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From Iwo Jima to Okinawa,

A veteran shares his World War II Experiences.

By Lynne B. Bulgaris – Derry Press, New Hampshire

Veteran Walt Johnson of Derry, NH isn’t shy about sharing his experiences in the Navy during WWII but you won’t hear him boast of his record. Though proud of his ship, the USS Daly and his shipmates, he is not impressed with his own heroics.

Over cups of de cafe coffee he shared his experiences with a visitor. “I got started late”, he said. “I turned 21 in September 1941, and the war started on December 7, when the Japanese bombed Pearl harbor. My mother asked me and my two brothers to wait until after the holidays to enlist. In January we went to the Lawrence Recruiting Office, my older brother had a vital job, so he did not get in. My other brother and I joined the Navy.

“I flunked the eye test, so they wouldn’t take me. I wondered what else might be wrong with me, so I went to Boston for another physical exam by the Navy. I passed, despite guessing a few times during the eye test. My beginning rank was apprentice seaman, By the time I got my papers it was March. All the ships remaining after Pearl Harbor were full, so until more ships could be built I was sent to school, first at Great Lake, IL. And then to Washington, DC. From There I was assigned to the Daly, It wasn’t until March 10, of 1943 that the USS Daly was commissioned.”

Johnson said with a smirk. “The pay was minimal. We got paid $21.00 once a month.” . “First we went to Newfoundland for training; then after three months, we went through the Panama Canal and up the West Coast to the Aleutian Islands. Our target was the Japanese held air base at Kiska. The Daly was to provide support while landing craft off-loaded troops onto the island. The landing went well. But the Army never found the Japanese. They left the island before the troops landed. During that period another Destroyer the Abner Reed was hit and 75 sailors were killed.”

“From there we went to New Guinea, first stopping at Pearl harbor. They called us MacArthur’s Navy. His plan was to land troops along the New Guinea coast covering the largest area with the least amount of fighting. The Daly was one ship of Task Force 76, US 7th Fleet. We were involved in bombardments on New Guinea and later in 1944 on the Admiralty Islands. I received regular promotions and went from apprentice seaman through the ranks to Chief Firecontrolman.”

“While putting troops ashore on New Britain, a port at the southern tip of New Guinea, the Japanese Air Force attacked us. A bomb hit the USS Brownson, it sank quickly and 108 men were killed. Each ship had two whaleboats and they were used to rescue 160 men who were in the water swimming or in rafts.” This was December 26, 1943, we had crossed the International Date Line, and so back home it was Christmas day. “When this happened, I was in stationed in the plotting room and Pat Gram was above me in the Mark 37 Director, the highest vantage point above the ship’s bridge. His job was to observe what was happening and report to me. My job was to plot and fire the guns. He told me a bomb that went down the aft stack hit the Brownson. We found out later it actually fell besides the stack but the damage was disastrous. “After a ship is hit everything goes dark; the air is full of shrapnel. Our job was to keep moving away from the target area, but the Captain turned the Daly about and returned to the rescue of the officers and men in the water. I think the greatest thing we did was rescuing those 168 men in the water.”

“Sometimes Gen.MacArthur didn’t need us for anything; twice he gave us orders to head for Sydney, Australia, for repairs. The first time we went straight into Sydney Harbor. But the other time we entered the Great Barrier Reef going down the coast, with land on one side, the Pacific on the other, waves crashing on the other side. That was different. After New Guinea, we were in the Philippines for awhile: then we escorted damaged ships back to the states for repairs.

” “In March, 1945 we went to Iwo Jima. The destroyers protected the small aircraft carriers that sent planes to give fighter support to the landing troops. Before it was light the planes would take off and by sun up they would be in position to bomb where ever the Marines were about to attack. When they ran low on fuel or had expended their bombs they would return to the carriers. The pilots grabbed a sandwich while the planes were being refueled and rearmed and then took off again on another sortie well into dark. Landings on those small carriers had to be very difficult. One night a Kamikaze sank one of the smaller carriers.”

“Next we went to Okinawa, June 1945. That’s where I spent 70 days without once seeing my bunk. It was a plan called ‘One Easy’. We stayed at our battle stations in teams. When we were manning our battle stations we could rest on the nearby deck, 70 days without letup. That was when we lost three men during a Kamikaze attack. The Kamikaze plane carrying a bomb came down across the ship missing the superstructure but the bomb exploded just as the plane hit the water. The shrapnel from the blast killed three men and wounded scores more. One was the ship’s doctor, another was a storekeeper and a third was seaman on the upper deck. I knew them all.”

There were 300 men and 20 officers on the ship and we knew everyone by their first name or nickname. But the ones I knew personally were the firecontrolmen I worked with. Our job was to direct and fire the 5 inch 38 guns on board. We could fire one or all of them simultaneously. The men in the Director would track a target on radar or using a range finder, then telephone the plotting room below. Then the guns were set on the targets and we fired them. We were floating artillery and could shoot accurately to 10,00 yards.

“We bombarded the coast line prior to the troops landing or moved about protecting the carriers from enemy submarines.” When on picket duty we alerted the carriers when the Kamikaze planes where spotted on radar. Then the carriers would launch planes to intercept the enemy air attack.

After Okinawa and the Japanese surrender the Daly was sent to Nagasaki. Trains brought soldiers from prisoner of war camps to the aircraft carriers for medical care. Again our job was to protect the carriers from a submarine or air attack. The war ended August 1945 but the Japanese pilots continued to fight on.

The Daly returned to San Diego, USA, on December 7, 1945. From there it proceeded to Charleston, SC. Walt left the ship and was discharged in April 1946.

Walt spent the last 15 years before retirement with the US Postal Service. He is now retired but leads an active life.


1943 Apprentice Seaman Johnson

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