Fast Ships in Harm's Way: 100 Years of 'Tin Cans' (Part 2 of a 3 part series)


Story Number: NNS020815-05Release Date: 8/15/2002 7:00:00 PM
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By Chief Journalist Bill Johnson-Miles

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- (This is Part 2 of a 3 part series commemorating some of the contributions made by destroyers during their first 100 years of service to the U.S. Navy. Part 1 of this series focused on the role destroyers played in World War I and can be found at the following link: www.news.navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=3147.)

World War II and beyond
The next world war resulted in the loss of many more destroyers, 71 according to the 1996 book "Blood on the Sea" by Robert Parkin. But the Navy lost more then just ships, as Tin Can crew members made up a good portion of the 37,000 American Sailors who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II.

Most of those Sailors and ships were lost to suicidal plane attacks called kamikazes. During the U.S. invasion of Okinawa in 1945, 150 destroyers and destroyer escorts (DEs) stationed themselves in a vast ring around the island, a picket line to protect Americans from the attacking Japanese air strength. On April 6, "the full mad hurricane force of the 'divine wind' broke over the destroyer ring like flame and rock bursting from the crater of an erupting volcano," said Capt. William Schofield, author of "Destroyers -- 60 Years."

By the time the U.S. finished taking the island in late June, the inferno of Japanese kamikazes, mines, submarines and shellfire sent 13 DDs and two DEs to the bottom of the sea and damaged 118 others, including USS Kidd (DD 661). A member of the crew, Joseph Mahoney, remembered the kamikaze attack.

"It is probably the most eerie and unnerving form of warfare mankind has ever inflicted on itself," Mahoney told the Louisiana Naval War Memorial in Baton Rouge, where Kidd now sits as a memorial ship. "...You hear droning from the loudspeaker, 'Air attack is imminent,' and then, 'Bogies sighted 35 miles north and closing.' Next, the waiting and the thinking, 'Thirty-five miles is a long way off. Don't kid yourself; it's only minutes away -- perhaps the last minutes of your life. I'm not ready, too much I haven't done yet.' ... '(loudspeaker) Target sighted, position four o'clock low on water. Prepare to fire. Mark!' Then explosions! Fire! Deafening noise! Acrid odors! Commands screamed! 'How long can this go on? I can't breathe! Teeth hurt from grinding; fingers ache from gripping!' And then it is over -- for this time. 'Ah, I am alive; I am untouched. This is not me; I am not here. This is not happening to me!'"

The destroyers did hold their line under these attacks of incredible fury, protecting U.S. Marines and soldiers on Okinawa. At the high cost of men and ships, they came through with glory; they won their victory. Destroyer victories in the Pacific during World War II greatly outnumber the losses, but the victories didn't come easy for the Sailors manning those ships.

"We have been up at GQ [general quarters] six nights out of the past week," wrote Donald Vick in his diary on Oct. 3, 1943. "The only sleep I get is about three or four hours in the day."

Vick, a Radioman Third Class aboard Burke's Charles Ausburne, manned one of the 20mm antiaircraft guns during GQ. On Nov. 4 he wrote: "We got two near bomb hits that threw shrapnel on our fantail and dented the bulkheads. Two full nights of murderous hell with no sleep, very little food, but who gives a damn, eight men were hit on our fantail."

Vick passed away in 1998. His daughter, Nancy Faulk, shared her feelings about her father and those he served with.

"I feel proud," said Faulk. "I feel humble. I feel astonished by what they did and how they did it. I feel thankful for the freedom they secured."

Not only did destroyers fight for freedom in the Pacific, they also made a difference in the Atlantic, especially during D-Day on June 6, 1944. Late morning found the U.S. Army pinned down on Omaha beach with more than 1,000 casualties. Seeing this, Navy destroyers moved in close to the beach. Dodging return fire, and sometimes scraping bottom, these ships blasted one German position after another and enabled the American soldiers to move inland.

In testament to these Navy destroyers, Maj. Gen. L.T. Gerow, the U.S. commander on Omaha Beach, sent a message to the operation's commander, Gen. Omar Bradley, stating, "Thank God for the United States Navy."

(Part three of this three part series commemorating the 100th anniversary of destroyers in the U.S. Navy will highlight destroyer contributions in the Korean War, Vietnam, and the more recent past. For Part one of the series, go to http://www.news.navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=3147.)

 
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