I originally wrote this over a year ago for another site. I heard from so many other proud children of vets that I wanted to share it with you.
Although he rarely talked about it, my dad was awarded a bronze star for bravery in the Battle of Okinawa. He served as a communications officer on landing ship tank (LST) 1014. WWII–era newsreel footage shows troops storming the beach out of the lowered cargo doors of LSTs. During the height of the conflict in the Pacific Theatre, LSTs were flanked by destroyers to protect precious human and explosive cargo.
By the spring of 1945, American forces were closing in on the Japanese homeland. The Emperor’s government hoped suicide attacks on the American fleet could buy time, and factories spewed out kamikaze planes quickly and cheaply. We think of suicide bombers as something invented by terrorists, but these small tubes of metal with the Japanese Rising Sun emblem on the side door panel were designed with no landing gear, and those kamikaze pilots knew they would sacrifice their lives.
Dad became a hero at dawn. Visibility is difficult when the sky shifts gradually through a changing spectrum of light. Enemy planes would fly low over the horizon, taking aim at the huge gunmetal-colored ducks sitting in the ocean. Dad saw seven kamikaze planes buzzing toward the fleet like a swarm of furious bees. Six of the seven planes struck direct hits on the ships ahead. Explosions shot up from where the planes collided with the metal, spewing up fragments of ships and men. The seventh kamikaze pilot had LST 1014 directly in his line of sight, but missed the target and plunged to his death a few feet from the ship’s bow.
Dad described the scene, “Shrapnel hit several of the guys, and most of us on board went deaf temporarily. Bright light from the explosion blinded the gunnery mate sitting in the tower closest to the explosions. We weren’t taking on any water but the other ships were goners. The injured guys were screaming for help. I could see patches of fuel catching fire. Flames were riding up and down with the swells of the ocean . . . guys swimming away as fast as they could.” Dad asked for permission to man a lifeboat with a few volunteers. During the next hours they dragged more than 50 men out of the 50-foot waves to safety.
They made it to American-controlled shores and, after hitching rides with Coast Guard ships, Dad climbed the rope ladder of the LST in his bare feet. He had lost his shoes. His captain told him, “Sorry, Lieutenant Mahoney, we picked up some survivors. We didn’t think there was a chance in hell you would make it, so we gave them your clothes.” No shoes, no shirt . . . extraordinary service. That’s Unsinkable, and my dad is one of millions of Americans we honor today for their sacrifice and our freedom.
For more heroes' stories, let me recommend a book that comes out today: Unsung Heroes of the Old Line State by Larry Matthews. It's part of a fundraising program to help those who served. Among the vets you'll meet is Bruce Bell, a former Marine. Bruce Bell survived every day of the 77-day siege of Khe Sahn, one of the costliest battles of the Vietnam war. He tells the story is his own words. 6,000 Marines surrounded by 20,000 North Vietnamese troops for weeks, enduring non-stop shelling from the enemy. Bruce's job was to disarm the NVA mines and lay new, American mines to protect the Marines. It is only one of many stories in this book.
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