A first person account by crew-member Doyle Kennedy

Doyle Kennedy – Palmdale, California

World War II Sinking of the Destroyer U.S.S. Little (DD 803) May 3, 1945

My dear friend Doyle Kennedy, after recovering from his wounds, stayed in the US Navy and retired after 20 years of service. Following retirement he had two additional successful careers, one with the city of Buena Park, California, and the other a business of his own in Poway, California. Today he is retired (finally)! and lives happily in Palmdale, California, with his lovely bride of over forty years, Florance.

I have modified Doyle’s story, as told to me, only to the degree required for ease of reading. The facts have not been changed in any way.

Irv Langworthy Sr.
US Navy, 1958-1962

Background

The USS Little was launched on May 22, 1944, and was commissioned on August l9,1944. On November 11,1944, after a training period off the West Coast, the ship departed Seattle, Washington, escorting a convoy to Pearl Harbor, where she arrived on November 23, 1944. From November 23, 1944 until January 22, 1945, the Little’s crew received gunnery training and participated in various simulated war situations. The Little departed Hawaii on January 22, 1945. After providing fire support, screening and serving as a radar picket ship for the invasion of Iwo Jima between February 19, 1945, and early March of 1945, she returned to Ulithi on March 14 to prepare for the invasion of Okinawa.

The USS Little sailed for Okinawa on March 17, 1945, and upon arrival was assigned the task of feigning troop landings on the north end of the island, the opposite end that the actual assault would take place. After completing the troop diversion on April 2, 1945, she screened transports and escorted LST’s to the assault beaches. On April 19, 1945, the Little was assigned radar picket duties south southwest of Okinawa and charged with the task of monitoring aircraft approaching from the direction of the island of Formosa.

What follows is Doyle Kennedy’s recollection of what occurred from midnight on May 2, 1945, until the early morning hours of May 4, 1945.

Doyle Kennedy

On May 2, 1945, our ship, the USS Little was on picket duty with another destroyer, the USS Aaron Ward. There were also four support vessels, one LSMR and three LCSS. These support ships were to act as Pallbearers in the event of attack, picking up survivors.

Our picket group was assigned to radar picket station number ten that was located approximately 90 miles south/southwest of Okinawa. The group’s duty was to track aircraft approaching from the direction of the island of Formosa and identify them as friend or foe. If the incoming aircraft were identified as Japanese, the destroyers would notify the U. S.Navy combat air patrol aircraft and vector them for an intercept. There were a total of sixteen radar picket stations surrounding Okinawa.

I was on the ‘graveyard’ watch from midnight May 2, 1945, until 0400 the morning of may 3. My watch station was the 40 millimeter anti-aircraft gun between the number 3 and 4 main gun mounts on the aft part of the ship. When I got off watch, I got to bed around 0430 but was awakened at around 0600 by ‘GENERAL QUARTERS’ sounding. My ‘general quarters’ station was a 20 millimeter anti-aircraft gun located on the ship’s stern. The 0600 sound to ‘general quarters’ as well as the two or three additional G. Q. ‘s between 0600 and 0800 were uneventful. I should mention that we went to ‘general quarters’ whenever radar detected unidentified aircraft approaching. We would secure from G. Q. when it was determined that the aircraft was either friendly or that it was not a threat.

Watch stations are manned 24 hours a day during times of war when the ship is in hostile territory. All hands aboard a warship serve 4 hours on duty and 4 hours off duty, with the exception of the call to ‘GENERAL QUARTERS.’ All ship’s company are required to man their G. Q. station whenever the alarm is sounded. My ‘duty’ station was also at the 40 millimeter where routine chores were performed, things such as cleaning the gun and making sure there was plenty of ammunition in the ready boxes. At 0800 I reported to my watch station which at 1200, again became my duty station.

At 1600 I began my four hour watch at the .40 millimeter. At about 1700, give or take 10 or 15 minuets, we went to ‘GENERAL QUARTERS’ because radar had detected aircraft approaching. Reports kept coming in indicating that they were getting closer and closer and it was determined that there were somewhere between twenty and twenty-five Japanese aircraft closing on us. The Little’s speed was stepped up from about 15 knots to around 25 knots, something that was done in battle situations for better maneuvering. Our ship and the USS Aaron Ward kinda went in line with each other, that is, we would be following the Aaron Ward for a certain distance and then the two ships would reverse course and then the Aaron Ward would be following us.

The pallbearers’ stayed well away and off to the sides of the two destroyers because they knew that we were the ones that they (the enemy aircraft) would come after, they wouldn’t bother a little PC.

When the Japanese aircraft got within about five or six miles of our ship, we started firing at them with our five inch guns. I observed one aircraft being shot down as they approached. I was told later that we had shot down more than one but I don’t know of anyone that was in a better place to see what was going on then I was, but maybe there was more than one. When the aircraft got within two to three miles of us the 40 millimeters started shooting at them. When the 40 millimeters started firing, those of us on the 20 millimeters looked in the direction that they were firing to see if the particular gun we were manning could be brought to bear on their target. At around a thousand yards or so, the 20 millimeters that could bear on the targets began firing. At that particular time I was not able to align my sights on any of the aircraft coming at us due to the position of the gun itself.

Since I was unable to direct fire at the enemy aircraft, I began looking in other directions and happened to look up and saw a single engine ‘Tojo’ fighter-plane carrying two auxiliary fuel tanks diving at our ship. I immediately starting firing at the aircraft and noticed that it is not returning my fire. As I am firing I can see that I am hitting it in and around the engine cowling because I can see parts flying off the plane. Just before it got to our ship, it went over on its left wing and went down along side the ship and into the water, it did not actually hit the ship. One of the aircraft’s fuel tanks must have broken off because there was a fire off the port side of the ship. I assume one of the fuel tanks was the cause of the fire.

Shortly after the first aircraft crashed into the sea, I looked to the starboard side of the ship and saw two ‘Val’ dive bombers coming toward us, very low to the water, perhaps 250 to 300 feet off the surface. All anti-aircraft guns on that side of the ship were firing at them. The first of the two planes hit us between the two stacks in the forward engine room and was obviously carrying a bomb because there was a huge explosion and we got some fire and shrapnel back from it.

The second aircraft, coming in behind the first, hit us just a little aft of where the first one hit, knocking out the after boiler room and possibly the after engine room. I know this because we lost all power aboard the ship. Everything went dead. I also noticed that we were losing headway. Because the 5 inch guns were electrically operated, they were no longer a factor in the battle. The 40 millimeter guns were sighted electrically but fired manually, so they were still operational. Without the electric sights of course, these guns were not as accurate. The 20 millimeter guns were manually sighted and fired so the power loss did not effect their performance.

In the mean time, I looked over toward the Aaron Ward and saw at least two aircraft hit her. Both of those aircraft hit her superstructure and took that and almost all of her stack off. Except for her 5 inch gun mount, her deck was literally cleared of other structures.

Following the attack on the Aaron Ward I observed a Kamikaze hitting the LSMR. It must have hit the ship’s magazine because that ship blew up. It was the eeriest thing I have ever seen in my life. The explosion was not like any explosion I had seen in the past. It was like a black light that hurt your eyes; it actually hurt your eyes to look at it. When the smoke cleared, there was no LSMR, it was gone.

Immediately following the destruction of the LSMR, I happened to look up and glimpsed a ‘Betty’ twin engine type of aircraft in a gliding dive an instant before it tore into our ship right around the number two stack. The explosion from this aircraft blew the ship in half.

An instant after the aircraft exploded, one of its engines ended up back in the gun tub where I was and pinned the rear of my legs so that I could not exit the gun tub. Some of my shipmates noticed that I was in trouble and ran over and freed me. The most severe burns that I suffered from this event happened because I could not free myself from the hot engine.

The next thing I noticed was that the bow section of the Little came around almost parallel with the stern section. It then rose straight up in the water and down it went into the depths of the sea.

Around ten minuets or so later, the stern section was settling, but it wasn’t going down rapidly. You could see however that the sea water was coming farther and farther UP the deck. Myself and those sailors around me, not being able to receive any orders of what to do next, and not very sure of what to do, decided that we had better abandon ship.

Just before going into the water, one of my shipmates came to me and he was burnt from head to toe. I told him that everything would be OK and said that we had to go into the water. So we went down the starboard side to the area of the ‘K’guns (depth charge launchers) and stepped over the rail into the water. I held onto my shipmate because of his severe burns. Within five minuets of going into the water, the stern section sank. Shortly after it sunk, something exploded under the water. I don’t know if it was depth chargers or what but the explosion actually lifted me right out of the water. That was by far the darnest enema I ever got in my life.

Shortly after the ship sank, one of the Little’s medical corpsman swam over to where we were at and checked the shipmate that was holding on to. He then told me to let him go because he was dead. The corpsman indicated that he probably died when he hit the water.

My back was covered with burns and blood from shrapnel and I had a big piece of shrapnel in my right wrist. Later on, the doctor on board the hospital ship Solace, told me that being in the salt water was probably what saved my life, it had kept me from bleeding to death.

By this time it is almost dark but we could see the outline of ships coming around and picking up survivors. Most of the sailors were in groups off four or five but I was not in one of the groups that were picked up that night. The ‘pallbearer’ ships could not use any lights in their search because it would expose them to Japanese submarines or aircraft. About the only way the rescue ships could determine where the survivors were was to listen for their yells and head in the direction of those yells.

During the night I was worried about being picked up, but I did have faith that we would be. The group of sailors that I was with was finally picked up around 0600 by PCE-25 the following morning, so we spent somewhere around 12 hours in the water awaiting rescue. I was lifted aboard ship with a litter because I was too weak to climb aboard.

After being picked up, those of us with serious injuries, I think there was four or five, maybe six, were taken to Kamaretta where the hospital ship USS Solace was moored, and placed aboard her. The doctors aboard the ship treated us for our wounds and the ship departed for Saipan with a full load of wounded on May 5, 1945. On Saipan, we were all placed in tents surrounding a field hospital for further treatment where I had some minor skin grafts. From Saipan I transported to Letterman Hospital in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where I went through extensive skin grafting operations. From Hawaii, I was flown to San Francisco where I was again placed in a hospital. Sometime in early June 1945, I was released from the hospital and went home on survivors leave.

Doyle Kennedy © 1998

Created: Sat Mar 20 00:00:00 Central Daylight Time 1999

Updated: Fri Nov 25 07:56:59 Central Standard Time 2005