COMMENTARY ABOUT THE PHILLIPINE ISLANDS INVASIONS, JANUARY 1945.
S - Day Minus 3, January 6, 1945, and I’m sitting here in Radio One sort of breathless after having churned down here from topside. We have bombarded in Lingayen Gulf this morning, our ship, the USS WEST VIRGINIA (BB48), and several others comprising the pre-landing bombardment unit which has flung steel at the town of San Fabian and surrounding targets.
I have suddenly gotten the urge to write and while I don’t know if this particular document will ever be disclosed, I am continuing - - perhaps to calm down - - and perhaps just because I feel like writing. I have no hopes of entering the literary field, however, once before, under similar circumstances, I felt the urge to do some creative work.
It was at Leyte Gulf during the initial landing phases on A-Day, October 20, 1944, just after all the news commentators who arrived en force on the AGC command ships had started their barrage aimed at listeners all over the world. Using a multitude of radio circuits, they were letting the world know that a landing operation eclipsing the famous D-Day affair in Europe was now in progress in the Philippines. I had a strange feeling while on condition watch up on the bridge. I watched some of the action: ships’ guns firing, close air support runs by dive bombers, visible hits on targets ashore, smoke, haze and noise; but at the same time on a bridge radio voice circuit, I heard a civilian broadcaster giving his listeners in the States a moment by moment, eye-witness account of what was happening at Lingayen Gulf. This play by play description of a wartime amphibious landing done almost in a sportscaster’s manner just rubbed me the wrong way. I was intrigued with the idea of aping his efforts and recording my own broadcast on some blank discs which I had purchased at Pearl Harbor. The idea fell through, however, and my opening words a la Walter Cronkite of “This is Francis Kleber broadcasting to you from Leyte Gulf on A-Day!” failed to find themselves preserved in wax for the listening ears of the world.
An so it is once again that I have turned to an expression of my feelings. This time it’s in a little more serious tone since my would-be attempt at Leyte some months ago was intended mainly as a protest against the almost commercial-like atmosphere which seemed to surround the conduct of the war on that particular occasion. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if those same newscasters and commentators have commercial sponsors in time for the next few landing operations.
A few moments ago as I ran from the quarterdeck to my little “hole” down here in the Crypto Center of Radio One, I was scared. As the 5”/38 anti-aircraft guns were firing and I was dashing down three decks, I pictured a “Jap” plane flying down the gun barrel of each one as it fired. I hate to run like that each time the firing begins, but I am only a liability to the ship topside since my General Quarters station is in the Crypto Center. I’ll be glad, in a way, if I ever get assigned to the Gunnery Department, and maybe have my GQ station on some gun mount. Then, I’ll be an active participant in the retaliation, be able to see what is going on, and I won’t get the feeling of an animal returning to his cave when trouble appears.
War certainly brings a host of new experiences to the average human being. One of our ships, the USS OMANEY BAY, a jeep carrier, was sunk the day before yesterday, and we received a large number of its survivors. As a whole, I thought it was quite remarkable that they were all so well composed after such a harrowing experience. They were delivered to us by a destroyer skipper who came alongside in the blackest of nights handling his ship like a 16 year old boy handles his 28” bicycle. I saw the survivors the next morning after all had enjoyed a good night’s sleep. Their composure after bumping shoulders with the Grim Reaper was remarkable.
While on the quarterdeck before going to General Quarters, I gazed over at the Lingayen sector and saw large pillars of smoke rising above the haze which had settled over that area. Later on this afternoon we are to head back to our bombardment station to complete our ammunition allowance for the day; Our VO pilots get quite a workout during air spotting operations flying the OS2U, “Kingfisher” aircraft. We have only three pilots, and today, for instance, the senior pilot will go up twice, putting in around 6 hours flying time. That may not seem like such a long time to the reader, but it’s quite exhausting to sit up there, fly the plane, spot for our main and secondary batteries and keep a weather eye for Jap planes and flak.
From indications thus far, this landing and phase of the war will be bitterly contested, and the Japs will probably be more fanatic than ever before. Their strength in the Philippines is weak, but it appears as if they realize their plight and are ready to fight to the last man without surrender. Although our carrier-based air strikes in the Luzon, Visayan and Formosa areas have been most crushing, the enemy is still able to muster a few planes and to use them very effectively, making the air threat an ever present possibility. Their strength in the Islands, as I have said, is low, so very low that most of the people in the U. S. would be amazed to learn of its small potential. This does not preclude the probability of bitter combat as was the case in the Palau and Saipan engagements when “all organized resistance” had ceased long before all cave inhabiting Japanese troops were eliminated.
The word has just been passed to “Prepare to launch two aircraft” which means that it won’t be long before we begin the second half of our scheduled bombardment for today. I have “cooled down”, I guess, and so this narrative will have to wait until once again I become literary minded.
Written by Francis T. Kleber, ENS, USN, Age 20, while serving aboard USS WEST VIRGINA (BB48), January 6, 1945 during the pre-landing bombardment phase at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, Philippines
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