The story as told to me by Wyndham Darnell Jr.
I asked my grandfather Wyndham Darnell Jr., one day...
“Do you remember where you were when the Jap’s attacked the US on December 7th, 1941 at Pearl Harbor?”
He smiled and replied,
“ Yes, I'll never forget it. I was a junior in high school when we heard of what happened.” I asked, “Where was that?” “Virginia, back home… a small coal mining town called Saltville. Your Great Grandpa, my father, was a coal miner and a farmer. Everybody knew everybody and any kind of news traveled fast word of mouth. We didn’t have TVs but a few of us had radios.”
“What did you think? What did you do?”
“We didn’t know what to think, I didn’t know what a Japanese person was, or where Japan even was…let alone why they would want to attack us! I didn't even know where Pearl Harbor or Hawaii was. What did we do? After school that day I went down to enlist but was refused because I was too young.” I was amazed. I asked, “then what?” “I came home, told my father, your great grand dad Darnell, I wanted to help, and I want to serve right now. He told me I have to graduate high school, that I would be the first Darnell man with an education beyond grade school. I have to wait and graduate. So I waited another year, & graduated. Many of my friends had to wait as well, and we were all eager to serve! The day after graduation, Paw-Paw took me down to the enlistment office and signed me up for the Navy!”
“Why the Navy,” I asked, “why did you choose them?”
“Because I was still too young, I was 17 not quite 18 yet, and it was the only branch of US service that would let you enlist, with the approval of a parent or legal guardian.”
“Then what?” I asked.
“I packed my things and was off to basic training in Norfolk Virginia, which was a fast, 6-8 weeks and then was assigned to the USS New York which was suppose to return to action in the Pacific Theater. It had just come back from Philippians…Guadalcanal… It was sometime in 1944 when we were to transit the Panama Canal again, but they arrived in Long Beach, California on the 9th of December for training and repairs and supplies.
We broke down once, along the way also losing one of our observation planes because of bad weather. We left the 12th January 1945 and met up with the Idaho, Tennessee, Nevada, Texas, and Arkansas, we all were to form a support force for the invasion of Iwo Jima and take the Island.
I had never even heard of many of the other places that ship was sent to like Annapolis, Trinidad, Eniwetok, Saipan, Manus, Iwo Jima & Okinawa. At first, we were sent and offered back up support. On the way back to get more supplies/cargo and men…we struck debris/scrap or a damaged sub or something. We never really knew…but it damaged one of our main propellers. We were instructed to sail all the way back to Hawaii for repairs. We never made it that far as we got the message that a full on-scale attack was under way to take control over Iwo Jima.
We changed course and hobbled on the way to Iwo Jima, without repairs to the broken propeller to join many of our battleships, aircraft carriers, and Marines already getting stationed there. We rejoined the Idaho, Tennessee, Nevada, Texas, and Arkansas originally as ordered. We met up with them in near Saipan. We also met up with the Maryland, Colorado, and West Virginia."
“Were you scared? What was it like?” I asked.
“We didn’t have time to be scared, we didn’t know what to be scared of. I hadn't even seen the enemy yet. So far we hadn’t had any direct contact with the Jap’s on our ship, but that was about to change! We moved into position and promptly joined in the pounding…blasting for solid 30-35 days and nights straight. We hit that small chunk of rock with everything we had. There was so much smoke coming off Iwo Jima at times it was hard to see it. Looked like a big smoldering ash heap. The USS New York BB-3 spent around 6,500 rounds, including over 1,000 14-inch rounds. One of our salvos nailed the primary ammunition dump on the island, causing One of the biggest explosions and victories of the battle."
“Did you encounter Kamikaze resistance from them?” I asked.
“Very little, to not much…there was a small air strip on the back side of the island, which is why we wanted that rock. It was behind the mountain we were blasting, along with their command post. Once in awhile a few planes managed to take off and head for us, but we provided so much anti-aircraft fire power they met their doom before they could turn and flank! We were so close we could probably take them down with our government issued M-1 Garands. We pounded and pounded…the smell of Cannon powder, sulfur, and burning ash was thick in the air for days. We honestly believed there was no way a gnat or ant could be alive on that burnt rock! We were wrong…our first 3 troupes of Marines and Army infantry were wiped out. Pill-boxes…caves in the mountain, we had no clue.”
“Did you see that happen?” I asked, "
"No, we were reassigned to go to the Manus Island for repairs, supplies, and retrofit to head to Okinawa. We left the area on 19 February. We thought we had that chunk of burning rock secured. The commanders told us later what happened and that there was no way any of us could have done anything differently. We could have blasted that island for 6 months and it would not have changed a thing, unless we waited and starved them to death, running out of supplies, but there was no time for that…we were gaining ground and setting up positions that would lead the USA to take the Jap’s mainland. But we needed that landing strip on Iwo Jima.
We stopped at Manus Islands and got the needed repairs. Except for the propeller, no way to get a propeller the size of a house sent out to us. There are false reports that we got it fixed but that's not the case. They painted the USS New York camouflage and upgraded a few guns and more men and supplies. I think another spotter plane as well.”
“How long did this take?” I asked.
"About 2 or 3 weeks… can’t really remember, we had to get to Okinawa fast. So we were off….hobbled and putted again all the way there at half speed, but we made it…It was unlike anything I could imagine. Like a million screaming pissed off Hornets in the air swarming all around. Jap Kamikazes everywhere. At this point, we were close enough that they were coming from the mainland Japan as well as taking off from Okinawa.”
“Were you scared now?”
“No, we had no time for that and a job to do. Our commander Nemitz ordered the USS New York as close to the island as possible. We thought for sure he was going to beech us right up on shore…we were that close. We hit them with everything we had; in fact, the USS New York was honored for shooting the most rounds and taking out many key locations and command point on Okinawa. We, the USS New York were blasting for 76 days in a row, blasting and shooting down every plane that came at us! During which we shot over 4 rounds of 14-inch ammunition and over 7,000 rounds of 5-inch ammunition. This is where I shot down a Kamikaze coming right at us, (Okinawa) with the help of my 2nd and 3rd gunner mates. It takes 3 of us you know to man one 20mm anti-aircraft cannon! One shoots, one extracts, and one loads…100 or so times in 60 seconds.”
“So did you see him crash?”
“Yup he went down in burning flames…they don’t bail out you know, they go down in glory…well, that’s what they are told to do…They're dishonored if they come back alive.”
At this point… I’m bug eyed and in tears, but I just listened…hard to understand, but trying to understand the horror of it all. Grandpa goes on…
“We actually did get hit by a Kamikaze, he came around the back of us but another gunner shot him and he lost control…he hit the USS New York and skidded across the right side bouncing like a basketball, taking out our spotter plane and crane then crashed into the Ocean about 45-50 feet beside us. We opened fire on him…in the water, he was gone! We had to throw our damaged spotter plane over board next to him.”
“Did anybody get killed or hurt?” I asked.
“No, in fact, the USS New York is one of the very few US war ships to never lose one sailor in any war. WW1 included. We did fish out of the ocean dead sailors and save others off sinking ships. I remember a couple ship burial at sea services, but nobody on the USS-NEW York BB-3 died, we all came home. Only a couple guys wounded"
“So now what?”
“After several days of intense fighting…and our General and commanders knew this time the island was secured…they made sure this time. Most of us Battleships and Aircraft-Carriers were ordered back to pearl harbor Hawaii because our Cannons and gun barrels and turrets were so worn out by all the massive rounds we were shooting we had to go back to have our guns relined, refitted, upgraded and make preparations and all needed repairs, supplies, troupes, food, and in the case of an old battle ship like the USS New York and Texas (Texas is the Identical sister ship) needed bigger guns and more of them!!!”
“Why grandpa what was next?”
“Next stop was Japan! The invasion of mainland Japan! We were sending everything including the kitchen sink and going to park it right on their shore line and give them hell! Once we took Okinawa we left on 11 June for Pearl Harbor and arrived at Pearl Harbor on the 1st of July. We did stop Leyte on June14th. When we got to Hawaii we had over a month of R&R and repairs. From July 1st to the 15 August, the end of the war. That’s when the news came in. We dropped the first bomb…then the second…then it was over! We were so relieved and scared finally because our Commanders Nemitz and Carter told us that if there were letters to write, people back home to contact…tell them good bye now. that if we believed in God, you better pray now, because where we were going, you are NOT going to return! Those Jap's are proud people like us, but they will use everything they got (women and children) to keep us off their mainland!”
Grandpa then looks at me, with a very small tear… and very serious and soft spoken...
“You know son, that believe that bomb saved my life…you wouldn’t be here if that didn’t happen…none of us would!”
I asked… “So you think it was the right thing to do, in spite of what so many misinformed ignorant Americans spout off and say these days about such stuff?” He smiles and half frowns at the same time…
“Let them, because of what we did winning that war at all cost, gives them the right to be ignorant. Not only would you not be here son, but them too…and America would look much different today. Many millions of lives on each side would have died if America would have attacked the Japanese mainland.”
My Grandpa told me many more stories, all I remember as I took notes and recorded audio and video. One day I will share them all, as he wanted people to know. His last comment to me was this:
“Thank you for asking Mark, you’re a good boy…I thought people forgot and don’t care anymore!”
Please share his story, pass it out, print it...These people like my Grandfather truly were the Greatest generation, and their stories and memories deserve to be shared and honored.
Mark R Darnell (grandson)