Melvin Fenoglio, Y3C – This I Remember

By Melvin Fenoglio, Y3C
(Eye witness account of sinking of USS Little, May 3, 1945)

Melvin E. Fenoglio, Montague, Texas., attended a Language Arts seminar at Northwestern University in 1958. While studying composition, he and his fellow students were asked to write an original story regarding a personal happening which affected their lives. He was a crew-member of the U.S.S. Little (DD803) at the time the events of the story took place.

THIS I REMEMBER
By Melvin Fenoglio, Y3C
(Eye witness account of sinking of USS Little, May 3, 1945)

Clang! Clang! Clang!…Rang the general quarters bell. Then, over the loud speaker came this dire message: “All hands, to battle stations! This is not a practice drill. REPEAT. All hands, to battle stations! This is not a practice drill.

How well, I recall this message! For back of it is a drama that unfolded 23 years ago, and as far as I am concerned, I unwittingly played one of the key roles.

The setting for this drama was some 90 miles northeast of Okinawa. The time was about 6:30 p.m., May 3, 1945.

At that time I was a crew member of the U.S.S. Little, a destroyer in Uncle Sam’s Pacific fleet. Our assignment was radar picket duty, along with several other Navy ships on “bomber alley,” a term applied to the area of Pacific water between Okinawa and Japan. Bomber alley was traversed regularly by Emperor Hirohitos bombers on their way to attack American military installations on Okinawa and the U.S.Navy’s vast fleet of ships which was a building in this war zone, Our ship, along with several light naval vessels, assigned the responsibility of picking up these unfriendly planes on radar, identifying them as such, and acting as an early warning system for the island’s forces and for the naval forces in the surrounding area.

Bombers rarely ever bothered destroyers on these raids because they had, as the Captain aptly put it, “bigger to fry.” Therefore, when this battle alarm sounded in 1944, most of us felt fairly secure, considering that the Japanese submarine fleet had been virtually wiped out.

My general quarters station, along with those of three other sailors, was deep in the bowels of the destroyer, in the ship’s magazine. We joked about the discomfort of having to come to g.q. just at suppertime. In spite of the humor though, we couldn’t help subconsciously thinking what a well- placed torpedo could do to our chances of survival in this high explosives room.

As we sat at our stations, we listened to garbled messages coming over the ship’s loud speaker system, lulling us into a sense of security.

Suddenly an order came from the captain, “All gun mounts! Into ready positions!” Then a further command to the engine room, “Cut in all boilers! Full speed ahead.”

The squawk box remained silent for a full half minute We could hear muffled voices, however, from the captain’s station on the bridge. With our ship straining under full power, the captain’s voice calmly announced: “A Japanese bomber force has been identified off our port bow, some 30 miles away. It appears there are at least 20 big planes escorted by a dozen or more smaller craft. All hands, stand by for further orders.

Agonizing silence reigned.

Although the captain hadn’t said so, we knew what his “smaller craft” meant. They were the dreaded kamikaze which, like copperhead snakes, struck at you without warning. One moment you had them in your radar scope. The next moment they were gone. Their expert pilots, we knew, were adept at flying in, almost wave-high ducking under the blurred radar scope at horizon level. To add to the difficulty, they almost always attacked at dusk.

Five minutes or more elapsed, and we were beginning to feel we had safely eluded an attack this time. In the meantime, the captain–purely as a safety precaution–had ordered the quartermaster to take the ship into a zag-zag pattern.

One of my battle station partners and I had started a conversation about how nice it would be to put our feet under “mom’s table” about now and see what we could do with a broiled steak. When suddenly our conversation was interrupted by an ominous cry from the loud speaker, “There comes one in on the fantail!”

No one ever knew who emitted that shout, but the captain’s voice cut in authoritatively,”We are under attack! Millimeter stations track your targets! Gun mount No. l, open fire! All other mounts, fire at discretion”

The staccato sound of the machine gun’s fire greeted our ears below punctuated by the “boom — boom” of the 5-inch., 38 mounts. We began frantically shoving up projectiles through the elevator shaft. From above we could hear the orders from the gunnery officer to his topside firing crew, “Powder!–Projectiles! –Fire!” Then to us below” “More Ammunition! On the double!”

This one-way conversation repeated itself for what seemed an hour or more, but later calculations showed it to be less than 10 minutes.

A thudding jolt to our ship on the port side brought us up to reality. Another jolt from the right side sent a quiver through the entire length of the ship. Our destroyers which had been straining at top speed of nearly 40 knots, suddenly tumbled and like a fleet halfback who had been met head-on by a burly tackle, seemed to buckle in the middle, throwing us over scattered ammunition and drawing us up short against the opposite bulkhead.

Still another jolt came from the direction of the No. 2 stack, amidst sharply direct orders from the captain to the quartermaster to “hard right, rudder.” Then silence. Electric power evidently had been shut off.

After what seemed an interminable period of time a man’s voice came down to us through the projectile tube, “Are you all right down there?”

We sounded our answer in unison.

“Maybe you’d better come top-side,” was the next message “We’ve been hit by suicide planes. Later it was determined we had taken four hits. A fifth plane attempting to hit the Little was shot down short by Little gunners.) Power is out all over the ship. The attack is apparently over. I believe the captain will give word to abandon ship soon.”

It took less than a minute for us to scramble to the main deck. There our eyes met a weird sight.

Fragments of steel lay about the deck. Gaping holes in the sides of our-proud ship met our eyes. One side of our own gun mount had disappeared and it took little imagination to understand what had happened to the men inside.

What brought a lump to our throat was the sight of the corpsmen administering first aid and pitifully inadequate bandages to the injured. Officers walked briskly about the decks silently drawing gray blankets over still warm and bleeding bodies.

An immediate order from the captain, passed on by word of mouth, to “abandon ship” added to the macabre scene. Wounded were hurriedly placed on the two life boats that were left undamaged, and the rest of us were to “fend for ourselves. Most of the lifeboats had been destroyed in the attack.

In many respects the dead were the luckiest of us all. They neither had to abandon nor to remember.

Did I say earlier that this was a dream? Well, the drama was about ended now. At least the climax had been reached.

It matters little that we took a long bath in the Pacific and that some two hours later we were picked up and hauled to shore and safety.

The fact is this nightmarish episode in my life is one I would like to forget. But I guess the suspense was too great. I think I shall remember it always.