My Memories of the Navy

My Memories of the Navy

Y2 JAMES M. STUART JR. – USNR

I was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Franklin (CV -13) in the Sea of Japan, when on 19 March 1945, a Jap “”Judy” dive-bomber screamed out of a low winter cloud, dropped a 500 pound bomb on the flight deck and returned a second time to drop another. The first bomb ripped below, igniting gasoline and ordnance in a flash of flame and concussion, blowing the 32-ton aircraft elevator into the air. It fell back into the holocaust. Sailors were incinerated where they stood in the chow line, while others were blown out of the hanger doors into the sea. The two blasts drove the 29,000-ton ship out of the water and whipped her to the right. She then settled into a 13-degree starboard list.

That morning, I was too exhausted to have breakfast though I had not eaten in two days. That saved my life, as many of my buddies were lost in the chow line. I was stretched out
on chairs in the library trying to rest when the ship shuddered; explosions threw me across the room against the bulkhead. We all jumped up and headed for our battle stations. I got a towel and soaked it in the water cooler.

We didn’t get far because of heart and smoke. There were 25 of us groping in the smoke-filled hallway. We descended two decks trying to find a way out and finally worked our way onto the fantail.

Conditions there were horrible; smoke and fire everywhere, 40mm ammunition exploding on a gun mount, and our own rockets from burning planes were soaring up and down the deck. Men were on fire; others had limbs torn and faces gone. An explosion ripped off one side of my life preserver, shrapnel
creased my battle helmet and burned the right side of my face. A piece of metal imbedded in my hand.

The ship began settling and listing, then secondary explosions slapped us down again. By now. there were only six men alive in my location. Three of us left by climbing down a rope, then falling the remaining 40 feet into the sea. There were Jap planes buzzing around, plopping and slashing shells and bullets along with the roar of gunfire. I did not believe either we, or the ship would survive.

When I hit the water, the torn life preserver tangled in the battle helmet and was choking me. I nearly drowned. Underwater, I pushed off the helmet and my shoes, and followed my torn life preserver to the surface. I watched the
ship float rapidly away; listing ominously and trailing smoke. There were fires blazing; bodies, parts and everything imaginable floating. It was frightening, with, with ships passing me by. I waved desperately to the Pittsburgh (CA- 72) and Santa Fe (CL-60), knowing I was only 60 miles off the coast of Japan, and could be picked up by the enemy.

Finally the destroyer Hickox (DD-673) steamed into our area. I tried to wave my presence but had no strength: I could have not survived many more minutes in the sea. The Hickox made only one pass, picked me up, then steamed back to her battle position and resumed firing her cannons and antiaircraft guns. The noise on this ship was deafening, but I loved her for the security she offered my worn-out body.

In all, the Hickox rescued 400 sailors from the Franklin.

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