A BRIEF HISTORY OF U.S.S. LCS(L)(3) 99
Lt. Victor T. Lyon, Executive Officer
The LCS 99 was laid down on 23 December 1944 at the Commercial Iron Works, Portland, Oregon. She was launched on 13 January 1945 and commissioned on 5 February. As with other LCSs, she was soon readied for sea, and sailed to San Diego, California for shakedown exercises.
I joined the 99 at Pearl Harbor, the third Communications Officer to serve aboard her. The first, an expectant father, was hospitalized at San Diego when he refused to disembark the elevator at Del Coronado hotel. The second was seasick the instant the ship left the San Diego harbor and remained so until anchoring at Pearl Harbor. I was commissioned as an officer on February 24, 1945, from NROTC at the University of Oklahoma, and rode the HMS TRACKER from San Diego to Pearl, embarking April 1, Love Day for the invasion of Okinawa. I reported aboard the 99 on April 12, the same day as FDR died and twin tornadoes struck my hometown of Oklahoma City. I refer to it as the day of the triple tragedy.
We had two shore bombardment exercises to Kahoolawe, Hawaii. In the first exercise, we followed the 98 in column, and in the early hours of the morning it began to lag behind. Suddenly someone woke up and steamed hell-bent for election to catch up. We kept adding turns but it was still pulling ahead and we had to go to flank speed and cut across at a turn to get back in position by dawn. The second exercise was interrupted as our ship's cook fell and broke his leg and we were dispatched at full speed back to Pearl, causing the submarine nets to be opened for us to enter the harbor. We departed Pearl on April 27 and crossed the International Date Line on May 4. The following day we had the initiation ceremonies for the order of the Golden Dragon, and that night one of the men impaled his arm on the knife of another. After Good, Hospital Corpsman 2/c, had done his repair work he came to the conn to apprise the doctor on the flagship of the wound and what he had done. The doctor made a number of suggestions for proper care, but Good had already done all of them. The next day we went alongside the flagship and transferred the doctor to our ship for him to make a personal inspection of the injured party. Satisfied that all was well we went alongside the flag again and transferred the doctor back.
We entered Eniwetok Atoll May 10. Ashore was the wettest officer’s club in the Pacific, where they served cocktails for ten cents. I had my very first drink in the Officer’s club in San Diego and may have over-indulged at Eniwetok, but Westbrook, our Gunnery Officer, tried to keep up with a Middie School buddy and was at least 4 sheets in the wind and passed out in the officer's head aboard the ship, but not until after he had de-capped LCDR Jackson and me and immersed both our hats in the briny water. He said my braid was too bright but I don't know what excuse he gave the Group Commander.
I turned 21 the day before we arrived at Guam where the SOUTH DAKOTA and MISSOURI were anchored. Going ashore for registered publications I saw a most gorgeous WAVE on the arm of a Rear Admiral near fleet landing. RHIP (Rank Has Its Privileges).
We joined Convoy SO #8 at Saipan and proceeded on May 24 to Okinawa, arriving May 30. The night before we could see the flares over the island and I was really concerned because Capt. Miles told me that was what the Japs used at Hollandia to shell their ships. The morning was very foggy as we crossed south of the island and it was necessary for us to use radar for station-keeping and to avoid collisions as we maneuvered toward our destination.
We reached Hagushi Bay north of Naha and about midway between Naha and Kadena air base. We anchored that afternoon, received mail and our assignment - making smoke to keep enemy planes from spotting our anchored ships. Anchoring by the stern we always had the question of turning off the ventilation and suffering or not turning off the ventilation and suffering. Usually we forgot to turn it off and had smoke below before even thinking about it. After making smoke a few days we graduated to anti-suicide boat patrol duty at night, and making smoke by day.
On June 8 we escorted an LCI to Iheya Shima, an island north of Okinawa, and anchored there for the night. Some Jap bombers flew over and dropped bombs on the island hitting an ammo depot. The CAP (Combat Air Patrol) splashed one of the planes in a long fiery plunge. When we secured from GQ (General Quarters) it was time for me to go on watch and I watched a lunar eclipse the whole of my watch. The following day we went to Kerama Retto, a group of islands southwest of Okinawa, but were recalled to the big island for a typhoon alert. That was a dud so we returned to Kerama Retto, from which, on June 13, we joined a mine demolition group to help clear mines between Okinawa and Formosa, now called Taiwan. On the third day, the minesweeper ahead of us had paravane problems and asked us to lay back with them while they made repairs. Just about the time the group was disappearing over the horizon we had a red alert and a zero fighter began a wide circle around our two ships. Repairs were completed at this time and we began hurrying to rejoin the sweepers while waiting for the Jap to come within range of our guns. The CAP showed up and the Jap skedaddled. Thereafter the minesweeper that we were following would signal us each time he cut a mine cable, and we were able to account for 10 mines destroyed.
We usually had to use our 40mm guns to destroy each mine, and one time we got a little too close and had shrapnel spray the ship. Nothing was seriously damaged but a good size fragment embedded in our wherry (ship’s dinghy). We returned to Kerama Retto on June 20, and to Okinawa on the 21st, and more air raids.
We started our first radar picket patrol, serving with four destroyer-type ships and four smaller ships, “little guys”, on June 24 on station 15A, one of sixteen stations around Okinawa, and were relieved on July 1. There was some celebration on the island on July 4, but the next day an ammo dump went up ashore and made the July 4 affair look tame by comparison. We went to RP station 9 from July 6 to 13 and returned to Hagushi. We were recalled to RP 15 on August 1, but were sent to Nago Wan (a bay) for protection during a typhoon, returning to RP 15 on Aug. 4. The station was quiet the entire time until we were relieved on August 10. That night one of the destroyers was hit and sunk by a kamikaze. It was the last ship sunk in the war and was to be relieved at daybreak to proceed back to the states.
I must have left out at least one RP patrol from my rude diary. On one patrol we little guys, primarily LCSs and LSMs, were arrayed in a diamond formation and we would reverse course every half-hour, turning to port on the hour and to starboard on the half-hour to offset the current. When we over-or-under-corrected we would be advised by voice radio to turn contrary to the norm. The 99 was on one side of the diamond and the 98 was on the other. Now, some ships tried to be a little "saltier" than others, but LCS 99 was for the most part pretty informal. For instance, we did not use a bosun's pipe before PA announcements, and we did not ring the bells on the hour and half-hour. The SOP (Senior Officer Present) had announced a contrary direction of turn at about midnight and at the signal for execution we turned in the correct direction. The 98 apparently had not gotten the word and turned the usual direction which put them about 15 feet from us as we straightened out from our 180 turn, but as they veered away from us to go to their proper position I heard the 8-bells being struck aboard her.
When we arrived back at the city of Naha about dark, word was received of rumors that the Japs were suing for an end to hostilities. (Of course while on RP 15 we had heard the news of the A-bomb drop on Hiroshima on August 6, and on Nagasaki on August 9.) The word got around fast and all hell broke out both ashore and in the anchorage as men went to their guns and sent live ammunition aloft ranging from 45-caliber to 5-inch shells. Snakes of tracers from machine guns climbed up the skies. The skipper ordered all not on watch to go below, and those on watch to don life jackets and helmets. Scuttlebutt had it that more people were lost at Okinawa from that "friendly fire" that night than had been lost to enemy action the prior month.
We left Okinawa on August 12 on orders to Leyte Gulf, arriving there on August 17. We were at Leyte when VJ day was celebrated, but not as spectacularly as the bid for peace at Okinawa. We stayed at Leyte, painting the ship and getting some recreation.
We departed Leyte on September 17 bound for Okinawa, and following a typhoon, so that the water was pretty rough. This time we anchored on the east side of the island in Nakagusuku Wan, now called Buckner Bay, arriving there on September 21. I had received word my brother had arrived at Okinawa and when I went ashore to draw registered pubs tried to locate him and did so with the aid of a brigadier general who picked me up on the road. I got a lesson in road construction as we drove on to where I was told my brother was stationed. He was in an ordnance depot and he and his co-workers offered to take a small contingent from our ship for a tour of the island the following day. The Skipper, Westbrook and I took them up on the offer, and following the tour, invited them to spend the night and have a good meal on the ship. Our cook outdid himself and they were mightily impressed. While touring, my brother told me he was one of the few aboard the transport that did not suffer from seasickness. While we were relaxing after the dinner he told me that the movement of the ship in the protected bay was about as rough as it got on the transport, and I was not even aware the ship was moving. I guess I had got my sea legs. We took them back to the beach next morning with a good breakfast under their belts.
Next day we received a movie projector - the good old peace-time Navy.
Our departure for Japan was delayed by a typhoon, but we finally did depart on October 2 for Kure, anchoring in Bungo Suido on October 5 and on to Kure on October 6. We were ordered to Pearl on October 8 but those orders were
cancelled. A typhoon struck on the 10th and we helped plow up the bottom of the bay dragging anchor. Finally we got the hook to hold very close to the shore. Lt. Molyneaux, skipper of the 96, was aboard our ship when the typhoon struck and stood at the rail watching his ship dragging anchor and steaming back into the wind to try again, and again, and again. When the wind quit suddenly I thought we were in the eye of the storm, and suggested the reversed wind would
beach the ship. However, the wind stayed calm and we remained anchored peacefully.
Tours of Hiroshima were offered, and the first occurred on October 13 and
the second on the 14th. I was scheduled to go on the third one on the 15th when
we received orders to go to Subic Bay in the Philippines, having been transferred to the Seventh Fleet. We departed early the next day and arrived in Subic on the 21st.
Our activities now consisted primarily of trading movies and showing them on a screen mounted on twin-40 gun mount #1. We also went to the sub base recreation area several times, drew provisions, fuel and water.
Our first liberty party at Manila was the wildest! Engineering Officer Hatch and I went ashore together and remained relatively sober because we were afraid of the Four Feathers whiskey and other brands similar, but slightly different, from those we had learned to trust. I looked but never found Three Roses. When we arrived at the ship's landing there was a group of the drunkest sailors I had seen up to that time, but this was an early scene. Each water taxi loaded another group, each drunker and rowdier than the last. Anderson, my quartermaster, reportedly gathered all the crew who were determined to jump ship and somehow got them loaded aboard the taxi. When they arrived at the ship they were still fighting, at least those still conscious.
As the orders came out for eligibility for release we began to lose members of the crew, and in due time received replacements. Capt. Miles was eligible on the earliest date and was making his own arrangements for his replacement so that he could go home. Lt.(jg) Mendenhall, the exec, was also eligible for release and left before Miles. Westbrook was named exec. Hatch and I, both being single, were not even close to release. Millard, the First Lieutenant, was also eligible at an early date. Miles' plans were foiled when Lt.(jg) Fitzgibbons arrived to take command. He had been Gunnery Officer on an LST.
We celebrated Thanksgiving at Subic.
Shortly after Fitzgibbons reported aboard we were notified that a convoy was being assembled to go back to the states. The crew was short-handed as was the officer group, now down to Fitzgibbons, Westbrook, Hatch and Lyon. Shortly before we got underway, Westbrook came to me and asked if I would navigate, excusing himself because "his eyesight had deteriorated" since we left the states. I was happy to take on the task.
We left Subic Bay with about 28 ships: LCIs, LCSs and perhaps some LSMs. Flotilla Five Commander McIsaac led us out and turned south. We rounded Luzon and headed down between Samar and Leyte. Part of the route was a narrow passage like a small river which we had to navigate very cautiously. At one point the ship ahead warned us by flashing light of a strong current and we were almost immediately swept to port but managed to avoid the rocks. We entered Leyte Gulf, and McIsaac's haste to get home became evident. He signaled
he was proceeding at standard speed but we had to increase speed to stay in position. By the end of the first day, I began to take my star sights and make position plots and transmit my calculated position to the OTC (Officer in Tactical Command), and was pleased that I was in close agreement with the Flotilla Navigator.
Each day or so we would leave behind another pair of ships, the one that was broken down and an accompanying watch dog. In due time we arrived at Saipan, refueled and reprovisioned, and set out again headed east. About mid-morning of the day we were to arrive at Eniwetok, it was our turn to break down. Some time back we had thrown a rod on one of our port engines, but at this time a gear went out that disabled the entire starboard quad of four engines. So with only three engines on the port screw in operation we quickly fell behind the convoy. Since we were so close to the destination no watchdog was assigned to us. We entered the lagoon at Eniwetok and dropped anchor about 2 hours after the rest of the convoy and began to assess the damage.
Hatch found the broken gear and got the part description and we sent Westbrook to Guam to get replacements, and some fuel injectors for the diesel engines. Westbrook was the champion scrounger. Our ship ate better and was better clothed than most because of "Westbrook and his forty thieves". He came back with all the necessary parts and the gear was soon in place. The damaged engine was dissembled and the block disattached from the deck. The yard personnel insisted that we would have to cut a hole in the main deck above the engine room and hoist out the damaged block. Hatch, however, measured and measured, and re-measured, and was convinced we could snake the block up the engine room ladder, make the l80-degree turn and up to the main deck. With a prodigious effort his men proved him right. They then had to snake the new block down the same tortuous pathway and rebuild the engine in place.
After spending some 30 days at Eniwetok, we were ready to proceed to Pearl Harbor, but of course the convoy was long gone. The Port Director assigned us to make the trip in company with an LCI. Fitzgibbons was the SOP (Senior Officer Present) so we started out, and I was the senior navigator. We had made it about halfway to Pearl when the LCI broke down in about the same manner we had broken down coming into Eniwetok. They came to me and asked that I radio Pearl for instructions. Since our CW radios did not have that much range we resorted to TBS (Talk Between Ships) voice radio and finally got off a voice message to Pearl via USS BENNINGTON. We picked up the instructions from the Fox (Fleet Broadcast) radio to proceed to Johnston Island.
The LCI rigged a sail and with its 3 or 4 engines on the one screw made best possible speed, and within about four days we arrived at Johnston Island, low on water. We were prepared to ask for water as we handed over the lines, but they beat us to it and asked us if we had water we could spare. This helped make up our minds to get underway at first light the next morning.
Now I was THE navigator, but had no doubts about our position as long as we could see the stars, and fortunately we had clear weather. We arrived at Pearl Harbor on schedule. The first thing we received aboard was a big milk can of ice-cold milk. Nothing has ever tasted so good before or since.
Ever since we left Pearl on our way out our cook would try from time to time to make bread and it always came out doughy and looking like the cook or his mate had sat on it. At Subic we picked up a first-class cook and Littlejohn immediately asked Frenchy to give him the secret of making bread. Frenchy watched Littlejohn make up his bread and when the latter was ready to put it in the oven, Frenchy stopped him and said he hadn't properly kneaded it. He proceeded to "get rough" with it and then put it in the oven and it was fantastic. So we had good bread on the trip back home.
A twelve-ship convoy took us to Seattle. As we went further north, in February, the water got colder, the salt-water showers got more unpleasant (our evaps had been out for months!) and we began to be more efficient on water usage.
At Pearl we had picked up two new officers. We had received orders for an ensign but somehow those got changed. Both of these guys were Lt.(jg)s and I was still a boot ensign!
Our incipient arrival in Seattle precipitated another celebration to rival the first liberty in Manila. Frenchy and Chief Gunner’s Mate Stone had a set-to and Stone was sent by first boat to the hospital with a badly broken nose. All this was going on as we were trying to dodge logs in Puget Sound.
On my first liberty in Seattle I was determined not to spend the night aboard the ship. But after being in the right place to accomodate two couples, and having my date get sick, I checked all the hotels on the way to the boat landing and ended up getting on the water taxi and spending the night aboard. After a week in Seattle a group of ships, including the LCS 99, headed to Astoria, Oregon for de-commissioning and mothballing.
Westbrook left us at Seattle and so I became Exec. Our new officers stayed with us until de-commissioning. We started in late February and had our decommissioning about mid-April. Our instructions specified that no painting was to be done when the humidity was above 80%. Yet it rained every day in February and March, almost continuously, and in April we had about three days without rain.
We had our de-commissioning party at the Hotel Astoria and it was a grand party. Sl/c Lazenby came up to me on behalf of the crew and dared me to smoke a cigar (I never have smoked), and I grabbed it and lighted it up, but as soon as they lost interest I quickly ditched the stogie. The party was going strong when I headed out for the BOQ (Bachelor Officer’s Quarters) and sacked out. I haven't seen any of the crew since that night, so far as I can remember. We scattered to the four winds.
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