When Victory Is Ours:
Letters Home from the South Pacific
by Morris D. Coppersmith
edited by Galia Berry ©1996, All Rights Reserved
For Dad: BRAVO ZULU
Special thanks to Richard Grieser, Robert Sieveke, and Joseph Berry
This series of letters (presented online in abridged format) by (Lt. Cmdr.) Morris D. Coppersmith to his parents; photographs; and naval documents were found in a dusty carton by me, his daughter, over fifty years after they were first written. To honor his name, and the good men with whom he fought; to provide a legacy for the four grandchildren he never knew; and to enrich public knowlege about a profound time in American and world history which shaped the lives of coming generations, I have gathered this material. I hope the reader will be richer because of it.
The unabridged version (approximately 85,000 words in length) is available for publication. If you are a literary agent or publisher interested in considering When Victory Is Ours, please contact me at email@example.com.
Table of Contents
Tattooing of Natives in the So. Pacific
Prejudice in Australia
Aussies and US GI's
"Skipper": Ship's Mascot
Admiration for Australian Soldiers
Jews and Patriotism
Casting the ballot: Roosevelt & MacArthur
Natives and the Betel Nut
US Cigarettes and the Aussies
Colonel Archibald Roosevelt, son of Teddy
The First D-Day: Hollandia
Noemfoor: Under Fire
Yom Kippur in Hollandia
Headquarters of MacArthur and Kincaid, Hollandia
Natives' Welcome, Leyte Gulf
Kamikaze Report, Leyte Gulf: LCI 432 and the US Achilles
Leyte Gulf: Double Duty
Unrealistic Expectations of the GI
Palawan Prison Camp
Who do Voodoo? Willie Do!
World War II Commemoration
What did you do in the war, Grandma?
Center for Life Stories Preservation
Military Search Bulletin Board
Navy FAQ: Locate Shipmates
Navy FAQ: Locate Records
Sunday, November 7, 1943
(Tutuila, So. Pacific) . . . It seems to be an old custom of the island
to be tattooed. They begin when they are at the age of twelve years. The
tattooing process takes from six to nine months depending on their strength.
I understand that they tattoo in almost solid mass, from the waistline
to just below the knee. It is supposed to be a very painful process and
serves to indicate that the boy has come into manhood and the girl into
womanhood. Many bleed to death during the time of tattooing. Others become
infected and are crippled for life. The custom is not as prevalent today
as formerly, but is still carried on to quite an extent. The church and
hospitals have done much to eliminate the custom and gradually it will
be stamped out.
December 8, 1943
. . . Australia is sorely in need of increased population.
The whole of Australia, which has an area comparable in size with the United
States, has only about eight million people. They are rich in undeveloped
natural resources. Many of their minerals haven't even been tapped. Their
editorials from day to day repeat their need for a greater population and
suggest plans for attracting people when the war has seen its close. You
would think that it would be an ideal spot for the refugees of the world.
Australia has an all-white policy. They don't want to have the problem
that we have with Negroes. Their gates are barred to them. They want people,
but they only want certain kinds of people. I have spoken to many on the
subject of increasing their population. It is surprising to note how unanimous
they are in not wanting Jews. In a city of this size, how could the Jews
possibly have done them any harm at any time? Yet I even spoke to a public
official who volunteered that they didn't want any Jews. All they were
good for, he thought, was to hang three balls over their door and get high
rates of interest from the poor. So few are the Jews in Brisbane, that
I haven't been recognized as one, so they speak their minds.
. . . At home you don't hear much about the part the Australian
is playing in this conflict. Let me assure you that he is very much in
it. They have lost many men. Before the Japs came into the fray, they were
serving for England in Palestine and in North Africa and Greece. When the
Japs began to threaten the security of their land, they were recalled and
have put up a fierce struggle. There are very few of them who have not
seen at least some service in New Guinea. You can understand the magnitude
of their task when you realize how little ground they have taken considering
the time they have been in operation - - this, despite the tremendous amount
of help they have received from our Army, Naval and Air forces. They hate
the Japs with all the venom it is possible to hate. Their facilities are
limited. Their uniforms are rather cheaply made although in the mainland,
at least, they are neatly kept. To me they look very nice. They wear a
large-brimmed slouch hat that would go swell with a zoot suit. The girls
join the WAAF. They, too, always look neat and have their uniforms spotless
and well-pressed. The Australian soldier is jealous of the American serviceman
and has begun to resent him. You can hardly blame him. He is given the
equivalent of about $1.00 a day to spend when he is in town. That would
be about enough to buy his food. He has no money left with which to take
out girls. He has to pay prices for things the American is willing to pay.
It's impossible for them to compete. As for the girls - - they love the
American boys. The Aussie hasn't a chance. Not only do our boys spend more
money on the girls, they pay them more respect and have much livelier personalities.
They are carried away with the American style of dancing and have caught
on quickly. I have danced with several whom I could compare with any of
the girls I have danced with in America. All of them seem to aim for marriage
with an American. At least fifteen hundred of them in this city alone (I
believe it's the State) already have succeeded. There will be several more
before the War is over. Many of the Aussies come home on leave from the
horrible front to find that the affections of their wives have shifted
toward some American. Fights in the street are frequent. The Aussies even
curse the girls for going with the American boys, but the girls don't seem
to give a darn. On the whole, however, the two get along very well. I'm
sure if the situation were reversed and if the Aussie would take over in
our country as we have here, the resentment would run much higher. On the
front, differences are very much forgotten. They realize that they need
each other for their lives.
December 26, 1943
. . . We picked up a little mascot in Australia - - we
call him "Skipper." He's a full pedigreed Pomeranian puppy. I
never would have permitted the men to keep him, but they paid twenty-five
dollars for him so I hate to make them give the pup up. I think it is punishment
to keep a dog on a ship. He's well fed all right, but he is really confined
and has no soil to stretch his paws on. This morning it was funny to watch
him. He was seasick on his first journey. He'd take a couple of steps and
sit down on his hind legs. While we were in port he came too close to the
end of the ship and fell in the river. Now he never does come very close
to the edge. He pees more than any ten dogs I ever saw and never finds
the same spot twice. Don't know how tall he will grow. Right now he sits
very close to the ground. We got him when he was only two months old.
(ed. note: In August, 1944, "Skipper" was
captured and eaten by New Guinea natives.)
January 28, 1944
. . . The formal inspection went off in good shape yesterday.
The ship was immaculately clean and the inspector didn't find a single
deficiency, although I'll admit I could have pointed out a few. Talking
about cleaning up the ship reminds me of the cleaning and painting we gave
her in Brisbane. One of the toilets was stopped up, so that the flushing
system wouldn't work. Incidentally, before I got into the Navy I used to
think that the stream of water that was pouring out of a drain on the side
of a ship, was the water that leaked into the ship being pumped out. Now,
of course, I know that it is nothing more or less than the pumping of the
flushing system through the ship.
At any rate, Duc tried to get the toilet working, but
met with no success. So he lowered the small boat and together with Brisbane
was going to poke into the drain hole from the outside of the ship. He
poked and poked; Brisbane lost his balance, swinging the boat and moving
it so that it came directly under the drain hole just as it broke loose
in the port. Poor Duc! I can see him there now, all covered with sweet
violets. He stood there shaking his fist at Brisbane, hollering, "You
&*%$#! You &*%$#!" He'll never live it down. What a sight.
February 5, 1944
. . . We carried a shipload of Australian troops farther north, and then returned to our anchorage. I had tears in my eyes when they came aboard. You should have seen them. Conservatively, eighty percent of them wouldn't even have met the lowly standards of a 4-F back in the States. They slowly trudged aboard with huge packs on their backs. Most of them were veterans of the last war. Now aged, they show their weariness. Here is one with a patch over one eye, showing its loss. So many of them are completely gray. Some must have reached their sixtieth birthday - - yet they come forward to do their bit. What a match for these treacherous, youthful Japs - - and yet they come forward, voluntarily, for a job they know must be done. Their rations? A bit of hard tasteless hard tack and a tin of bully beef. Day after day - - hard tack and bully beef. God, how sickening! How can you help but admire them and worship them? How can you long for the comforts of home or wish to be there, when you know you belong here? They play hell with your clean, well-painted decks with their hobnailed shoes, and they litter up your compartments with ants and dirt, but you don't mind. When you have seen the jungle they fight in, the quagmires of mud and filth they sleep in, when you picture the fire they face from ambush, and the nerve-wracking noise of bursting bombs - - well, you know you belong here, and you know, too, that your lot is infinitely better and that you certainly have no case of complaint. We don't pray for an early return to the States - - we pray for an early victory, so that when we do finally return to the States, we will know that we have not left others behind to stand our ground for us. Let's hope that day will be soon.
(ed. note: As early as April 1942, Australian command
had registered complaints with the Allied Forces, upset with their focus
on Europe. The Australian fighting force had been seriously depleted, and
greatly depended upon American troops for reinforcements.)
March 6, 1944
. . . You ought to see how these dry-docks work - - a
truly remarkable thing. This one happens to be a ship called LSD (Landing
Ship Dock). It's as long as a large cruiser. (ed. note: The LCD was
four hundred fifty feet long.) It operates by means of ballast. It
lowers down in the water sufficiently for you to float inside the ship.
Once inside, all the ballast (water) is pumped out of the LSD so that the
ship is sufficiently raised out of the water to get your ship at least
eight or nine feet above the sea level. The ship of course sets up on wooden
blocks and gives the force an opportunity to work underneath. It doesn't
take more than an hour and one-half to get you completely set up. We'll
be more careful coming out this time. After we float out of the dry-dock,
we'll send a diver below to inspect the ship's bottom and make sure that
no foreign matter is in the way.
The LSD is big enough of a ship to have many comforts
that we do not have. How we love to get into their fresh water showers
and just let the water pour to heart's content! Sure feels good. They have
water making machinery aboard. We limit the water aboard our ship as much
as ever. No use taking chances of running short. Boys take their bucket
baths, and even those, we limit to one or two buckets for that purpose
a day. When you remember that there is a considerable heat out here, you
realize that it is quite important to have the luxury of taking a bath.
. . . One thing that I don't seem to be able to convince you folks back home, is that I am giving you just about as complete a story as I know how of what I am doing out here. You seem to think that I have undergone a lot of experiences that I am unable to tell you about. I know Ben and sister Dorothy have expressed in their letters that they wish they could have a talk with me so that they would know what "real" experiences I have had. Sorry to disappoint you, but I'm afraid I have given you the benefit of just about everything we have done. Maybe someday we will go through some action that is a little more hair-raising, but at least up until this time, you have been given a pretty complete and detailed report. I wouldn't hold out on you, if for no other reason than to have a complete record of my adventures for some day in the future. It is the only record I will have. Diaries, you know, are prohibited. Further, you will notice that the Censor who passes on my mail is initialed "MDC," and you know good and well who he is.
(ed. note: "MDC" stands for Morry D. Coppersmith.
As the ship's commander, he acted as his own Censor, which provides the
reader with a thorough account of locations and incidents that might not
have gotten through otherwise. Still, Morry had the sensitivity to not
pass on anything that might endanger security (certainly he had full access
to intelligence reports); additionally, he certainly withheld or watered
down some of the more graphic encounters out of respect for the fears and
anxieties of his parents.)
. . . Went through another rather enjoyable experience
last week. Sieveke, Doc, Baker, Wurm and I went on a sort of souvenir hunting
expedition. By now you have forgotten ever having read about the large
battle that took place near Samananda Point. It took place approximately
one year ago. It was supposed to have been quite fierce and many lives
were lost. Must be about twenty-five to thirty miles from the point where
we are anchored. It runs beyond the Dobodura airstrips. Made it in about
three rides. There are so few roads around here that whatever traffic there
is has to go over almost the same ways. Consequently there is quite a bit
were left off near one of the Sapanda trails, walked about two miles up
a Jap-built road, and then proceeded into the jungle, following narrow
pathways. The original Jap huts, now very much dilapidated and caved-in,
still stand. We ran across a couple of huts that looked better than most
of the others. We determined that these were the huts that were used by
the Japanese Geisha girls. There is still evidence of feminine existence
there. For one thing, there was some printed material - - looked like dress
material. Also, the branches that they slept on were covered with old dried-out
grass and looked generally more comfortable than the huts the soldiers
slept in. We saw what a Japanese hospital looked like. Talk about your
poor accommodations, you ought to see the so-called sick bay. It was very
small. It could accommodate one row of bunks against one wall and one against
the other. The center of the hospital was just wide enough for a person
walk through. The bunks ran about three or four high. The beds are mere
branches of trees that are nailed in tiers - - very uncomfortable and crowded.
The dried blood about the place is still very much in evidence. It is positively
inconceivable how human beings could live in the sort of places that these
Japs lived in. We found many of their slit trenches, their foxholes, and
their blockhouses. None are fit for human beings. For water they dug a
hole in the ground about six feet in depth and sank a wooden bucket, from
which they drew what they could to minister to their needs. How the Japs
can keep up their morale living under those conditions, is beyond my comprehension.
After getting into the jungle three or four miles, we
began to run across skulls, skeletons and the debris of warfare. Wild hogs
have dug up many of the bones. It appears that some bodies never were buried.
That appears true for the reason that the skeletons lie on the surface
of the earth in perfect form, just as if they laid down to die.
March 11, 1944
Dear Mom and Dad:
I just finished reading the short letter that Joe sent
from Chicago relating that he had passed his physical examination for service
in the United States Army. Somehow the letter did not leave me feeling
blue or sad. Instantly my thoughts ran to the reaction and emotions of
both of you, and I sincerely, deeply hope that you will have the courage
to withhold your tears and agree with me that Joe should be in the service,
and that you were fortunate to have made an education possible for him
that was able to make him useful enough outside the Armed Forces so that
he could be with you until this time. His enlistment in the service follows
mine by two years less ten days. I'm proud that a brother of mine is in
the fray with me. You know, folks, we Jews are in a peculiar position in
this war. From past experience, we know that when the war has run its course,
we will be severely criticized from diverse sources. There will be those
who unjustly blame us for having started the war; there will be those who
will falsely accuse us of being shirkers and evaders; there will be those
narrow-minded, prejudiced individuals who will point to the number of our
people who are serving in the supply divisions rather than on the front
lines; there will be those who without foundation will remind the world
that it was a Jew's war, started because some few Jews were being persecuted.
There will be countless numbers who unreasonably insist that all Jews should
have met the same fate the world over. Our pained experience following
wars and pogroms has been that anti-Semitism does not cease to exist; rather
it grows; it grows. The infectious seeds of hate and prejudice that are
sown during the months of war live on for many generations to come. Permit
me not to overlook the both just and unjust accusations of the Jews who
have been able to profit in a monetary manner from the conditions that
war makes possible.
Were all men intellectually fair and just, there could
be no doubt that the Jews did not start the war - - they have bitterly
learned that war does not operate to their advantage. It would be admitted
that the war was a challenge to every human being the world over. It would
be admitted that the world would be a less desirable place in which to
live if the creed of the aggressors must need be adopted. Were all men
true, they would agree that there are some shirkers and evaders in every
race, but that the numbers among Jews that were guilty of this breach would
be proportionately smaller than other peoples. Were all men unbiased, they
would admit that the armed forces could fight no war without an efficient
flow of supplies, and because of the experience of the Jew in the world
of business and commerce, he is better suited for this particular type
of activity. Also, there are a proportionately high number of Jews who
are face to face with the enemy, both on land and on the seas. Were all
men inclined to reason, they would substantiate the fact that the fate
of the Jew was but a forerunner of what men of other religions and creeds
would inevitably meet. Were all men reasonable, they would follow the teachings
of their God in the love of man for man and of their equality in creation.
Were all men just, they would not overlook the fact that even in a monetary
way, the Jew has not advanced to a greater extent than has his neighbors.
Some of our numbers have had the products and means of serving the government
in a manner that would bestow profits. Statistics would prove that our
people were not the greatest profiteers. I'm well satisfied with the truth
of that statement. We need neither fear nor feel ashamed. Our position
is well defended. When victory is ours, and the count is taken, Jews will
be counted in every detail. We will have our heroes, our dead, our distinguished
and our weaklings. I hope that it is better than an average record. I once
heard a lecturer express, "To look like silver, a Jew must
be pure gold." Unfortunately, the sentence carries more than
a semblance of truth. While it is nigh impossible to be one hundred percent
pure gold, we can strive for that goal.
That pretty well expresses why I am so proud to have Joe
in the service. I know you must be too. Certainly it's a heartache to have
your children reach the stage in life when you can take pride in their
accomplishments and enjoy the fruits of your strivings, only to have them
snatched from your side for brutal conflict, but remember, folks, you are
only one of millions. Pray that a merciful God will make his absence only
a short, temporary leave and that Joe will soon return to the warmth of
your fireside. I'll repeat my previous expression that it is my candid
opinion that Joe will be happier in the service than he was a civilian
in times like this. True, his service to his country was at least as important
at the Arsenal as it will be in the work that he now must turn to. Nevertheless,
I wonder what must have been his feeling - - a young, unmarried man, physically
strong and mentally alert, still out of uniform. With what heart could
he have walked among his fellow men in civilian clothes, when he must have
known or believed that many of them were silently wondering whether he
was evading the service or failing to do his part? It will work a hardship
on you to have him gone, I know. So many ponderous duties will be added
to your already overburdened shoulders. Just do your best. It shouldn't
be long. Never have fear! Joe will be happy to be in uniform, and he'll
soon be back. Have faith! Have courage! If tears you must shed, then make
them not tears of sorrow or of self pity; make them tears of joy and pride.
You have every reason to be proud. Thank God that you have sons sufficiently
fit that you can offer your country, as an expression of appreciation for
the many bounties she has made possible for you and yours. As Jews and
as Americans you are doing your part - - make Joe feel that you are happy
that he is being given an opportunity to do his.
My deep admiration and respect to Joe. May the good Lord
watch over him, guide him, and bless him. From across ten thousand miles
of ocean, I extend my warmest, firmest, most brotherly handclasp. I'm proud
and I'm happy.
Know that I am well and that I think of you constantly.
All my love,
March 26, 1944
. . . It's hard to speak for the sentiment of the servicemen
regarding their desire to vote. On a ship this size, you have too few men
over the age of twenty-one, and those you do have think mostly of only
one thing. That is, to get this war over with and to return to their loved
ones and to their normal routine of living. I'm definitely convinced that
MacArthur would gather but few votes from the men over whom he has
Despite your publicity to the contrary, MacArthur is not popular with his
men. He maintains a degree of discipline over them that sometimes runs
to extreme proportions. As an example, he wants no beer or liquor anywhere
in the vicinity of his command. Consequently, you will find very few officers'
clubs that will serve more than orangeade. Now, I don't have to go into
detail to convince you of the meaning of a glass of beer to the serviceman.
I have spoken to many boys in the Army who would do most anything to spoil
his chances of being elected to office. I know that there will be many
servicemen who will resent not being given an opportunity to vote. Given
the opportunity, most of them probably will do nothing about casting their
ballot - - but at least they want to know the right is theirs. I also am
of the personal opinion that Roosevelt would benefit greatly if the serviceman
casts a ballot. The man in uniform does not blame the present administration
for present world conditions, nor does he believe that a change of administration
would be of any help. He does hate the Lewises and all the others like
him, who are retarding the war effort, but again they do not blame Roosevelt
for that condition. You might be able to convince a non-thinking public
back home that the duration of the war would be shortened if there is a
change of administration. It is my personal opinion that the serviceman
knows better. He knows that there's a big job to be done and he is willing
to stick by it until it is done.
March 26, 1944
. . . Some of these Natives chew a betel nut. I guess
the effect on them is just about the same as whiskey would be on our men.
Only a Native could chew on it. It turns their mouth and teeth a bright
red. It's so damn strong that it eats their teeth out. After the teeth
have passed through the red stage, they turn black, and then they start
to disintegrate altogether.
. . . We brought a couple of Aussies back to the ship
with us for dinner. They asked if we wouldn't sell them a case of cigarettes.
They volunteered to drive us back to our anchorage area if we would do
so. For the past few days the swells in the ocean have been larger than
usual. When we got to the beach we got into our dinghy to get out to the
ship. We weren't more than twenty-five yards away from the shore when one
of the Aussies started getting seasick. Our ship was about two miles out
from the shore. By the time we got out to the ship, he decided that he
wouldn't even try to get any dinner down. The other lad was perspiring
as if he were in the heat of the day, but he was brave enough to eat his
dinner. Claimed it was the first fresh meat he had tasted since he left
the Australian mainland. The other lad went to the ship's canteen and started
to get his cigarettes. The sea was a bit too much for him. He heaved over
the side twice. By the time we started taking him back to the shoreline,
he swore over and over again: "If I have to go through this damn stuff
to get my smokes, I'll give up smoking for life" - - and he meant
it. He was white as a ghost. He didn't stop vomiting going into shore,
either. When he was within twenty yards of his destination, he suddenly
got another urge, and hurriedly twisted over to heave over the side. He
jerked too suddenly and the dinghy was swamped by a swell. Everything turned
over, including the boat. Of course the water was low that close in to
shore, so they simply turned the boat right side up, caught most of their
floating cartons of cigarettes and managed to get up on the beach. The
seaman that I sent in with them couldn't get the flooded motor started
and had to remain ashore for the night. He tells of a hectic experience.
He found an abandoned hut to sleep in - - ground for a floor, and nothing
above that to sleep on. Rats all around the place a foot and one-half long,
and outside it rained to beat hell. I know two Aussies that won't venture
off the land again until they have to. All we do is laugh and laugh! Yet
underneath it all I know how they feel. This ship rocks like a cork in
the water, and it's far from a comfortable feeling.
April 30, 1944
. . . Colonel Archibald Roosevelt, youngest son of the
late President Theodore Roosevelt, was aboard. He's quite a guy, and of
course we ate at the same table for every meal. In the evening we sat in
the officers' wardroom and passed the time. He and his executive officer,
Captain George, really have had some swell experiences. They have been
in these parts for about twenty-six months and have been in some hand-to-hand
struggles with the enemy. The Colonel is a regular guy. He's well along
in his fifties, a staunch Republican, and enjoys telling a few quips on
his cousin Franklin D. His men have very much respect for him. He doesn't
take a back seat for any of them. He's up there in front pitching with
the rest of them. He takes it as a big game. The other officers kid him
about having so much money that he doesn't know what to do with it. Not
only has he invested some of his fortune in Australia, he even bought a
cocoa plantation here in New Guinea. Ask him how he is going to take care
of it, and he'll tell you that he has a friend in Australia who promised
to look after his interests. Anyhow, he says, someday he'll get out his
old launch and take a trip all through these islands with his wife. Most
of us guys who have been here won't ever want to see this place again once
this war is over, and yet he, with all his millions, thinks it would be
a swell place to look around.
It's interesting to hear them tell of their personal contact
with the enemy. Here's a sergeant who jumped into a foxhole for cover,
only to learn that it already was being occupied - - by a Jap. A hand-to-hand
fight ensued: the American trying to knock out the Jap with the but of
his pistol, the Jap desperately pounding a hand grenade against the chest
of the American trying to get the thing to explode, willing to lose his
own life if he could but do away with the American.
Or Captain Gray, thinking that an area was unoccupied,
entering a hut - - only to find four Japs asleep in their bunks. The first
shot awakened all of them, and then it was a matter of who could pull the
trigger the fastest. Well, Captain Gray is still here to tell the story.
Heroic daring displayed by scouting parties, which the
Colonel himself finds occasion to participate in. Evidence of hungry Japs,
cut off from their supply lines. Our boys have taken a picture of them
slicing a hunk out of the rump of one of our boys, which they were to eat.
The picture and affidavits are now in the hands of our Department of State.
I spread several charts of New Guinea before the Colonel,
hoping he would give us some idea of where we were going. He didn't so
much as drop a hint. He would merely pick out spots on the charts and call
to his other officers, "Remember this spot?" - - what a thriller
went with it! And then all of them would talk about that. So it was, from
place to place. They were a swell bunch of fellows - - we've never had
a more cooperative or clean bunch aboard. Before they left the ship, they
had a working party of nine or ten men go through all the compartments
and clean up their mess. Left the ship in splendid shape.
. . . The second day underway was mighty rough. You should
have seen some of those poor soldiers. Most of them remained in their bunks,
unable to move. The evening before, the Army mess sergeant mixed up a bunch
of batter from which he was to make wheat cakes in the morning. Some few
made a feeble attempt to get up for breakfast. I remained in the Conning
Tower practically all night to help maintain station in convoy. I was almost
afraid to go to sleep for fear of getting seasick. In the galley (kitchen),
one of the boys apparently couldn't hold his cookies. He heaved - - right
into the pancake batter. What makes it so laughable is that he was too
timid to tell anyone about it. He might catch hell for spoiling such a
large batch of batter, so he kept still about it, and pancakes were served
just as if nothing had happened. Fortunately I wasn't hungry. Every time
we tell Dick Grieser what he ate that morning, his face takes on a certain
pallor and he starts holding his stomach.
. . . Finally, D-Day! We had arrived at our rendezvous
on time. The navigator had done a splendid job. For us it was still too
dark to know whether we were properly located, but light was beginning
to creep in. At the scheduled moment, all hell began to break loose. What
a demonstration of fireworks! The cruisers let loose with their constant
bridge of fire. Simultaneously, six-inch shells would leave their guns
and float through the sky. No Fourth of July demonstration I have ever
seen could compare with this show. The cruisers were within what appeared
to be touching distance of the shoreline and within point blank range of
their targets. The destroyers, too, let loose with all they had. The rocket
guns fired. Then came the planes. Like a grasshopper scourge they filled
the sky. Dive bombers screamed as they sped earthward. Soon, fires and
black smoke rose to great heights. Here and there appeared a feeble answer.
The enemy's guns, whatever they had, had been silenced.
Now the waves of ships headed for the beach. We were awaiting
our turn. Finally the moment arrived. Even before we went in, the radio
had blared that no opposition was being encountered on the beach. You could
hear the sigh of relief among the soldiers. We keep them below while we
are making our run for the beach, so they can't tell what is going on.
What a show they missed. It's the closest thing to the movie version I
have yet seen. We beached precisely on the moment we were scheduled, disembarked
our troops, and with haste retracted and rejoined our returning convoy.
And thus, LCI (L) 432 is no longer a virgin - - she has completed her first assault beaching. Let's hope that those that follow are sponsored with such phenomenal perfection. Through it all, we didn't see a single Jap plane. I don't think there were any.
(ed. note: This probably refers to the battle for Hollandia.
From the sea, the forces came via the Humboldt-Tanahmera Bay region.)
May 9, 1944
. . . Wonder if any of our Rock Island boys have been
returning to the States after having served their eighteen months outside
the continental limits. There's a little fellow on one of the LCIs in our
group who was sent back to the States for new construction after being
in this area well over a year. He received new orders almost immediately
upon arrival and forty-eight hours shore liberty was the extent of his
stay in the States. He wasn't even able to visit his home in New Orleans.
The sad part of it is, that under the program, you have to be outside the
Continental limits for eighteen consecutive months before being entitled
to be considered for return, so that his period begins all over again.
He's all burned up about it, of course, but I'm afraid there is little
he can do about it. I'd say that was a bad break.
May 30, 1944
. . . The nights were black - - pitch black. The almost
invisible moon disappeared entirely before midnight. The weather was ideal.
Very little rough sea and little rain. We traveled along at a pace that
seemed awkwardly slow, but for sure no one would have trouble keeping up.
A tail wind helped move us along. We had ten Army officers aboard, including
Colonel Thackston of the Army Staff at Washington, D.C., and two Australian
officers who came along as observers. I should mention that our ship helped
tow four LCIs off the beach that afternoon, which is a creditable job.
D-Day and the Commodore of the fleet sends the signal
for all ships to deploy. That's the signal to take stations before going
in for the beachhead. The cruisers and destroyers circle around to their
stations. Day is beginning to break loose. Just as it does, so do the guns.
This time, we are less than one mile away from the shoreline when the battering
We thought we saw a show of shell fire at Humboldt. We
did, but this was far better. The cruisers poured their eight inchers into
the beach, the destroyers set forth their five inchers. The rapidity of
the fire is both remarkable and unbelievable until you see it. I permitted
all troops to remain topside so they could see what was going on.
The first wave of small boats has gone into the beach.
So intense is the smoke from the fires and the shells, that it has become
somewhat difficult to see. Something is amiss. The small jetties, which
marked the landing point, are not in sight. It must have taken a full hour
before they finally were found.
This operation lacked the precision and timing of our
previous assault landing. As the first wave strikes the beach, our first
radio report comes back: "Heavy opposition is being encountered ashore."
I don't dare tell the troops; the effect on their morale might be too severe.
We still don't know what our landing point is going to be like - - how
close to the beach we might be able to go, or whether we should drop our
stern anchors. The Beachmaster finally has been contacted and has been
able to supply some information. Jetty number two, where we are to go,
is not sufficiently large to go alongside. However, it reaches far enough
into the water so that if we can get up to it, we don't have to worry about
coral and can discharge the troops from our ramps onto this jetty or the
adjoining rockpile. Four ships can go in at one time.
We are finally signaled to go in and make an excellent
landing. The ramps are lowered and except for a short delay caused by a
jam, the troops are unloaded onto the rockpile without even getting wet.
Don't know why those troops are so slow and lackadaisical about getting
off. They can pretty well imagine now that opposition is being encountered.
You would think that they would want to get off as soon as possible and
get into the shrubbery where they would be unobserved. That's the difference
between these boys and men who are seasoned fighters. Too many of them
will be casualties only because they refuse to obey the rules.
As a matter of fact, you can't tell when a bullet is coming
at you. The LCI rocket ships who suffered casualties in the Wakde operation
did not know that they were being fired upon until some of the men actually
were hit and went down. All the while, bullets were whizzing overhead.
We could see some of the counterfire in this instance. Where we were beached
was supposed to be the center of crossfire from shore batteries. Jetty
number one (about one hundred fifty yards away) was catching a lot of it,
so the LCIs retracted and waited to come into our jetty when we unloaded.
And so, not a single man was lost or wounded on any of the LCIs. On LCI
364 one soldier fainted as he was ready to go down the ramps, but they
carried him ashore and gave him medical attention. He'll be all right when
he gets over his scare.
The LCTs that were about three hundred yards from us were
not quite so lucky. They were catching a helluva crossfire. We saw one
mortar just miss them, that sent a spray of water into the air that must
have been twice as high as our ship. They were riddled with 20 mm shells
from the shore that must have cost them at least some lives. A couple of
LCTs got caught on the coral and couldn't retract. When that happens, you
just sit there like a clay pigeon. I don't know what luck they had.
Now that we have landed our troops, we got the hell away
from the beachhead. Our planes and bombers have begun to come in now. You
ought to see the Liberators (B-24s) lay down their pattern of bombs. It's
as if someone drew a picture, rather than being the real thing. The old
bombs just leave their bomb bays in perfect design and send piles of dirt
and debris high into the air when they land along the beach front. There
are dozens of them. When one type of plane is through, another begins.
When we had left the scene and the beach was out of sight, our planes were
still hammering in there. You can't understand how a people can be so fanatic
as to fight back when they see all that fire. They must know that they
don't have a chance. You would think that they would run or dig themselves
in so deep that they couldn't be touched. But no, they stick to their guns.
We haven't heard much news about how we are doing there now. Some of the
LCIs took up reinforcements and probably will be able to add a few details
when they get back. It was a swell show to be in. When the going really
gets tough, if ever, we should be well trained and know what to do at the
right time. We're certainly looking forward to more, and enjoying what
we are getting into. Our boys still take very few prisoners. The Japs aren't
quick to surrender and they are so darn cunning and treacherous that if
the opportunity breaks, they are a dead duck.
Colonel Thackston did not go ashore. He thought it was
too hot there. So his observing stopped with the same thing we saw and
he rode back with us. One of our crew members caught a little embarrassment
at the Colonel's expense. On one of the gorgeous evenings during our return
trip, the Colonel and I were sitting on the gundeck, talking over a few
of his experiences in Iceland, Panama, and the Philippines during his last
eighteen years in the Army. He had on his overseas cap. One of the boys
in the engine room, Johnson, has a similar kind of a cap. Cabanaw, who
is a fireman on the ship, stood behind us and thought that I was talking
to Johnson. So he gave "Johnson's" (the Colonel's!) head a good
massage and then gave his nose and face a good massage too. I believe the
red in Cabanaw's face sparkled even in the black of the night. Imagine
what would be his feelings, upon discovering that the little joke he was
playing on Johnson was not Johnson at all, but was the Colonel! He stammered
and gawked a weak apology, and then in his embarrassment added salt to
the injury by asking, "Oh, I'm sorry - - how come you didn't go ashore
with the boys?" I couldn't laugh when it happened, but when our own
officers got together, we certainly had one big roar!
June 12, 1944
. . . One of the buildings that still survives in the town of Hollandia
is the church. I believe it was originally a Catholic church. It stands
now with holes shredding its sides and riddled with bullets throughout.
At present, Catholics, Protestants, and Jewish services are held there.
If we are here next Friday evening, I'll try to get ashore for the duration
of the services. Ought to be interesting. I haven't been to any Jewish
services for many months. When we transported troops to Biak, there was
a chaplain aboard who conducted services for all soldiers and sailors aboard
on the eve of the battle. He gave a sermon calling for courage and strength.
August 1, 1944
. . . Most outstanding since the time of my last letter
is the assault landing we participated in at Noemfoor. That's a small island
about seventy miles from the beaching we made at Biak about a month previously.
While it was not regarded as a large operation, I believe it is the most
interesting one that we participated in to date. It is about fifty miles
from Mankwari, a powerful Japanese stronghold on the Dutch New Guinea mainland.
Not all of the troops we had aboard for that operation were new to us.
We had ferried some of the troops to Toem not so long ago. It was interesting
having them with us again, because they were able to relate their experiences
since we last saw them. Their spirits were not too high. Many of their
officers and men lie buried at Toem. Don't think for a minute that it doesn't
have a profound effect on them to realize that their buddies are lost and
that it might have been them. We too were sorry to hear of some of their
losses, because we had made their acquaintanceship previously. So too,
they seemed discouraged because they knew so little about where they were
going. Some of our scouting parties had been able to get fairly close to
the island - - close enough to know that it would be not be easy pickings
and that the beach itself was a very difficult one. We didn't know until
we actually hit the beach, what its condition would be. We did know that
there was a lot of coral and niggerheads around and that there was shoal
water about four hundred fifty yards from the beach. It was believed that
our boys would have to wade or swim through four hundred fifty yards of
water before they hit the beach. Lots can happen to you if there are shells
flying from the beach in the time that it would take to traverse that distance
by foot. Nor did we know what the depth of water was on the other side
of the shoal. Perhaps it would become so deep that it would be impossible
to touch bottom. You can understand their anxiety when you realize that
they are weighted down with their packs and their rifles. Should there
be a sudden step off, they are loaded heavily enough to go straight down.
Further, our intelligence reports disclosed a greater number of the enemy
ashore than we were sending there, so that they began to feel that they
were being sent as expendable. Our intelligence reports also disclosed
that there are many enemy airplanes in the vicinity, some of which were
serviceable. We didn't know whether we could expect air opposition or not.
We didn't count too strongly upon it, because the Japs were having more
than their hands full at the time with Saipan, which by now is in our hands.
The fact that we had so little information made the adventure more exciting,
because we really knew very little about what to expect.
We did know that our LCI would be in the first wave of
LCIs that would make the beaching. That was a new experience for us. On
previous occasions, our ship had been in the second wave of LCIs. It makes
quite a difference in more than one respect. When you are in the second
wave, you are able to watch the action of the first wave so that it isn't
too difficult to tell the nature of the beach and how far out to drop your
We rendezvoused with the rest of the convoy on schedule. There was no moon and the way was pitch dark. No one was lost from the convoy, however, and the trip to our destination went off without a hitch. The soldiers aboard were seasoned fighters and know how to behave aboard. They had their ammunition with them and it was both plentiful and heavy. Day had not yet begun to break, when we reached the transport area. We stood by waiting for the light of day so that the targets could be seen. It wasn't a long wait. The destroyers and cruisers deployed into their stations. Then began the most significant barrage we have seen yet. The date was July 2nd so we watched the show as if it were an Independence Day fireworks display. What a demonstration of fire power it proved to be. For over an hour, shells of all sizes pounded into the beach and raised billows of smoke and fire. The tracers left almost a continuous path as if they were sky dockers. You could follow their trail. The din and fury seemed as if it would never end. At the time, I would estimate that we were within a half a mile of the shoreline where the busters were landing. Talk about your grandstand seats for the action. We had them. I permitted the troops to remain topside until the time we received orders to proceed into the beach. Imagine the relief the soldiers get when they see their way being paved for them so beautifully. Every time a spray of fire hit its mark, a big cheer would leave the throats of the troops. Then came the bombers. We were so close in that we could see the bombs drop from their bays. It's really a thrill to watch them. It seems as if dozens of them drop from each plane. They fall out about a foot apart and are excellently spaced. We could see them reach the earth and explode. All that fire made so much noise, you had to practically shout to be heard. If there were any movie cameras around, they certainly had a field day. Now came the rocket ships, and you could not only see their rockets leave their bays, but you could also hear them swish going through the air. Those rocket LCIs really throw the gunpowder.
(ed. note: Unlike the majority of LCIs that were typically armed with 20mm antiaircraft guns, rocket LCIs carried up to 250 men, and suported a crew of twenty-five to thirty sailors, some LCIs were outfitted with 40mm guns and a five-inch rocket launcher. These rocket LCIs held a crew of seventy-eight men.)
Surely you would think that no enemy could survive that kind of barrage. If they weren't struck directly, the concussion in and of itself would shake hell into destruction. The barrage finally ceased and the landings were to be commenced. Squadron after squadron of planes had unloaded their cargo. The smoke that the exploding shells and bombs had left seemed heavy enough to cut through with a knife. You couldn't see through it, but hoped the ship ahead of you would steer a straight course. Finally we got the word to proceed into the beach.
We proceeded rather cautiously - - slowly, barely feeling
your way through the smoke. You'd think you were going through a heavy
fog. The air smelled strongly of the burned gunpowder - - similar smell
that you sense when you let a large firecracker go off. It wasn't far to
go into the beach - - as I've already said we were lying in fairly close,
by this time less than a quarter of a mile away. It was most fortunate
that there were no enemy planes. Because of the indefiniteness of the beaches,
etc., and also because we had to wait almost until the last minute before
they knew which ships to unload first, all the ships in the convoy were
mighty close together. You had to run a zigzag course to get into the beach.
An enemy flyer would have had no trouble at all making a direct hit and
if he made a near miss, he probably would have damaged at least two ships
with one bomb. You just had to make a wild guess as to where to drop the
The beach itself was really something to remember. It wasn't sand. It was coral, and at the brim of it the water seemed to go straight down. The niggerheads were the worst we have seen. We thought we saw a lot of niggerheads at Kiriwina. The latter was a smooth plantation in comparison. The shoreline was very jagged. It didn't seem to run straight continuously for more than a foot at a time. Our ships are not wide. Our beam is less than twenty-five feet. And yet, you couldn't find a spot on the beach where you could put both ramps down at the same time. That meant that the plans of unloading would have to be changed. Instead of systematically running down both ramps, they had to use only one. The unloading process was a nightmare, and you can gather that when you realize that it took us forty-five minutes to unload, when normally we unload in less than three or four minutes on an assault beaching. I kept hollering my head off, trying to hasten the disembarkation. It didn't do any good. Poor bastards - - they were afraid of drowning and you couldn't help it. That pack is secured to their backs, and it wouldn't be easy to shed it in just a second or two.
(ed. note: This assault landing was the most traumatic incident to affect Morry during the entire war. As he told his brother Ben after the war, he felt helpless: ordered to send the hapless soldiers out of the LCI to what was a likely death, either by drowning or enemy fire, in an operation for which the Americans were poorly prepared and uninformed as to the strength of resistance they would meet from the enemy.)
We put the ramp on a niggerhead on the port side of the
ship. It was hard to hold the ship in one place. There was a very strong
current which would set you off, and in addition, the pounding surf kept
jiggling the ship around. As a consequence, part of the time the ramp was
on the niggerhead and part of the time it just went off to the side where
a step from the ramp led directly into the water. It was a wet landing
anyway you look at it. The troops had to start off in four and one-half
feet of water until the water gradually became more shallow. It wasn't
smooth walking. That coral is rough and sharp. You didn't see any troops
carry their shoes to keep them from getting wet. If they had done so, their
feet would have been cut to shreds. In a way, it was almost laughable,
and yet it was a tragic picture to see those fellows grope their way off
the ramps. A couple of them got on to the niggerhead, and their next step
took them straight down. Luckily, someone behind them grabbed them and
pulled them to safety. The ammunition was heavy and cumbersome. Delayed
matters a lot, yet it couldn't be left behind. They would need the mortars
for their field pieces. The firing from the larger ships had not ceased.
As we were going in, we received the report from the beachmaster: "Heavy
opposition being encountered ashore." I believe the troops could sense
that without being told. Planes circling overhead kept the destroyers informed
on where the fire was coming from and salvos followed them up. That's one
of the fantastic things about those fanatical Japs. Why, with all that
preliminary bombardment, you'd think the island itself would be blown out
of existence, let alone the human beings on it. Yet there those little
bastards returned their fire.
After sitting on the beach for about fifteen or thirty
minutes discharging the troops, their mortars began to drop in front of
our bow. Fortunately again there were not Jap planes around that could
spot where the mortars were dropping. If there had been, it wouldn't have
been many minutes before they would have found their range and hit the
ship. As it was, the mortars kept dropping in the same area in front of
the bow of the ship about fifty or seventy-five feet, or perhaps a bit
more. The mortars dropped into the water before theyl exploded so that
there was no damage occasioned by flying shrapnel. I will say that some
of the mortars hit so darn close to some of the men that were going ashore
that some of them undoubtedly were hit.
We had hoped that DUKWs would be able to draw up alongside our LCI and take the troops off and onto the shore. Those babies are designed just for that purpose.
(ed. note: DUKWs (pronounced "ducks") were amphibious vehicles, part truck and part boat, that first saw use at the end of 1943. Over 20,000 were built. Since it was unarmored, it could not stand up to enemy fire. However, it was used to quickly and effectively ferry supplies and up to 25 men not only to the beachhead, but continue on into the interior. It was also effective in quickly evacuating the wounded.)
But the DUKWs and Buffaloes were busy with other cargo.
The LSTs couldn't get in at all, and they had to help discharge their cargo with anything that would crawl over reefs and coral over water. The LCTs were considered expendables.
(ed. note: LSTs (Landing Ship, Tanks) and LCTs (Landing Craft, Tanks) were designed to carry tanks. Due to their heavy weight, LSTs could rarely survive a beaching without some damage to their hulls. After ten landings, the LST was often no longer serviceable.)
They carried very important cargo such as tanks, flame
throwers, heavy artillery, etc. They had to get up to the shoreline at
any cost. If necessary, they were to plow onto the coral and keep going
ahead even if it would be impossible for them to retract. They did a good
job and since they don't draw as much water as we, they were able to get
closer into the shoreline than we were. They have a way of waterproofing
jeeps, tanks, etc., so that they can propel through the water even if it
comes over the hood.
I believe most of the fire power did get ashore. So far as I know, none of the LCTs were hit, nor did I hear of any of them being stranded. When they unloaded their own cargo, they assisted with the cargo of the LSTs. We of course did not stick around to find out. When our job is done, we get the hell out of the place and in this instance it was none too soon. The Japs apparently did expect us to land somewhere in that particular area and probably had their guns set for the beach. Had we been able to go in as far as we had hoped, we undoubtedly would have suffered considerable damage.
Even at that, the LCI that went into our spot just after
we did got a very near miss. A mortar shell dropped just alongside her
port side, forward of the deckhouse. One soldier standing between two sailors
on the rampway got hit with shrapnel. He went down, but was revived and
given medical attention and sulfa. He was taken in one of the compartments
of that particular ship and went back with it. He'll recover. The sailors
I wasn't scared or in fear at any time. I did get aggravated
with the unconcern of the soldiers in getting off at the earliest possible
time, but when you think it over, you can't exactly blame them. The way
before them was mighty treacherous. Funny how you don't seem to get bothered
even with the shells bursting around you. You don't see them being fired
at you. They aren't even discernible as they fly through the air. The first
time you are conscious of them is when you see them hit the water and shoot
up their spray as they burst. The ship that went in after we retracted
had considerably more to worry about.
The enemy guns evidently were on the target to a greater
extent. They saw these mortars dropping around them and weren't very anxious
to hang around. When that lad got hit, they began to get going. They had
the same trouble as I, hurrying the troops off of the ramps. The skipper
threatened to back down whether they were off or not and finally did retract
without giving the troops a chance to take off their personal gear or equipment.
I never did find out what they did with it.
He even started backing down before he had his ramps up
and finished up the process of doing so while he was underway. Of all the
luck, in backing down, he got his stern anchor cable caught with that of
another ship. He couldn't free it and finally got underway with twenty
fathoms (one hundred twenty feet) of cable still out and had the other
ship's anchor on his stern. He just kept dragging his own anchor on the
ocean's bottom until we started forming convoy for the return trip, and
even held us up awhile until the flotilla commander gave him orders to
cut the damn cable and get going. Only a few minutes later he got his anchor
up and didn't have to cut the cable and thereby suffer the loss of his
September 27, 1944
. . . The synagogue was an open amphitheater, which normally
serves as an outdoor theater. The trunks of coconut trees, laid out in
evenly spaced rows, served as seats. The arrangement on the platform was
most crude and simple. A small pulpit constructed of roughly hewn lumber,
together with a diminutive cabinet which enclosed a diminutive Torah, constituted
the entirety of furniture. Both before, after, and above us was nature's
wonderland. Towering trees, massive hillsides, suspended white, fluffy
clouds in a blue heaven, and squashy red and yellow mud contributed to
the luxuriousness of the setting.
. . . You have heard me rave before of the beauty that envelopes Hollandia. . . . Queen's Highway led to the headquarters of Admiral Kinkaid and General Douglas MacArthur. I was within a stone's throw of both.
(ed. note: Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid (1888 - 1972) conducted more amphibious operations than any other commander in history. Under MacArthur, he was chief commander of the Seventh Fleet, and led the fighting in the Solomons, the Bismarcks, New Guinea, and the Philippines.)
The magnificence of the structures themselves have been
tremendously exaggerated. Scuttlebutt pictured MacArthur's mansion as pretentious
and worth at least eighty thousand dollars. That rumor is absolutely false.
His place could be built even now for less than five thousand dollars.
Admiral Kinkaid's Quonset huts are of even lesser value. However, the scenery
that surrounds them is priceless. The Army General's quarters, in my opinion,
is the superior of the two. You should see the view. It would be like standing
atop the Empire State Building in New York, except that your view would
not be clouded by superficial structures and the handiwork of labor. For
many miles, you can see about. On the one hand lies Humboldt Bay. On another
can be seen the irregular contour lines of Lake Sentani. In still another
direction, your eyes envisage jungle growth, valleys, mountains, streams,
and the careless, casual lines of mud-surfaced roads that run every which
October 23, 1944
. . . You should have seen the welcome we received. Remember when we first reached Bora Bora, how I wrote you of the natives paddling out to tie ship in their canoes and outriggers? This was very much a duplication, except that there were many more of them. Men, women, boys, girls, children, pregnant women galore crowded about the ship and we just couldn't hold them off. They came aboard and expressed over and over again how happy they were to see us and how welcome we were. Ours was the first vessel that had anchored in their vicinity since the Japs took over.
The next morning a dance was held ashore in honor of the
American landings, but of course we couldn't be there even as spectators;
we were out on patrol. Sometime later when things cool off a bit, and we
are more certain of what there is ashore in these outposts, it ought to
be a treat to watch them go through their ceremonies.
The Japs didn't treat them any too well. Their stories
coincide greatly with those that have been given by natives in other villages
that we have formerly been to. They used to wear shoes. After the Japs
came, there were no more shoes for the Filipinos. So too of their clothing.
It has been taken away. They are clothed in shredded rags for the most
part, or else they wear clothing that they make up from apaca cloth. It's
supposed to be woven out of some form of weed. The Japs forced them to
take Jap occupation money in return for what was traded. It's valueless.
U.S.S. LCI (L) 432
c/o Fleet Post Office
San Francisco, California
CONFIDENTIAL: 12 November 1944
From: Commanding Officer, U.S.S. LCI (L) 432
To: Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet
Subject: Action Report - Anti-Aircraft, Leyte Operation,
Reference: (a) Article 874 (6), U.S. Navy Regulations, 1920
(b) Com7thPhib Conf Ltr FE25/A16-3 (3) Serial 0212,
dated 17 February, 1944
1. USS LCI (L) 432 was moored alongside starboard
side forward of U.S.S. Achilles, for availability for accomplishment of
repairs, in San Pedro Bay, Philippines, on the 12th day of November, 1944.
At approximately 1400 three planes came out of a cloud dead ahead, elevation
approximately 050 and went into a suicide dive. The center plane came directly
forward of this vessel, passed between the conning tower of this vessel
and the forward boom of the USS Achilles and crashed into the forward portion
of the deckhouse of the USS Achilles.
2. The Number One 20 mm gun on our LCI and an unknown
number of guns on the Achilles were firing on the plane before the time
of its impact. Our gun completely shot off the tail of the Zero when it
was within two or three hundred yards off the point of its crash. SCHMIDT,
Benjamin (n) 376 59 61, Bmlc was gunner of the gun which did the damage
to the plane.
3. The Zero which came in on the right side of
the three, passed to our starboard under fire of our number five 20 mm
gun and was later observed crashing into a Liberty ship about one thousand
yards astern of our vessel. No claim is being made by this vessel for the
plane that crashed into the Liberty ship.
4. For a period of approximately three or four
minutes after the crash, the power, inter-communications system, and fire
main pump aboard this vessel were inoperative. A sizable fire broke out
on the Achilles. This vessel remained alongside to render assistance in
fighting the fire and to aid casualties. When the fire main pump became
operative, one stream of water from our fire hose was played on the fire
forward on the weather deck of the Achilles. A few minutes later, two handy
billies from this ship were pumping streams of water to the same fire.
A small fire which broke out among the smoke pots stowed on our forward
well deck was extinguished with CO2 extinguishers. Other small local fires
were extinguished by hand.
5. During this period, one casualty from this ship,
MCDONALD, Leland Leonard, 619 29 43, S 2/c V-6 USNR was treated by ship's
pharmacist mate for shrapnel wounds in left arm and back. Several casualties
were lowered from the Achilles onto our LCI and were treated and given
medical attention by one naval doctor and an assistant who came aboard
for that purpose. This ship's pharmacist mate rendered assistance - FORD,
A.S. PhM l/c. The casualties, after treatment, were lowered into a whaleboat
and transferred for hospitalization.
6. The USS LCI (L) 976 moored alongside our vessel
and commenced taking on wounded. In addition to McDonald, Leland Leonard,
named above, eleven men from the Achilles were transferred to LCI 976.
The latter shoved off with the Naval doctor, assistant, ship's pharmacist
mate, and our ship's cook for LST 464 to hospitalize patients.
7. After approximately thirty minutes, the fire
on the Achilles was under control. This ship borrowed two additional handy
billies from LCI 976 and used them to assist in the fighting of the fire.
Fire lines were also extending from LCI (G) 73 and LCI (L) 338 which were
moored alongside the USS Achilles astern of this vessel.
8. At approximately 1440 this ship was ordered
to shove off by the Commanding Officer of the Achilles, to make room for
a tug boat which was better equipped for fire fighting. The handy billies
were placed on the Achilles and left there. The Naval Tug Boat came alongside
the Achilles immediately after this vessel got underway.
9. Upon getting underway, the ship's pharmacist mate returned via motor whaleboat and treated the following men of ship's company for burns and shrapnel wounds, none of whom were found in serious condition.
Ensign Robert William Sieveke, 268 803, D-V (G) USNR
DUC, Thomas Alexander, 575 82 71, S l/c USN
BRISBANE, David Eugene, 256 52 26 SM 2/c USN
THARP, Alfred Henry, 677 20 89, S 2/c V-6 USNR
DeVITO, Joseph (n), 643 18 78, S l/c V-6 USNR
10. The above men were sent to a hospital ship
via P.T. boat, for further treatment. Later the following men were treated
for minor burns and shrapnel wounds, none considered sufficiently serious
to transfer to hospital ship.
Lt. (Jg) Charles Richard Grieser, 188 829 D-V (G)
BATES, Frank, (n), 377 96 09, RM 37c USN
BLANCHARD,Joseph Carroll,637 84 46,Cox,V-6 USNR
FLAVIN, John Henry, 935 27 22, S 2/c, V-6 USNR
11. Particular commendation and credit is given Lt. (jg) Charles Richard Grieser, 188 829 D-V(G) and SCHMIDT, Benjamin (n), BN l/c, 376 61, USN, for calmness under fire and outstanding performance of duty while under attack.
M. D. Coppersmith, Lt. USNR
December 15, 1944
. . . Pretty rugged duty here at first. Stood at our general quarters stations for as much as ten times a day and one of the periods lasted for four consecutive hours. Invariably the Jap planes would come over during meal hours, so that you would have to jump up from the table and scram to your guns. On one occasion I was up in the conning tower for twenty-three out of the twenty-four hours. For almost twenty-five days, I didn't dare go to bed without my shirt trousers and socks on, so that if I would be needed topside in a hurry, no time would be wasted.
(The Battle of Leyte Gulf was the largest battle in
naval history, and lasted three days. On the first day alone, 200,000 troops
were landed on the east coast of Leyte. Forty different ships were sunk
on both sides.)
February 10, 1945
. . . The serviceman will present many interesting problems.
Politicians, corporations, chambers of commerce, loud speakers and countless
others wax eloquently with promises of what a utopia is open for the men
upon their return. It will take no little time to make these men realize
that the world does not owe them a living simply because of their participation.
Even the loans they will make must be repaid. A completed college education
takes effort and sacrifice in the way of study and deprivation of an otherwise
possible married normal family life. So, too, there is no guarantee of
future success, even after graduation, unless they be adequately and properly
constituted. Bonuses are soon spent and are paid but once. Jobs may be
promised and guaranteed upon their return, but they are available only
where there is a continued demand for labor, and it is up to the man to
hold and retain the job he returns to. How I wish the serviceman was made
"aware" - - there are so many limitations to assistance that
February 11, 1945
. . . Went ashore and walked around a bit. Found the scenery
very beautiful. In the hills, the natives have what they call their farms.
They are nothing more than garden patches or small rice paddies. They grow
camotes (look like sweet potatoes), beets, and a few other fresh truck
vegetables that sell at a tremendous premium in these times. The water
of the river is clean. We asked for a drink from some of the CBs and they
handed us their tin cup and told us to dip it out of the river. They drink
it all the time. Farther down the stream, the natives wash their clothes
and our soldiers have put up a swell diving board that the Natives use
as much as we do. When we gave back the canoe to the native from whom we
had borrowed it, another native and his wife volunteered to paddle us back
to our ship about a half mile away. We accepted. You'd think we were in
Venice on the boat of a gondolier. The man paddled, and the girl kept the
course of the boat straight and sang for us. She tried to give us each
a two peso note for souvenirs - - they are worth one dollar each - - and
we had to accept them. We finally induced them to accept an American dollar
bill for each two peso note as exchange souvenirs. The people seem to be
quite poor. The youngsters, both male and female, run around naked. All
the people are barefooted. They say that before the war they wore shoes.
The only person around who I saw wearing any shoes at all was a school
teacher. She gets paid one dollar a day - - that's a high salary.
May 8, 1945
. . . Puerto Princesa, Palawan, was a welcome sight. The anchorage there is a protected one, and is well sheltered from rough weather. Nothing outstanding about Puerto Princesa. It's probably the best anchorage and harbor on the island of Palawan.
(ed. note: This is the outermost island of the Philippines. The area was difficult to navigate due to reefs and mangrove swamps. Puerto Princesa had the best harbor in the Palawan area.)
Only a few weeks before, the Americans had made their
assault landing there and met no opposition. They must have done a terrific
bombardment job there, because little was left standing. I saw no buildings
there that were left intact.
Perhaps you have read of the prison camp that the Japs had there for the Americans. By now you know of the atrocities committed there. I read about them myself in Time magazine only a few weeks ago. I got to see the camp. When we were there, the Americans were removing the remains of the American prisoners of war. Some few days prior to the landings, they had ordered the prisoners in their slit trenches, poured gasoline on them, and set them afire.
(ed. note: Approximately 150 American soldiers were imprisoned there by the Japanese, who used them for slave labor in the construction of an airfield. On Dec. 14, 1944, the Japanese commander of the 131st Airfield Battalion received news of the approach of the Allied convoy (which was on its way to Mindoro), and burned them alive the same day. Those that tried to escape the flames were gunned down.)
You could still see the charred bones, some with dangling roasted flesh, some with the bones still in partly burned shoes. For such acts the Japs will pay dearly, I'm sure. They left enough written evidence to condemn the offenders. Only some six Americans had escaped from the camp and so far as I know, only about three lived to tell the story of their treatment by a soul-less people. I had heard about the affair some three months ago, but didn't know at that time that I would some day see the picture first hand.
(ed. note: The three surviving prisoners were sheltered
by the natives.)
. . . Manila is very hard hit. All the business district is in complete shambles and destruction.
(ed. note: Manila's business district was completely destroyed, as was seventy-five percent of the residential area in the southern part of the city. Although civilian casualties were heavy during the four week assault to reclaim Manila, approximately 100,000 Filipinos died before the liberation, the overwhelming majority due to Japanses persecution of men, women and children in Manila and its environs.)
Prices have skyrocketed. Fifty cents is the price of a
Coca Cola. You pay thirty cents for one mango and ten cents for one very
small banana. They have a few linens, but the prices are prohibitive. I
was offered eight dollars for one carton of cigarettes - - of course you
can't sell - - violates regulations. Much black marketing goes on. I don't
see how the Filipino will be able to engage in legitimate occupation and
still exist. Hundreds of girls have turned to prostitution and the venereal
disease is reported to be between seventy and ninety percent. Walk down
the street at night, and you will be approached by little boys not over
eight years old who will ask you, "Mister, do you want Pom Pom?"
- - they work for girls who probably range from thirteen years of age to
fifty. In a way, it reminds you of Panama.
(ed. note: The following story was sent to a friend, who had asked Morry to write him his reminisces about "unforgettable characters" that he had come in contact with during the war.)
May 27, 1949
It was no different for Willie aboard the 432 than it would have been for any other colored boy. The LCI 432 at that time had a crew of about twenty-one young boys and three officers. Willie was the only colored boy aboard the ship. The fact that the entire enlisted personnel had to bunk, sleep and practically live in one compartment on the ship made it no pleasanter for him. You see, there were at least three or four men who came from the South: South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. It was far below the dignity of white boys to feel that they were compelled to spend their time, and particularly, to live in the same quarters as a colored boy. Fortunately, Willie knew his place!
(ed. note: At this time in the U.S. South, segregation was legal and stringently observed. Not only was there no socialization between the races; schools, restrooms, eating establishments, and drinking fountains were all separately served. Even in the Northeast and Western U.S., where segregation was illegal and people tended to be more liberal, socialization and fraternization between the races was rare. Except for a few all-black divisions, blacks serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during WWII were usually limited to menial positions, such as kitchen help or as valets. There was often racial tension; racially motivated brawls - - and worse - - were not unknown.)
It was some five, six, or perhaps even eight weeks after the vessel had been commissioned near New York City that the LCI 432 was under way across the Pacific. We had left the Panama Canal Zone some three or four days earlier.
One evening I had observed Willie on a deck chair, sitting on the LCI ramp. He apparently was going through some very peculiar motions. In the one hand, he held what I learned to be a Bible. In the other hand was a cigar box full of trinkets: a magnet, a small horseshoe, seashells, a rabbit's foot, a pair of dice, and various little nails and screws and small items, which to an outsider bore no significance whatsoever.
It was a beautiful evening. The moon was round and full
and yellow. Willie stared first at the Bible, which held his eye for some
time - - thirty or forty seconds. His face and eyes would then rove over
to the hand which bore the cigar box full of trinkets. He would stare at
those contents for some thirty, forty or perhaps sixty seconds, and would
cock his head and his eye toward the new moon. After staring upon the moon
for fully a minute, he would repeat the cycle continuously, circling his
head and eyes in a triangle - - first the Bible, then the cigar box, then
the moon, then back to the Bible; and the circuit would begin all over
I stood some ten or fifteen feet away from Willie and
watched his action. I had heard of lads going berserk because of being
overwrought with duties, or because of the fear of the battlefield which
lay ahead. I was afraid that I had my first case aboard.
After standing there for some few minutes, I approached
Willie and then, without being too forward or abrupt, I quietly asked him,
"Whatcha doin', Willie?" He replied, "Oh, I'm checking up
on Louise." Louise was Willie's girlfriend. Like Willie, she lived
in South Carolina. Other than a very infrequent note which he wrote to
his parents, Louise was the only party who received mail from Willie. I
asked: "Did you catch her?"
"No, Sir," he answered, "she's out there
on her front porch - - she's in the rocking chair reading the newspaper,
and all by herself." It was astonishing to think that he himself would
believe that he could be so precise in his prognostics and his ability
to foresee what was going on, so many miles away from where he found himself.
From that time on, Willie became perhaps one of the most
popular boys aboard. Tall, lanky, comparatively good looking, he became
known as the person on the ship who could tell all of the men what was
going on in their own communities, and in their homes. He could tell the
boys whether their girls were being faithful, and what they were doing
at particular times, particular days, or particular hours. It was a great
relief to twenty-one crew members who had very little to do, once their
tasks were performed. You see, a ship that bears only one hundred fifty-seven
feet in length, and a beam of some twenty-seven or twenty-nine feet, is
a rather confined area for a person to spend days and days and days within
the confines of that small area. Willie kept them properly entertained.
It got to the point that when the ship finally reached
the battlefield, that each time before a landing was made, or before a
mission was performed, Willie was called upon to let us know what would
happen in the days that lay ahead.
Willie would have the privacy of the Captain's quarters, and in the Captain's quarters, he would remain for some two or three hours, studying what would happen on the day of our landing, or the day that our mission had to be performed. In addition to requiring the privacy of the Captain's quarters, Willie also required a brand new deck of cards - - cards which never had been opened, and which you never again would see.
(ed. note: It is nothing short of remarkable that Morry, not only an officer but the ship's commander - - would allow Willie, a "regular" sailor (and a "colored" one at that!), private, unattended access to his quarters to soothsay.)
I would ask Willie, after he had concluded his "study," "Well, Willie, how does everything look?" And invariably his response would be, "Captain, everything is going to be all right." And, invariably, Willie would be right. The first three or four, or even five D-Day landings which were made by the LCI 432 were comparatively uneventful - - no casualties, no damage to the ship. Our good fortune was fully accredited to the predictions which had been made by our good friend Willie.
Many of you have heard of the campaign which was made by the Army and Navy at Noemfoor Island, which lies just east of Biak and on the northern portion of the island of New Guinea. MacArthur had conceived a surprise operation. Because of the haste with which the campaign had to be prepared, the usual amount of intelligence information was lacking. Even after we were steaming and under way, we had very little information concerning enemies: the number of the enemy we could expect to confront, the condition of the surf, the state of the tide, the favorable or unfavorable portions of the particular beachhead at which we were going to land our troops. We had no concept of what the weather would be once the landing was made.
It was a seven day trip from where we had picked up the
troops, to the point at which they were to be landed. The LCI 432 was filled
with over two hundred of the infantry. They had with them, in addition
to their large packs, many mortar shells, which they would be expected
to carry to the shoreline.
After we had been under way some four days, Willie came
to the conning tower, handed me a raw egg, and said, "Captain, I want
you to write on this egg." "Okay, Willie," I said, "what
do you want me to write on there?" "Oh," he replied, "It
don't make no difference what you write on there, just so you write all
over." So I took the egg and with a pencil, made various scribbling
lines on the shell. Willie took the egg with him, and I did not see it
again until the morning that our D-Day landing was to have been made.
As dawn was beginning to break, Willie came to the conning
tower, holding an egg. "Ever see this before, Captain?" he asked.
I took the egg and examined it. "Yes, Willie,"
I answered, "that's the egg you handed me about three days ago - -
the one I wrote all over the eggshell on."
"That's the same egg, is it?" he asked.
"Yes, Willie," I said, "that's the same
"O.K., Captain," he said. "I want you to
take that egg and throw it just as far as you can throw it." I complied.
Not long afterwards, operations of the day commenced.
We were more than a little surprised. Surely we couldn't have picked out
the best portion of the beachhead upon which to land, because, jutting
out from the water at least four or five hundred yards from the shoreline,
were niggerheads and coral that made it almost impossible to gain closer
access to the shore. The troops had to wade, and tried to pick their way
onto the sand.
Despite the miraculously good job which had been performed
by the Army Air Forces, and by the Navy destroyers and other ships which
had thrown the volume of gunfire, the enemy replied with much mortar fire.
We began to wonder how long it would be before the enemy would find its
mark. The surf pounded unmercifully. It was impossible to hold a ship in
place while unloading the troops; also, it was impossible to use both ramps
of the ship at one time - - they would have been beaten off the ship, and
we might have lost them. So we decided to retract one of the ramps, and
to have the troops descend from only one side of the ship, on the port
Oftentimes, just as one of the soldiers was getting ready
to step off the ramp onto the piece of coral upon which we had placed it,
large pounding waves would suddenly swerve the ship, so that instead of
stepping off the ramp onto the coral, the soldier stepped directly into
the water which, in some cases, was over his head. One of the soldiers
was stationed near the end of the ramp, so that he could fish out the boys
as they were going down. You see, the troops had on their backs not only
their packs, but, together with their mortar shells, carried a load in
addition to their own weight much greater than ninety-five pounds.
As they picked their way in to the beach, you could see
various bodies going into the air in pieces. You could see water buffaloes
stranded and wavering, unable to get off the coral upon which they had
become stuck. It was a horrible sight. Already, shrapnel had found its
mark on some of the ships which were close alongside. Normally an LCI,
under battle conditions, can be unloaded in as little as four or seven
minutes. On this occasion, it took us fifty-two minutes. All men were exposed
- - all men on the topside - - awaiting the call when they, too, would
be torn to shreds.
With great relief, the ship was finally unloaded. Having
retracted from the beach and gone into more quiet waters and away from
the point of danger, and other matters having subsided, Willie was called
to the conning tower.
"Willie," I said, "what happened to that
system of yours today?"
He looked at me rather astonished, and finally answered,
"What do you mean, Captain?"
I said, "I'm sorry, Willie, I must have misunderstood
you this morning. I thought you said that everything was going to be all
"Sure, Captain," he answered, "I done said
everything was goin' be all right, and everything was all right."
Incredulous, I said, "Willie, you must have been
hiding in the galley - - maybe the cooler or refrigerator. Didn't you see
that mortar fire coming at us? Didn't you see the neighboring ships littered
with shrapnel? Didn't you see the bodies of some of those men literally
going up in shreds and in pieces as they were picking their way to the
beach? Didn't you see that mortar dropping all around our ship?"
"Sure," he said. "Captain, I wasn't in
any refrigerator or in any galley - - I was up there on the gundeck on
my battle station."
"Didn't you see all that going on?"
"Sure I did - - but you didn't get hurt, did you?"
I said, "No, sir, but some of the men who departed
from the ship got hurt."
"None of your men got hurt, did they?
"No, none of our own men got hit - - you're right,
"As a matter of fact," he said, "none of
dat mortar shell and fire that you're talking about came any closer to
your ship that what you are able to throw dat egg - - that's all
dat was for."
Well, it was a rather ingenious answer - - but later,
during the course of one of our other operations, he replied in a more
A murderer, prior to the time he walks his last mile,
normally is given the equal of which he has not seen before, during his
stay in the penitentiary. It seems that the same policy was followed by
the United States Navy with the ships that made D-Day battles, particularly
when they were part of a large campaign. We could tell by the way our lockers
were supplied, by the way our refrigerator and cooler were stored with
fresh meats and vegetables which we hadn't seen for many months before,
that something was up and was probably the biggest thing that we had had
to date. From time to time we had enjoyed fresh meat, but never more than
a five or six day supply at one time; that was the capacity of our cooler.
But on this particular occasion, not only were we given fresh meats and
vegetables, it was the particular kind of fresh meats and vegetables
that told us so much more than written orders could have told us. Yes,
we had had fresh meat before - - mostly beef and corned beef that was shipped
to the front from Australia and which we never regarded the equal or superior
of State-side steaks and beef. On this particular occasion, we were given
New York beef. We were given fresh celery and tomatoes, and eggs and lettuce
and fresh apples - - things we had not seen for months, literally months!
On this occasion we were loaded again with our capacity
of over two hundred troops. After being under way for some four or five
days, Willie came to the conning tower, holding his little white sailor
cap, and in it, six fresh eggs.
I didn't wait to have Willie ask me to do something with
the eggs - - I broke in and said, "Willie, how long has it been since
any of the officers on this ship have had fresh eggs?"
Willie thought for a long time, and then replied, "I
don't know, Captain, but it has been a long time."
"That's right, Willie," I said. "And how
long has it been since one of the enlisted men on this ship has enjoyed
a fresh egg?"
"Don't know exactly, Captain," he snapped, "but
it's de same long time." And Willie was right - - on a ship the size
of an LCI, one could ill afford to differentiate and discriminate or have
a different repast for the officers than for the enlisted men. And it was
true - - no one aboard had seen, let alone eaten, fresh eggs or fresh foods
of any kind for a number of weeks.
"That's right, Willie," I interposed. "Now,
Willie, I don't know what you're going to be asking me to do with those
six eggs, but you ain't going to be asking me throw six eggs, which
the men haven't seen for many weeks, overboard, now are you?"
Willie put up his right hand, as usual, and merely said,
"Okay, Captain." He took the six eggs below, and apparently restored
them to the cooler from which he had removed them. Instead, he brought
up one ripe, red tomato and had me slice it, or rather, put various cuts
or slices in the tomato with a knife blade. What became of the tomato,
I never did know.
On the day of the operation, as usual, Willie required
the privacy of the Captain's quarters and also the fresh, new unopened
deck of cards. After having made his study with his Bible, with his cigar
box full of trinkets (which was now overflowing, for at each beachhead
at which we stopped, Willie garnered a new supply of seashells), he came
to the conning tower at about dawn.
I asked, "Willie, how does everything look?"
As usual, Willie, with his right hand extended upward,
replied, "Captain, everything is going to be all . . . right!"
Willie's prediction was correct - - at least it was correct
on the opening D-Day, for our particular ship and the crew members and
officers suffered no injury or damages whatsoever. The campaign, however,
was a hard fought one, and it was during the campaign at Leyte, in the
Philippines, that the operations came into prominence in the Southwest
Some days after the campaign opened, the LCI 432 had to undergo some emergency repairs. We were tied alongside of an LST repair ship, when suddenly, out of the clouds, three Japanese planes veered - - each apparently directed at a particular mark. One of the kamikaze planes was directed toward the LST repair ship to which we were tied. We think that we completely shot the tail off of the ship before it reached its destination, but it apparently kept coming. Its wings struck our conning tower, made a complete turn, went on to the next ship - - the repair ship alongside which we were tied - - and went down into the hold. It had already been in flames, and now it exploded. The LST repair ship suffered twenty-eight wounded and thirty-three killed as a result of the explosion. On the LCI 432, there were no particularly serious injuries at that moment, but about forty percent of the crew suffered injuries.
(ed. note: November 12, 1944; the ship was the USS
Achilles. Richard Grieser was manning the conning tower at the time of
the attack, and was one of several men aboard LCI 432 that suffered shrapnel
The scene was unquestionably one of the most horrible
that I had ever experienced. Burned, shattered, partial bodies lying all
about. Burnt flesh and the odor that goes with it was predominant. It took
many hours before fires were put out, and before the state of shock was
reduced to comparative normalcy.
When all was relatively quite, I finally called Willie
to the conning tower. "Willie," I said, "there's no use
of your using that system of yours on this ship any longer."
Willie looked at me very surprised, and answered, "What
do you mean, Captain?"
"What do I mean? Willie, where were you when all
that action was taking place? Where were you when that plane came overhead,
landed on our ship, and then tipped over onto the ship next to us and killed
and wounded so many men?"
He was thoughtful and finally answered, "Captain,
I seen what happened, and it wasn't very good."
"I thought you said that everything was going to
be all right, and here I find myself with not even enough crew members
left to operate the ship - -there's forty percent of my men that are out
"Captain," he said, "you ain't gonna be
blamin' what happened this afternoon on me or my system, now are you?"
I said, "Oh, no, no, Willie, I'm not blaming you,
and I'm not blaming your "system," I'm merely telling you that
in light of what happened this afternoon, there's no use of your using
your "system" on this ship any longer."
Hauntingly, he said, "Well, Captain, you can't blame what happened today on me or my system. When a man begins to feel that six eggs is worth more than the lives of his men, there just is nothin' I can do about it."
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