are learning.
The Captain orders hard right rudder. Fortunately the Helmsman ignores the order because he realizes that this maneuver will render all but the aft guns useless. At this point, all guns are firing. The Kamikaze keeps on coming. For a fleeting second I wonder if this is going to be the end for me. Just when it looks like he is going to hit us, he takes several hits on the port wing, flips over and crashes into the sea. A mighty cheer goes up from the crew. We have conquered the enemy. The thought that a fellow human being has just died does not cross our minds. The Captain thanks me for spotting the Kamikaze coming at us. The Commander of the Destroyer group we are with radios us a “Well Done.”
The following dusk I am called to the bridge. There is a plane flying back and forth on the horizon. It is too far away for me to identify. About this time our air cover flies directly over him and does nothing, so I assume he is one of ours. As soon as they leave, he turns toward us. As he gets nearer, I can see a torpedo under his belly. Only Jap planes carry their torpedoes outside the fuselage. It is obvious that he is going to attack the Destroyer that is with us. I tell the Captain to tell the Radioman to alert the Destroyer. The inexperienced Radioman starts using standard Navy call procedure, instead of telling the Destroyer he is under attack. The Destroyer Radioman tells him to wait, he is taking another message. By this time, an LSM that has a shot at the Jap does so. This alerts the Destroyer and he pours on the power. The torpedo misses. Our air cover comes in and shoots the Jap down.
After many days on the Picket Line we are ordered into the Beachhead. Jack Lentz, our Communications Officer, tells Ken Stevens and me that the Flagship has arrived, and that we will be going aboard her. I will finally be doing the job I was sent over here for.
We pack our gear and transfer aboard LC(FF) 484 late at night. I get a temporary bunk in the Crew’s Quarters for some reason or other. I sleep the sleep of the dead for the first time in weeks. At reveille, a Bosun’s Mate rousts everybody out. I ask him to give me a break, telling him I just got off Radar Picket duty, and he does, but not for long. His seamen have to get things in shape for the day. I go above, and who is standing Signal Watch but my old buddy Calvin Dickman. He welcomes me and brings me up to date. He tells me the LCS he was on (#31), was attacked by seven Kamikazes. They shot down four and were hit by three, killing several crewmembers. He is still pretty shook up and tells me he thought his number was up this time. He is glad I am aboard. I can take over some of the jobs he has had to do by himself.
After his watch is over, we go down for chow. He tells me what a jerk the Captain of the Flagship is. I soon find this out for myself. However, the cook is a good one and the food is good. The new LCI mess is larger and more comfortable. Dickman shows me around the ship after we eat chow. It has facilities for servicing the ships under our Command. It has two Doctors, Pharmacists, and administrative staff and repair equipment. The radio shack is loaded with all types of communications and direction finding equipment. Our signal bridge has flying bridges we can run back and forth on while sending and receiving signals. I meet Commander F. P. Stone, our boss; he was Dickman’s Skipper back in the Solomons. He is a very good officer. He is the group Commander and a great guy. Dickman says, “Lets get your gear and move you into Staff Quarters.” I get a top bunk across from his; fill up my locker in what will be my home until October 1945.
Dickman and I decide to build a cage we can stand in at a higher point on the bridge in order to be more visible when sending and receiving signals. We have our Welders take care of that. We then have our Electrician run an extra line up to the Bridge so that we can plug in a coffee pot. From previous experience we know that we will need a wider yardarm on the mast to run up signal flags. We scrounge up a piece of pipe and replace the old yardarm. About the time we are hooking up the signal halyards the Captain comes on deck and starts screaming bloody murder, asking what we are doing to his ship without his permission. He storms below and complains to Commander Stone. Stone tells him to calm down; he will take care of it.
Stone calls us down to his quarters and tells us not to do anything without getting his permission first. He will then discuss it with the Captain. We say “Aye, Aye Sir.” Thus begins a cat and mouse game between the Captain and the enlisted men. I think this guy was the basis for Captain Queeg in the book titled The Caine Mutiny. We are lucky to have Stone for a boss. He knows that Dickman and I know what we are doing and will defend us if we are right.
I meet the members of the Staff that have joined the group. One of them is a Regular Navy Chief Bosun who is a real character named Downey. He lets us lead a relaxed life much to the envy of the ship’s crew. He bends the regulations but not to the point that we are not doing our jobs well.
Duty at the beachhead is paradise compared to duty on the picket line. The carriers are keeping the Jap planes away from the beachhead; the Picket Line does it as well. Jap raids are restricted to nighttime, and there are many. We spend the days communicating with our ships, sending them out on Picket Duty or calling them back in.
We spend the days watching the old Battleship Texas fire her main batteries into the Jap stronghold at Shuri Castle, while an observation plane flies over the Castle telling her where to fire. She has thick armor belt around her, and you can see the scorch marks on it where a Kamikaze hit without even making a dent. Somewhere along the line Dickman gets permission to go ashore. He bums a ride up to the front to get some souvenirs. He gets no souvenirs and almost gets killed in an ambush. He returns covered with mud and has bloodshot eyes. He gets chewed out by Stone for doing such a thing. Thus ends that little adventure!
One of our new Battleships arrives, which immediately draws the Japs attention. She starts firing her AA batteries into the overcast sky and soon two Jap planes come spinning out of the clouds and crash into the sea. All during this period Captain Larson is sneaking around trying to get enlisted men, Staff and crew for some minor infraction of the rules. Mr. Jacobson, our Staff Executive Officer, is also a veteran of the Solomons Campaign. He is a regular guy. I have known him since the Little Creek days. He tells me to use my head and not to get into any conflict with the ship’s crew. I know who he has in mind!
The Japs continue to fight back in any way they can. They have swimmers attaching explosives to the sides of our ships at anchor. So a “rail watch” is established. Men who don’t normally stand watches (except the cooks) are issued carbines and made to stand at the rails on lookout for swimmers. The water at any invasion scene is littered with cans, boxes, empty shell containers, etc., etc. The men are told that the Japs may swim up to the ships using one of these items for concealment. During the night everybody is taking pot shots at anything that floats by. The poor administrative people who are not accustomed to standing watch are bleary-eyed during the day. Now they know what real sailors go through.
The Japs step up the attacks on the beachhead. Then our Group is ordered to the outer perimeter of the beachhead to lay down a smokescreen to cover the ships in the beachhead area. We are equipped with smoke generators. It is basically an engine with a manifold that gets red hot. Diesel oil is automatically sprayed on the manifold, creating thick white smoke, which is dispersed over the area by a fan. The crew starts making smoke, which is promptly sucked into the below decks area by the intake fans, filling the Crews’ Quarters with smelly smoke. The intakes are shut off and the living quarters become stifling hot. We are under orders not to fire our guns and to stay below.
Soon the Japs come over on a night bombing raid and the AA batteries cut loose. We old-timers play cards and read; the new men are nervous and scared. We tell them that the bombers are after the big ships, not us. The booming gets louder. I remember poor Roy Garret, the preacher’s son, shaking and reading his Bible. Suddenly there is a loud bang and some shouting. Three members of the ship’s crew have disobeyed orders and had gone up on deck. They had never seen anything like this before. An unexploded 20mm shell lands in the gun tub they are standing in, explodes and wounds all three of them badly enough that they have to be removed from the ship. The next morning I go above to find the entire ship covered with a slick coating of oil from the smoke generators. The deck hands have quite a job cleaning it off. This scene is repeated for several consecutive nights.
All in all, this duty at the beachhead is not all that bad. Here I am, making $136.80 per month, with reasonably good food, although death is always near. I am sending signals to ships in our command to go out on the Picket Line rather than being out there myself. My Communications Officer, Jack Lentz, is a great guy and he makes my life tolerable. He is a practical man. He tells me to write anything I want to in my letters home. He says, “The Japs know we are here, why shouldn’t our folks back home? Write where we are and I will pass it through censorship.”
Throughout my Navy service there were moments of humor. One incident at Okinawa I have never forgotten. We enlisted men are lined up outside the Galley waiting for a Mess Cook to hand us our trays of food. On the opposite side of the Galley was the Officers Mess. I was leaning against the bulkhead being next in line to get a tray. Willie, the Officer’s Steward, comes out of the Galley carrying a tray of pancakes. Without missing a step he picks up a pancake and slaps me in the face with it, puts it back in the tray, goes in to the Officers’ Mess and serves the pancakes. The roar of laughter in our chow line is mighty loud.
There were sad moments also. Roy Garret gets the word that his brother has been shot down over Germany and is presumed dead since no parachutes were observed coming out of his bomber.
The day comes when our duty at Okinawa is over. I am issued a .45 caliber pistol to strap on and ordered to deliver “Guard Mail” to all the ships in our Squadron. I don’t know who I am supposed to shoot with the .45, since there are no Japs around. The “Guard Mail” obviously contains movement orders. Every ship I go to asks me where we are going. They want to know if we are going on another invasion. I honestly don’t know and tell them so. When I get back to the ship Troy Yost, who typed up the orders, tells me we are going south to the Philippines into a rear area. We will earn the Philippine Liberation medal while we are there, but did not deserve it because we did nothing to liberate the Philippines.
Within a few days our Squadron forms up in the open sea with us at the head. It was quite an impressive sight to all those ships behind us following our lead. I have seen combat for the last time, but of course, I don’t know that at the time.
Things move along smoothly until one day when I am running the Signal Bridge, and Larson the Captain changes a flag hoist that I have made. I look up and see the change he has made without my knowledge and tell my Signalman to change it back to the way I had it, which he does. I do not want to endanger our ships. Larson tells the Signalman to put it back. Before the Signalman can do this, the signal is executed properly, at which time I asked to be relieved of the watch. I don’t want to be responsible for any mishaps.
Later that day I am ordered to report to Commander Stone’s cabin. Here I find out that Larson has put me on report for disobeying an Officer. Stone has the Signal Manual in front of him and wants to know what this is all about. I show him in the Manual where I was right. He said you have been in the Navy long enough to know that when an Officer tells you what to do, you obey regardless of the consequences. I say, “YES SIR.” He says, “Don’t do it again, dismissed.”
A few days later I find out from “Willie” that Larson asked Stone when he was going to Court Martial me. At that point Stone blasted him and told him, “Leave my staff men alone. They know what they are doing.” I thank “Willie” for the inside scoop. I now know Larson is out to get me and that I will have to be very careful. I now have to fight him as well as the Japs.
We head south to the Philippines and it keeps getting hotter and more humid. The same climate as the Solomons. I don’t appreciate the change, but at least there is no combat when we arrive in Tacloban, Leyte. We soon find out that there is a dysentery epidemic here. I don’t get it, but many on the ship do. Entire ships can’t get underway because the crew is down with it. There is also a bad case of food poisoning on the ship, but I don’t get it because I am ashore in a “recreation party” which consists of sitting in long pavilions drinking beer and watching crap games, which are halted by loud cheering as the Shore Patrol approaches. Their duty is to break up the game and arrest the participants since gambling is illegal in the Navy. They take their sweet old time approaching so that they can make sure nobody gets caught. Not much entertainment, but it feels good to be on land after being at sea for three months. Airplanes fly over, spraying the ground, the beer and us with DDT. There are no bugs of any kind that survive this onslaught. In later years it will be discovered that DDT will be harmful to birds, but nobody is knowledgeable about that at that time.
More and more ships are gathering in the harbor. It is obvious that we are getting ready for another invasion. Formosa, which is now called Taiwan, is the favorite target of speculation. Okinawa has still not been conquered, and we don’t think anything will happen until it is. We sit and wait and think thoughts of home. I received an invitation to the wedding of Paul Dehring, an old neighborhood buddy. It had already taken place six weeks before. Sorry, can’t make it, too far to swim.
What follows are many days in the sweltering tropical heat, doing necessary maintenance jobs and handling much communications traffic. However, this is still much better than being in the combat zone. It was terrifying to be in action with planes falling out of the sky with the very real danger of having one land on top of you, or being hit with fire from one of your own ships.
A huge fence is built ashore to keep us away from the Filipinos. We can talk to them through the fence. Most of them speak English. Willie makes a big hit with them. His light skin and Negro features make a big hit with them. Willie works it for all it is worth, giving us many laughs.
We begin to hear rumors that our planes have dropped a new type of powerful bomb on Japan. It is supposed to be the size of a tennis ball, so the story goes. I stick around the Radio Shack more. As a Signalman, I can read Morse code, but not as fast as a Radioman can. I send and receive Morse code messages by Blinker Light, but at a much lower rate of speed than what is done by radio. I can put enough of it together to learn that they are talking about an atomic bomb, which is beyond our understanding, but we are all for anything that blasts the Japs into oblivion.
One August night we are watching a war movie called Destination Burma. Suddenly a loud roar comes over the water followed by every ship in the harbor firing their guns. The sky looks like a thousand Fourth of July celebrations. One of the Radiomen (Anderson) comes running up on deck kissing his wife’s picture and shouting, “The Japs will surrender if they are allowed to keep the Emperor!” The newcomers jump for joy. We old-timers are more subdued. I turn to Dickman and remark that maybe we will see home again after all. He says, “Lets shake on that.” Both of us have tears in our eyes. We have been waiting 3 ˝ years for this day. It seems we have known no other life.
Meanwhile the ships in the harbor continue to fire. Dickman pulls out a Very (flare) pistol and fires it. Larson walks over to him and says, “Who gave you permission to fire that?” Dickman finishes reloading and levels it at Larson’s stomach. I was sure he was going to shoot that S.O.B. in the stomach, but instead he lets loose every invective he can think of to that incompetent fool. Larson puts Dickman on report for insulting an Officer. This time Stone has no choice but to Court Martial Dickman because many witnesses heard his verbal attack. The verdict is denial of promotion to the next higher rank. He gets off easy. He could have been reduced in rank with corresponding loss of pay. Stone has done the best he could for a loyal hard-working enlisted man who has been through so much. For the rest of my time on his ship Larson will remain a pariah with the enlisted men, the Staff Officers and his own officers. I double my efforts to stay out of his clutches.
We soon get our orders to return to Okinawa. We form up our squadron and head north with us in the lead. The first night at sea is a sight to behold. All during the war we ran with all lights blacked out. Now all running lights are ablaze. The Port and Starboard running lights make it look like Christmas at sea. We stay at Okinawa long enough to observe some of the damage caused by a typhoon during our absence. The typhoon blew right into the anchorage at Buckner Bay, and we could see cargo ships that were blown right up on to the beach. There was also mail blowing around from somewhere.
Our next orders say we are headed for Japan! We leave and rendezvous at sea with a Minesweeper. We eventually form a single line and follow the Minesweeper as it makes many twists and turns through the Jap minefield. We hope he knows what he is doing. I cannot describe the pride I felt as we lead our ships into Wakayama, Japan. Japan was far, far away when we started out in the Solomons. I think of the many, many days of privation for our military. I think also of the many men who have given their lives in order to make this day possible. We anchor and await further orders. We are armed and ready for action in case the Japs change their minds. We don’t realize that they are as weary or wearier than we are of this war. Some time before we left Tacloban the Japs are told to paint a plane white and add green crosses to the wings and fuselage. They are to fly a delegation to Okinawa for preliminary surrender talks. We know the surrender terms have been accepted, but we don’t know if the people in Wakayama have accepted it. It will develop that they could not have been more peaceful.
I pull the 0400 to 0800 watch. The next morning as dawn comes a bunch of Japs emerge from a building, the front of which faces the sea and is all glass. They start exercising and throwing rocks into the sea. I don’t know if they are symbolically throwing them at us, but I know they had not better push their luck, I have a loaded carbine on the bridge with me and I know how to use it.
For some reason or other the Japanese fishermen are not allowed to go out to sea and fish. Our squadron is assigned the job of towing them back in if they go out. There is much shouting by the fishermen. Finally they put their nets out in the harbor. The nets are equipped with large glass balls as floats. There is no mechanical equipment. When it is time to draw the nets in, young boys jump into the nippy water and swim towards each other to close the net. The fishermen work very hard with no mechanical equipment, pulling in the catch by hand.
We are ordered to tie up at the pier at Wakayama or Wakanoura, I don’t remember which. We have a difficult time tying up our lines because every one in the village has disappeared. Eventually the village kids appear and ask us for candy and gum. Finally the adults appear after they decide we are not going to kill them. The women ask for “Pong” or “Pang” which means flour. We don’t give them any. It develops we were ordered in here because there is a typhoon warning. It does not happen.
We are soon invited into the homes of the people. They offer us food and tea, which we are not allowed to take, for health reasons. They eat with chopsticks, but not like I had seen in the movies. They use the chopsticks to shovel their food in while making loud slurping noises. Their houses are very clean. Shoes are removed before entering. There was a hole in the floor with some kind of stove, which was not in use at the time. We see no men around. The women are very gracious, and you begin to wonder why we had been fighting each other not very long ago.
We see women in the distance dressed in colorful clothing, much different than the village women are wearing. The village women treat them with contempt. We learn later that they are Korean prostitutes.
We leave this area after our troops have secured the place. We head for Nagoya, a large city which is known as the Pittsburgh of Japan. We are told that our planes have flattened the place. It is true that there is much damage, but they are still building airplanes and ships there when we arrive. We are not allowed to go ashore, although some Officers go ashore to bargain for souvenirs.
Since the war ended the big question is, “When will we go home?” A point system is established whereby when the total number of points based on your service activities comes to a certain number, you go home. The Navy system is favored toward men who have dependents at home, while we unmarried combat men stay. Using the Army system, I have enough points to send me home plus two other men, but in the Navy system I stay. I am an unhappy lad. I take off my Dog Tags and throw them into Nagoya harbor. A rash act. Today I wish I had them back.
Finally, in October 1945 my numbers come up. I am eligible to go home and become a civilian again. I look up Jack Lentz and tell him I want my orders cut. Jack comes back to me and says that Commander Stone says you are essential and have to stay on the staff. Lentz is as mad as I am about it, but he says there is nothing he can do. He comes back later and says Stone will promote me to Chief Signalman (the promotion Dickman lost) if I will stay aboard until we reach Tsingtao, China, which is where we are going next. I tell him I don’t want to be Chief anything; I just want to go home.
Later on, Lt. Phil Jacobson, the Staff Executive Officer, wants to know what the problem is. I tell him I want to go home now. The Navy has lots of Signalmen. From the letters from home I know my mother is ill, and I have got to get home. Jacobson, a veteran of the Solomon Islands days, says, “Let me see what I can do.” He talks to Stone. He comes back and says, “Get your gear ready, you are going home.”
Two days later, October 30, 1945, I have orders to report to the USS Terry, DD 513, a Fletcher class 2100-ton destroyer. An entire Destroyer squadron is returning to the United States and she is one of them. As I am leaving Stone comes out on deck and says, “Don’t spend all your money in one place.” It is obvious he wants to go home, too.
I board the Terry, hand the Officer of the Deck my orders and I am told to find a bunk in the aft crew’s quarters, right over the engine room. I don’t care, I am going home. I find a bunk, flop down and await a relaxing ride back home. I am dozing when a voice comes over the squawk box saying, “Plant, Signalman First Class, lay up to the bridge.” I go up to the bridge where the Executive Officer tells me they are short one Signalman, so I will have to stand Signal watch all the way back, so I go back on four hours on and eight hours off. Plus the two-hour Dog Watch so that the same man does not get the midnight to four am watch all the time. This is the first time I have been on a Destroyer bridge. It is bigger than I am accustomed to. The Captain has a bunk on the bridge, which he can use instead of his cabin below if he feels he will be needed in a hurry.
We leave Nagoya November 1, 1945. We move along at about 20 knots in pleasant weather. The Destroyer feels like I am riding a racehorse after chugging along on amphibious craft. The second day out we receive typhoon warnings. The squadron changes course to avoid the storm, but that night we are hit by the wildest storm I have ever experienced. Waves are crashing aboard, wind is howling through the rigging in a constant roar, and the Terry pitches and rolls. I happen to be on watch and I hang on for dear life. We are told to stay put where we are. The storm rages through the night and I remain on the bridge. The storm finally ends, and inspection is made to determine any damages. A few dents here and there, but nothing serious.
I am on watch two days later when the bow lookout shouts, “MINE DEAD AHEAD!” The young Ensign who is officer of the deck orders all engines ahead full, hard left rudder, hard right rudder, and we curve around that mine and miss it. We pull out of formation and blow up the mine with 40mm fire. That young Ensign sure knew what he was doing. I am beginning to wonder if I will ever get home.
We pull into Midway Island to refuel. This area has seen many crucial battles. The only evidence of them is what looks like a Jap Destroyer beached and all rusted out. We leave Midway and head for San Diego. The squadron Commander decides to practice maneuvers, and guess what, I am Signalman of the watch. I run all over the bridge reading signals and ordering the proper flag hoists to be made by the other Signalmen. This goes on for about two hours. When it is over I know I can run a Signal Bridge with the best of them. I am pretty proud of myself.
As we head for San Diego the word goes out that the Terry is headed for Drydock upon arrival. The crew knows that all ammunition aboard must be unloaded before the ship can go into Drydock. The crew also knows that no leaves or liberty can be taken until after the ship is in Drydock. Many nights thereafter you can hear splashes as the crew heaves ammunition overboard. The Officers pretend they don’t know what is going on, but they are anxious to go on leave too! By the time we get to San Diego, all we have left aboard are the torpedoes, the depth charges and a little 5” ammo plus a little ammo for the 40mms.
The rest of the voyage is uneventful. We pass ships heading west. The Navy has not taken long to get back to the peacetime razzmatazz. The crews line up at the lifelines and salute each other, the Senior Captain receiving the salute first. We did not have time for this nonsense when we were killing Japs, or watching out so that they didn’t kill us! As we approach San Diego the weather is warm and sunny. Swing music is being picked up from the Mainland. I lie in my bunk as the ship gently rolls. I am a happy man. I am going home.
I am due for the midnight to four am watch our last night at sea. I tell the Executive Officer that I don’t want to stand that watch my last night at sea. I wanted to be fresh as a daisy when I went ashore. He says OK and changes the watch schedule.
During this trip home I learned more about the treatment of Negroes. As I believe I have stated before, they were not allowed to be anything but Officer’s stewards and mess cooks. On this ship, they were not allowed to sleep in the crews’ quarters. They had bunks in the passageways between decks, the pretense being that they had to be up early to prepare our food, they would disturb the crew. However, it was OK to disturb them when walking by their bunks to go on watch. Ridiculous. How these men put up with this situation I shall never know. They were getting shot at just like we were; yet they were treated as being inferior. This was just not right.
We arrive at the Destroyer base in San Diego on November 20, 1945. Many crewmembers’ families are there to greet them. Crew members go to the port side to see them. The ship lists heavily to port. There are many happy, smiling faces. I am directed to a bus that is going to Camp Elliot, where my brother had gone through boot camp in 1941. I get a bunk assignment and head for the mess hall for noon chow.
The first thing I want is some fresh milk. I get all I want. We spend a few days at Camp Elliot waiting for transportation east. I go on liberty in San Diego. I go to the Gay Nineties bar. The same guy is playing the same tune on the organ that he was playing the last night I was there before going overseas for the Iwo Jima and Okinawa invasions. I return to the base on a wheezing Navy bus with the ubiquitous drunks vomiting and passing out in the aisles. I decide to remain on the base until we leave here.
I have not let my parents know I am back in the United States. Things are so uncertain I do not want to disappoint them if plans are changed. I plan on arriving on their doorstep unannounced.
We get our orders to proceed to the train station. We get a Pullman car, which means we will have berths to sleep in. One man in an upper berth, and two men in a lower berth. Up to now, two men found in a bunk in the Navy meant immediate discharge, but now so many men are being sent home that transportation is strained. Besides, we soon won’t belong to the Navy. I get an upper berth. This is a civilian train, so there is a Bar Car which we patronize frequently. We eat out of a military galley car, which is not good, but who cares, we are on our way home.
As we proceed across the country, women are still serving sandwiches and home made cakes, etc., at the train depots. These women show their compassion and patriotism and it is greatly appreciated by us.
Happiness is upon the land. Radios are playing Sentimental Journey by Les Brown and his Band of Renown. The punch lyric is Gonna Take A Sentimental Journey Home. How true. People are giving each other the thumbs up sign or the V for Victory sign, which will later evolve into the peace sign.
Since we will be on the train on Thanksgiving Day, we are told we will be served a Thanksgiving Day Dinner somewhere up the line. That soon changes to only the men proceeding to the East Coast will be served Thanksgiving dinner. That changes, and we all wind up eating Spam and fruit cocktail somewhere near Hannibal, Missouri. As we proceed between cars with our chow, train soot gets on it. So much for what has been called the grand era of steam.
We finally arrive in Chicago after a 3 ˝ day ride from the West Coast. We are transported to the Great Lakes Naval Station, where we are treated quite well. We are told we will be civilians in three days. Being seasoned veterans, we treat this with skepticism, but for once it will be the truth. We take much-needed showers and take a toothbrush and toothpaste to the train-soot-covered white piping on our dress blues.
The discharge procedure moves rapidly. We are given physicals, lectures on returning to civilian life, etc. etc. On the second day, I get a message that a Chaplain wants to see me. I call his office and he says he wants to see me. I ask him what for. He tells me my Mother had died a month ago, about the time I had left Japan. He wants to know if I want emergency leave to go home. Since there is nothing I can do at home to change the situation, I tell him I want to continue the mustering out procedure rather than going home and then having to come back. I call home with some difficulty because the Long Distance Operators are on strike. I tell the family of my plans and they agree.
One of the final steps in the procedure is where a poor guy has to ask you if you want to change your mind and reenlist. He has no takers. We finally get to the last step. They hand us our Honorable Discharge papers which have a lithograph of an obsolete Battleship on them. We are given whatever pay that we have on the books, plus $100.00 Mustering Out pay. We will get the balance of the Mustering Out pay in two $100.00 monthly payments after we get home, for a total of $300.00.
On November 26, 1945, I walk out of the Main Gate. I am a free man. I catch the “EL” to Chicago; hop a ride on the first train I can get to Detroit. I arrive in Detroit that evening, to be met by my sister Agnes and my Dad, who is a lost soul. It is good to see them even under these circumstances. When we get home it is strange to not see my Mother bustling about her kitchen. It is a bitter disappointment for me. I miss her badly.
My old neighborhood buddies are returning or have returned. We get together and compare notes about our military service. Only three of us have seen combat duty. No one was wounded or killed from our neighborhood. Several of my high school classmates have been killed or listed as missing in action.
Veterans can get unemployment money of $20.00 per week for 52 weeks. This is known as joining the 52-20 club. My buddies and I get various jobs and settle into civilian life. I will eventually go to college on the GI Bill with the Government paying the tuition, get married to my wife Rita and have three children: Kathleen, Margaret and Matthew, but that is another story. This saga is being written in the year 2000 and Rita and I have been married for 50 years.
So there you are. My Navy story is ended. I am proud to say that I served in the greatest Navy the world has ever seen. It could go everywhere and anywhere in the world. As the old saying goes, I would not take a million dollars for all the experiences I had, but I would not give a nickel for some more just like it. The military life is a hard one. I promised to do my best while answering my country’s call. After the war ended I wanted out. Civilian life is the life for me.
As I reflect on my experiences, as I finish writing this in the year 2000, many years after my discharge, my brushes with death and the deaths I witnessed are still vivid in my mind. After all these years I still have occasional nightmares of all the awful things I saw in those days. Sadly, in the intervening years man has not learned to live peacefully. About all he has learned is to kill more efficiently. I pray that some day man learns to solve his problems peacefully. There is no glamour in war. War is utter, cruel stupidity.
Much discussion is still going on about whether we should have dropped atomic bombs on Japan. From the carnage I saw, I know in my heart that there would have been many more deaths if we had been forced to invade Japan. I know this is a cruel trade off, but as I said before, war is utter, crude stupidity. Men were getting killed even after the war was over. I remember during our stay in Japan watching a Gunners Mate cleaning a 40mm AA gun. He forgot it was cocked and when he went to remove the barrel, the recoil spring flew up and killed him instantly. Another young life wasted.
Since World War II ended we have been engaged in two major wars in Korea and Vietnam, plus several smaller engagements in our role as the world’s Police force. Will man ever learn?
This page is created and maintained by Gary P. Priolo|