August 1st, 2015
Message from Gerald Dobbs, son of Bruce Albert Dobbs, USS SLC CA25 Veteran
Here is what Dad wrote over 10 years ago about his war experiences. I think you will find his perspective quite interesting.
On Sunday, December 7, 1941, we were about to sit down to our Sunday dinner, when our radio program, featuring the music of Russ Morgan’s orchestra, was interrupted to announce the attack on Pearl Harbor. We all just looked at each other, stunned by what we heard and wondered where our nephew (and Mom’s grandson) Donald Dean could be. I do not believe anyone ever sat down at the table to eat. We stood around and made small talk and wondered what the next step would be. Although we were expecting an involvement, we did not anticipate what had just happened and neither did our leaders. They were caught with their pants down, too. We kept our ears glued to the radio, listening for any news we could get on where my nephew might be. The following day, war was declared on the Axis Powers and a more urgent and different onus fell on the American people. I remember one of my customers, Mr. Parker (Yellow Pony), was very optimistic about what would now happen. He said, “Uncle Sam will pull something out of the hat and they (the Axis Powers) will be sorry.” Well, we know now that there were no magic tricks in Uncle Sam’s hat, and it took several years to create a force to defeat these countries. The strike against Pearl Harbor exacerbated the bad feelings against the Axis Powers and created a positive propaganda machine that was very effective in mobilizing the country. Rationing of goods, such as gas, oil, and tires became effective over night. Daylight savings time was created, and to me, it was the most ridiculous concept to ever come out of Washington. There are only 24 hours in a day, and when you are working around the clock, it does not make any difference if you set your clock ahead or back. It does not change the 24-hour period. One reason they gave for changing the time was to save electricity. Well, we still have it, and I have not been able to see any savings in all of these years.
In my senior year, I got married, left school, and moved to Kansas City, Missouri. I worked at various jobs while there and enjoyed the city very much. I started out working at the Kansas City Army Depot, where I worked as a warehouseman and did general labor. I met an acquaintance on a commute bus who asked me if I wanted to make more money. Of course I was interested, and I followed his advice. I went to a labor union, and they sent me out on a new construction project - the Pratt and Whitney Building. I worked as a wrecker of forms, sheet metal helper, and general labor. The money was good, and I needed all I could get because we were expecting a little one in May of 1943. I turned 18 on March 13, 1943, and I had to register. The Board gave me a classification of 1-A, meaning I was not going to be around long. Also, the classification did not help me maintain a job and so I got laid off my construction job and went to work in a mill shop. They found out I was 1-A and laid me off, too. Then, I went to work in a pipe shop, but they did the same thing as soon as they found out my classification. I got to where I did not mention my classification, but my youthful looks gave me away. I had a long conversation with my wife about all of our conditions and my draft status. I knew that I had a limited amount of time before Uncle Sam would require my services. So I went to the recruiting office of the Army Air Corps and took a battery of tests to see if I would or could qualify for pilot training. I passed the tests including the physicals and went back home awaiting the call to appear for training. I did not have long to wait. I was told to come to Tulsa and from there, I would be sent to Kelley Field in Texas for pilot training. I packed my little suitcase and got on the train for Tulsa. I reported to the recruiting office as requested for traveling instruction. That was when I got the surprise of my life. I was then told that I was accepted for all services - Navy, Army, Air Corps, and Marines. I asked what had happened to my enlistment into the Army Air Corps. I was told nothing, but the other services needed men now. So they had on my papers checks by all of the services, and the Navy was to be my area of service. I argued, but it fell on deaf ears, and all the tests I had taken were a waste of time and energy. It was my first experience with being screwed by the government. Being a novice, I did not know how to handle or fight the system that dictatorially changed my enlistment from the Army Air Corps to any and all services. I tried, but with my limited knowledge, I failed to change this dogmatic system. It was an education that I never forgot. Of course, I developed resentment regarding this action because it took away a childhood dream of becoming a pilot. Although I had never flown in a plane, I always wanted to fly. I would go to the airport in Bartlesville just to see them land and takeoff. Also, as a kid I would enjoy seeing the bi-planes and monoplanes land in the pasture next to our house. We ran a long ways when we saw a plane trying to land. In other words, it was a real treat or experience just to see a plane let alone fly in one.
After having been selected by all the services, the Navy made the final selection and they put me on a train to San Diego. I spent four weeks learning how to march and wash my clothes in a bucket, then they shipped me out to points unknown. We went by bus to a place called Pleasanton. We were put out into an open field and told to bed down. The next morning, we boarded a bus to San Francisco. We went for a ride down to the waterfront and stopped at a pier where we were told that we were to board a warship. Well, I had never seen a warship, and it looked mighty big to me. It was a cruiser known as the Salt Lake City. We were told that it would convey us to Pearl Harbor where we would be assigned to other duties. My name had submarine checked off as well as other ships. After boarding, I went to the rear of the ship known as the fantail to find a place to stow my gear. A seaman took pity on me and told me I could put my gear in a small gear locker. Well, that ended up being my home for the next four days while we were in route to Pearl. There were two thousand new recruits on board this ship so there was not much room to lay anywhere. We got underway that afternoon.
That was an experience I will never forget. I believe I was more than apprehensive, especially when I looked up and saw that we were passing under the Golden Gate Bridge. It did not take long before the bridge disappeared and water, water, and more water surrounded us. I ate chow for the first time aboard ship and went back to where I had stowed my gear. There was a steel bench there, and the seaman that befriended me said I could bunk there for the trip. Well, I prepared my bunk, laid down, and looked at the clear sky and stars overhead. It was a beautiful night. I also pondered when I would see the Golden Gate Bridge again. The ship was on a zigzag course, and I asked why. When we left the nets by the Golden Gate Bridge, we were in war waters and we did not have any destroyer with us to protect us from subs. I began to realize that I was really part of the war effort now, or at least, exposed to it. Everything went smoothly the first night out. The weather was just right, and the sea was not rough. I guess I was enjoying the trip. I would help the seamen out with their duties which helped make the time pass. The second night out, we had another beautiful night with a moon shining bright. The seaman, my so-called friend, played a trick on me. I was lying on my back, and he told me to look at the moon through the porthole. Just stare at it awhile, and you will have an experience that you will not forget. Sure enough with the ship rolling a little bit, it did not take long before I was as seasick as any recruit could be. For the next two days, I did not eat anything and I added what I did eat to the Pacific Ocean. When I would walk by the galley and smell the cooking, I would run to the rails and throw up. Finally, the day before arriving at Pearl Harbor, I got my stomach back in order. I was laying on the fantail sunning when over the P.A. system, I heard my name mentioned to report to the Log Room. I did not know what a Log Room was so I asked the seaman. He told me what I had to do to find this room. Well, after a few minutes and by asking others, I finally found the Log Room. The young man behind the counter asked me if my name was Dobbs. I said yes. He told me, “You will stay aboard this ship. You’re temporarily assigned to the 10th Division until further notice.” I thanked him and left for topside again. I told my new friend about my new experience and asked him to tell me about the 10th Division. He told me that I would be part of the deck force and took me to the coxswain in charge. The coxswain explained to me what my duties would be. Out of the two thousand recruits aboard the ship, eight of us were told to stay aboard. The rest were assigned to other ships and duties when we got to Pearl Harbor.
After four days, we arrived at Pearl Harbor. My eyes were as large as silver dollars. I was shown Diamond Head, and when we entered the channel to dock, I saw the devastation caused by the Japs. It was a sight that made an indelible print on my mind. The weather was warm, and I was told I could go ashore the next day - my first liberty. This was to be a new experience, and I was looking forward to it with much enthusiasm. I got my clothes ready that night. My shoes were all ready for walking and just waiting on the time to hit the beach. It came, and I went to downtown Honolulu. First thing I saw was a line of sailors, four or five abreast, several blocks long. I asked what the hell was that line for - it must be something good. Someone laughed at me and said that this was the “Cathouse” line - the busiest place on the island. Well, I went on downtown, bought some tailor made whites and dungarees, and walked, walked, walked. We had to be back aboard ship at 1700 hours or 5:00pm. Our liberty ran from 0800 hours to 1700 hours with no overnighters, unless you had immediate relatives on the island.
We stayed in port three or four days then we took off with the other ships for the South Pacific. We were out to sea for a day when GQ (General Quarters) was sounded for all to go to their battle stations. My battle station, I found out, was a 20-mm mount just in front of the No. 2 exhaust stack and the back of Turret 3, an eight-inch gun mount. I was there as a loader for an old gunner’s mate. He gave me a headset and told me to standby. Over the headset came the warning that we were about to take on five Japanese battleships. Hell, all we had in our fleet were some heavy cruisers, destroyers, and one aircraft carrier. Even green as I was, I knew we would not be any match for one battleship let alone five battleships. Well, I was tense, and when I heard over the headset that we were going to take them head on, I knew someone had to be nuts. Well, it was not long until we saw the ships coming over the horizon and word was passed that they were friendly and they were ours. What a relief! The “ole” man was just trying to get us in condition for the war. These battlewagons were firing over our heads from one horizon to the other at a target pulled by a destroyer at a distance of 40 to 45 miles.
We went to Wake Island and bombarded it. Then we moved on further south to patrol and look for trouble as well as support any ground troops that were in need. We patrolled back and forth across the equator and the vicinity. We were very close to the Ellice Islands and Australia. We were all over the area north of Australia, which included the Solomons, where several ship to ship battles were fought. We suffered several losses in this specific area trying to save these islands, which by the way, was our first offensive action of the war. This came at a time when the U.S. thought they had the force to start and maintain an offensive action all the way to Japan. After Guadalcanal, came the Gilbert Islands. We rendezvoused with other ships for the takeover of these islands.
I got ahead of myself some. So I will back off and give you a little more background of my work effort and myself. I had not been aboard ship but a few days when I was told I was being transferred from the 10th Division to the Engineers. That sounded good to me because I really did not know what the Engineering Division did. I was summoned to the Executive Officer who went over my papers with me. He was sympathetic, or at least gave the appearance, regarding how I was shanghaied into the Navy from enlistment into the Army Air Corps. He told me to make the most of it, and he wanted me to go into the Engineering Division where he thought I would be able to contribute more to the functioning of the ship. Then he introduced me to Commander Lambert, a thirty-year man and said, “He’s yours.” Lambert gave me a briefing and told me I would be assigned to the aft fireroom. Hell, I did not know what a fireroom was, but I soon found out. He took me from one deck to another, and finally, we came to a hatch. He told me we would go into this interlock together before we opened the other door. As soon as we opened the first interlock door, I felt the temperature increase. We closed the first door, opened the other door leading to the fireroom, and I thought I was in Hades. It took my breath away at first and the “ole” man told me I would get used to it. We took the ladder further into the bowels of the ship. In fact, we could not go any further down. There I met two firemen, a water tender and an old chief, who later treated me like a father. Two boilers (B&W) with 13 burners each were in operation furnishing the steam necessary to run the ship. The ship had four boilers aft and four forward, but unless we were at GQ, we generally operated only four - two forward and two aft. The sweat by now had soaked my shirt and pants. I was so startled by the temperature and the action that I was petrified. I listened to the Commander’s discussion with the Chief, but I was wondering in the back of my mind, when was I going to get out of that hole. The temperature in front of the boilers was running between 140 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit and that was where I was standing watching the two firemen operate. The Commander left without me, so I got my baptism into being an engineer aboard ship in the so-called hole or torpedo junction. I moved my things from the 10th Division to the Engineering Division, which was located in the aft part of the ship - three decks below and just above the powder magazine. The routine started. I was assigned to Chief Hardy’s group, and under normal operations, we worked four hours on and eight hours off. However under GQ conditions, we alternated working four hours in the hole and four hours at the repair station. Once we left Pearl, we had sunset GQ an hour before sunset to dark and sunrise GQ an hour before sunrise each and every day. These hours were the favorable time for the Japs to attack by submarines or planes. In time, I became acclimated to my working conditions. The personnel in the Engineering Division were much closer to each other than the men were in the Deck Division. We had our own heads with showers (no deck personnel allowed) where we could bathe and wash our clothes after each watch or tour of duty. We had no problem with drying our clothes because we could wash them and hang them up in the fireroom, then after we took a shower, the clothes would be dry and ready to wear.
Our ship had a battery of guns that included 10 8-inch guns - 5 in the 2 turrets forward and 5 in the 2 turrets aft. We had several 5-inch guns, quad 40 mm and many 20-mm guns for A.A (antiaircraft artillery). We had an outstanding gunnery officer and crew - one of the best in the fleet. They had to be just to keep us afloat. They got a lot of practice because the Japs were very persistent. They would come out of the sun in the morning and the evening. If you did not knock them down, you were out of business.
Back to the war. We had been looking for trouble patrolling back and forth when we got the word to join other ships for some aggressive action. The scuttlebutt was that a big offensive action was about to take place. We were closing in on some islands (unknown at the time to us) when all hell broke loose. I was in the shower just prior to sunset and GQ was sounded. I made a run to get my clothing on, and with my wet feet, I slipped on my ass down a ladder to my bunk where my clothes were. By that time, the guns in the fleet were popping off, and I was making a run to my repair station where I got a ringside view of what was going on. Jap Betties (torpedo bombers) were taking the wake off the water and making a run on our carriers. The planes of our carriers were in a dogfight over head with the Jap dive-bombers and fighters. It was quite a show. Our F4Fs (Wildcats) were no match for the Jap Zeros, but they did their best. They were fortified better, but not as maneuverable. During the fracas, a Jap sub torpedoed the carrier Independence. The scuttlebutt was that they lost 65 members of the crew. They stayed with us that night. The next morning, we started the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. I went topside during sunrise GQ and all I could see were ships everywhere. All hell broke loose. Our 8-inch guns were firing broadside at some islands in the distance. Other ships were doing the same, and planes were being launched off our carriers to do their part. Landing craft were maneuvering with men aboard awaiting the signal to go in and make a landing. It was a hell of a sight to see when you knew that there was a lot of killing going on and a lot more to follow.
The island we were hitting was Tarawa. It was approximately 1/4 mile wide and 3/4 mile long. Tons of shells and bombs hit this island. You would not think anything could be alive on it. You could see the palm trees had been blown to smithereens. All of a sudden, the firepower stopped, and the landing crafts started in under small fire from destroyers and the battlewagon, USS Maryland. It was one big fiasco. The Japs in their pillboxes began slaughtering the troops before they even hit the beach. The frogmen had done a poor job in clearing obstacles in the approach to the beach, and the fleet had not done the job of destroying the firepower on the island. The Japs were slaughtering the troops. One destroyer running close to the beach said that the water was red from the blood being spilled. It was one of the biggest disgraces of the war effort. We spent days firing at objects and nights firing at planes coming from the Marshall Islands. Many servicemen left their guts, blood, and brains on this island. It was said that our leaders learned a pungent lesson, too. They made the same mistake at Guadalcanal in a previous engagement.
After the island was secured, we went to Funafuti in the Ellice Islands to recuperate and gather our senses before starting off again. While anchored here, I saw the chance of catching a fish. There was a school of large tuna working around the ship eating whatever was thrown to them. I went to the machine shop, made a large hook, and got a large line and a loaf of bread. Now I was ready to do some serious fishing. I saw a school of fish coming, so I baited my hook with part of the loaf of bread. I threw the baited hook out in front of the fish. One big one grabbed it, and the fight was on. I finally got him on board and asked my chief if he wanted him. He asked the cook for the chiefs who said yes. Well, this tuna weighed 75 pounds and made a good lunch for the chiefs. They brought me a couple of large sandwiches, and I must say I enjoyed them tremendously.
On board ship, you had a lot of discrimination. You had the Captain or Admiral with his own cook and separate place to sleep and bathe. You had the other officers with their separate quarters. Then you had the Chiefs with their cooks and separate quarters. The crew had a mess hall and slept in bunks head to toe on mattresses about one inch thick. Of course, it was not referred to as discrimination, but rank has its privileges - a servitude system existed with no recourse. The only purpose for black sailors on board ship was to serve the officers. One black sailor accidentally (or on purpose) spilled a bowl of soup on an officer in the Ward Room. He got thirty days in the brig. He had to stand in the middle of the brig from sunrise GQ to sunset GQ, and he could not touch or sit on anything. Two Marines guarded him to make sure he complied. I made up my mind that if I ever got out of service and had to go back, it would have to be at an officer rank. I want some meat with my gravy and beans as well as a decent place to sleep.
The next group of islands to be taken on our road to Japan was the Marshall Islands. We had made raids on them before, but now it was time to take a few of them over and neutralize the rest. We bombarded Wotje, Kwajalein, Majuro, Tarao, Eniwetok, Nellie and any other landmass that stuck out of the water. We did not make the same mistake in the Marshalls that was made in the Gilberts. We irrigated those islands, and the resistance was minimal compared to the Gilberts. During the takeover of the Marshalls, we had to make neutralizing raids on the Japs’ fortress at Truk because they were close by. They would and did launch air attacks on us during the invasion. We had to hit Palau during the takeover of the Marshalls to weaken their threat against our advances. While there, we hit Yap, Ulithi, and Peleliu to try and keep them out of our hair.
After covering this invasion and making the neutralizing raids, we were ordered to go to San Francisco for much needed repairs. Of course, that did not make anyone mad aboard the ship. We stopped off at Pearl long enough to have liberty and to drop off unneeded supplies, then on to the mainland. I sure enjoyed seeing the Golden Gate Bridge again. It was such a beautiful site. I got my first and only leave, supposedly for 30 days plus travel, so I went home. After arriving in Copan, I needed some gas for my mother-in-law’s car, which I was using while at home. I went to the Rationing Board to get stamps for gas. I filled out the necessary papers, listened to the bull, and was finally told I would receive 5 gallons. For some reason, this Board considered this a magnanimous offer and that I should bend down and kiss their butts for the authorization of 5 gallons for 30 days operation. I was not in the mood for such an insult and told them to stick the 5 gallons up their ass and I would light the match to give them a deserved sensation. Well, I went back to Copan. Polley Martin had his own filling station and had heard about my ordeal with the Board. He came up to me and told me to stop by his station on the way out of town, which I did. He came out and filled the Buick to the top and said, “That’s on me and when you need more, just come on back and I’ll take care of you”, and he did. Polley had known me all of my life. I had delivered papers to his place for ten years and was very thankful that I had his respect.
I needed some meat while I was home. I walked into the local grocery store and found that my football coach was now in the grocery business. I told Mr. Crawford that I had no stamps. He said, “Bruce, what do you want?” I told him I wanted a good slab of round steak, and he said, “You got it!” We talked for some time about old times when I played for him and about where some of the other students might be. He told me to come back anytime and he would see to it that I got whatever I needed. I did not run out of gas nor did I run out of food while I was home.
After being home twelve days, I was called back unexpectedly to the ship. The yard workers were on a slow-down, and the ship was not receiving the needed repairs. My wife, my son Bruce, and I got on the train to San Francisco. We did not have a Pullman car, which made the trip a drudgery. We were all very tired when we got to San Francisco. The train was very crowded as usual and food was very hard to get, but with the cooperation of other servicemen, our son did not suffer for the lack of food or attention.
An acquaintance in the Bay area let us have part of his house for the short duration of my ship’s stay in port. I worked days on the ship and was allowed to spend nights with my wife and son. We got the work done and were ready to go out to sea for a shakedown cruise thinking we would get one more liberty before going back out. Well, we got fooled. The skipper anchored out in the Oakland-San Francisco Channel after we returned from the shakedown. He went ashore, but none of the crew including the officers was allowed to go ashore. This teed off the crew to the “nth” degree and was never forgotten. We got underway the next morning without anyone being allowed to contact their families, friends, etc. That made it difficult all the way around for the crew as well as the families. The skipper passed the word after we were underway that the reason he did not allow anyone off was that he was afraid that part of the crew would go “over the hill”. No trust in the crew was a bad and lasting mistake for this captain.
We took on winter supplies, said goodbye to the Golden Gate Bridge again, and cruised north to the Aleutians to join a task force to raid Paramushiro. We were to have fog cover for the raid, but the fog left and Japanese observation planes spotted us. The raid was cancelled. Then we went south to Pearl, got a little liberty, and left Pearl with a task force to go back to where the action was. We went by Wake Island again and bombarded it. We damaged the installations there, then went on to Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands chain. Another group of islands known as the Marianas (Saipan, Tinian, and Guam) needed to be taken. These were big islands that required a lot of men and resources to take over. They were important because they would be utilized to harbor B-29s to bomb the hell out of Japan. Again, the Japs demonstrated that they were good fighters. Some did not surrender until 30 years after the war. Again, a lot of men were lost and wounded. The price of war is always the cream of the crop. We were used as bait to get the Jap fleet to come out. We went without air cover and bombarded Marcus Island, the closest any American warship had been to the Jap mainland up to that time. The Jap fleet did not come out, but Tokyo Rose announced that they had driven off an invasion of Marcus Island and had sunk a battleship and a heavy cruiser. We did not have a battleship with us; and they did not sink any of our ships. Tokyo Rose had us on the bottom of the ocean several times. She evidently was a good propagandist for the Japs, but she was good for our side, too. She played good music all the time. Other than the beer and horsecock sandwiches once in a while, she was the only entertainment we had.
Later, we joined the task force knocking the hell out of Formosa. Planes were everywhere - dogfights galore. It was like the “Marianas’ Turkey Shoot” when the Japs lost 500 plus planes in one day. You could not see the sun or sky sometimes for the overcast of gun smoke from the ships firing at planes. The attack on Formosa and the invasion of the Philippines brought the Jap fleet out, and they were soundly defeated in the Leyte Gulf Battle. MacArthur invaded the Philippines, and support for this invasion was very, very large. The fleet rendezvoused, and all you could see from horizon to horizon were battleships, carriers (large and small), cruisers (battle, heavy, and light), and destroyers. I never have and never will again see that many warships. We split up into three different fleets with each having enough firepower to eliminate any fleet afloat. We got into the Philippines Sea Battle, which all but ended any major sea action by the Japanese. We traveled with the fast carriers. They were much newer and much faster than our ship. We had to travel wide open just to keep up with them while we were chasing the remainder of the Jap fleet back to Japan. I was on one of the four throttles, and I kept mine and the other three wide open just like you would hold the foot feed or gas pedal to the floor of a car. My biggest worry was wondering if the 8 boilers could produce enough steam to maintain 32 knots for hours. We kept up and the carriers did their job on the Jap fleet. Now we could roam at will anywhere in the Pacific. We worked between covering landings in the Philippines, Ulithi, and Peleliu - the latter being very hard and rough to take and costing many lives.
We were having ships damaged, too. They were being repaired in our fallback bases like Ulithi, then sent either back to service or stateside for additional repairs. Ulithi was part of the Carolina Islands. It was one of the more easy islands to capture. It served as an anchorage for the fleet. It had deep waters where any and all ships could find anchorage. Peleliu was just a few miles away, but it did not have the same available anchorage. We came into Ulithi a few times to take on supplies and to watch a movie topside. One evening, while watching a movie, all hell broke loose in the anchorage and a fire lit up the horizon. A Jap sub had slipped through the net closing off the anchorage and put a fish (torpedo) into an oil tanker. It was surmised that it came into the harbor under one of our ships while the nets were opened, but it was the DD’s (destroyer’s) problem and they took care of the interruption.
After the Marianas were taken over, they served as our base of operation. We would retreat to the Saipan Harbor, take on supplies, watch a movie, and go back out on the attack. It was here that I saw my first B-29. They would take off from the Marianas to bomb Japan and it was a beautiful sight to see so many of them in flight. However, they did create a need for additional bases between the Marianas and Japan. That was our next task.
We, along with the Chester, the Pensacola (our sister ship), and several destroyers, started the campaign to neutralize and eventually take over Iwo Jima. We made several trips between the Marianas, the Carolina Islands, and the Bonin Group of which Iwo Jima was an integral part and considered the most important island to be taken. The skipper told us at the beginning that we had a six-month campaign ahead of us that would include the Bonin Group and the Ryukyus Group. We made several runs without any air cover on Iwo, HaHa, and Chichi. The first was a midnight run. We caught them with lights burning and gave them some additional light. We had additional runs in daylight and under the cover of darkness, but the one I remember most was on Christmas Eve of 1944. Many landing craft, PT boats, and destroyers found their final resting places in the harbors. Yes, we were under attack by Jap planes and our gunners gave them some A.A. to digest. We were operating within 350 miles of Japan, and there was never a dull moment - 24 hours everyday. We took off again to the Philippines to cover a landing at Luzon, then we went back to the Bonin Group. This time, we were part of a large task force to take over the islands. This was a 24 hours a day task. We were at GQ all the time and bombarding just as close as we could get to the beach. We were giving the Marines and soldiers all the fire power we could. We were firing 8-inch guns broadside along with 5-inch guns as well as 40mm and 20mm guns to assist them. We only stopped when we needed to refuel and to get more ammo, then we went back to the task. At one time, we ran aground off Mount Suribachi. Yes, we were that close with support firing for soldiers and Marines trying to take this mount. We were on the receiving end of some firepower from the Japs, too. Anyway, while we were stuck on the shoreline, sailors were hoping we would have enough damage to go stateside, but by maneuvering the ship ahead full speed and back full astern, we were able to get off. I just happened to be No. 1 throttleman (there were four) during this period, and I was much relieved when we broke loose from the coral. There were no leaks in the bilges, and so we kept up our firepower. During the many days there, we learned our bodies, by necessity, found a way to sleep through all the gun noise. It was steady firing day and night. We had plenty of suicide attacks daily. One of our carriers caught six and survived with the help of other ships. We lost one of our observation planes to Jap A.A., and our sister ship was hit several times after relieving us to take on more ammo. The ships alternated firing star shells to make sure the Japs did not make any sneak attacks on our troops. The island of Iwo Jima was likened to a beehive with all its underground tunnels and trenches. This made it most difficult for our troops to operate effectively. The volcanic sand and the tufaceous deposits made the maneuvering of equipment very difficult. It cost the Marines over 25,000 wounded and 6,000 dead to overpower a garrison of 20,000 Japs. It was a prime example of what it was going to cost the Americans to invade Japan. Our ship had the largest expenditure of shells of any ship in the fleet especially when there were at least 1,000 ships that participated in the landing. After the island was secured, we went back to Ulithi for repairs and replenishment.
After a few days at Ulithi, we headed for the Ryukyus Islands. We spent a couple of days bombarding I-shima then we went on to the main island of Okinawa. This was a very large island. It was approximately 60 miles long and had over 100,000 soldiers to defend it. Our so-called intelligence was wrong on this island like they had been on all the others we had invaded. They had estimated the Jap strength at approximately 70,000 - another miscalculation reminiscent of Iwo, Tarawa, Peleliu, etc. Prior to the invasion, the U.S. made a raid on Jap airfields on the mainland to eliminate or damage Japan’s capability of striking our fleet during the invasion. Although many planes were destroyed, many planes had been dispersed to other areas, which enabled many kamikaze planes to survive. We had three carriers damaged in this two-day raid on Japan proper. The new Wasp, the Franklin, and the old faithful warrior, the Enterprise were damaged by kamikaze planes. This was a severe blow to our fleet. One way pilots with one single purpose piloted kamikaze planes and dove into the largest ship they could find.
As usual, we were one of the first warships to arrive on the scene. We covered the landing at Kerama Retto, which later served as an emergency repair and replenishment station for the fleet. Along with the destroyers, we covered the operation of frogmen (swimming teams) trying to clear the beach for troop landings. I remember very clearly the day the big invasion started. It was Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945. I was at my station watching all of the action from midship and wondering how many of these guys going in on the first wave were friends or acquaintances of mine. In the first hours of landing, there were no casualties and no firing at the ships. Everyone was wondering, “Where are the Japs?” All hell broke loose, and the sky was filled with kamikaze planes diving at our ship. A.A. darkened the sky. You could not see the sun, but the kamikazes kept on coming. They were thicker than flies in an outhouse and were doing a tremendous amount of damage to our major ships. Word was passed that the great battleship, Yamato, had set out on a suicide mission to stop our invasion. Our large battleships (we had many) were enthusiastically waiting to take on the largest battleship ever constructed, but old reliable Enterprise’s planes sighted the Yamato and its task group steaming toward Okinawa and committed the large battleship (along with its escorts) to Davey Jones’ locker. This, of course, disappointed the skippers of our big battlewagons. They wanted the opportunity to get into one last sea battle.
We continued to have many kamikaze planes attack the fleet each and every day. These suicide squadrons were hitting many of our major ships. Their towering superstructures made them easy targets for these maniacs. Also, our destroyers were assigned to picket duty around the fleet, and we were losing them daily. I remember watching one being towed to Kerama Retto for repairs after all of the topside had been blown off. It was reported she took over twenty suicide attacks. It did not take long for the fleet to set up smog generating equipment that helped maintain a cloud for protection of the fleet supporting the invasion. In addition to the kamikaze attacks, the Japs had a new weapon (called the “Baka” - a piloted bomb) that was used effectively on our ships. We were losing an average of two ships per day - not counting the damaged ships.
During the campaign, we lost two great men. One was a writer-correspondent and a close friend of the fighting men everywhere - Ernie Pyle. A sniper got him during a fight on Ie Shima. The other was our President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. This was a great blow to our morale, because many of us had known no other leader while growing up, but there was no letting up in our fighting. It was a 24 hour job. We even slept in a vertical position (or just any position) while all the guns were going off.
While at Okinawa, a big storm came up. We had to go to sea to ride it out. It was one hell of a big storm. No one was allowed topside because of the rough weather. Everything was latched down including our two ducks (airplanes). We rode the storm out along with many other ships. One ship, the Pittsburgh, lost its bow during the storm, but it was still floating the next day. Carriers had their flight decks damaged. Two decks were rolled up like paper. After the storm subsided, we went back to Okinawa to finish the job of occupation. Then it was on to the Philippines to finish the job there.
While in the Philippines, we went into a secured port at Leyte for a little R&R. I caught up on my sleep in my bunk and on the deck. Also, I got the opportunity to go over on the beach. While there, I heard something coming through the bushes. I believe I was petrified for awhile because the island was not totally without Japs and my only weapon was my legs. I stood my ground and finally saw a big head. It was a water buffalo. After I stopped shaking, a lady in white approached me, and we struck up a conversation. It had been quite a spell since I had seen one of these two-legged creatures. She was very nice and seemed to be highly educated. She needed supplies for a group of orphans, especially any pieces of cloth. I told her all we had were rags, but maybe I could find some large pieces. She was appreciative to hear that I would try to help out. When I went back aboard the ship, I let it be known what the lady needed, and many on the ship began to gather materials including some sheets. I loaded everything up with, of course, the permission of the ships’ officers and went back to the beach again. When I showed her the large bundle, you would have thought I was giving her gold. She was so thrilled. She said they would use all of it to make clothing for the children. The word went out to the other ships, and of course, supplies began to go ashore for a worthy cause.
One day, while sunning on deck, two P-38s (supposedly ours) were making runs on the ships anchored in the harbor. I watched them for some time and was moved by their ability to maneuver. On one of their runs on a carrier, one did not pull up. It hit the flight deck where many sailors were sunbathing. The following plane did pull up, but other ships in the harbor opened up with A.A., and it was blown out of the air. Both of them turned out to be Americans practicing runs, but after one had hit the deck, that made no difference. In the past, we experienced runs made on ships by confiscated American planes operated by Japs, so we took no chances after one of the planes had hit the ship.
After some rest, warm beer, and a few horsecock sandwiches, we went back to sea to cover mine sweeping operations in the China Sea and to curtail any shipping from China to Japan. All of this was in preparation for the big invasion of the Jap mainland. We did this off and on for some time. After a few days, we joined the task force to make a strike on Shanghai. Evidently, they were not expecting a strike. You could see the lights of the city. After this strike, we went back to Okinawa for a while then, on to Saipan. Here we joined a task force going back to the Aleutians to prepare for the invasion of Japan proper. It was said that we would have a mock landing on the northern part of Japan while the main invasion would take place on the southern portion. We arrived in Adak on August 14th, the day the war ended. What a happy, relieved crew! We listened to the celebrations in the states and were very happy that our duties would soon be over. Also, we were very thankful to our president for giving the orders to drop the bombs. He saved millions of American lives, one of which was mine. For that, I was very thankful.
However, the war was not over for us. Somebody had to occupy Japan. So we left Adak for Attu where a task force was established to take over northern Japan. We were to be the landing force until the Army and the Marines could be made available to take over. While in route to northern Honshu, small parties on each ship were trained to handle small arms. I was given the assignment of taking over any ships that would still be afloat. The Marines that we had on board gave instructions to us on the use of small arms, such as rifles, machine guns, and pistols. While at sea, we practiced daily with the guns until we became proficient at shooting the targets. Our first stop was to be Ominato, Japan - a large, northern seaport. Once we entered the channel to the seaport, we had our rigging out to cut mines loose. Also, we had mine sweepers leading the way. When a mine was cut loose and was floating on its own, we turned our small guns on the mine to explode it. As we entered the main port, I saw an older Jap standing on the pier waving at us while he was urinating. He may have been trying to tell us something by his actions. We went ashore and our first encounter was a group of males working on a ditch. One started to approach us. I asked the interpreter to tell him to stop or he would be cut down. He stopped. He wanted to bum a cigarette. I did not smoke, but someone in the party gave him one. We did our duty that day by occupying the city and port and by collecting guns, etc., but we saw no women or kids. They left before we came ashore, because they were afraid of what we might do. The Japs knew what they did in the islands, Korea, China, and other places they had occupied and they thought we might emulate them when we occupied a place. While here, we took the surrender of the Japs. Their group of officers signed a peace treaty on board ship. After securing Ominato, we left to do the same on Aomori, Hakodate, and Otaru.
Finally, we got the word on October 12, 1945, to go stateside. After riding out rough seas (typhoon) for 11 days, we arrived at Portland, Oregon. Upon entering the channel at Astoria, the pilot evidently hit the current of the Columbia River wrong. We took a 42-degree list and damn near went over completely. I had finished the 12 to 4 am watch and was asleep three decks below when this happened. Enough water came down an open hatch that I thought we were sinking. I forced myself topside, gathered my thoughts as to what had happened, and went below to my bunk. It was soaked. I brought it topside and threw it overboard. I said to myself, “I don’t need it any longer because I was going to be leaving the ship when we got to Portland.” During this roll of the ship, many ex-prisoners of war that we were transporting were seriously injured in the ship’s mess hall. Syrup for the pancakes being served in the mess hall came out of the containers on to the deck making it impossible for the poor prisoners to stand. Due to their emaciated condition, they ended up with broken legs, arms, etc. They had suffered enough without this happening to them, too.
I hit the beach that night in Portland and checked into a hotel. After cleaning up good, I went down to the bar with some of my shipmates. A Marine was joshing Big John Petraitis. One thing led to another. Finally the Marine took a swing at Big John. Big John hit that Marine with a sledge hammer blow and racked him up like a cord of wood. All hell broke loose, and I told Big John, “Let’s evacuate”. Out the back exit and down the fire escape we went. Some of the sailors were not so lucky and ended up in the brig. We checked into another hotel for the remainder of the night.
I got up early the next morning and went back to the ship. I got my papers and things, and saluted the O.D. as well as the ship’s flag, and left the ship for home. I had 30 days R&R, then I was to check into Pelican Island in Galveston, Texas. I ordered a Pullman berth on the train, but I was not given one until I got to Denver. I got off the train in Denver and told the railroad people I was going to a hotel and they could call me when I had a berth. I was plumb dirty because I had been riding in an old railroad chair car where you had to keep the windows opened to breathe. The coal smoke from the engine would come in and after awhile, you were as black as the ace of spades. I got out the next day with a Pullman berth. I rode the MK&T to Dewey, Oklahoma. I walked down to my sister’s place and greeted her. She took me home to Copan. I spent 30 days around Copan doing what I could do to get acquainted with my son, Bruce. I took the bus to Galveston, Texas, and reported in at the base, but my papers had not arrived from the ship. While at the base, I ran into a doctor that had been aboard ship with me. I told him my tale of woe, and he gave me a pass to go home, saying he would call me when my papers arrived from the ship. I got the call during the latter part of November and I took a bus back to Galveston. I got my papers and went to Norman, Oklahoma, and was discharged from service on December 1, 1945. It all seemed like a bad dream. I knew for certain that our president had saved my ass as well as many others by dropping those two bombs on Japan. Lessons from Iwo and Okinawa taught us what we would be up against if we had not used those bombs. At the time, I did not care if they sank the mainland of Japan. War is hell, dirty, and the cream of the crop is always sacrificed when people cannot govern.
Bruce A. Dobbs
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