What happens when the men of the Fighting Lady start to fight themselves?
Willie, Div 2&3, S1/c, '43-'46
I spent the next few weeks using jet fuel
and a bucket to dissolve the black oil off the side of the ship as we cruised
along in the Gulf of Tonkin. So I was pretty miserable in 2nd Division
but look back now as it being one of my happiest times in the Navy. I was a
real salt water in the face sailor for a time. I did 8 hours on the helm
of the Yorktown, sat gun watches on the 6 inch gun (as we called them during
the Vietnam War/Cold War era), acted as a side-boy on the quarter-deck when in
port dressed up in my whites with full medals.
But I really didn't want to be there and coming from another ship, having GREEN strips on my uniform (an airman) and not WHITE strips (seaman) caused friction amongst many of the old boys. Indeed, my name stopped being Dan and become for all purposes and for all time, "The Airdale"...the only airman in a seaman's division.
One of the bigger men was always on my case. I have 20/400 vision and am blind without my glasses. I had my white GI issued Navy towel around my waist and was heading for the showers on the foc'le berthing for boatswain mates when this big guy again started ragging on me. I don't what he said but my come back must have hit a raw nerve because the next thing I knew my 125 pound body was flying through the air and I was fighting for my life. With one hand he picked me up and held me up against the bulkhead and with his right hand he pounded my face.
I returned fire as best I could...my glasses were long gone and as I was now blind I just struck with both my free hands but it must have seemed like a battleship fighting a bi-plane. I got my blows in however.
The "fight" probably only lasted 30 seconds as one of the wiser and larger men of 2nd Division pulled him off me and kept saying "you're a bunch of fu**ing animals...animals!"
Even then I was amused in my pain...like I picked a fight with someone who weighed 75 pounds more than em? As is my personality, I don't back down regardless of the odds.
So, I pick up my towel, pinch my bleeding nose and continue my journey to the head. I get inside and turn on the water.
Outside in the head I can hear my (former) enemy say to another boatswain mate, "I just had a dust up with "the Airdale". He's a skinny guy but he sure stood up to me. I gotta a lot of respect for him now."
Thereafter, this is true, the former bully was my best friend. If anyone gave me a "ration of shit" as we used to say, he was stand up for "The Airdale".
I think it was 1966 when we were five days out of Pearl enroute to
Japan then Vietnam. I went on duty as a lookout on the 07 level about
midday. I remember it was a warm, sunny day and the other lookouts and I had
our t-shirts off. One of the first things we noticed was we only had two
destroyers escorts in formation with us. We had no idea where the other two
were. I called down to CIC but they didn't know either. No big deal, we're
just steaming along with two tin cans out front, one port, one starboard, it
couldn't be better.
All of a sudden I saw a green flare in the water off our starboard about five miles ahead. I immediately reported to the bridge and CIC (Combat Information Center) and a weird thing happened. We stopped as did our escorts. As we slowly steamed to the area of the flare, a submarine surfaced and began flashing Morse code to us on their signal light. this was real cool as I had never seen a sub at sea, only at the sub docks at Pearl. No GQ (General Quarters-Battle Stations) so I assumed it was one of ours.
After about ten minutes, the sub submerged and we picked up speed and went on. I wondered what that was all about but didn't find out until I went to CIC after my watch. That's when I read the message the sub had sent. It said something to the effect "Good day, your course isXXXX, your speed isXXXX, you're two escorts passed here 18 hours ago and they gave us our escorts course and speed". The SOBs ended their message with "have a nice day".
What a bummer. The Yorktown is the best ASW (Anti-submarine Warfare) ship in the Navy and we were nailed cold. Now I knew why we only had two escorts that day. The other two were in on the exercise and blew it. I remember hoping USN subs were much better then Russian subs. Fortunately we never had to find out for real.
The Yorktown is "a fighting ship!"
He manned the radar screens and .20 caliber anti-aircraft guns as the huge aircraft carrier launched its fighting airplanes in nine successive campaigns. The Yorktown sailed 234,360 nautical miles from the Gilbert Islands to Wake Island to the Philippines, Okinawa, Formosa and around the main Japanese islands. The Yorktown itself was a big target for the Japanese.
"We only shot down about 14 Japanese planes," Nelson said of the ship's gunnery units. One got through, smashing into the flight deck and blowing a huge hole in the carrier's side. "It blew out the quarters where I usually slept,'' he said. "If I had been down there off duty I wouldn't be here today.'' Sometimes there was no cessation to the call to general quarters.
"They would come at us night and day," he said. Nelson was stationed on the high superstructure on one side of the carrier and not far from the bridge. He had a good view of one Japanese pilot who approached the ship as if he were part of a returning flight. He didn't make it to the Yorktown's deck. Nelson said the gunners saw through the ruse and blew the plane's wings off. "He missed us," Nelson said.
Yorktown Gunners Mate Bob Davis looks at the over 12 inch, over 5 pound piece of bomb that Hospital Corpsman Carmine Pierro (left) took out of his abdomen, then replaced his stomach organs after the bomb hit the Yorktown 18 Mar 45
Nelson said the Yorktown was like a city with more than 3,000 men on board. The food was good, but in the hot South Pacific, sleep was difficult below decks. "There was no air conditioning. We would sometimes lower the flight elevators to get some fresh air down below," he said. The Yorktown was the subject of the 20th Century Fox movie "Fighting Lady," which included combat photography taken by the Navy for a documentary film narrated by Robert Taylor. When the war in the Pacific finally ended, the Yorktown became part of the magic carpet plan to get soldiers home in a hurry. Nelson said the first stop was Okinawa, where hundreds of soldiers and Marines, some of them wounded or very ill, came aboard.
"We tried to get out ahead of an oncoming typhoon, but it hit us. We had waves over 75 feet actually come over the flight deck. Destroyers looked like submarines. It was an awful trip for those soldiers," Nelson said.
The Yorktown made it home, and during a short leave, Nelson married his sweetheart, Thelma "Sally" Roop, and then went back to sea. The Yorktown headed for the Philippines to bring back another load of soldiers. This time the trip was much easier. "I remember that we had Christmas dinner in 1945 in the Philippines," Nelson said. The Yorktown's last trip was into Tokyo Bay. "I don't know if there was any particular reason to be there, but at least we didn't have to fight our way in," he said. Nelson was out of the Navy by March 1946.
A memorial wall in one room of his home, filled with pictures of the USS Yorktown and his many decorations, including nine campaign stars and that's because, "The Yorktown was a fighting ship!"
Ignored his mother's advise, thought to be dead on USS Yorktown CV5
As a know-it-all teenager in September 1941, Wendell Earl
Thrasher ignored his mother's warning about the possibility of seeing combat if
he enlisted in the Navy. Thrasher quit school as a junior and went into the
service at 17, only to get caught up in the action after the Japanese attacked
Pearl Harbor three months later.
Now 81, Thrasher returned to Lawrence County High School in Georgia on Thursday for a ceremony where he finally received a high school diploma through a special program to award them to World War II veterans. His stepgrandson, Jake Farris, was a member of the regular graduating class.
"I think it's cool," Farris said. "Not many people get to graduate with a grandpa."
After leaving school, Thrasher went on to see action that included the Battle of the Coral Sea aboard the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown in May 1942. He recalled the flash of an explosion that killed all the sailors in a gun position yet spared him. "When I came to, they had me piled up with the dead," he told The Decatur Daily. "Someone was washing us with saltwater to get the blood off. I was as bloody as they were and not a scratch on me."
Thrasher said he never regretted ignoring his mother's advice to not join the Navy, "But when I saw the (Japanese) planes coming in, it was the first thing I thought about," Thrasher said.