10:04 | 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.
Keywords : Robert James USS Keokuk (AKN-4) Kamikaze morphine hospital ship Attack Transport (APA) sword Pearl Harbor operation shrapnel
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.
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.
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.
In the Philippines, Corwin Mokler's ship escorted LSTs and troop transports through the region. He remembers a lone aircraft at high altitude that was relaying a signal that identified it as a friendly. That turned out not to be the case. When the ship was reattached to its task force, they took part in a bombardment run on Japan.
It was a great post. The barracks were nice and the duty wasn't bad, training B-24 crews. But, flight engineer Bill Toombs recalls that some of those pilots would scare you. One particular flight nearly led to his demise and that's when he decided he'd had enough of flying.
Just before he hit the beach at Peleliu, Raymond Mitchell was asked to switch squads with another squad leader. This saved his life. Before the battle was over, he faced a long ordeal pinned down on a cliff by enemy fire.
While on maneuvers, Marion NeSmith heard about the news from Pearl Harbor. His unit spent a year protecting Washington DC and training, then it was their turn to ship out. He crossed the Atlantic bound for Liverpool.
The previous day began with the plane getting shot up and ended with dancing in the streets with Belgian girls. Bill Toombs was at an old German air field in Brussels, so he gathered up some souvenirs from the gear laying around. He didn't make it out with those, but after a few more missions, he was back in the states.
It was not safe to sleep at night in combat in the Pacific. The Japanese would sneak up on you and get you. Raymond Mitchell remembers those nights. There was a guy in his squad who was prone to take his helmet off until his first night in Okinawa convinced him otherwise. As they were waiting in landing craft to come in, they had a front row seat to a kamikaze attack.
He was safe in North Africa, except for the occasional air raid. The real problem for Bill McCarthy was the larcenous locals and the train rides in the notorious forty-and-eights. (This interview is audio only.)
While in the armada at Iwo Jima, the men on Corwin Mokler's destroyer went to the aid of a sister ship when it was hit by a kamikaze. They escorted it to a safe anchorage and took the opportunity to have a little beer on the beach. They then sailed for Leyte Gulf, where they encountered a Japanese task force and confronted them head on.
He was sent home from New Guinea with jungle rot, but it cleared up on the trip. David Mealor began an odyssey of Army backwaters and disorganization. He was bounced around in stateside units, finally ending up in Petaluma on a converted chicken ranch. While he was there, his mother asked him to find his brother, who's ship had just docked in San Francisco. Find a sailor in San Francisco?
He was having a big time working at his father's business, but Buck Stiles got a telegram from the Army. There was a war on and the reserve officer was needed. His first active duty tour had been in the horse cavalry, but now he was going to be riding tanks.
By the time sonarman Corwin Mokler got to the Pacific, the threat from Japanese planes and submarines was just about gone. His destroyer found no opposition as they took part in shore bombardment of Saipan and Peleliu. Later, as kamikazes began to appear, they had a near miss from one of the suicide planes.
The ship was headed out into the Pacific with a large convoy when it lost it's rudder. After that was repaired, it had to make it's way to New Guinea alone. David Mealor was grateful there were no encounters with submarines, but once he got to the destination, there was impenetrable jungle and tropical diseases, one of which took him out of the action.
You go from an LST to a landing craft to the beach, where men begin dying. When Raymond Mitchell hit the beach at Peleliu, the first thing he saw was the gruesome sight of dead Marines. When he got to Okinawa, there was less resistance on the landing, but some news came in that dampened everyone's mood.
While still in training, David Mealor thought that it was too cold in camp, so he volunteered for mountain training and maneuvers. He figured it would be hiking through the hills, but he had a rude awakening when he saw what he would be climbing. The maneuvers were disorganized, which led to a plot for a little getaway.
Bill McCarthy outlines his war odyssey with the 1st Armored Division, which started in North Africa and ended in Italy. The radioman didn't face much danger in Africa, but when he got to Italy he had some close calls. (This interview is audio only.)
Bill McCarthy was a radio operator attached to a forward observer unit in Italy. He had just narrowly avoided a round from a German 88 when the Stuka came screaming down. He dove under a tank, there was a blast and he lost consciousness. (This interview is audio only.)
Once the B-24 crews were formed, flight engineer Bill Toombs didn't think he could have hand picked a better crew. He nearly missed shipping out with them when he got sick at a crucial time. He managed to recover in time to ride a new B-24 to England.
His time in the war zone was filled with surprising experiences, like stumbling over a German 88 shell and digging a foxhole that saved someone's life later on. Bill McCarthy and his comrades did what they had to do when they had to do it, but they also took time to make the day into what they wanted. (This interview is audio only.)
Nobody got promoted during combat in the Pacific, so Marine Raymond Mitchell came out a corporal. It was a tough time. Clothes rotting off you. Malaria and contaminated water. After the war, his unit had duty in China, where it was freezing cold after the tropics nearly killed him.
Corwin Mokler decided to enlist in the Navy before the Army got him through the draft. At Great Lakes Naval Station, he was selected as a sonarman and went to Key West for training, where he saw the ocean for the first time. The destroyer USS McGowan was his ship and it was still being built.
There were no jobs to be found in 1940, so David Mealor followed his brother into the National Guard. Just as his year was up, the country mobilized to fight a new war and he was in for the duration. He was sure his unit was destined for Europe, but when the ship was just getting out into the Atlantic, it turned right.
After signal school, Ken Meyer was assigned to an LST, the largest amphibious craft in the inventory. He recalls the terrible typhoon they encountered and how he could almost reach out and touch the water at the top of a roll. It was a very rough riding ship because of the flat bottom.
Bill McCarthy has a Presidential Unit Citation on his sleeve, thanks to FDR, who gave the award to his unit shortly before his death. But that wasn't the highlight of his service in Italy. That would be what happened when he visited the Vatican. (This interview is audio only.)
In 1950, Raymond Mitchell got a notice to report for a physical. He thought he was going back in the Marine Corps because the Korean War had just broken out. In fact, he was being evaluated for a new compensation program for wounded veterans, but it got a little strange.
While still in high school, Marion NeSmith joined the National Guard. He was activated in early 1941, so he had to postpone school for a while. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, his unit served on guard duty in Washington DC.