February 20, 2014

Another message from the nineties

I got my hair cut today.  My wife takes the family to a place in Chinatown, where cuts are cheap and white guys not seen much.  They generally put up with me, however...since I don't speak Chinese, some of my personality defects remain concealed when I'm there.

Today I waited next to a dignified elderly gentleman who was speaking English with another fellow in the chair.  He was 91, he said, and had served in World War II.  Me too, said the fellow in the chair.

"Which ship?"

"DD-779," said the other, pointing to the hat he left on the counter.  "After the war I worked at the Naval Air Station in Alameda."

"I worked in the Post Office," said the first.  "Seventeen cents an hour."  He gave me a meaningful look.

"What about you?" asked the man in the chair, as I surreptitiously looked up DD-779 on my Verizon-connected iPad.

"I signed up when I was 17.  They couldn't draft you until you were 18, but you could enlist if you were 17.  I was on DD-532.  Went everywhere...Leyte, Okinawa, Iwo Jima...we were everywhere."

"We were only at Okinawa," said the man in the chair.  "A lot of kamikazes at Okinawa, lot of people got killed from them kamikazes."

I Googled DD-532 and couldn't believe my eyes.  My frontal lobes malfunctioned, as they are prone to do, and I blurted out my internal monologue.

"You were on Heerman?!"

The fellow nodded.  I showed him the picture on my screen.

He laughed, couldn't believe it.

"He has it right here," he said to the man in the chair.

"You were at Samar," I said.

"Yes," he said.  "We got hit, but we only lost seven men.  We sailed back to Pearl, but they couldn't fix it there, so we had to come all the way back to San Francisco."

That was correct, but also leaves out quite a bit.  For instance he didn't mention that they helped sink Chikuma.  Or that at one point Heerman engaged a column of seven Japanese battleships.  Or that of the seven screening ships, three were sunk.  Or that their little detachment was the last thing between the Main Force of the Japanese fleet and the U.S. beaches.

I tried to get him to say a little more.  "They called your ships Tin Cans, right?"

"Yes."  He looked at me steadily.  "They wrote a book about us, Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors."

"Thank you," I said. "Some of us remember."  He said thank you, and we shook hands.

And then I shut up.



The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the PRESIDENTIAL UNIT CITATION to the


for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

"For extraordinary heroism in action against powerful units of the Japanese Fleet during the Battle off Samar, Philippines, October 25, 1944. Silhouetted against the dawn as the Central Japanese Force steamed through San Bernardino Strait towards Leyte Gulf, Task Unit 77.4.3 was suddenly taken under attack by hostile cruisers on its port hand, destroyers on the starboard and battleships from the rear. Quickly laying down a heavy smoke screen, the gallant ships of the Task Unit waged battle fiercely against the superior speed and fire power of the advancing enemy, swiftly launching and rearming aircraft and violently zigzagging in protection of vessels stricken by hostile armor-piercing shells, anti-personnel projectiles and suicide bombers. With one carrier of the group sunk, others badly damaged and squadron aircraft courageously coordinating in the attacks by making dry runs over the enemy Fleet as the Japanese relentlessly closed in for the kill, two of the Unit’s valiant destroyers and one destroyer escort charged the battleships point-blank and, expending their last torpedoes in desperate defense of the entire group, went down under the enemy’s heavy shells as a climax to two and one half hours of sustained and furious combat. The courageous determination and the superb teamwork of the officers and men who fought the embarked planes and who manned the ships of Task Unit 77.4.3 were instrumental in effecting the retirement of a hostile force threatening our Leyte invasion operations and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

For the President,

James Forrestal
Secretary of the Navy


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