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The USS LCS (L) (3) 124 didn’t join the United States Navy until the last year of World War II, but when it did appear it wasted little time getting into the toughest engagement our Navy has ever fought: the Battle of Okinawa. The activities of the 124 prior to reaching Okinawa followed the carefully designed pattern which the Amphibious Forces of the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets have always laid out for their vessels.
The 124 was commissioned on December 14th, 1944, at the shipyards of George Lawley and Sons, Neponset, Massachusetts. The first destination was the Amphibious Training Base, Solomons, Maryland, for a shakedown cruise. This training aided greatly in indoctrinating the large number of not-so-ancient mariners who had never been to sea before and whose equilibrium had been slightly shaken up by the icy voyage from Boston.
An availability at Norfolk Virginia followed the shakedown cruise and here the crew were given the last leaves – two days long – they were to enjoy before departing from the States for the duration. The next month was a fulfillment of the Navy’s old standby “Join the Navy and see the world” – for on the eleventh of January, 1945, the men of the 124 doffed their foul weather gear and enjoyed a peaceful cruise around Mexico to San Diego, California. Enroute brief stops were made at Key West, Fla., Coco Solo and Balboa, the last two on opposite sides of the Panama Canal.
The sights that greeted the eyes of the liberty parties at these first foreign ports were indeed all they had been cracked up to be. Shore Patrol duty for officers was not exactly as it had been described in Midshipman texts, but no complaints were heard. The journey from Balboa to San Diego was the longest yet to be undertaken by the 124, and the buildings and hills of expansive San Diego were a welcome sight after two weeks of gazing at the distant, hazy mountains of Mexico. >p>In San Diego, the 124 participated in three training operations which offered invaluable practical experience. Mock invasions – realistic but for the absence of Japs – were undertaken, and maneuver after maneuver was practiced. Inspections at numerous intervals also marked the stay at San Diego, and when orders were received on March 15th to get underway for Pearl Harbor, LCS 124 was in all respects fully ready for sea.
The Pacific sun became more than a casual acquaintance from there on out. At times its intensity was, more accurately, inimical, and at one time an awning was placed over the conning tower. But the Task Unit Commander present decided it interfered with visual communications and would also prove of little use should enemy aircraft appear, so down it came.
On March 28th the 124 entered Pearl Harbor. For three weeks at this port, which had long before recovered from the damage incurred by the Jap’s attack, more training cruises, mock invasions and inspection flavored the routine. The first realistic indication that at last the 124 was going to meet up with the war upon the departure from Pearl, was when the orders sending her to Eniwetok in the Marshalls stated that encountering enemy aircraft was now probable rather than just possible. The receipt of a list of estimated positions of 14 Japanese submarines in her path lent realism too!
The few days spent at Eniwetok and at the subsequent port, Ulithi, in the Caroline Islands, were devoted to logistics and minor repair. But shortly the 124 was rewarded for the many months of preparation, for next she was ordered to the battle-scarred island of Okinawa for duty, the nature of which was not known until arrival.
The LCS was designed for close-in fire support in invasions. At Okinawa it performed not only this but precisely the opposite task as well. At Iheya Shima and Aguni Shima, two small islands thirty miles from Okinawa, the 124 and five other LCSs fired rockets at the beach, from a range definitely “close-in”, to knock out any possible enemy emplacements. It developed that all enemy defenses on these islands (which were sought by the United States for use as radar stations) had been transferred to Okinawa to boost the losing cause there, and our troops had no trouble securing both of these small outposts. The Iheya and Aguni operations were regarded as valuable training for the future invasions – which never came.
The opposite of this close-in duty came shortly thereafter in the middle of June, when the 124 was assigned her first Radar Picket Patrol. This type of patrol suffered at Okinawa the greatest number of losses in both ships and men that the Navy ever sustained in any campaign. The 124 spend two sleepless weeks on a picket station thirty miles northwest of Okinawa with three other LCSs and three destroyers, on the lookout for Japanese kamikaze (suicide) planes. It was the job of these vessels to intercept such planes and splash them before they could reach their goal – our larger fleet units anchored at Okinawa itself. The success which such picket patrols enjoyed snuffed out the last breaths of the Jap air force, which finally quit its attacks on Okinawa in an effort to save what few planes it had left for the seemingly inevitable D-Day on Japan itself.
The 124 had many close calls out on this picket patrol but came through unscathed. One day she narrowly missed a drifting mine, immediately sinking it with 40MM and .50 caliber machine guns. But the kamikaze crowd just wouldn’t give the gunners of the 124 a chance to display their marksmanship – evidently they knew better! Another type of duty encountered at Okinawa was the “Skunk Patrol” – hunting suicide boats - but the threat of these disappeared after the first few days. Hundreds were captured intact in caves on the beach.
On July 10th the 124 departed from Okinawa for Leyte, Philippine Islands. Here repairs and alterations readied her for the expected winter invasionof Japan, but on that memorable day in August, the unbelievable peace came. The celebration at Leyte was a thrill to behold and one that will be hard to match. The 124 joined in the gay victory spirit with pyrotechnics, horns, bells, and blinker lights playing on the sky.
Early in September she left for Tokyo Bay, under immeasurably different conditions than had been anticipated way back in December 1944, when command of the vessel was assumed by Lt. David E. Ward, USN, of Roselle Park, New Jersey.
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