Two Stories for Veterans Day

Veterans Day is a reminder of both the sacrifices and service of those who serve on active duty and the home front. These two vignettes capture courage in battle and the parallel commitment given by those praying for safe return to family.

Courage in Battle

Last week the New York Times reported the deep sea location of a destroyer escort sunk during the battle of Leyte Gulf in October, 1944.

While the article was about the technology used in discovery, the context of the battle was also summarized.

It prompted me to look up a fuller account, found here.

Two facts stand out from this description:

  1. The American task force, Taffy 3, was completely outgunned by the Japanese. “Just after sunrise on 25 October, Rear Admiral Clifton A. F. Sprague’s TG 77.4.3—call sign “Taffy 3”—the northwesterly-most task unit, made up of six small escort carriers, three destroyers, and four destroyer escorts, was stunned to confront four Japanese battleships (among them Yamato with her 18-inch main guns), six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and 11 destroyers.”
  2. So what did the Americans do in this naval mismatch? They attacked, again and again, launching three separate sea and air assaults during the morning long battle. “At this point, with the exception of John C. Butler, the escorts had expended all of their torpedoes. Given the dispositions of the two forces, it was also questionable if an advantageous firing position was even still possible. The destroyers and destroyer escorts had to resort to darting attacks at the Japanese cruisers while firing their guns, zig-zagging back and forth between the carriers and the enemy. Smoke screens partially shielded Sprague’s carriers, but the escorts were hit hard, yet remained underway and able to fight. “

And the outcome of this battle even with the loss of five ships and hundreds of lives was:

“The initiative, aggressiveness, and outright heroism demonstrated by Taffy 3, combined with determined U.S. naval air attacks, limited Japanese situational awareness, and pure dumb luck, the Americans had stymied Vice Admiral Kurita’s intent to destroy General Douglas MacArthur’s U.S. landing forces in the Leyte Gulf.”

Sam Cox, a retired Navy rear admiral and director of the Naval History and Heritage Command states in the Times article that as the U.S.S. Johnston DD 557 was sinking, the crew of a Japanese destroyer saluted the vessel.

“They didn’t think Americans had that kind of bravery,” he said, “so that surprised them.”

Serving at Home with Devotion and Courage

The most important event while on board a ship at sea was mail call. During the Vietnam War, deployments away from home ports, would extend for months. While away, there was no contact possible with home except letters. Military families serve along with their active duty kin. My wife wrote this letter while living “on the economy” in Hayama, Japan with our 15 month old daughter, Lara. Windham County, LST 1170, was supporting a Navy Seal and Vietnamese ranger outpost called Solid Anchor on the Cau Mau peninsula at the very tip of Vietnam. As Supply Officer, I paid the Seal Unit and their US support with military pay certificates (MPC), transported oven roasted turkey dinners to the base on Christmas and ran a ship’s store outlet selling boom boxes, current cassette tapes and geedunk (snacks). Mail deliveries aboard ship were by helicopter from Saigon on an irregular schedule.

February 2, 1971

Dearest:

It’s a “burr-freezing” morning as Lara and I say. Imagine her clinching her little fists and scrunching up her cute face and trying to shiver. That’s what it’s like. The thermometer has been in the mid-twenties at night, in the forties during the day. So it isn’t really cold but it sure feels it without any heat. . .

Even if June 1 is the beginning of a year unaccompanied tour, I’ll have a 90 day grace period so I can stay here and have our new baby and go back to the states 6 weeks later. In that way you may be able to see and hug the baby. If the ship isn’t in you may be able to take a little leave. The CO sounds like a compassionate guy. . .

Both Cindy and Margie (wives of shipmates) got mention in their letters that you were caught at Solid Anchor during the last mortar attack and that one American had been wounded but they didn’t know if it was you. I told than I had already heard from you and that you were only suffering from a mosquito attack. Please be careful. . .

Lara has just started another one of her biweekly colds so we have to stay in for a couple of days. I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong—except maybe chilling her but it’s all her fault. She is the one that wants to stay out and won’t leave her mittens on. . .I’ll be glad when winter is over!

Mom sent me three more Montessori books so I’ve been reading–that’s why I haven’t written in a few days. . . Will write again tomorrow.

Love and Kisses, MA

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