Kenneth Benson (CVE 106)

“We arrived at Formosa early in the morning with another aircraft carrier, the Santee. We sent two destroyers with a group  of Marines and a medical team from the Block Island into the harbor. We also put aircraft in the air for support. The two destroyers brought the POWs back to the waiting aircraft carriers. We set up cots on the hangar deck to accommodate them. We received about five hundred of them. I saw them bring these POWs on board and it was unbelievable to see the condition they were in. Some of the men were about six feet tall and weighed about 80 pounds. Even more amazing was a few of them still had their litts in tip-top shape. We headed for Manila, Philippines where we transferred them to a military hospital.”

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Louis (Bud) Hellwig (CVE 21/106)

“I had the honor and the privilege of being the radioman who contacted a British battleship in the west Pacific and taking over 20 hours to accomplish, sent this battleship the names, serial numbers and the last known home addresses of all said survivors via international Morse code. The British operator, in turn, forwarded this information on so families would get the information of rescued loved ones. The operating conditions were deplorable in that there was much interference and everything had to be repeated twice and acknowledged before going on to the next name! Transmitting this information was then and is now my most satisfying radio duty I have ever been involved in.”
 

Francis J. Leger (Marine VMTB-233, CVE 106)

“The first thing I remember about the prisoners of war is that we were flying towards Taiwan. Our five planes were all loaded with food and medication because we were told they were dying like flies. After we landed and unloaded, we started to walk to meet the coming POWs. The first thing I noticed ... one of the POWs came towards me with open arms and jumped on me and started crying saying, ‘Now I can see my wife and kids.’ I guess we were both crying. I looked at him and said ‘You look better than the others, even better dress.’ He said “I’m the cook.” As I looked up, I saw prisoners shoving the food we had just brought ... holding bread in their hands with big smiles with eyes wide open. It really struck me. Then all the prisoners got in line to start loading to the carrier  waiting at the dock. The worse ones were first to load on metal stretchers to be examined by doctors and disinfected, etc. All were given clean sheets and a cot. We took them to Manila.

While this was going on the crew was all sitting outside waiting for orders, etc. A lot of pictures were taken which I still have several, all in good condition. We even had time to visit the Jap planes sitting on the runway. We were looking for souvenirs, which I have one left. I also have some pictures before the POWs came out. This was all about the negotiating, people sitting on the floor and talking - some pictures were taken outside on the runway - some of our crew talking to a Japanese soldier. A little ways up the rinway, a group of Japanese were gathered. I remember a Japanese Platoon walking by, ignoring us. Some pictures were showing quite a few different planes all lined up. The last thing I remember very well was the way we took off from the island. When we were ready to take off on this very wide runway, the first three planes took off at the same time - all three planes were abreast. It was the first time I had ever seen three abreast take off. It was a real thrill for me.”

[Web Note: In the Photo Gallery of this website is a number of photos of the POW rescue courtesy of Frank J. Ledger]

 

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Jack Greer (CVE 21/106)

”The crews of all the ships of the Pacific Fleet who had to rearm their ships with shells, bombs, rockets and spare parts at a little island called Kerama Retto just west of Okinawa and only some 300 miles south of Tokyo, Japan and less than 20 miles from the Japanese lines. The crew of CVE 106 will always remember this point in their service.

Before you enter the harbor you have to lash all of the aircraft down to the decks, clear all of the elevators and all hands must "turn to", including all of the officers, to prepare to take on the much needed supplies and ammunitions.”



    

“These picture look harmless enough but that is not what the crew will forever remember. Like Ulithi back in early 1945, here set the ship at anchor with eight large barges with all sizes of bombs, rockets, shells, explosive fluids (napalm ) , and torpedoes tied up tight against the ship. All of this ammunitions spread all over the flight and hanger decks and crew members working at a fever pitch trying to get it loaded into the magazines. Here again comes the heartbreaking sound of "Bong Bong Bong general quarters, this is not a test, enemy aircraft approaching less than 2 miles to the south flying low over the water, man all battle stations". In the crew members minds was the sights of the USS Sagamon or the USS Franklin that took bomb and kamikaze suicide attacks when their decks were scattered with ammunitions. Those ships were torn to slithers and hundreds of sailor lost their lives. For a period of some time the ship was like a bee hive of action. The bay was fogged in and the picket boats were spreading smoke screens to help make the anchored ships hard to detect. The crew members on the flight deck then saw that famous Air Force P38 swoop down out of the clouds and splash a Japanese Zeke that was less than a mile down the bay from the ship. The other Japanese plane took off over the mountain top of the island and was met by other Army aircraft. In about 20 minutes the "all clear was sounded". While the feelings of the crew was relaxed their pace of storing the ammunitions in the magazines was at a much greater pitch.

The circumstances of “loading ammunitions and supplies” at Kerama Retto for all the many ships that had to go into that Harbor plays a part of Naval History for all of those ships because of the dangers that were brought about.”

 

Sidney Morrow (DE 340)

Web Note: CVE 106 served with many escort ships in the Pacific; this story was provided by Lt.(jg) Sid Morrow who served on the Destroyer Escort DE 340 USS O’Flaherty.

CVE Carriers had to refuel with both aviation gas and fuel at sea every 6 to 9 days. The carrier then must also act as a fuel supply ship for the escorts. These activities must be taken while the ships are underway. Landing and launching aircraft and refueling are two of the most "non-enemy" dangerous activities these ships face depending on weather conditions. When the carrier and the supply ship are side by side they are actually closer than they appear due to the sponsons and the flight deck extending well beyond the sides of the carrier. One such supply activity resulted in the following situation.

During an operation to refuel O'Flaherty and also to load munitions from CVE 106 Block Island, to transfer to CVE 29 Santee on 14 June 1945, a sudden swell of ocean waves pushed O'Flaherty into Block Island and rammed the barrel of the forward 5" Gun through a sponson. The ships were locked together for several moments while the orders were issued by bells to stop the engines so the gun could be disengaged. Several crew-members have recollected their memories of the collision – CMM Rich Sider was in the Chief's quarters where the deck was peeled aside giving him a view of the sky! He immediately rushed to the forward Engine Room where "all hell was breaking loose". Lt. (jg) Sid Morrow was in the 5" director and recalls how the officers immediately ordered the munitions removed from the location to avoid an explosion.

The real hero was Gunnery Officer Lt. George Carmichael whose quick thinking to remove the loose powder and live ammunition from the gun area and throw it over the side, averted a possible explosion with resulting damage and loss of life. Crew members are still wondering how he got there so quickly to handle this emergency detail. Harry Mais was at his station on the bridge and saw Lt.Carmichael  "act immediately on the spur of the moment when someone is in peril". Ensign Bob Piper also recalls that Cdr. Callan who was at the conn expressed his dismay at the thought,  "I'll probably get sent to an LST" As another crewmember Ralph Bailey recalls, "I was in the 5 inch when we had the collision . . we were lucky the gun did not fire as the barrel was compressed down against the shell and powder case". K. C. Sinnett relates, "My big thing was to keep the refrigerators working to keep our food cold so I was not in the know of a lot that was going on."

There was no blame placed over the collision with Block Island. These types of maneuvers were very difficult at most and this particular one had been halted and resumed a few times so CVE-106 could dispatch flyers and continue the refueling procedure, not only with O'Flaherty but also with Santee.

O'Flaherty was dispatched to Kerama Retto to await repairs in July 1945, and the crew was called to General Quarters numerous times as the Japanese suicide bombers stuck several ships in the outside harbor.

The O'Flaherty’s young crew watched while anchored in Berth K-104, as kamikazes hit and sunk the four-stacker USS Barry, converted to APD-29 and also sunk LSM 59. Again at General Quarters, DE 340 also witnessed the strikes on AV 14 USS Kenneth Whiting and AV 4 USS Curtiss. These incidents also served to remind the crew of their "luck" and brought  them closer together as shipmates.

Finally, "Destroyer Tender" AD 16 Cascade took O'Flaherty and began the 5" gun repairs. DE 344 USS Oberrender was also in port with her damage considered beyond repair.  An Order was issued to all ships of her class to board her to salvage any parts that were needed. CMM Sider then received permission to board with a party of men and removed a 6-inch high-pressure steam valve that was sorely needed on DE-340. While aboard USS Oberrender, Sider recalls the ship damage was unbelievable and the men marveled over how she managed to stay afloat and the courage of the survivors who brought her to Kerama Retto.

The O'Flaherty earned 4 battle stars while escorting various CVEs participating as Hunter / Killer Groups and providing the support  for the invasions of: Guam, Lingayen Gulf, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.