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.