Bill Kelly keeps a photograph in his room at the Claremont Center nursing home where he lives. The picture is of him in a football uniform on Thanksgiving Day, 1942 at Manasquan High School where he was an outstanding football. He says that the very day after the picture was taken, he went to New York and enlisted in the Navy at the age of 17.
A few years later, Kelly was photographed holding the tattered remnants of a flag. The flag is the US flag that flew over the USS Laffey during the Battle of Okinawa. It is tattered because of the damage received from the kamikaze attacks, some of the worst in history, that took place on April 16, 1945.
Kelly says that the Japanese “knocked the hell out of it,” but the ship stayed afloat.
Now 94-years-old, Kelly sits in a wheelchair, but his mind is still sharp. While some details of that fateful day have faded from his memory, his bravery has been chronicled by historians. Last month, he received a flag that had flown over the US Capitol from US Representative Chris Smith.
Kelly with Rep. Smith.
“Bill Kelly’s brave, selfless and outstanding service to this nation aboard the U.S.S. Laffey stands as a shining example of the best our country has to offer,” Smith stated
Kelly worked as a signalman, with expertise in Morse code, on the starboard side of the ship.
Ship historian Sonny Walker said that a Japanese plane flew into the mast and knocked down the American flag. Kelly went out and retrieved the flag from the main deck and headed back to the signal room with it.
On the way back, he found a sailor with his leg missing. It turned out to be Kelly’s good friend, Fred Burgess. He was leaning against a gun mount on his good leg with blood pouring out his missing leg. He cried for Kelly to help him, so Kelly and some other men rushed Burgess to the sick bay.
Once there, Burgess asked Kelly for the flag and Kelly gave it to him. He died, still clutching the flag, before a doctor had a chance to see him.
The Laffey was attacked by 22 Japanese planes that day. She was struck by six planes and four 400-pound bombs. Kelly narrowly missed being crushed by a falling 2-ton antenna. Another blast tossed him fifteen feet in the air.
A shipmate hung a new flag on the deck – “so the Japanese knew who they were fighting,” Kelly remembered, 32 men were killed on the Laffey that day and 71 were wounded. Kelly is amazed that anyone was able to walk away from that attack.
After the war, Kelly worked as a milkman and started a cleaning service while raising five children. He never spoke of the war. His daughter, Margie Moore, only learned of his bravery five or six years ago.
Today, there are just four surviving crewmen from the Laffey. The ship, known as “the ship that would not die,” is a floating museum off the coast of South Carolina.
Kelly was just 20 years old when the attack occurred but he remembers it like yesterday. His room holds mementos of that day: the tattered second flag raised by the shipmate, a photo of the Laffey badly damaged after the attack, his medals which include the Purple Heart.
Laffey after the attacks.
And now the folded congressional flag. When asked about what this flag meant to him, he was humble. “I take this for my shipmates, not me,” he said.
The USS Laffey was present at the D-Day invasions of Normandy where she fired on shore defense locations with her two five-inch gun turrets. She was then moved to the Pacific to help with the attacks on the Japanese where she provided support for the US troops in the Battle of Okinawa, which is when the kamikaze attacks took place.
Patriot’s Point, Laffey and Yorktown
After the war, the ship was repaired and went on to serve in the Korean War and the Cold War before being turned into a museum. It rests at Patriot’s Point, South Carolina next to the aircraft carrier Yorktown and the submarine Clamagore.
“Taps” Please take a moment for them before you begin your holiday.
“Hymn To The Fallen” Support the troops.
Not every country holds Memorial Day on this date, many are in November when we hold our Veteran’s Day, and I’m certain you have your own ceremonies to display gratitude to your troops. Shake the hand of a veteran today!
I want to apologize to gpcox because there are five pictures in this post and for some reason, they will not transfer when I post this article. I’ve tried it several ways and they just won’t come through.
As WWII unfolded around the globe, women were also affected. Some found themselves pressed into jobs and duties they would never have previously considered. Hitler derided Americans as degenerate for putting the women to work, but nearly 350,000 American females alone served in uniform voluntarily. A transformation of half the population, never seen before, that began evolving in the early ‘40’s and continues today.
For the WASPs, 1,830 female pilots volunteered for Avenger Field outside Sweetwater, Texas alone and it was the only co-ed air base in the U.S. These women would ferry aircraft coming off the assembly lines from the factories to the base. They acted as…
As the Okinawa battles continued to rage, a completely new type of operation was progressing in Manila Bay, Luzon.
The ruined concrete fort in Manila Bay is Fort Drum. Formerly called Island, it is quite literally the world’s only unsinkable battleship. Certainly deserving of a rightful place in the list of tourist spots, it has a story that is worth re-telling.
When the United States annexed the Philippines in 1898, its defense automatically became their responsibility. In order to defend their latest colony against any future invaders, the US fortified four islands at the mouth of Manila Bay during the period of 1909-1913. These four islands – Corregidor, Caballo, Carabao and El Frail went on to become Fort Mills, Fort Hughes, Fort Frank, and Fort Drum, respectively.
To construct Fort Drum, the US Army Corps of Engineers had to cut the small, rocky island of El Fraile. Taking the rock as the foundation, they erected a concrete fortification that was in the shape of a battleship. Said ”battleship” was 240 feet long, 160 feet wide, and 40 feet above the water line, with walls 30-40 feet thick and a deck 20 feet deep. It had four levels inside that were connected by an axial tunnel that ran across the island and 11 guns.
When the Usaffe got destroyed in Bataan on 25 January 1942, the Japanese began to prepare to shell the island forts. Under the leadership of Maj. Toshinori Kondo, the Japanese began shelling the islands 5 Feb. Their objective to destroy Fort Drum, however, did not materialize, as it remained intact despite being hit over a hundred times.
By 3rd February 1945, a flying column had reached Manila led to a month-long battle to liberate Manila from the Japanese. Despite the ongoing battle, however, the Americans began to clear the fortified islands of Japanese to open Manila Bay for shipping, with Fort Drum being the last island to get liberated.
Retaking Ft. Drum
The Americans devised special tactics to liberate Fort Drum. On 13 April, a Landing Ship Medium (LSM) and a Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM) was sent to pull up alongside Fort Drum. The LSM had a specially built ramp on top of it, using which it discharged two platoons of soldiers: while the first platoon consisted of crack snipers to cover every opening where Japanese soldiers may appear, the second comprised engineers assigned to plant demolition charges.
The sniper opened up again and a bullet cut through the fatigue jacket of SGT Mack Thomson of Springfield, MO, the colonel’s driver and radio operator. Thomson had been standing amidships unaware that he was a target. The bullet made seven holes, passing through the outside of the jacket, the baggy pocket and a sleeve. Thomson wasn’t even scratched. Another sniper bullet grazed the back of CPL Vincent Glennon’s right hand. Glennon, an aid man from Gary, IN, had dropped behind a ventilator for protection at the first sniper shot. The bullet went through the light, thin metal of the ventilator and creased his hand, drawing no more blood than a pin scratch.
A sailor, Steve Bukovics, a PA native, had worse luck. A Jap shot split the fittings that connected the three air hoses to the gyroscopic sight of his 20mm gun and several pieces of the scattered wreckage were embedded in his throat. Army and Navy medics teamed up to give him an immediate transfusion and to dress his wounds. He, Glennon and Thomson were the only casualties.
Once the charges were in position, the LCM poured 3,000 gallons of oil into one of the vents and dumped explosives into the other. Both the LSM and LCM were moved to a safe distance after the fuses were lit. With the charges detonated, a series of explosions followed that finally blew Fort Drum’s manhole that was 1 ton in weight and 1 meter in diameter 50 meters up into the air. Finally gaining access to the fort on 18th April, the Americans went on to discover 65 dead.
Ft. Drum, bearing her battle scars.
As of today, Fort Drum continues to stand as an old ruin right at the mouth of Manila Bay. Although no longer in action, it still holds its reputation as being unsinkable.
Unfortunately, though, in spite of all the history, Fort Drum, along with the nearby Fort Frank are still neglected as tourist spots.
Article condensed from a stories in War History online and Yank Magazine;
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The only house he ever owned became, and remains, Albuquerque’s first branch library. A South Valley middle school bears his name, and his face once appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
But, today, many people would be stumped to tell you much, if anything, about Ernie Pyle, the famed newspaper columnist whose writings brought the realities of World War II home to millions of Americans.
Jerry Maschino, along with several of Pyle’s descendants, is out to change that.
“A lot of people, if you ask them, ‘Do you know Ernie Pyle?’ will answer yes,” Maschino said. “But if you ask about specifics, they usually don’t know any, other than he was a war correspondent. … But there’s a lot more to Ernie Pyle than that.”
Maschino and a trio of other board members with the 3-year-old Ernie Pyle Legacy Foundation, based in Gallatin, Tenn., were in town recently drumming up support for a national Ernie Pyle Day. They plan to kick off the effort with an Aug. 3, 2017, celebration at the New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial, which sits about 2½ miles east of Pyle’s 900 Girard SE home, now the Ernie Pyle Library.
“Our mission is simple: Ensure the legacy of Ernie Pyle,” Maschino said. “We have a lot of avenues to do that. The short-term objective is to visit places and have events where we can bring a lot people together and present this idea” of having a national Ernie Pyle Day.
“We want to kick it off in Albuquerque because this was his home,” he said.
Pyle, an Indiana native, was the best-known columnist of World War II. Writing in a conversational, down-home style about the soldiers, places and events of that global conflict for the Scripps Howard newspaper chain, Pyle reached millions of readers who came to regard him as friend, confidant and teller of truth.
Pyle, a thin, balding man approaching middle age, was on the front lines in the North Africa campaign, the invasion of Sicily, the D-Day landings at Normandy and the invasion of Okinawa.
His columns — which Pyle believed never adequately conveyed the horror of war to his readers — won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1944.
“Mothers used to wait for their newspapers every day to see whether their sons might be mentioned in Pyle’s columns,” Maschino said.
But Pyle honed his reporting skills and writing style long before shipping out to war.
While attending Indiana University to study journalism, Pyle was editor of the student newspaper, the Indiana Daily Student.
He quit college in 1923, a few months before graduating, to work as a cub reporter for the LaPorte Herald, now the LaPorte Herald-Argus, in Indiana.
He left Indiana 3 1/2 months later to write for Scripps Howard’s Washington Daily News, where he became the country’s first aviation columnist, rubbing elbows with pioneers of the fledgling industry. His friend, famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart, gave him an engraved watch that he wore most of his life.
After a brief stint as an editor, Pyle persuaded his bosses to let him become a roving reporter. For the next six years he traveled throughout the country, writing columns about the people he met and the places he visited.
During those travels, he developed an affinity for New Mexico. He and his wife, Jerry, decided to settle in Albuquerque in 1940, buying a lot and building the modest home on Girard.
Then came the war, and Pyle embedded with the troops.
When it was clear that the battle against Hitler’s Nazis in Europe was heading toward its inevitable conclusion, Pyle wrestled with the urge to leave war behind. But his bond with the GIs bearing the brunt of the war persuaded him to head to the Pacific Theater.
While in the Pacific, Pyle waged a successful war against military censorship by persuading the Navy to rescind its policy that prevented him from publishing the names and hometowns of the sailors and Navy aviators he wrote about in his columns.
**ADVANCE FOR MONDAY, FEB. 4** This photo provided by Richard Strasser shows the scene on April 20, 1945, two days after his death on Ie Shima, where correspondent Ernie Pyle was buried alongside several soldiers killed in combat on the tiny island off Okinawa _ the kind of men Pyle had written about during four years of WWII battlefield reporting. The photo shows a memorial ceremony led by Maj. Gen. Andrew D. Bruce (back to camera), commander of the Army’s 77th Infantry Division, which captured the island the next day. Ernie Pyle’s wooden coffin, with his picture and a sprig of foliage, is visible at the officer’s feet. His body was moved in 1949 to a military cemetery in Hawaii. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Richard Strasser)
Pyle was killed by a Japanese machine gunner on April 18, 1945, on the island of Iejima, then known as Ie Shima. He was accompanying units with the 77th Infantry Division during the battle for the Japanese island of Okinawa. The nation mourned him like no other casualty of the war.
Jerry Pyle, who fought her own war with alcoholism and mental illness, died seven months after Ernie.
In 1983, Ernie Pyle was awarded the Purple Heart — a rare honor for a civilian — by the 77th Army Reserve Command.
(c)2016 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)
GPCox shares the role sports played during World War II in entertaining those left at home. Sports was a diversion from the everyday reports of how the war was progressing in the various fronts around the world.
The movies and newsreels of WWII provided information and diversion for many at the home front, but none could provide the escape and release of stress for the civilian as much as sports.
South Florida maintained a carnival atmosphere with the Hialeah Race Track and West Flagler Kennel Club, which took in $100,000 nightly – just to prove my point. And, somehow, travel restrictions did not deter the action at Miami’s Tropical Park. Horse racing went on, despite the war, in every country. All in all, racing boomed as the 68thrunning of the Kentucky Derby went off with 100,000 in the crowd. Unfortunately, this was…
19 MAY, 2018, BEING ANOTHER PART OF MILITARY APPRECIATION MONTH, IS CALLED ARMED FORCES DAY.
THE FIRST ARMED FORCES DAY WAS CELEBRATED 29 MAY 1950 (one month before the start of the Korean War). ARMED FORCES WEEK BEGINS ON THE 2ND SATURDAY OF MAY AND ENDS THRU THE 3RD SATURDAY. Due to their unique schedules, the NATIONAL GUARD & THE RESERVE units may celebrate this at any time during the month.
PRESIDENT DWIGHT DAVID EISENHOWER, 1953 – “Today let us, as Americans, honor the American fighting man. For it is he or she – the soldier, the sailor, the Airman, the Marine – who has fought to preserve freedom.”
If you do NOT normally fly your flag everyday, make this day one that you do! Even a small one sitting in your window shows your heartfelt feelings toward our troops.
If you are not from the U.S., tell us about the days you honor your military in the fight for freedom – help us to learn by sharing.
Supported by carrier aircraft and by naval gunfire, elements of the Twenty Fourth Army Corps landed on le Shima, an island west of Okinawa, on the morning of April 16 (East Longitude Date). Advancing inland rapidly against resistance which was initially light but later stiffened, our troops captured the enemy airfield and secured most of the area west of that point. The greater part of the enemy defense force has been driven back to defensive positions in the pinnacles southeast of the airfield.
Marines of the Third Amphibious Corps continued to attack groups of the enemy on Motobu Peninsula, Okinawa, on April 16. Marine forces continued to advance northward in the rugged terrain of the island north of the peninsula.
There was little change in the lines of the Twenty Fourth Army Corps in the southern sector of Okinawa. Naval guns and carrier planes attacked enemy positions in the south.
At the end of April 13 our forces on Okinawa had killed 9,108 of the enemy and captured 391 prisoners of war. About 85,000 civilians had come under jurisdiction of the U. S. Military Government on the island by the end of April 15. Our Military Government authorities have constructed one large camp and have taken over thirteen villages for use of civilians. Civilian foodstuffs are being salvaged and used. Our medical facilities have proved adequate for treatment of civilians thus far.
Okinawa, April 1945, taken by: W.E. Smith
CINCPOA COMMUNIQUÉ NO. 340, APRIL 22, 1945
The Twenty Fourth Army Corps continued to attack the enemy’s fortified positions in the southern sector of Okinawa on April 22 (East Longitude Date) meeting bitter resistance in all areas of the fighting. Our troops were supported by heavy artillery, naval guns, and carrier and landbased aircraft. No substantial changes had been made in the lines by 1700 on April 22. A total of 11,738 of the enemy have been killed and 27 taken prisoner in the Twenty Fourth Corps zone of action.
Elements of the Marine Third Amphibious Corps occupied Taka Banare Island east of Okinawa on April 22 and landed on Sesoko Island west of Motobu Peninsula on the same date. Our troops on Sesoko were reported to be half way across the island in the early afternoon.
Corpsmen race under fire to the wounded, Okinawa
During the night of April 21-22, a few enemy aircraft approached our forces around the Okinawa area and four were shot down by carrier planes and aircraft of the Tactical Air Force. On the afternoon of April 22 a substantial group of Japanese planes attacked our forces in and around Okinawa causing some damage and sinking one light unit of the fleet. Forty-nine enemy planes were shot down by our combat air patrols and antiaircraft fire.
Carrier aircraft of the U. S. Pacific Fleet attacked airfields and other installations in the Sakishima Group on April 21 and 22.
Army Mustangs of the Seventh Fighter Command attacked Suzuka airfield 32 miles southwest of Nagoya on April 22 inflicting the following damage on the enemy:
9 aircraft shot out of the air
Japanese land-based aircraft destroyed
One probably shot down
17 aircraft destroyed on the ground
20 Aircraft damaged on the ground
A 6000-ton ship exploded in Ise Bay south of Nagoya
Two small oilers sunk
One small tanker sunk
One coastal cargo ship damaged
Carrierbased aircraft of the U. S. Pacific Fleet attacked airfields and ground installations in the Amami Group of the Northern Ryukyus during April 18 to 20 inclusive, damaging or destroying numerous airfield structures. On April 21 and 22 carrier planes operating in the Northern Ryukyus shot down 16 enemy planes and burned 10 more on the ground.
A search plane of Fleet Air Wing One attacked a small cargo ship east of the Ryukyus on April 22 leaving it burning and dead in the water.
Runways and installations on Marcus Island were bombed by Liberators of the Seventh Army Air Force on April 21. Helldiver bombers of the Fourth Marine Aircraft Wing attacked the airstrip on Yap in the Western Carolines on April 21.
During the twenty four hours ending at 1800 on April 20, 60 Japanese were killed and 64 were captured on Iwo Island. A total of 23,049 of the enemy have been killed and 850 captured since February.
This story was contributed by fellow blogger, Mike Tuggle, in tribute to his father, who sailed his final voyage this past Saturday.
My account of the Invasion of Okinawa
By: Clayton C. Tuggle
I was one of the approximately twelve hundred men aboard the USS Birmingham CL-62. We set out for Okinawa in March, 1945.
Arriving in Okinawa, we were stationed about five miles from shore. We bombarded the island with 6-inch guns at night hitting several ammunition dumps and shore guns of several sizes. This went on until the invasion began on April 1, 1945. This battle was something entirely different from any the Navy had experienced. Torpedoes were exploding all around our ship, the skies were full of explosions from guns on both sides.
On the 5th of May, 1945, I was cleaning officers’ quarters when the captain [John Wilkes] came on the PA system. He said he’d just got word that 300 Kamikaze planes were headed for our fleet. He said, “The odds are against us but, men, for God’s sake, go down fighting.”
My battle station was fire control on the 40 mm guns. I received orders from the gunnery officer and relayed the message to the gun crews as per instructions to aim the guns at the oncoming planes. This was done by the radar system.
In my battle station I could see almost everything around our ship. Kamikaze planes were coming in from the port side, some would crash just before hitting our ship, some would be on fire and head for a ship of any size to hit. I saw one ship get hit by two planes at the same time. I saw several planes get shot out of the sky and crash into the sea. Some would fall near our ship.
Our Marines fired the 20 mm guns constantly as planes came as close as 50 ft from us. The sky was full of explosions. After the all-clear signal came, we headed toward the island for more bombardment. About a half-hour later everyone was back on regular duty.
USS Birmingham ripped apart by kamikaze plane, 1945
One Kamikaze having hidden in the clouds undetected by the radar came down. This tragedy killed forty-seven and wounded eighty-one on our ship. One sailor standing next to me was blown away. I never saw him again.
I was down below in officers’ quarters when the chaplain came to me and commanded me to take him topside. He was burned bad and suffering smoke inhalation. I was suffering from smoke inhalation, and something told me to get in the shower and turn it on for air. I stayed close to the shower for about a minute, then I was able to get the chaplain topside. He died three days later on a hospital ship.
I saw mangled bodies all over the deck, arms and legs were everywhere, bodies without limbs. I had known them personally. I walked by my living quarters and heard men screaming as the rescue squad was closing the hatch on them to keep the compartment from flooding. I then walked to the back of the ship and sat down for a while.
I was elected pall bearer as most of them were from my own division and I knew most of them. We were friends. They were all buried at sea.
Burial at sea.
We went back to normal duties. All my belongings had been destroyed, and I was assigned to another division temporarily and started out again as a sailor going about normal duty. We headed to Pearl Harbor for repairs. We were there for three months.
After repairs were finished we sailed to Tokyo Bay. We were preparing to attack, but the Enola Gay dropped some bombs and peace was declared.