UNITED STATES NAVY
MY WWII STORY
On March 17, 1944, at age seventeen, I enlisted in the United States Navy. After boot camp and electrician mates’ school, I was shipped out to the western Pacific, where I was assigned to the USS Yarnall.
The Yarnall (DD-541) was a Fletcher-class destroyer. The ship was fitted with five 5 inch main battery guns, ten 40mm and seven 20mm guns, ten 21inch torpedo tubes, and many depth charges. Her top speed was 35 knots. The vessel’s namesake, John Joliffe Yarnall (1786-1815), LT USN, was a decorated hero of the battle of Lake Erie, fought September 10, 1813. He and his entire crew were lost at sea sometime after July 15, 1815, aboard the sloop-of-war USS Epervier.
The Yarnall was part of Admiral William “Bull” Halsey’s Third Fleet. We were assigned to Task Force 38.1, operating in the vicinity of Formosa and the Philippine Islands. On various occasions we would go to launch air raids on Iwo Jima and various parts of Japan.
On December 17, 1944, we were attempting to refuel from the aircraft carrier USS Wasp. That day was the beginning of one of the worst typhoons in naval history, Typhoon Cobra. The waves were so rough that the two refueling hoses would slap on top of the water when the ships listed toward each other, and, as they rolled away from each other, the hoses would become fiddle-string tight. When a rogue wave hit, both fuel hoses parted, and I was tossed from the main deck to the deck above.
This typhoon lasted three days, from December 17 through December19, 1944. It was my most frightening time in the Navy. Admiral Halsey lost the USS Hull, the USS Monaghan, and the USS Spence, all destroyers. Twenty-six other vessels were seriously damaged, one hundred forty-six aircraft destroyed, and eight hundred men lost their lives as a result of the storm.
Following the storm, we continued to operate in the area of the Philippines, and the carriers launched more planes for strikes on Luzon. On December 24, 1944, we returned to Ulithi in Micronesia. Ulithi Atoll, a chain of small islands connected by coral reefs with a deep channel opening, is located approximately 500 miles east of the Philippines. It was there that we refueled, rearmed, reprovisioned, and made repairs to our ship. There was a net stretched across the channel, opened and closed by a net tender as ships went in and out. The destroyers were the first to go out and the last to return. The missions of the destroyer were to protect the battleships from torpedo attacks and to locate and destroy enemy ships and submarines.
Early in the morning of January 10, 1945, with the fast aircraft carriers, we went through Bashi Channel into the South China Sea. The channel lies between Formosa and Luzon.
Task Force 38 sent planes against Japanese bases at Cam Ranh Bay and Saigon in Indochina. The Navy, having searched for the port from which the Japanese merchant fleet had been operating, found it along the China coast. The carrier planes sank a large number of ships and made numerous raids on land bases and shipping assets. They left from the South China Sea to make air raids on Formosa and Okinawa.
On February 10, 1945, the Yarnall left Ulithi to attack the Japanese home islands, the first attack since the Halsey-Doolittle raid, and to provide cover for the assault on Iwo Jima. On D-2 at Iwo Jima, we went close to shore, going along the sterns of the LSTs that were unloading on the beach. We left Iwo Jima to make more air raids on Japan, making another swipe at Tokyo on February 25.
Around one or two o’clock in the morning, the Japanese would send planes over, and we would go to general quarters, manning our battle stations. The planes were usually shot down. Because there were so many ships firing guns, we would sometimes hold our fire. I would look out of the hatch on the gun mount and watch the tracers. When we did fire, I would be sitting on the deck of the 5” gun mount, and, when the hot brass shell casing came out of the breech of the gun, I would have to shift my position to keep from getting burned. In the gun mount, the “hot shell” man, wearing asbestos gloves, was supposed to catch the shells; sometimes he would miss.
Sometime during the night of March 4 and the morning of March 5, the Yarnall collided with the USS Ringgold (DD-500). The Ringgold lost her bow; the Yarnall’s bow was severely damaged and was swaying back and forth. We had one Chief Petty Officer killed. His body was sewn up in a canvas bag with two 5” projectiles for weight, and he was buried at sea. A prayer was offered as part of the ceremony. “O God, we pray Thee that the memory of our comrade (name), fallen in battle, may be ever sacred in our hearts; that the sacrifice which he has offered for our country’s cause may be acceptable in Thy sight, and that an entrance into Thy eternal peace may, by Thy pardoning grace, be open unto him through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen” (This prayer was part of the Protestant burial service.) A shipmate and I cleaned out his locker to send his belongings home to his wife. We came across a photograph of his little daughter, born while he was deployed, whom he would never get to see. This event still brings tears to my eyes whenever I talk about it. We eventually made our way back to Mare Island Navy Yard in California, where we got sixty-two feet of new bow
In July, 1945, we returned to the Pacific. We were waiting off the coast of Japan after the two atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945.
When Japan agreed to unconditional surrender on August 15, 1945, we were sent to Sendai, Japan, with a minesweeper, a hospital ship, and a transport to bring out American prisoners of war. We went alongside the transport and talked to the ambulatory ex-prisoners. Those ex-prisoners who were more critically injured were on the hospital ship. Some of them were missing limbs. Those with whom we spoke said they knew something was different when they noticed all.
the Japanese guards were gone. The one thing I will always remember about this conversation was that they asked who had won the World Series in 1942, 1943, and 1944.
We left Sendai for Tokyo Bay. The signing of the peace treaty occurred on September 2, 1945.
Vic Beard served in the United States Navy from 1944 through 1946. Vic is an active member of American Legion Post #166 in Ocean City, Maryland, and a staunch supporter of the Worcester County Veterans Memorial at Ocean Pines. He resides in Ocean Pines with his wife, Alberta.