7:40 | Robert James was in the shower aboard ship when the alarm went off. He scrambled to his gun mount to man the 20 mm gun and then the threat became apparent. Kamikazes had broken through the air cover and were headed for the convoy. He heard some firing from another gun and turned around just in time to see a horrifying sight. Part 1 of 2.
Keywords : Robert James USS Keokuk (AKN-4) general quarters Kamikaze gun mount concussion shrapnel doctor Corpsman morphine
Robert James was propped up against a bulkhead, going in and out of consciousness. The kamikaze had destroyed the starboard gun mounts and there were many dead and wounded. He was grateful when someone gave him some morphine to ease the pain from multiple shrapnel wounds. This was the beginning of a painful journey to healing. Part 2 of 2.
Robert James and his brother both had to drop out of school to support their single mother. The coming of war meant that they would be drafted and Robert was determined to get in the Navy. He had to convince his mother to sign for him at seventeen. Both brothers went to war and both sent money home.
The weather wasn't too bad when the train full of Navy recruits pulled out of Richmond and headed for Great Lakes Naval Station for boot camp. Robert James, along with the rest, didn't bring heavy clothing and, when he stepped off the train near Chicago, it was into snow up to his knees.
He had joined the Navy, but he still had to drill like the Army recruits. Robert James was at boot camp learning to be a sailor in the dead of winter outside Chicago. He attended classes where he was exposed to the naval weaponry he might use, as well as the planes and ships of the Japanese enemy.
Boot camp was over and it was time to learn your assignment. Robert James was put on a train for California, though he wasn't yet told where he was going. He was housed at Treasure Island for a while, where he got some of that great San Francisco liberty. Finally, he boarded his ship, the USS Keokuk.
The first stop was Pearl Harbor, where the ship was loaded with supplies. Next was a small island where Robert James remembers softball games and beers. When they put out to sea again, his duty was topside and, still, no word on where the ship was bound.
When the crew of the USS Keokuk arrived at their first invasion, they had no idea where they were. The ship was a net layer, spooling out huge submarine nets to protect the battleships and carriers. Robert James watched the action at the beach through his field glasses, where the water turned red with the blood of Marines. Finally, he learned the name of the island. It was Iwo Jima.
The invasion of Saipan and Tinian was easy for Robert James aboard ship. After the crew put in place its submarine nets, its part was done. He did not see the carnage he had witnessed at Iwo Jima. He did hear about some horrific suicidal acts by the Japanese civilians on Saipan.
Robert James got plenty of shore leave in Pearl Harbor when his ship was docked there for resupply between actions. Like many of the men, he had a great thirst for beer, which got him into trouble more than once, but he also had a great desire for something else he could get on shore, something he wanted more than beer.
Preparing for an invasion got to be somewhat routine for Robert James. Shipboard drills would increase. The ship would be fully loaded with the submarine nets it would lay. After the action on Peleliu, they had to head stateside because of problems with the boilers. When they returned to to the war zone, the Japanese had a new deadly tactic they would have to face.
As his ship headed for the invasion of Okinawa, Robert James was recuperating from multiple shrapnel wounds he had received in a kamikaze attack. During the action at Okinawa, the ship was very nearly hit again, this time from Japanese bombs.
Like Robert James, every serviceman in the Pacific was filled with dread over the prospect of invading Japan, but it was the only target left. Their fears were wiped away when Harry Truman made the decision to use the atomic bomb.
Herman Buffington was taking some potshots at Japanese troops on the other side of a large ravine where they were foolishly cooking their rice out in the open. When an officer came by and asked how he was doing, he remarked that he was trying to mix a little lead with the rice. The man asked for the rifle so he could give it a try and he proved to be an excellent shot. Buffington could smell the brass and he was right. It was General Simon Buckner.
Shipping out on a newly commissioned destroyer, B.E. Vaughan went straight into the chaos of the Normandy invasion. All around him was "a slaughterhouse," but the crew performed a valuable role as soldiers struggled to get a foothold, knocking out pillboxes on the bluffs.
It was late night guard duty and Herman Buffington heard something. Then he saw a figure crouched in the brush. When the next flare went up, he sighted and fired. The figure didn't move so he shot him again. When he found out why there was no reaction, all he could do was laugh. He did get a souvenir out of the encounter, a silk Japanese flag.
Iwo Jima was a unique battle in that the victors suffered more casualties than the defeated. Marine Captain Lawrence Snowden says that you came to feel that like it wouldn't happen to you, and that spirit enabled the men to reach their objective.
His company was in the 1st wave to land on Red Beach Two. Under attack from the moment he left the amphibious tractor, George Alden lost 4 of his men. Forced to keep moving in order to protect his remaining comrades, the group pushed further up the island towards the first landing strip. However, George was injured when he and his squad found themselves pinned down under Japanese fire. Injured and alone, George was forced to wait nearly a full day before he was discovered and rescued.
Tinian was a little easier time than Saipan and Iwo Jima, says Merrill Burroughs, who was with an Anti-Aircraft battery. He still had close calls when Japanese planes strafed the island. On the way in, he managed to hide a case of pork and beans, which was a precious thing.
It was thirty six straight days on Iwo Jima with no change of clothes or regular meals. Phil Wells carried an extra bandolier stuffed with fruit bars. He had come ashore with the fourth wave just as Japanese gunners really began to fire on the landing force. As a runner, he didn't come face to face with the enemy, though once he was sure he had. What's that password?
Lou Smith was evacuated from Iwo Jima to Saipan, then to a hospital in Hawaii. That was tough duty, recuperating with the swimming and the girls. One thing haunts his sleep, though, until this day. He had been throwing enemy grenades back the way they came when he was wounded, and this is key to his nightmares.
When Marine Joseph Hiott arrived in Guadalcanal, he was assigned to the 2nd Raider Battalion, a new unit created under orders from Franklin D. Roosevelt, who admired the British Commandos and wanted an American unit to perform special operations. The Raiders, like the enemy, would fight to the death but for a very different reason. They also considered themselves the best of the best and trained accordingly.
The German interrogator knew more about his bomb group than he did and after a short questioning, Michael Gold was off to a POW camp where he was lucky to share a barracks with the other officers from his crew. The German rations were supplemented with Red Cross parcels that arrived from Sweden.
Frank Gleason talks at length about how Japan began pushing their way into China in early 1945, and the last ditch efforts by his crew to destroy bridges and other vital structures along the way while U.S. troops pulled out of the area.
The British had battled the Germans back and forth across North Africa and American P-40's had arrived to provide some additional air power. Crew chief Gordon Markle describes what that was like with the sandstorms, the C-rations from another war, and the German air attacks. He also learned that you don't want to cross the Gurkhas.
After breaking out at Anzio. Hubert Aaron's unit marched into Rome, the only American unit to capture an enemy capitol during World War Two. He received a Silver Star for actions during that operation. When he went into St. Tropez, with dry feet for a change, he ignored his platoon leader's order to move out through an open field. Then he let his Thompson submachine gun do some talking.
The pilot was ready to die. Louie Clark saw him after he crashed his kamikaze into the deck of the destroyer USS Haynsworth. There were many casualties, including a big pot of beans that caught a machine gun from the kamikaze after it crashed through the deck. Clark describes the bravery of men that day and the solemn ceremonies of the burials at sea.
Trained as a Beachmaster, Mortimer Caplin shipped out for England on the Queen Mary. His unit had a lot of specialized gear and he had to form a guard detachment to keep other units from walking away with it. After they got it all to the Southern English coast, they participated in the ill-fated Exercise Tiger out of Slapton Sands.
After capturing an entire German Panzer division, Hubert Aaron's outfit was moving up the Rhone River Valley when he was wounded in an ambush. Evacuated to Naples, he found out how great was his sacrifice.
Herman Buffington was hunkered down in his foxhole on Okinawa when a mortar round hit close by and a piece of red hot shrapnel tore through his leg. It sounded like bacon frying, but a medic got the bleeding stopped and he was going to be OK. He refused the morphine because he was already exhausted and didn't want anyone else to tend to his tourniquet.
Navy Corpsman Frank Walden went ashore at Omaha Beach with the Beach Battalion, a unit charged with managing the beach during the assault. After the shock of seeing the first bodies, and after a frightening rush to find safety in the chaos, he began to treat the wounded.
Hubert Aaron says, "I know I'm going to heaven because I spent three months in hell at Anzio." During this battle, he directed some artillery fire that was highly accurate, but then he was on the receiving end as an incoming enemy round put him in the hospital with a concussion. After being pinned down for three months and nearly being pushed back into the sea, the Allies finally prevailed.
When his buddy George Farris was hit by a sniper, Bob Royce and two others started back to battalion headquarters to get help. They had to hit the ground when the same sniper targeted them. Royce decided to get up and run for it. After he secured aid and was returning to the front, the sniper struck again.
The man had been shot up pretty bad, remembers Herman Buffington, who carried him back to the camp. All the way the wounded soldier had pleaded with him to leave him there, but once safe in a foxhole, he wouldn't let go of Buffington's hand, even when the medics prepared to evacuate him.