“MY DADS WAR STORY AS TOLD TO ME”
By: Carolyn K. Purkiss
I recently read the book “Duty, Honor, Country”, By General Douglas MacArthur, and it really made me wonder what my dad had done
when he was in the Navy during World War II. I had never asked him. All that I knew was that he was in the Navy and had gone to sea
when I was a little girl. There were photos of him in his uniform that I had, but I had never asked any questions about them. I guess
many of us are guilty of this, and a lot of the GI’s from that war seldom talked about what they had done.
So I called him. I must have taken him by surprise a little when I told him why I had called. It had been 60 years since his discharge in
1946. “Wow,” he said, “that was a long time ago.” How long were you in I asked? “From 1944 to 1946,” he replied. I would have been
about three years old when he left and my sister Joan about two. Perhaps even a tad bit younger.
However long ago it had been, once I began to ask questions, he was ready to answer, and often without hesitation. I started taking
notes, and I am not a steno. So now I am trying to make some sense of them and put them into some kind of order without losing his
wonderful story as he told it to me.
It all started at Great Lakes Naval Station near Chicago where he went through Navy boot camp. From there he went to Ft. Pierce,
Florida for additional training. Then advanced training at Little Creek, Virginia where they actually boarded a ship and went out to sea
This all made him ready for combat and the high seas. He received orders to join the 7th Fleet and he went by train to Portland, Oregon
where he was assigned to the newly commissioned ship that was to take him into the Pacific War. I have learned since, during the
research that Tom and I have been doing, that the ship was commissioned on my birthday, August 31, 1944. I began asking him about
this ship he was to go on and he said it was an amphibious-gunboat. I asked him what the name of the ship was. “Oh,” he said, “it
didn’t have a name. It was a landing support, an LCS-L and 157 feet long.” Did it have a number I asked, since I knew that our son
David’s’ ships had all had numbers. Without hesitation he said, “27 and we belonged to the 7th Fleet under Admiral Kincaid.” So now I
knew THE ship that he had been on.
The next set of questions had to be about what he did on this ship but other than asking just that question I didn’t know enough
about anything to go much further. But he didn’t need much more prompting at this point. “An Electrician” he said. “That’s what I was on
it, but what I was trained to do during battle, was to be a 20 millimeter gunner because I was a good shooter.” This of course led to the
next part of the story.
Where did this ship go was among the next batch of questions I had for him. “Oh everywhere” he said “and I can’t remember the
names of all of the places. A lot of the time I didn’t know where we really were. But we were at Corregidor in the Philippines.” Well that
really got my attention because I had just read about all the battles at Corregidor in MacArthur's book. Did you see battle there? “Oh
yes”, he said. “Our ship was to go ahead of the landing crafts that landed all of the army guys onto the beaches. Our purpose was to
clear the beaches for them with all of our guns so it was safer for them to get onto shore. Then we could shoot over there heads once
they were there to help protect them. But those damn Japanese suicide boats got us”. Suicide boats, I asked? I had heard a lot about
the kamikaze suicide airplane pilots but not the boats. “Ya” he said. “We were all anchored. They hit a couple of ships nearby, which
sort of alerted us. It was pitch black out there but I hit and sunk the one approaching on my side of the ship with the 20 millimeter gun.
The other side of the ship was hit by one. We had some killed and a lot of injuries and the ship was in bad shape. Three other ships
were sunk by them. Many of their crew were killed and injured. We had to run our wrecked ship into the beach and we didn’t know for
sure who the hell was up there in the hills. While we were headed for the beach another suicide boat tried to follow us in and hit us
before we beached. I was able to shoot and sink him too. We did some radioing to the shore but no one responded. We could see
people moving up there but we didn’t know who it was. Japs or us? Our ship was filling up with water so we finally did some shooting
and that got there attention so they would let us know who they were. Turns out it was our army. By then it was about morning I think.
But we spent that next night with them and I sure must have been tired. When I woke up I found I had been sleeping on an ant hill and I
was all bit up. They also told me they had shot a Jap who was slinking around up there and I slept through that too.”
“Our ship was really messed up and full of water so we couldn’t go anywhere. A salvage outfit came and patched us up good
enough to get us somewhere for permanent repairs.” Turns out they had beached in Mariveles Bay, Bataan, Philippines and they were
towed to Wendi Island in New Guinea. “The crew was taken by an LST (another ship) and transported to Subic Bay where we again
boarded our damaged ship.” He said, “It was a small boat and there was nowhere to sleep or anything, but they were good to us and
fed us good.” So it was that they went to New Guinea on Wendi Island (near Biak Island) and waited while there ship was rebuilt to
make it sea worthy once again. Dad didn’t remember how long that took. “Maybe a month or so,” he said.
He related that they did a lot of other things before they were hit. Most all of it in the Philippines, but the enemy was retreating so they
weren’t being shot at. He was at Subic Bay where Dave and Rose met. They also helped the mine sweepers a lot there and
throughout the Pacific. They would follow the mine sweepers and blow up the mines as they went. He said they were at Okinawa to
wait out a hurricane but the big battles there were over and the U.S. had taken the Islands. They didn’t go ashore there. Tom thinks the
only reason their ship wasn’t in the battle at Okinawa was because it was during the time that they were being repaired. That was a
terrible battle and a lot of dad’s class of ships were sent in ahead to clear the beaches there and many were sunk. When dad was
there they were waiting and training for the big push into the main island of Japan. That’s where they thought their next battle would
take place. What a bloody mess that would have been and they all knew it. Thank God for the bombing of Japan and he never had to
sail to that battle.
He really couldn’t remember most of the places that they had any shore time. He remembers being in China at the Yangtze River. He
knows they went to a lot of places that he can’t remember the names of after the war was over. He said they followed the mine
sweepers some more, checked for drugs and things like that, but mainly we just wanted to have our presence still known.
Dad stayed with the ship until its return to the United States in January of 1946. They sailed to Seattle, Washington where he left the
ship. Then once again he boarded a train. He traveled back to Portland, Oregon, and on to Great Lakes Naval Station where he was
discharged from the Navy. Then another train ride back to Port Huron where my mother and his shipmate on the 27, Hank May, met
him. He said, “It was a long trip home”.
Dad told me that since that time he hasn’t talked much about his time at war. He told me about receiving the Commendation Ribbon
for the sinking of the suicide boats while they were being attacked. He never received the medal as was due him. He also related a
story about a fellow shipmate who called him years later to thank him for saving his butt by sinking those suicide boats before they
could sink their ship. He said he told the guy “I was just doing my job” That’s what most of them say. God bless these men and God
Bless America. They truly came from the GREATEST GENERATION. Thanks to dad and all of the men who fought in that Great War.
Little did my husband Tom and I know what we would find once we began researching the things that my dad had told me. We
ended up calling him back a couple more times with added questions. At one point he told Tom, “Gee thanks for being so interested in
all of this.” HE DIDN’T REALIZE JUST HOW INTERESTED WE WERE. Tom is an investigator by heart and he dug and dug and dug. He
even talked to my dad’s old boss, Lt. Cmdr. Harry G. Meister, USNR Retired, who is now eighty four years old and still living in Portland,
Oregon where he left their ship. Do you remember him dad? He has also talked with Mr. Risley Lawrence (former Navy Lt.) who was
the Commanding Officer of your ship. They both were so excited about all that we are doing and had LOTS of good things to say about
you. And now it is time to present all that we have uncovered to my dad. But first, we would like to thank Joan and Alex for this wonderful
gathering so that we can share all of this awesome information with you. Thanks so much for coming. Enjoy Dad.