Monday, December 13, 2010

Kamikaze Strikes Nashville 66 Years Ago Today

This is a brief excerpt from the book:

At 1457, just as the Nashville was coming about the southern end of Negros Island, steaming towards the Sulu Sea, sharp-eyed lookouts spotted a Val single engine plane at 5,000 feet just over the island off the starboard side of the ship. The crew thought the ship astern was the target and indeed it appeared that way from the dive path of the plane. Crewmembers were thinking, “Oh God, they are going to get it if that plane gets through.” But then in an instant the pilot banked so hard left that his wings were perpendicular to the water, and with that the fate of the Nashville and her crew was forever altered. Men watched in horror and disbelief as they could see bombs fastened on both wings as the plane bore down on them with every intention of killing as many of them as possible. Apparently aiming for the bridge, where nearly thirty officers and men were present, the tip of the right wing caught the end of a 40mm anti-aircraft gun port- side just aft and the plane slammed into the Nashville amidships at 400 miles an hour with an instant and powerful impact. The ship violently bolted and shuddered, the first evidence for the crew below decks that something had gone horribly wrong. The bomb on the right wing exploded ten feet above the port five-inch battery, sending a powerful shockwave and a deadly shrapnel spray across the deck, ripping through steel bulkheads, gun barrels, ammunition, decking, and human beings. The left wing broke loose and its bomb exploded ten feet above the starboard five-inch battery, shooting a violent concussion wave and hundreds of pieces of red-hot jagged shrapnel in all directions. Body parts, specks of flesh, fluids of both man and machine blew through doorways, along bulkheads, against men, and down hallways along much of the length of the ship.
Aviation gasoline spewed forth soaking men, ammunition, guns, and everything else before exploding in a millisecond, sending flames more than seventy feet forward and higher than the ship’s smokestacks. Searing fires erupted from the foremast to the mainmast topside. The blast literally clogged the on deck blow intakes and momentarily knocked out the fires in the fireroom, but men like John. W. Bosier CMM ran topside, cleared the intakes, and relit the fires quickly.
Fires also erupted on the second deck, in the #2 fireroom, uptakes on the third deck, and in the superstructure as high as the signal bridge. The burning aviation fuel then ignited a five-inch ready ammunition box portside causing more deadly explosions. Still, the horror continued as the fifty-caliber machine gun ammunition from the Japanese plane exploded as did some of the ship’s 20mm and 40mm ammunition, creating a deadly blast of bullets and shrapnel flying in all directions.
The scene on deck was nothing short of pure horror surpassing a man’s worst nightmares. The Nashville was a vessel of death and destruction. Men were blown overboard. Men’s bodies were penetrated by jagged searing hot metal fragments, limbs were torn from torsos, torsos from trunks, and some simply disintegrated in the concussion and fire. The ship itself fared no better than the crew. Large five-inch guns were twisted like putty, melted and put out of commission as were 40mm and 20mm guns amidships, the thirty-six-inch searchlights simply ceased to exist, the teak decks were shredded like toothpicks, bulkheads crushed and burnt, paint seared off, gun barrels twisted like straws.
A bomb or shell exploding on a ship kills and maims in multiple, horrible ways. The pressure of the blast itself attacks in a wave that crushes bodies, strips flesh and muscle from bone, and in some cases totally vaporizes human beings. It is not simply metal bomb fragments that also kill but the ship’s own metal pieces blasted into tiny fragments, even liquefied that then pass through a man’s body at hypersonic speed.
The memory of the attack remained seared into the minds of the survivors for the rest of their lives. James D. Baccus was stationed in Turret 1 for general quarters. “We had just come back from the Mess Hall and I was sitting on the deck inside the turret, playing Backgammon, when the ship shook and there was one hell of a noise. I then looked through the scuttle hole in the deck of the turret, where the shell cases are ejected to the ship’s deck, and several sailors were crawling under the overhang for protection. They were bloody, some with legs and arms either gone or badly injured.” Most of the men James saw would not survive.
“So many of my shipmates, some close friends dead and wounded. The wounds were so terrible, especially the burns,” remembered William Smith, Chief Shipfitter.
Hugh D. Patrick and a buddy ran topside as soon as they realized what had happened and they immediately heard frantic pounding on a closed hatch. They opened the hatch and continued forward to see if they could help and then in essence rescued a doomed sailor. It was almost fifty years later that Frank Prentice tracked down Hugh to thank him for saving his life by opening that hatch.
GM3c Alfonso Garcia Vejar had just left his station as he was relieved and went below deck to eat. The man that took his place was killed instantly. Alfonso was alive by sheer chance and fate.
James Clark received a Purple Heart as a result of the attack, “I was stationed in a 40mm gun director with a guy named Johnson when the kamikaze attack occurred, the plane hit directly below us. Our gun crew, which was one level below and closer to the plane, was hit hard. Later, after all the fires were out I was back at my station and witnessed a Marine near the top of the ladder who was so badly wounded his body was just a heap and his clothing was smoldering. I didn’t know how this man could be alive. When a Marine officer approached him he held out his hand and said, ‘help me sir.’ I know that Marine officer has had many nightmares about that incident and I can still see it.”
The blast blew men into bulkheads, across the deck and through doorways. Ed Roiek MM1 was blown clear through two doorways yet managed to survive.
“I was told to switch the shift with one of my shipmates,” said Maury Jack Wood, Ship Cook 1c. “The kamikaze hit the ship where a shipmate took my shift. He was killed and it should have been me. I will never forget this as long as I live. I have shared this information with my family.”
Those that were below decks were lucky and they knew it. John J. Cotton SK2c said, “I am here because I was in a repair party below decks.”
Young Edward “Bulldog” Remler rushed into the overcrowded Sick Bay to help the doctors and medics any way he could. Wounded, dead, and dieing were piling up in the corridor as if they were coming off an assembly line. Horribly mangled men all about, screams of agony, groans, vomiting, blood mixed with body fluids of all sorts pooling up to his ankles, the sound of anti-aircraft guns firing and exploding ammunition decks above him formed a Kaleidoscope memory in his mind, never to fully leave him. Incredibly, there was another memory to return even more forcefully in his future. Bulldog had to hold men down while limbs were amputated, sometimes without full anesthesia. After the first amputation the doctor told him to take the severed leg of a sailor. Bulldog burst out, “What do you want me to do with it?” and was promptly told to toss it into a corner where others were beginning to form a sizeable pile. Nearly fifty years later, at one of the ship’s reunions, he spotted a one-legged man in a wheelchair, someone he had not seen at any prior reunion. It was of course that first sailor he held. They became fast friends and at times traveled together on vacations and to reunions.


  1. What a scene. I can't ever imagine living through that. But these men not only lived it they pulled through this together. They are great examples of how to overcome a horrific situation in life. They are not only hero's they are great examples of how I want to live my life. With honor, courage and commitment! They took those vows for the Navy and to live their life by forever!

  2. My dad was a very yound GM on this ship. He said he was in his bunk when it hit. He should have been at his post on deck but because he won a hand of cards another sailor took his shift and died that day. My dad is gone now but I'll never forget the stories. I wish he could have seen this website.

  3. My uncle Charles Edwards Jr. was relieving another gunner when the ship was hit. He died instantly. I would like to find more info and pictures about him. Who did he replace, and is he still alive?