One of the greatest privileges of my life is to have our Veterans share their experiences with me. It's often difficult, even after many years have passed. It is of paramount importance that these histories be recorded for us and for future generations in hopes that they fully appreciate those who sacrificed so dearly to give us the freedom we enjoy today.
Lee Andrus, brother of Gold Crew member Ernie Andrus gave permission to share his story.
"The war itself, coming as it did, as I was approaching adulthood, and the public attitude about what was to be done, affected me as it did many in the attention to duty, honor and country.
The social conventions were paramount in my upbringing. Duty to one's God, to one's family, to one's community and to one's country included a man's duty to provide for the women and children and to keep them from harm. It was what my parents taught me, it was what my elders taught me, it was what the public schools taught me. It is what God teaches. Much of adult society in those days saw to it that their male children were aware of these personal duties. I was no exception. It was numenous to me personally, as I think it was to most of my contemporaries. It controlled my rush to join the fray.
Youthful bravado dictated that we young men would bost of "going out there and killing those Japs." It was a facade. It was duty, honor, country.
I joined the United States Navy 29 November 1942 at Inglewood, California; a suburb of Los Angeles, California, while still in High School and still seventeen years old. I went to boot-camp at the San Diego Naval Training Station. I was sent to Fire Control School at Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay on 1 January 1943. Upon graduation 27 February 1943, I was rated FCO/3c (Firecontrolman Third Class/Optics) and assigned to the new Aircraft Carrier USS Lexington CV16 at South Boston Navy Yard. She was at the dock being completed and supplied and not yet ready for the crew to be aboard. My battle station would be rangefinder operator in Sky #1 (the forward Mark 37 five-inch battery gun director).
We went to the Gilbert Islands (near where the equator crosses the international date line) in November 1943 to support the landings on the Tarawa Atoll there. Nearly 900 of my shipmates were killed by the enemy there at the Gilberts. More than 1,000 Marines died there in combat.
Lexington was torpedoed by a Japanese Torpedo Bomber 4 December 1943, on our way back to Pearl Harbor from the Tarawa operation, while we were raiding the Marshall Islands. Some of my shipmates were killed and injured. We splashed six torpedo bombers just after noon as we were landing our morning strike on the Kwajalein Atoll. We were attacked by swarms of Japanese Torpedo Bombers that night under a full moon. We were hit just prior to midnight. Our Task Force #50 burned 27 torpedo bombers that night with our firecontrol radar before we were hit. We were now battle hardened warriors having killed and been killed.
We went to Bremerton Naval Shipyard for repairs. I transferred to the Battleship USS West Virginia BB-48 just before the Lexington was ready to return to battle in February 1944. The West Virginia was one of those battleships sunk there at Pearl Harbor 7 December 1941. She was now like a brand new battleship with all the latest technology. We did a shake-down cruise at San Pedro, California and left in September 1944 for battle in the Pacific. Battle there would be!
We went to Leyte Gulf and participated in the landings at the Island of Leyte in the Philippine Islands 20 October 1944 where General Douglas MacArthur waded ashore and declared, "I have returned!" The Japanese Navy came with 63 of their warships and the biggest naval battle of all time ensued. We were right in the middle of the battle. The West Virginia sank the Japanese Battleship Yamashiro there with 93 sixteen inch Armor piercing rounds propelled by "full surface charges." We hit her on our first 8 gun salvo at more than 11 miles range.
It was there 21 October 1944 that the kamikaze onslaught began. One of our Heavy Cruisers, HMAS Australia took the first blow while we were firing on that Japanese aircraft which turned out to be the first of thousands of kamikazes. She was crippled and returned to Australia for repair.
More than 3,230 of my shipmates were killed by the enemy in taking Leyte but we put an end to the effectiveness of the Japanese Navy. Now the kamikazes would punish us severely before it was finished.
We went to the Philippine Island of Mindoro in late December 1944 for the landings there. Some 1,300 of my shipmates paid with their lives for Mindoro while we were trying to protect them from the kamikazes with our antiaircraft weapons but there were just too many. It was a kamikaze donnybrook!
We went to Lingayen Gulf for the landings on the Philippine Island of Luzon, 9 January 1945. More than 1,140 of my shipmates died there at the hands of the enemy. It was a kamikaze nightmare. It would take a book to relate what happened there. It was so frantic that too many of the casualties were from friendly fire.
We went to Iwo Jima 19 February 1945 to cover the landings. We director folks scanned the beaches for counter battery fire and for targets of opportunity. I watched the carnage on the beaches with my rangefinder. The horror on the beaches cannot be exaggerated. More than 2,420 dead Marines and pieces of Marines strewed the beaches before nightfall, D-Day. No one should have to witness such a thing. Iwo Jima cost a lot:
13 ships damaged and one sunk
143 aircraft lost
6,821 Marines killed
891 of my shipmates were killed
95 Naval Airmen were lost
19,920 Marines were wounded
1,917 of my shipmates were wounded
It was a bloodbath of utter violence!
We went to Okinawa 27 March for the 1 April 1945 landings. More than 4,500 of my shipmates were killed by the enemy and 5,740 were wounded. Seventy of our warships were sunk and 170 were damaged by the enemy. The West Virginia was hit by a kamikaze 1 April 1945. It missed me in my gun director by about twenty feet. Whew!
We paid more than twice as much for Okinawa than we paid for Iwo Jima. It was a kamikaze frenzy. The unimaginable butchery that was Iwo Jima was far exceeded by the utter savagery at Okinawa, both ashore and afloat. Some 230,000 civilians were killed; more than were killed by the two atom bombs combined. Everyone fought [at Okinawa], the Japanese Army, the Okinawa men, the women and even the children.
From 17 September 1944 when we entered Leyte Gulf until the war ended 15 August 1945 at Okinawa, there was seldom a moment when one could know that he would still be alive the next moment. It was hard. It was even harder to witness the slaughter all around me.
We went to Yokahama, Japan for the surrender and the occupation. I watched General Douglas MacArthur and the Japanese Envoys sign the peace treaty with my rangefinder. It was reward enough!"
...for sharing your memories. It is stories like yours, when shared, truly bring an idea of what the war was really like. You cannot get this from the textbooks. Whenever I hear a first hand account, it never fails to move me and make me pause, think and feel often for days at a time.
God bless you and all our Veterans and thank you again.