First Hits
All personal stories are true and printed in italics as spoken.

To their horror the crews of both ships found that they were running out of ammunition. The Emmons discovered there would only be enough shells left for one more attack. The five inch guns would be out of commission. In the handling rooms, crew members were grabbing anything they could get their hands on: star shells, phosphorous, common, armor piercing, whatever.

Someone on the 40mm gun yelled down to the captain of gun 3 (Donald W. Ayer of Bangor, Maine) that an enemy plane was coming in almost directly astern. Donald immediately instructed his crew to shift to local control and get the new target. When it seemed to him that it was taking too long to fire the gun, he ducked down from the captain’s hatch to see what was causing the delay. Just as he ducked, the gun fired. When he looked back out the hatch, he was amazed to see the incoming plane disintegrate in midair as the shell hit it right on the nose. This was remarkable shooting. His evaluation of the shooting was changed from extraordinary to miraculous when he learned that the single shot was an armor-piercing projectile.

The crew of gun 3 would have little time for celebration as another plane, a fighter, was coming in fast from dead astern and, with guns blazing, was strafing gun 3 before crashing into the ship’s fantail. Fires were started on the fantail but luckily the depth charges were blown clear. More serious though was the destruction of the steering engine room and the loss of the rudder. Also, the port propeller was so badly damaged that the port engine would be of no further use. With no chance for evasive action, the ship would now be at the mercy of the remaining kamikazes. And they were quick in coming.

The next, a Val type aircraft, hit almost immediately slamming into the minesweep gear near gun 3. The destruction of the fantail area of the ship was now complete. All men aft of gun 3 that had not taken cover were either killed or missing. Fragments of steel showered down as far forward as the stacks causing many casualties especially about the 40mm batteries. Gun 3 was out of action and flames momentarily engulfed the gun sending flames even down into the handling room. The Val had put an end to the heroic action of the crew of gun 3. (The crew of gun 3 survived but two men were wounded. Gun Captain Donald W. Ayer was awarded the Bronze Star for his courage and devotion to duty during the battle and for his efforts in trying to save the ship and for rescuing shipmates).

Quartermaster Ed Hoffman had a good view out the starboard hatch of the pilot house and was following the action and, so far, was satisfied that Captain Foss was keeping the ship one step ahead of the kamikazes. When the two planes slammed into the stern, all seemed to be still okay on the bridge and in the pilot house. Captain Foss was now trying to determine if the ship had steerage way and was shifting to aft steering when two more planes were spotted boring in on the bridge.

Ed watched as one of the kamikazes loomed larger and larger as it closed the distance. He was still not too concerned as he felt that it would soon disintegrate under a hail of gunfire from the ship’s antiaircraft guns or from one of planes of the combat air patrol. In Ed’s words: “the vivid and reassuring pattern of tracers from our guns—how could they possibly get through it?” At the last moment Ed realized he was doomed as he grabbed hold of the pilot house railing (a bad move as it turned out). In a blinding flash the plane he was watching slammed into the bridge superstructure.

The other plane hit almost simultaneously. The first had hit the starboard side in the vicinity of the radio shack, blowing away most of the starboard wing of the bridge and making a shambles of the pilot house. Seconds later, the second plane hit the port side at the combat information center, killing all hands in that location including the executive officer.

Gasoline from both planes ignited, spreading fierce fires throughout the superstructure from the plotting room up to the pilot house. Flames reached as high as the gun director. Ed was knocked to the deck of the pilot house and watched as everything turned to an eerie orange color. Severely burned and with his leg and ankle smashed, he was trying desperately to get out of the pilot house and down from the bridge area. He soon was aware that his leg had been broken and that he could do nothing but hop on one leg or crawl.

Captain Foss had been standing on the port wing of the bridge and later couldn’t recall what happened to him but he had been blown from the bridge and landed, badly burned and temporarily blinded, in the water. Near him in the water was Chief Quartermaster Henry O. Thompson also blown into the water and with a bad gash in his throat. The two would be in the water together until taken aboard a life raft and eventually a rescue craft. Thompson would not survive the night but Captain Foss would remain conscious throughout the ordeal.

Gun 2 was knocked out by these explosions and fires started in the upper handling room. Crews of the 20mm guns around the superstructure and on the bridge who survived the immediate blasts were driven from their stations by the intense heat. Many men not otherwise injured had to jump overboard to escape the flames. Others were blown off the ship. The entire superstructure with its vital communication and control equipment was a shambles and the area was ablaze from the main deck to the flying bridge.

After the blasts in the superstructure, the main battery director was without power and had no communication with the guns it was designed to control. The gunnery officer, Lt. Griffin, decided it would serve no purpose to remain in the useless director and carefully led his crew down to the flying bridge. On the way down, Griffin stopped to help Ensign Ross T. Elliot, Jr., the assistant gunnery officer. The ensign had been wounded while shielding his crew with his own body during a strafing attack. But the young officer died before any help could be administered. When he was certain that Elliot was beyond help, the gunnery officer went to the bridge below.

There, on the after part of the bridge, the director crew ran into Ed who had managed to get out of the pilot house but had been unable to get down the mainmast because of his broken leg. All the regular ladders were either carried away entirely or blocked by sheets of fire. The gunnery officer put his arms under Ed’s shoulders and helped him down the ladder one rung at a time. At the bottom, there were no more rungs so Lt. Griffin dropped to the deck below. From there he was able to catch Ed in his arms when Ed dropped down. Other members of the director crew checked out CIC as they went by and reported that its door was open and flames were coming out. Several bodies were lying near the door, obviously beyond help.

During the torturous climb down from the director, Lt. Griffin had seen enough to realize that he was the senior uninjured surviving officer left onboard. This was confirmed when he reached the main deck. Unhesitatingly he announced that he was in command and began to direct the damage control efforts, but with no communications operational, he could only direct those in his immediate area.

The ship was listing to starboard and settling in the water. With the captain wounded and in the water, the executive officer dead, secondary control in a shambles, and all communications cut, men of each operational station were thrown back on their own initiative to contain and repair damage without guidance from any central point. Exploding ready ammunition boxes near the machine gun mounts on the bridge and around the superstructure made any place on the decks hazardous. The kamikazes were concentrating their attention on the Emmons but had made another hit on the Rodman. As if things couldn’t get worse, two more kamikazes bore in on the Emmons.