Saturday, November 29, 2008

Some of you have read this account. The story has been on my mind today, so I thought it would make a timely posting.

On November 29, 1944, while we were performing radar picket duty in Leyte Gulf, a formation of six Japanese planes was sighted and fired upon. When the general quarters alarm sounded, I was sitting in the wardroom. I was supposed to eat dinner and then relieve the Junior Officer of the Deck on the bridge. So dinner would be delayed. I got up and went to my battle station below the main deck in the compartment that housed the computer which took signals from the gun director and converted that information into coordinates that aimed the five-inch guns.

I didn’t know what was happening when I went below. Maybe it was just some planes flying over on their way to other targets. But when the first plane’s bomb exploded off the port bow, the ship shook, and I knew we were under direct attack. Then I saw that the signals coming from the gun director indicated another plane approaching. All the guns were firing, and the range continued to close. I can still see the computer operator turning the knobs and matching dials to send the signals that aimed the guns. That second plane was making its run, approaching from the stern, fishtailing back and forth to avoid gunfire. Hit several times, it was burning as it passed over the stern. It almost overshot its target because of the ships maneuvers. But one of the wings hit a mast guy wire and the starboard wing of the bridge, causing it to careen in and down. It crashed into the ship, and a bomb exploded.

I still didn’t know just exactly what happened, but soon found out. I was on the same telephone circuit with Bob Cousins, the gunnery officer in the director and Jim Hahn, another assistant gunnery officer on the flying bridge. I remember Bob saying, “My God, Murph, flames are shooting out of Gun 2 fifty feet in the air.” I heard nothing from Jim. He had been hit by a bomb fragment.

The next few seconds were tense for those of us in the plotting room. We knew flames were shooting out of one of the forward 5-inch guns, and we knew that the handling rooms and magazines under those guns were loaded with ammunition and were not too far forward and below us. So we knew if the flames got to the magazines, the bow would probably be blown off, and the ship would sink rapidly. But the steel casements surrounding the hoists that carried the ammunition from the magazines to the guns were supposed to be flame-proof – and they were.

The next concern was whether more planes would attack. None did, and we wondered what it was like up on the decks above. Bob Cousins filled me in as best he could, but he couldn’t see everything from his station. At one point he remembered looking down onto the flying bridge and seeing Jim lying there looking up at him with no expression on his face. Someone had already given him morphine, and he didn’t appear to be in pain. He died of his wounds just a short time later.

Casualties were heavy among the forty millimeter gun crews and on the bridge and flying bridge. Bomb fragments penetrated the # 2 five inch gun house and exploded a shell inside. All the men in the gun house and the handling room beneath it were killed by the flames and force of the explosion.

Thirty-one men were killed, one was listed as missing and sixty-five were wounded. One of the most seriously hurt was the doctor. His battle station was in the wardroom where I had been sitting when general quarters sounded. The starboard bulkhead of the compartment had been blown in, and tables and chairs were in shambles. It was not a good place to be, and the doctor, who was one of my roommates, never had the chance to carry out his mission to help others.

6 comments:

Sarah said...

Wow, Poppop. Thank you for sharing that. It is amazing how trauma imbeds a memory into our minds with such vivid detail...even remembering the instruments giving the signals. I am so sorry you had to go through that horrible ordeal....that's not even an accurate word for it. I am very grateful you made it through....4 days after my dad was born. This life wouldn't have been as joyful without you!

Stephen said...

Dad, I know you have asked the question many times, "Why was I spared and Jim Hahn wasn't?" All I can say is it was Jim's time and not yours. If it would have been you that day, all of us reading your message wouldn't be as we are today. I give thanks for that day you were spared and also we are grateful for your love, all through the years, and forevermore.

Scott said...

Dad,

As many have said to me, and I am sure to you, thank you for your service to our country. Your Jim Hanh is my Pete Moriarty. He is the one name I know personally on the Vietnam War Memorial. I saw him a day before he went MIA over Laos.

Love,

Scott

Emily Krouse said...

Grandpa,

As I read your post I can’t imagine going through what you did. I am at a loss for words but I know I am grateful that you made it out safe as I would not be here today if it turned out differently.

I love you!

Sally said...

Dearest Dad, I am moved to tears each time I hear this story. War is hell! I am sorry you had to be in one. But I thank you for your service to keep our country free! I do not believe God chooses who lives and dies in war. Bullets flying are random. I am just so grateful you made it home. My life has been blessed with you being in it!

I love you. Thank you for being such a wonderful Dad to me!

Sally

Mike said...

Thanks for sharing that story again. It reminds me that because of your skipper's preparation and quickness of action, I got to grow up knowing my Dad, unlike lots of others. Also, the rest of the family exist because of his quick thinking in taking evasive action. True, not everyone on the ship survived, but it could have been lots worse. What if the other planes had attacked?

There is a certain randomness to who lives and dies in war that can't be explained in any meaningful way. I guess the best response is to be grateful that you survived while still grieving for all those who didn't. I know I'm grateful that you survived, and on Memorial Day especially, I mourn for all those who gave all.