Chapter 12

On January 21, I was on the morning launch. Our mission was to hit Japanese shipping entering Toshien Harbor on the western shore of Formosa. As I recall, we were launched about 0800. According to my log book, I was flying SB2C Bureau Number 19232. It was a group launch which consisted of the usual complement of fighters, torpedo planes and dive bombers. Once again we climbed to 15,000 feet as we proceeded towards Formosa. As we cleared the high mountains in the middle of th eisland, we made a high speed descent into the harbor area.

The anti-aircraft batteries seemed a little more active than usual, and they were getting kid of fancy too. Some of the shells were bursting in a variety of colors. I believe that was the only mission in which I could actually hear and feel the shells exploding close to my plane as we approached the push-over point. Generally we would always see plenty of flak, but it was never close enough for me to hear, until that day. I called Red on the intercom and asked him if things were still intact back there. He reported that everything seemed to be okay. So we rolled left and started down.

Our attack on the shipping in Toshien Harbor was highly successful, as evidenced by the many burning ships as we departed the area. I mention this only because the day’s events, up to that time, had been a little more exciting than some of our previous escapades. But we had survived another encounter with the odds, and were looking forward to the safety of our floating home. Little did I realize that the real excitement of that day was yet to come.

Our return to the carrier was routine. We didn’t know until later that we had been followed back to the force by a whole fleet of kamikazes.

As soon as my plane was parked, I proceeded to the ready room for the usual post-flight debriefing with Ken Price and the rest of the air intelligence team. The skipper, Ledr. Anderson, was in the front of the ready room, briefing his pilots for the next launch.

Suddenly, there was a loud explosion which shook the ship from bow to stern. This was followed by the sound of the ship’s AA batteries opening fire. Since this first attack came in undetected, I’m quite sure the ship was not at General Quarters, thus the ventilating system to the ready room was still operating. Within seconds, the room was completely filled with dense, black smoke. The skipper borrowed someone’s flashlight, then told everyone to stand fast while he went to check on what was happening.

Within a couple of minutes, the heat and smoke because unbearable. I decided it was time for me to do some exploring of my own. I groped my way to the back of the ready room and went out the hatch leading to the enclosed passagewaay runnig fore and aft along the port side. The ready rooms were situated on the gallery deck level. That put me below the flight deck and above the hangar deck. At that time, I had no way of knowing that the main fires were on the hangar deck below me. I proceeded forward along the passageway until the ehat became unbearable. I reversed course and returned to the ready room.

Things hadn’t improved. The room was still chaotic to say the least. I decided to try my original escapte path one more time, with a firm determination not to retreat this time, no matter what I encountered. But as I got perhaps fifteen feet into the passageway, I was once again forced to retreat when I realized that the bulkheads which I had been sliding my hands along, were sizzling hot, and my hands were being burned.

So it was back to the melee of the ready room. I worked my way up to the front, climbing over upturned chairs, until I could make out the form of Wiley Moore, the squadron Personnel Officer. Apparently, he had decided it was time to forget the skipper’s instructions to stand fast. He said he was going to try going out the front (amidships) door into the central passageway and try to find a way out by going aft. This sounded like a real good idea to me because I knew the other route was out of the question.

Wiley started out the door and I followed him with a firm grip on his belt. Someone else was holding onto my belt, and I can only assume that many others followed in similar fashion.

We snaked our way along the passageway. Soon the smoke began to clear away. In another few moments we saw daylight and were able to make our way out onto the catwalk, and from there up to the flight deck.

We were met on the flight deck by our Air Group Flight Surgeon, Doc, Cannon. He noticed that I had received some burns on my face and hands, so he started to administer some burn ointment, although I didn’t feel I needed it. I guesss he just felt that he should be doing something. But the real casualties up to that time were down on the hangar deck where the fires were still burning. There was no possibility of his being able to get down there.

And in any situation such as this, there was a great deal of confusion. Capt. Dixie had ordered a port list to permit the burning gasoline on the hangar deck to wash over the side; however, this contributed to the uncomfortable feeling that the ship might be going down.

Frequent calls of “Man Overboard” were heard, as several swimmers were spotted in the ship’s wake.

The AA batteries opened up again as another pair of kamikazes came charging in on the port side. This time, the batteries were ready. These latest sundowners were blown out the sky in short order. This was followed by resounding cheers, louder than ever heard at even the greatest of sporting events.

I crossed the flight deck and joined up with several other bomber pilots who had gathered just aft of the island structure. They had Ledr Anderson laid out on a stretcher. He appeared to be in very bad shape. Someone, I don’t know who, had found him unconscious in one of the passageways and carried him out on to the flight deck.

Shortly after I had teamed up with some of my squadron mates aft of the island, another kamikaze came in low over the water on the starboard side. Once again, Tico’s batteries opened upand I could see the AA shells going through the wings and cockpit, but it kept coming. It struck the forward part of the island, right at the level of the Captain’s bridge.

About that time, we were sure we would soon be hearing the bugle call “The Bear Went Over the Mountain”, which is the call to abandon ship. But the Ticonderoga was not ready to die.

Just prior to that last kamikaze attack described in the above paragraph. Bob Mullaney and Forbes Perkins were frantically trying to chop a hole in the flight deck above our ready room. They thought we were still trapped down there. In all the confusion, they had no way of knowing that we were just a few yards away, but out of their line of sight. They were valiantly engaged in the efforts when the second kamidaze crased into the island. Bob and Forbes received serious, though not fatal, shrapnel wounds.

From that point, things began to improve. The fires were brought under control. The rest fo the task force took up positions around Tico to protest us as we headed for the haven of Ulithi Atoll.

The damage imposed by the enemy on January 21 was extensive. The battle damage report reflected the following cold statistics: “363 personnel casualties, including 165 dead, 41 air group aircraft totally destroyed. Ship damage too extensive to be repaired without returning to a stateside shipyard. Commanding Officer and Executive Officer seriously wounded and being transferred to hospital ship. Air Officer and Gurnery Officer killed. Command temporarily assigned to Engineering officer.”

Within our squadron, our personnel casualties were substantial. Among thoses wonded seriously enough to warrant return to the states were our CO, Andy Anderson; the XO, Arky Laster; Forbes Perkings; Bob Mullaney and Rex Pearson. Fortunately, all recovered. My burns were superficial and I was flying again as soon as we arrived at Ulithi.

All in all, it was an experience I can’t forget, even though i might wish to. My most poignant memory is of a scene I’m not sure I can adequately describe, but I’ll try. Some brief time after the fires were out and we were steaming east, I went down to the hangar deck to view all the damage. It was awesome.

As I walked through the hangar bay, I came to the an area where dozens and dozens of charred bodies were laid out. Each had been tagged for identification. One in particular caught my eye. This young hero lay on his back with one arm reaching skyward. Attached to his outstretched hand was his name tag. A solemn thought ran through my mind – that was his ticket to heaven.

For every World War II member of Ticonderoga, January 21, 1945, is a day not easily forgotten.