An Unknown Hero


One of the interesting things in life is the discoveries you make long after earlier events. When I went in the navy, I was on a ship whose business was to put landing craft in the water, fill them with marines and send them off to the beach. We had a captain who rarely left his quarters when at sea to come to the quarterdeck. I think I saw him once to talk to when I asked for three extra days leave when we were in port at Christmas to get married. Several years after I left active duty in the mid 1950’s I saw an article in the newspaper about several naval captains who had been promoted to admiral, and he was among them. And that was that.

Recently, I was reading about the invasion of Okinawa when I came across a description of what happened to a destroyer squadron that had been placed between Japan and the Okinawa invasion force. The task of these ships was to help prevent the Japanese air force from reaching the invasion fleet. Shortly after being put in position, Japanese planes of all sorts armed with bombs came across this small destroyer fleet and in one day sank them all but one and, after a day of attacking it, left it barely afloat with every crew member dead or wounded. Briefly mentioned was that it’s commander, who was wounded but continued functioning, was my former commanding officer. That one reference was all I could find.

Then, this past week, when I was looking through books on naval world war II history in the Pacific, up popped up Hell From The Heavens, which was based on The Ship That Would Not Die (the USS Laffey), by its former captain, Julian Becton, my former captain. I have ordered a copy of this later rendition of Captain Becton’s story.

This is a story I wish I had known sixty five years earlier.

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