Category Archives: First-hand Accounts

Eye Witness Account – Clearing Manila Harbor

RAdm. William A. Sullivan

This is condensed from a story written by Rear Admiral William A. Sullivan and appears in”The Pacific War Remembered” edited by John T. Mason Jr.

ship in Manila Harbor

 

When Captain B.S. Huie had arrived with his men, I put the gang to work on North Harbor.  There turned out to be over 200 wrecks there.  Huie cleaned this up and then work began on the Pasig River.  For some weeks we had 40 to 60 wrecks cleaned up per week, this was around the end of May.

crossing the Pasig River

Our most important job in Manila was the opening of the main harbor entrance.  The Japanese did a perfect job blocking it – far more efficient than any similar job the Germans had done in Europe.  There were 5 ships sunk in a staggered line across the entrance.  Four of them were old inter-island ships and one was the Luzon, flagship of the Yangtze patrol.  I had the steering wheel of the Luzon taken off and sent to the naval Academy Museum.

USS Luzon

About this time, Doc Schlesinger advised me to get the men out of the tents they had been living in and put them in solid buildings before rainy season hit.  Requisitions for lumber were ignored.  The lumber was being unload by the SeaBees to build build a tremendous 7th Fleet Headquarters.

I watched them and every afternoon at 4:00 pm, they knocked off and went back to their billets.  One night a lighter was not properly secured and drifted loose.  I sent our boat over to it.  Just what we needed!  The next morning, the SeaBees returned and went to work as usual.

I turned it all over to our firefighters and the houses got built by mostly Filipino carpenters and guerrillas.  No one in the Navy asked where I got the lumber.  The only who asked was General Casey, MacArthur’s chief engineer.  I told him I stole it from the Navy as the Army was short, so I couldn’t have stolen any from them.

We had a job which received much publicity, the recovery of silver pesos from the waters around Corregidor.  I asked MacArthur about using Army divers, but he didn’t want the job of Manila Bay neglected.  A week or two later, he brought the subject up again.  He said the money had been removed from Manila bank before the Japanese complete take-over.  The money was dumped by barges, something like 13 million dollars worth.  The United States had both a legal and moral obligation to recover it.

I made up a team of divers and gave the CO of the ARS his orders and he left with an Army finance officer and a MP.  They found no silver.   An Army Sgt., Bataan Death March survivor, recently released POW, who had worked on the barges, marked the chart with an X.  He also said the Japanese had recovered some of the silver themselves.

Dive ship in Manila Harbor

Finally after many dives, the wooden boxes were located at 90 →130 feet down, deteriorated and broken apart.  The divers had to sift the silt on their hands and knees.  The recovery of the silver continued through my stay.  When I left the Philippines (August 1945), I believe something like 7 million dollars in pesos had been recovered.

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Military Humor – 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

August Bill – Woodland, CA; US Navy, WWII, PTO, USS Vella Gulf

Patrick Churchill – Oxfordshire, ENG; Royal Marines, WWII, ETO

Joseph DioGuardi – Mount MOrris, NY; US Army, Korea, 11th Airborne Division

Gerald Giles – Lowell, MA; US Army, Cpl., medic

Drensel Haws – Emmett, ID; US Navy, WWII

Dick Marshall – Des Moines, IA; USMC, WWII, PTO

John Reith – LA & CA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, P-51 pilot

David South – Bozeman, MT; US Army, WWII, ETO, 85th Div., Silver Star, Bronze Star

Albert Trapanese – Bronx, NY; US Navy, WWII

Charles Wright – Millcreek, UT; USMC, WWII, PTO

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Battle of Sugar Loaf Hill Okinawa

Eye witness account from Okinawa….

Together We Served Voices

By Scott Sumner USMC 1978 – 1984

My uncle James M. Barrett was a World War II Marine. He was born in Nov. 1923 in Minnesota. He had a promising career as a welterweight boxer, 1until his country’s call became too loud. On January 18, 1943 he reported for duty with the United States Marine Corps. He went through recruit training in San Diego, Calif. and on the first of May was sent to Sitka, Alaska and in October to Attu, Alaska. The Army had finished cleaning the Japanese off the island, and he drew guard duty for the winter.

The battles in the Pacific had taken their toll and the Marine Corps needed more men for the fighting. My uncle was sent to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. for additional infantry training in May 1944. On December 27, he, and many others, embarked on a troop ship for Guadalcanal…

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PTO & CBI reactions to V-E Day

US Army 77th Division hears the news on Okinawa

Victory in Europe was welcome news to Allied troops in the Pacific and the China-Burma-India theaters of war. They greeted it with thanksgiving but there was little celebration. As a London Times special correspondent in Burma wrote, “The war is over. Let us get on with the war.” Now that Europe would no longer be receiving the bulk of troops and materiel, officers and enlisted personnel in the war against Japan hoped they would be given more men and equipment quickly, in order to end their war sooner.

Meanwhile, fighting continued in New Guinea, the Philippines, Okinawa, the CBI and elsewhere. Kamikazes still made suicide dives to sink Allied ships. The lights may have gone on over Europe and America, but a funeral pall still darkened the Pacific and Asia.

SMITTY _ New Guinea 10/24/44

Smitty, my father, when asked how he had felt, merely shrugged. “I was happy for my fellow soldiers over there, but we had work to do, so we didn’t think about it very long.”

From The May 7, 1945 Edition of Stars and Stripes

OKINAWA, May 6 (ANS)—The reported death of Adolf Hitler and the word of surrender of the German armies in Italy was good news to soldiers, sailors and marines here but there was no celebrating.Most of the fighting men figured it wouldn’t mean a thing to them “until we can see some help coming and see a chance of ending the war out here.”

They termed Hitler’s death “good riddance” and said it was a good thing he went that way because there probably would have been lots of bickering around if we had taken him alive.”

Gen. Daniel I. Sultan

Gen. Dan I. Sultan, commander of the India-Burma Theater, on V-E Day, paid tribute to the fighting men who won the European war in a short statement to the troops of the India-Burma Theater broadcast over the American Army radio stations in the Theater. The text of Gen. Sultan’s statement:
“Today in Europe, German military might has been broken. After almost six years, organized hostilities have ceased. The great work of reconstruction of the shattered continent can now begin.
“We recognize the tremendous achievements of the Allied Armies in Europe who won this victory, for we too have been fighting. We know the cost of driving back a tenacious enemy – we know the necessity for close co-operation of all branches of our forces, the close union with our allies in the common cause. We know the heartbreaking conditions of combat under adverse weather and over difficult terrain – the back-breaking work of construction and supply in support of combat operations. So, as fighting men, we pay tribute to the fighting men in Europe.
“Their victory is in part our victory. We have done with less man and supplies, so that they might have more. Their victory brings our victory nearer. The men who broke the German ground defenses in the west, who destroyed her essential industries from the air, can now turn their attention to the war with Japan. The industrial strength of the United States, until now producing for the war both in Europe and in Asia, can turn its full productive force to the Far East.
“This is the day of Germany’s defeat and Europe’s liberation, but we must not forget that there is still a tough battle to be fought before the Japs are licked. Every one of us knows his part in that fight; and if every one of us will do his part to the utmost, Japan’s defeat and the liberation of Asia will come surely and swiftly.”

The Pacific War

 

The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia greeted V-E Day with the question, “Since when has it been customary to celebrate victory halfway through a contest?” The war with Japan had been the great threat to Australia itself, and the country’s sons were still fighting and dying in that war. Accordingly, the mood was more somber than in Europe. On May 9, some 100,000 people attended a service at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne.

For the most part New Zealanders observed V-E Day on May 9, although there was some spontaneous dancing in the streets. Preparations had been underway for weeks, in part to keep celebrations from getting out of control. Events included speeches, thanksgiving services, and the singing of the national anthems of New Zealand, America and the Soviet Union. A People’s Victory March in Christchurch drew 25,000.

In the U.S., many communities attempted to subdue celebrations, wanting to give the occasion the solemnity they felt it deserved and reminding Americans that, as Truman said, “Our victory is only half over.” Across the country, however, joyous celebrations broke out. Thousands gathered in New York’s Times Square. New Orleans took on the appearance of Mardi Gras, with people dancing in the streets. Church bells rang out the glorious news in small towns and major cities.

In the Soviet Union, Stalin himself seemed less than enthusiastic. His deputy Nikita Khrushchev telephoned to congratulate the Soviet leader on his victory, and Stalin reportedly snapped at him, “Why are you bothering me? I am working.” The USSR’s official victory parade took place in a downpour over a month later, on June 24.

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Military Humor –

‘Bring back rationing!’

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes –

Harold Bishop – Sacramento, CA; US Navy, WWII, submarine service

Christopher A. Celiz – Summerville, SC; US Army, Afghanistan (7th deployment), Sgt. 1st Class, KIA

Dallas ‘Chris’ Christenson – Pensecola, FL, US Air Force, WWII, Korea & Vietnam, MSgt. (Ret.)

John Hart – Keesville, NY; US Army / US Navy

Melvin Hilscher – Kulm, ND; US Army, WWII

James McLean – AUS; RA Air Force # 428761, WWII, Flight Sgt., 83rd Squadron

George Meyer – Bristol, CT; US Navy, WWII, Medical Corps

Ruskin Reddoch – Troy, AL; USMC, WWII, 1st Lt., Silver Star, Purple Heart

Elliot Seidman – Delray Beach, FL; US Navy, WWII, PTO, radioman

Maria Swafford – Boydton, VA; Civilian, US Map Service, D.C., WWII

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Col. Hiromishi Yahara on Okinawa

Lines of defense on Okinawa. Top Japanese officers were in the bottom line of bunkers.

Colonel Hiromishi Yahara was third in command of the Japanese defenses on Okinawa. Read all about his story below.

It was Colonel Hiromishi Yahara who designed and implemented the jiykusen, or the yard-by-yard battle of attrition that cost the American forces so many casualties in the three-month battle, and he was the highest ranking officer to survive the battle and make it back to Tokyo. Before the overall commander on the island, Lt. Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima, committed ritual suicide in the battle’s final days, he instructed Yahara to escape to Tokyo to make a final report to the emperor.

Yahara was captured by the Americans, which bothered him immensely—to be captured or to surrender was considered a disgrace to one’s family—but eventually he did return to Japan.  In 1973, Yahara still felt strongly that the garrison at Okinawa, as well as the people of Okinawa themselves, had been betrayed by Imperial Headquarters in Tokyo.  Because he faced personal attacks for surviving the battle, Yahara decided to write a book to set the record straight.


The result is a fascinating and unique look at the last, decisive battle of the Pacific War, written by a surviving member of the defeated Japanese command on Okinawa.  Yahara was a gifted and meticulous strategist, highly respected by his peers. Because he had spent two years in the United States as an exchange officer prior to World War II, he knew his enemy better than did his superiors at Okinawa, Ushijima and Maj. Gen. Isamu Cho.

Yahara makes a startling revelation in the book regarding the events surrounding the American landing on Okinawa on April 1, 1945.  According to Yahara, the plans drawn up in Tokyo called for Japanese air power to play the decisive role in the battle for Okinawa prior to the actual landing.  Japanese planes flying from the mainland along with aircraft launched by the Japanese Combined Fleet—conventional fighters and kamikaze suicide attackers—were supposed to strike the U.S. Fifth Fleet offshore prior to the landing and annihilate the American landing forces while they were still in their ships.  The 32nd Imperial Army entrenched on Okinawa was to play a minor role, mopping up the survivors of the American landing forces as they struggled ashore.

Giretsu Commandos on Okinawa

To Yahara, the failure to launch the promised air attack on April 1 sealed the fate of the island’s garrison—it never had a chance for victory. Hundreds of thousands of Okinawan citizens had been betrayed as well, Yahara believed, sacrificed to the whims of the Japanese high command.

Although his love for his country never wavered, Yahara was unique among his peers.  He fully recognized the flaws in traditional Japanese military thinking—the Bushido code, or way of the warrior—and he was disgusted as he watched his superiors repeat the errors of previous eras.  The Imperial Army had a “blood and guts” mentality; it had been undefeated since winning the Sino-Japanese War in 1895.  To the Japanese militarists’ way of thinking, the combination of Japanese spirit and the willingness to die for the emperor would overcome any material advantage enjoyed by an enemy.

Japanese bunker

Yahara was convinced that the initial Japanese strategy for Okinawa—depending on air power—would fail.  Japan’s air forces were seriously degraded by early 1945, and it had lost many experienced pilots. American aircraft were now technically superior, and Japan’s Navy was down to just a few surviving carriers.  Yahara believed that the only chance for his country’s survival lay in the proper use of its remaining ground forces.

After the promised air assault did not materialize, he went ahead with his planned defenses on the ground.  He would fight for time, making the invaders pay dearly for every inch of ground, to allow Japan to prepare its defenses on the main islands for the Allied invasion that was sure to come.  Yahara’s tactics on Okinawa would utilize the island’s terrain, which was perfectly suited for defense, to wage an ugly war of attrition. His soldiers would go underground in caves and concrete bunkers to survive air, artillery, and naval gunfire, and then battle American ground forces for every inch of island real estate. His intricate, multi-layered defensive positions and the tenacity of the 110,000-man 32nd Army combined to prolong the battle for three long and exceedingly bloody months.

Col. Hiromishi Yahara

In his book, Yahara admits that he despised both the self-delusion practiced by his superiors and the false propaganda foisted upon the Okinawan people, who were told that capture by American troops would result in rape, torture, and death, to which suicide was preferable.

Condensed from an article by John Walker.

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 Military Humor – BOOT CAMP 

‘Sign me up for swing shift basic training! I don’t think I could handle early morning hours.’

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Robert Bathurst – Madison, WI; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 11th Airborne Division

Frank Conger – Poughkeepsie, NY; US Navy, WWII, PTO, USS Bennington

Missing Man formation

Warren Foss – St. Louis, MO; US Navy, WWII, PTO

James Gavette – Bradford, PA; US Army, WWII

Samuel Tom Holiday – Kayeta, AZ; USMC, WWII, PTO, Navajo Code Talker, Purple Heart

Norman Jackson – Watertown, NY; US merchant Marine, WWII

Francis McCormack – Rutland, VT; USMC

Irving Press – Windsor, CT; US Army, WWII

Raymond Rzepecki Sr. – Central Falls, RI; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Pfc, B-24 tail gunner, 370th

Omar Shaffer – Linden, VA; US Navy, WWII, gunner

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Home Front – Missouri POW’s

The main camps supported a number of branch camps, which were used to put POWs where their labor could be best utilized.

As author David Fiedler explained in his book “The Enemy Among Us: POWs in Missouri During World War II,” the state was once home to more than 15,000 German and Italian prisoners of war (POW).

Many of the camps where they were held have faded into distant memory as little evidence remains of their existence; however, one local resident has a relic from a former POW camp that provides an enduring connection to the service of a departed relative.

“Established at Weingarten, a sleepy little town on State Highway 32 between Ste. Genevieve and Farmington, Missouri, (Camp Weingarten) had no pre-war existence,” wrote Fiedler. The author further explained, “The camp was enlarged to the point that some 5,800 POWs could be held there, and approximately 380 buildings of all types would be constructed on an expanded 950-acre site.”

Camp Weingarten quickly grew into a sprawling facility to house Italian POWs brought to the United States and, explained Jefferson City resident Carolyn McDowell, was the site where one of her uncles spent his entire period of service with the U.S. Army in World War II.

Working POWs earned 80 cents a day and could buy beer at the canteens.

“My mother’s brother, Dwight Hafford Taylor, was raised in the community of Alton in southern Missouri,” said McDowell. “His hometown really wasn’t all that far from Camp Weingarten,” she added.

Although her uncle passed away in 1970, records accessed through the National Archives and Records Administration indicate he was drafted into the U.S. Army and entered service at Jefferson Barracks on November 10, 1942.  After completing his initial training, he was designated as infantry and became a clerk with the 201st Infantry Regiment.

Shortly after Taylor received assignment to Camp Weingarten, Italian prisoners of war began to arrive at the camp in May 1943. Despite the challenges of overseeing the internment of former enemy soldiers, the camp experienced few security incidents and conditions remained rather cordial, in part due to the sustenance given the prisoners.

There were four main base camps, each holding between 2,000 and 5,000 POWs.

It was noted that many of the Italians were “semi-emaciated” when arriving in the United States because of a poor diet. The Chicago Tribune reported on October 23, 1943, that the prisoners at Camp Weingarten soon “put on weight” by eating a “daily menu … superior to that of the average civilian.”

Pfc. Taylor and his fellow soldiers, most of whom were assigned to military police companies, maintained a busy schedule of guarding the prisoners held in the camp, but also received opportunities to take leave from their duties and visit their loved ones back home.

“During one of my uncle’s visits back to Alton, he asked his mother for an aluminum pie pan,” said McDowell. “He then took it back to camp with him and that’s when he gave it to one of the Italian POWs.”

Cigarette case cover

When returning to camp, one of the POWs with whom Taylor had established a friendship was given the pie pan and used it to demonstrate his abilities as an artist and a craftsman by fashioning it into a cigarette case. The case not only had a specially crafted latching mechanism, but was also etched with an emblem of an eagle on the cover with barracks buildings and a guard tower from the camp inscribed upon the inside.

“My uncle then gave the cigarette case as a gift to my father, who was living in Jefferson City at the time and working as superintendent of the tobacco factory inside the Missouri State Penitentiary,” stated McDowell. “It is a beautifully crafted cigarette case, but the irony of it all is that my father never smoked,” she jokingly added.

Inside of the case.

As McDowell went on to explain, her uncle remained at Camp Weingarten until his discharge from the U.S. Army in December 1944. The following October, the former POW camp was closed and many of the buildings were dismantled, shipped and reassembled as housing for student veterans at colleges and universities throughout the United States.

In the years after the war, McDowell said, her mother kept the cigarette case tucked away in a chest of drawers but since both of her parents have passed, she now believes the historical item should be on display in a museum.

Italian POWs

Little remains of the once sprawling POW camp located approximately 90 miles south of St. Louis, with the exception of a stone fireplace that was part of the Officer’s Club.  McDowell notes the cigarette case is not only a beautiful piece that serves as a link to the past, but represents a story to be shared of the state’s rich military legacy.

“I will someday donate the cigarette case to a museum for preservation and display, and I believe my brother, Harold McDowell, would agree. However, I want to ensure it is recognized for the treasure that it is and it is not simply thrown away,” said McDowell. “That’s why I want to tell the story of its creation … its history, so that its association to Camp Weingarten is never forgotten.”

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Wishing all in New Zealand a memorable Maori New Year!

 

 

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Military Humor – 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Robert Bealle – Tuscaloosa, AL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, P-47 pilot

Percival Blows (100) – Summerset Karaka, NZ; RNZ Army #20590, WWII, 21st Battalion

David Chappell – Pueblo, CO; US Army Air Corps, WWII & Korea

Murray Fromson – Los Angeles, CA; US Army, Korea, Stars and Stripes journalist

Robert Greer – Stanford, KY; US Army, 11th A/B & 82nd A/B Divisions

Melvin Korman – Providence, RI; US Army, WWII, ETO, Sgt.

L.G. ‘Butch’ Lemons – Phoenix, AZ; USMC, WWII, SSgt.

Donald McIntyre – Tauranga, NZ; RNZ Army # 388853, WWII, Maj. (Ret.), 7th Rajput Reg, So. Lancaster Reg.,Royal West African Frontier Force Intelligence Corps

John Strouf – Altoona, IA; US Army, WWII

Byron Wrenn – St. Helens, OR; US Navy, WWII & Korea

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187th/11th Airborne Division – Luzon, April 1945

This excerpt is from “The 11th Airborne Brick” by: Marvin Miller

[Filipino scouts had just killed 2 Makapili ( enemy sympathizers), and parts of the 187th/11th Airborne were near.]

The men in the company walked right by the bodies of the two slain men, the captain refused to even look in that direction as if he didn’t have the slightest idea of what just went on.  He would never tell a soul of what happened there that day.

A hard, driving rain began to fall on what Wayne thought was a Tuesday and 3 days later, it was still raining.  He kept his little New Testament Bible and his latest letter from Roxie dry by using a rubber bag he had taken off a dead enemy soldier.

Luzon, 1945

On that Saturday, the sun was shining brightly as they prepared to continue their trek through the muddy jungle trail.  They moved out within the hour and had made a couple of miles by noon.  The heat was stifling and the humidity made it unbearable.  It was difficult to breathe.

In an instant, a land mine and some snipers took the Filipino scouts out.  Shots were being fired from all directions as the troops found themselves in the crossfire of an ambush that had been carefully planned by the Japanese.  The rest of the company hit the ground in the thick vegetation for cover.

As usual, Fikes was shouting out orders to his men on how to fight the enemy, but the gunfire was too loud for him to be heard.  Besides, nobody ever listened to him anyway and he knew that in situations like this, it was every man for himself.  It was simply kill or be killed.  He grabbed a hand grenade, pulled the pin and quickly lopped it into the direction where he heard a Jap machine-gun.

The grenade exploded bu the machine-gun fire continued.  He tried again and missed.  When he jumped up the third time, the machine-gunner was waiting for him….

Plante got to his knees and then stood up shooting his flamethrower into one direction and then another.  He dove for cover after the third blast, waited a minute or two and then did it again.  He repeated this process over and over again for what seemed to be hours…

soldiers in the tall grass of Luzon

Wayne and Branson were firing their weapons too at every chance they had.  In fact, they had fired so many times that Wayne’s BAR malfunctioned.  He left his position close by his best buddies and crawled through the tall grass in search of another weapon.  He found an M1 just a few yards away where Pfc Hanson was laying dead.

The firefight seemed to be lasting for an eternity…  Both sides were running low on ammunition.  The Japanese were so low that they were now ready for  the second phase of their attack, the banzai charge.  They stood up, those without ammunition used the bayonets on their rifles or used their sabers.

Philippines, 1945

There were 53 in the banzai charge.  Over half were shot dead before they reached the Americans, but what few did reach the soldiers were either killed in hand-to-hand combat or shot.  It was over in less than a minute.

Branson was field promoted that day and took over Fikes’ platoon.

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Military Humor – SNAFU in “Outpost”

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Kenneth Anderson – Red Wing, MN; US Army, Korea

James Blevins – Ash County, NC; US Army, WWII, ETO, mechanic

Daniel Diana – Brooklyn, NY; US Navy, Lt.Comdr.

David Garcia – St. Louis, IL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, (MLB Mgr.)

Michael Healy – Chicago, IL; US Army, Korea & Vietnam, 4th Rangers w/ 187th RCT / US Army Special Forces, MGeneral (Ret. 36 y.)

Gorge Keagy – Ft. Lauderdale, FL; US Coast Guard, gunner’s mate, USCG cutter Vigilant

Thomas Nix – Boulder, CO; US Navy, WWII, USS Lexington

Frank Osmer – Hudson, NH; US navy, WWII, gunner’s mate, USS Astoria

Virgil Smith – Haines City, FL; US Navy, WWII & Korea

Chuck Stevens Jr. – Van Houten, NM; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, (MLB 1st baseman)

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USS Laffey & the American Flag

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.

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Military Humor – 

“ALL RIGHT, SAILOR! LET’S GET THAT HAT SQUARED AWAY!!”

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Clifford Black Sr. – Commerce, GA; US Army, WWII, Korea, Bronze Star

Kern Lum Chew – Courtland, CA; US Army, WWII, PTO, Bronze Star, Purple Heart

William Donnellan – Massapequa, NY; US Army, WWII, PTO, Bronze Star

Tony Duva – Lake Worth, FL; US Army, WWII

William Harth Jr. – Columbia, SC; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, 2nd Lt., 329th Bomber Squadron/93rd Bombardment Group, KIA

Fred “Dipper 19” Kovaleski – NYC, NY; Cold War, CIA

Randall Mosher – Bolivar, MO; US Army, Vietnam

Jimmy Simoneaux – LA; US Navy, WWII, USS Spearfish & Snook

Ray Smith – RI; US Navy, WWII & Korea

Arthur Wells – Paw Paw, IL; US Army, Vietnam, Col. (Ret.), 1st Armored Div., 11th Airborne Div., 24th Div.,& 1st Div. District Adviser, West Point grad, Bronze Star, Purple Heart

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Eye Witness Account to Okinawa

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.

Clayton Tuggle

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.”

USS Birmingham

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.

Clayton Tuggle
3-14-1995

April 10, 1925 – May 12, 2018

Click on images to enlarge.

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Farewell Salutes – 

Jeremiah Adams – Oswego, IL; US Navy, USS Nimitz

Robert Buchert – Cincinnatti, OH; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 152nd AAA/11th Airborne Division

Bill Cooley – Seattle, WA; US Army, WWII, Lt.

Thomas Davis – Albuquerque, NM; US Army Air Corps, WWII, ETO, Major, Silver Star

Thomas Eager – Lacona, NY; US Navy, WWII, USS Princeton

Felix Cruz-Gomez – Brandon, FL; US Army, WWII, KOrea, Vietnam, MSgt. (Ret.)

Ballard Marshall – Richmond, KY; US Army, Korea & Vietnam, Sgt.

Art Paul – Chicago, IL; US Army

Jhoon Rhee – Asan, So.KOR; civilian employee US Air Force, Korea War, interpreter

Emil Smith – Paeroa, NZ; RNZ Navy # 10828, WWII

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SeaBees on Okinawa, April 1945

SeaBees of WWII

This eye witness account was contributed by John Ratomski.

 

AHEAD OF OKINAWA’S FRONT LINES WENT A FIVE MAN SEABEE SURVEYING TEAM TO LAY OUT THE SITE FOR A NEW AIRFIELD.  CCM DOYLE L. CROWELL AND HIS MEN WORKING IN “NO MANS LAND” FOR TWO DAYS – SOMETIMES MORE THAN A HALF-MILE IN FRONT OF THE FIGHTING. THE MARINES DIDN’T CATCH UP WITH THE SURVEYORS UNTIL THE THIRD DAY.

April 1, 1945 – Easter Sunday arrived with a calm sea and a clear blue sky. The sun was two hours above the horizon. The serene South China Sea was fogged with the ghostly gray mist of the smudge pots. Behind the curtain of smoke, landing barges circled restlessly, waiting.  In the distance boomed the heavy naval guns. At 0830 the barges flashed across the line to the beach. The battle for “Bloody Okinawa” was on.

This was the moment we had sweated out for thirty days aboard ship. Thirty days of playing cards and checkers and reading books, magazines and the news reports; thirty days of boredom and anxiety.

USS Joseph T. Dickman, WWII

Aboard the USS Dickman we tried vainly to see what was going on. The wall of smoke obliterated everything outside a radius of two hundred yards. Scuttlebutt spread widely through the ship: The Japs are shelling! Someone had seen several unaccountable splashes near the next ship in line. On our bit of the U.S.A., isolated from the world and the news and in the midst of significant historical events, we depended on the latest developments from the coxswains passing by in landing barges. No one hit on the fourth wave. The sixth wave went in standing up! Our bird’s eye view of the battle was minute indeed.

D-Day for Seabees was April 2nd, and the first groups of the 71st Naval Construction Battalion stepped ashore at Blue Beach to the first nearly civilized country they had seen in eighteen months. There, not six yards from the beach, was part of a real house with the wreckage of some natives possessions strewn about.

Yontan Airfield, aerial view from the 25th Photo Recon Sq./5th Air Force

From Blue Beach we marched five miles, carrying the equipage necessary to existence (a mere 60 to 100 pounds) on our backs, to a former Japanese airfield, Yontan, and prepared to bivouac. Within a few hundred yards of the camp were a number of Nip planes in all states of disrepair.

April 6th. No bombs were dropped in the camp vicinity, but old hands neatly hit holes dug for that purpose. Later in the day planes made a strafing run on the camp, setting fire to and completely destroying the Frank type Nip plane which was parked near the camp. The first casualty due to enemy action occurred, a slight shoulder wound caused by falling flak. The most severe cases were those individuals unfortunate enough to have been carrying open cans at the time of the raid.

On April 8th, grading started on Route 1 from Yamada to Onna, the main road which led north on the China Sea side of the island. This stretch of road formed the backbone of the battalion’s job on Okinawa. The next day the first part of the battalion moved to a more suitable position north, following the Marines of the 3rd Corps and keeping the roads open.

SeaBees on Okinawa

The month of April brought cold weather miseries to the men. Eighteen months in the torrid heat of the South Pacific had weakened the resistance of the men to the mild cold of Okinawa. Cloudy, rainy days and cold nights brought on the worst colds and grippe in two years. Nights were spent with all available clothing wrapped around the body, and baths from buckets and helmets were no longer cool and refreshing as they had been in the tropics, but ordeals to be endured only when the odor became overpowering.

Also in April came terrific hailstorms of steel to those remaining encamped beside Yontan.  Shore installations and ships in the harbor threw up such a tremendous barrage in each raid that the harbor vicinity was prey to the never ending rain of metal.  On 16 April mortar shells aimed at Yontan landed around the camp area.  During the previous night the first and only death due to enemy action occurred. There were air raids too numerous to count, but usually the planes merely passed over on their way to more important targets. On several occasions bombs were dropped nearby, but they were just close enough to make a few more Christians.

SeaBees at work, Okinawa

By April 29th the battalion road responsibility extended from Yamada to Nago, a distance of more than 20 miles. Throughout the entire distance the road was widened sufficiently to accommodate the northward drive of the 3rd Corps. A Piper Cub strip at Onna was begun on April 16th.  By April 20th enough of the strip had been completed to enable the first plane to land.  At the village of Kise, a concrete bridge had been badly damaged by combat action and was repaired by cribbing along the broken span and back filling with rubble. Many of the bridges on Route 1 were damaged, seemingly beyond repair. Each bridge was repaired by crib and back fill or with shoring. These bridges were the only ones on the island made passable by using salvage material and drift wood.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

James Adams Jr. – So. Windham, CT; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Aviation Engineer

John Beverly – Stone, KY; US Navy, WWII, Korea, Sr. Chief Radioman (Ret. 22y.)

Bob Dorough – AR; US Army, WWII, band, (Schoolhouse Rock)

Larry Harvey – Portland, OR; US Army, (Burning Man founder)

Douglas Jackson – Knoxville, TN; US Army, WWII, ETO, 1261st Combat Engineers Battalion

Kathleen Leach – Tauranga, NZ; WAAF # W2039, WWII, L.Cpl.

James Martin – Brookline, MA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 11th Airborne Division, jumpmaster

Bill Nichols – OK; US Navy, WWII, PTO & CBI

Dennis Odom – St. Louis, IL; US Army, Vietnam

Joseph Varone – NYC, NY; US Army, WWII, Bronze Star & 2 Purple Hearts

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Navy Diary for end of March 1945

USS Montpelier

From “Pacific War Diary” by James J. Fahey of the USS Montpelier

Friday, March 16, 1945 – We left Subic Bay, traveled to Mindoro and anchored.  We may be ordered to troops on the southeast side of Mindanao.  We had plane recognition every day as usual.  We have movies of our planes and the enemy’s so we can tell the difference.  Tonight many B-24 bombers returned after a raid on China.  One of the planes came in on 3 motors.

The Press News reported that the Japanese lost approximately 4000 airplanes in the Philippine campaign.  British Lancaster bomber loads were increased to carry 11-ton bombs for the first time yesterday.  They are capable of destroying 5 city blocks each, being the largest bombs in the world.

James J. Fahey

Tuesday, March 20, 1945 – B-29s dropped leaflets on Japan telling the inhabitants that the bombing would cease when they stopped fighting.  They also warned people to stay away from military areas,  Bomber from Iwo Jima will bomb Japan soon.

I left the ship today for recreation on the beach at Mindoro.  We received a ride from an Army truck and went to the town about 10 miles away.  HQ for the 5th Air Force was also accommodated on the island.  I saw a couple of Red Cross girls there.  Some of the men bought corn whiskey from the soldiers.  They paid $17 for one pint.  That must be some kind of record.

Sunday, March 25, 1945 – Today is palm Sunday, our third in the Pacific.  The Australian cruiser Hobart was here, but left yesterday with the Phoenix and Boise.  The Cleveland, Denver and Montpelier are the only cruisers here now.  The men would like to join Bull Halsey’s Third Fleet, but they are only letting the newer ships go with the 3rd.

The other night we were ordered to battle stations.  Around midnight, Jap bombers struck at Manila.  They did not attack the ships in the bay.

USS Franklin, in the Task Force, 60 miles off the coast of Japan. This is what Seaman Fahey was missing. One Japanese “Betty” bomber dropped 2 bombs. All planes on deck were lost as were 832 crew members.

The Press News reported that 274 tons of bombs have been falling on Germany every hour for the past 3 weeks.  This is more than England received during the entire war.  The Japs lost 10,000 aircraft in the past 7 months.

Sunday, April 1, 1945 – A British task force is now operating with the American Fleet off Japan.  Today at noon approximately 100 LCIs arrived.  Some action must be in store.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Ted Brewer – Omaha, NE; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Korea & Vietnam, CM Sgt. (Ret. 26 y.)

Willie Cardin – Hartford, CT; US Army, 11th & 82nd Airborne Divisions

Robert Gilmour – Manitoba, CAN; RC Navy, WWII

Wendell Hawley – Burlington, VT; US Army, WWII

Alan Konzelman – Patterson, NJ; US Navy, engineer, 6th Fleet

William Lynch – Washington DC; US Navy, WWII, Radioman 3rd Class

Mark Pitalo – Biloxi, MS; USMC, WWII & Korea

Harry Sergerdell – Broad Channel, NY; US Coast Guard, WWII

Thomas Turner – Gaffney, SC; US Navy, WWII, submarine service

Willis Williams – Memphis, TN; US Navy, WWII, Korea & Vietnam, Commander (Ret.)

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