“Norfolk, Virginia – Dear Mother. Just a note to tell you I’ve been assigned to a ship, the 663 USS H. L. Edwards. That may be misspelled but it is something like that. She is going into commission, January 26, 1944 in Boston. I can’t get any leave from here as I am going to pre-commissioning school which doesn’t mean a thing of course, but they make a big fuss. I don’t know about Boston, but I imagine I will be pretty busy. Well, I will keep you informed. As ever, Laurence.”
This is a letter written by Bo’sn 2nd Class Laurence Gellerman to his parents just before Christmas in 1943. Some of the crewmen assigned to the USS Heywood L. Edwards (DD 663) were seasoned Navy personnel as was Larry but the large majority were brand new sailors, just out of high school, as green as they come and always hungry. The ship’s captain was Joe Boulware, who kept a diary of his Navy time. A few of the crewmen also kept daily dairies but this was discouraged by the Navy. This author was privileged to get copies of these diaries as well as the ship diary plus the deck log from the Battle of Okinawa. From this information this document was written. We will follow the ship from Boston Navy Yard where she was built until her de-commissioning and further post-WWII life.
The newly assigned crew for Heywood L. Edwards (“HLE”) was largely collected at Norfolk where they attended seven weeks of Destroyer Training. They were sent en-mass up to Boston, MA by train to get their ship ready for commissioning.
January 26, 1944 — Heywood L. Edwards was commissioned at Boston Navy Yard, Commander Joe W. Boulware in command.
On February 25, 1944 the ship left Boston for her first shakedown cruise arriving Bermuda on February 27. At Bermuda days were spent practicing torpedo runs, anti submarine warfare simulation and simulated shore bombardment. Liberty in Bermuda was different from Boston, no cars, only bicycles. She left Bermuda on March 26 arriving Boston March 27. Ship personnel received three day passes before taking on supplies and moving on to Casco Bay, Maine. She came back to Boston on April 15 in preparation to head out to the Pacific War. April 16th the ship was on the way to San Diego with four other destroyers and three cruisers. The group of ships arrived at San Diego April 30 and left for Pearl Harbor the next day in company with light carriers, Kitkun Bay (CVE 71), Gambier Bay (CVE 73), Hoggatt Bay (CVE 75) and DD Monssen (DD 798).
On May 27th Larry Gellerman’s first enlistment in the Navy was over. He was given a choice of re-enlisting in the Navy for four more years and receiving a bonus of $400 or he could refuse and stay in the Navy anyhow. To him the war was never going to be over and when you are in Honolulu with $400 offered to you, what else? You re-enlist. Some things you may live to regret. On Heywood L. Edwards Larry was Coxwain of Boat # 1 and assigned as Gun Captain to Gun # 3 as his battle station.
August 1, HLE returned to Eniwetok, sailing from there for Purvis Bay, Florida Islands on August 18. She crossed the Equator for the first time and her Pollywogs were converted into Shellbacks on August 22. Holding an initiation at crossing the equator for the first time was an old time Navy tradition.
September 5th HLE left Tulagi with a large attack force of 28 destroyers, nine cruisers, five battleships and some smaller craft heading for Palau, Western Carolines. Their job would be to knock out the Japanese air field plus extensive shore bombardment.
September 30th Peleliu and Angaur Islands had been captured. In the past two and a half weeks HLE had fired 4,530 rounds of 5-inch ammo. She received credit for knocking out 15 barges, three tanks, four installations, nine trucks, three pillboxes plus numerous troops.
The Battle of Surigao Strait is known as “The Last Great Gun Battle.” On October 24, 1944, Admiral Nishimura was heading for the Surigao Strait and Rear Admiral Oldendorf’s task group which was then in Leyte Gulf awaiting him. This Task Group was divided into three parts. The Left Flank was under R. Adm. Oldendorf composed of three heavy cruisers, Louisville (CA 28), Portland (CA 33) and Minneapolis (CA 36), two light cruisers, Denver (CL 58) and Cleveland (CL 56), and DesRon 56 destroyers in three sections: Newcomb (DD 586), Richard P. Leary (DD 664) and Albert W. Grant (DD 649) in Section 1. Section 2 had destroyers Robinson (DD 562), Halford (DD 480) and Bryant (DD 665). Section 3 had Heywood L. Edwards, Bennion (DD 662) and Leutze (DD 481). Section 3 was under the command of Cmdr. Joe Boulware of the Heywood L. Edwards.
The Battle Line was under R. Adm. Weyler and composed of six battleships, Mississippi (BB 41), Maryland (BB 46), West Virginia (BB 48), Tennessee (BB 43), California (BB 44) and Pennsylvania (BB 38) plus six destroyers, Claxton (DD 571), Cony (DD 508), Thorn (DD 647), Aulick (DD 569), Sigourney (DD 643) and Welles (DD 628).
The Right Flank was under command of R. Adm. Berkey and composed of two light cruisers, Phoenix (CL 46) and Boise (CL 47), one heavy cruiser, HMAS Shropshire plus five destroyers, Hutchins (DD 476), Daly (DD 519), Bache (DD 470), HMAS Arunta (Australian), Killen (DD 593) and Beale (DD 471). On Picket Patrol were Remey (DD 688), McGowan (DD 678), Melvin (DD 680) and Mertz (DD 691) under command of Capt. Coward and McDermut (DD 677), Monssen and McNair (DD 679) under Cmdr. Phillips.
On October 24 a flotilla of 30 PT boats were sent down to the Southern entrance of Surigao Strait to act as a reception committee. Across the Leyte Gulf end Adm. Oldendorf deployed the force in battle disposition with “guide to center of battle line.” Advancing northward into Surigao Strait came Adm. Nishimura with two battleships, Yamashiro and Fuso, and heavy cruiser Mogami plus four destroyers. He was supposed to be joined by Adm. Shima’s Fifth Fleet composed of three cruisers and four destroyers. By miscalculation Adm. Shima was 30 miles away when the battle began.
At 0245 hours of October 25th, Adm. Nishimura moved right into the trap set by the US Navy. At 0300 hours the Japanese destroyers ran into the US Eastern attack group and the battle began. The US fleet fired 27 torpedoes at the enemy and retired, zigzagging and making smoke. Next the Western attack group launched 20 torpedoes at the Japanese. The Japanese battleship Fuso was hit by two torpedoes and foundered. One of the Japanese destroyers was hit and sunk at the same time. Adm. Nishimura in Yamashiro continued forward and at 0400 hours was hit by four deep running torpedoes and a large number of 5-inch shells. She sank in 15 minutes.
Cruiser Mogami and two destroyers continued ahead into gunfire and torpedo fire from Section 2 and 3 of DesRon 56. Next Section 1 destroyers moved in to launch torpedoes. At 0405 these were fired to port at targets 6,300 yard distant. Another Japanese destroyer was hit. Section 1 destroyers were to turn directly away from the Japanese ships left and swing northward. Leary and Newcomb turned but Albert W. Grant was hit before she could make the turn. 0403 she had fired half of her torpedoes and was hit at 0407 hours. She then fired the rest of her torpedoes at the enemy. Her ship’s doctor and five radiomen were killed in the attack plus many more. Leary and Newcomb quickly steamed down to aid the stricken Grant. At 0630 Grant was under tow by Newcomb to get out of Surigao Strait.
At about this same time Adm. Shima had at last arrived on the scene. They were immediately attacked by the PT boats, one of which landed a torpedo into Japanese cruiser Abukuma putting her out of action. Admiral Shima order torpedo attack but they missed targets. Seeing the damage to the Japanese fleet Adm. Shima turned and tried to get out of Surigao Strait with his four remaining destroyers. Two more ships were hit by American aircraft. At 0640 two cruisers and three Navy destroyers were sent down the Strait to finish off any remaining crippled Japanese vessels. By 0730 the battle was over, just five hours after the start. Score was losses for Japanese; ten ships, US Navy only the Albert W. Grant was hit but not sunk. She was the only US warship damaged in the five-hour battle.
At dawn HLE had spotted a Japanese destroyer dead in the water and sank her with 5-inch batteries. Three or four hundred survivors were in the water. HLE attempted to rescue them but they chose not to surrender and started swimming off toward another island that was loaded with Marines. HLE stayed in the Leyte area on patrol.
One night after the fighting had moved inland a large outrigger schooner came to anchor about 100 yards from the HLE. After studying the ship it was observed that there were females aboard. Larry Gellerman had bought from ship’s stores some cigarettes, cigars, dungarees and candy bars. That night when he had finished his watch at midnight, he retrieved his powder can stuffed with goodies, told the relief sentry that he was going over to visit the outrigger. The sentry was cautioned to tell his relief that Larry was out and that he would need the line to get back aboard. He then slipped into the oily and likely shark-infested waters of Leyte Gulf. He easily swam to the outrigger, climbed up and into the boat. He opened the back curtains of the boat and saw that the whole family was sleeping. He woke the nearest man who had a very large knife prominently held between them. He passed out the candy and cigarettes and gave the goodies to them. They spoke a little English and were full of questions about the war and what was happening. These people brought out some food and beer and were very hospitable but no one would let him get close to the females. Finally Larry made his goodbyes and slipped back into the water.
Meanwhile the current had changed and getting back to the HLE was not as easy. He made it to the stern of the ship but his line had been pulled up. He yelled for the sentry, Bill Donovan, GM 2/C, and after a time Bill responded by pointing his gun down on Larry saying “How do I know you are not a Jap?” Finally the line was put back down and he struggled up on board.
HLE then proceeded to Seeadler Harbor at Manus Island in the Admiralty Islands arriving November 29. HLE stayed at Manus until December 15 when she got underway in company of five destroyers and three battleships for Peleliu for fueling and anchorage. On December 19, while still at anchor, they were joined by four more battleships, a squad of PT boats, 50 landing craft, three cruisers and six carriers.
December 25, Christmas Day, the new ship Captain, Commander A. W. Sheppard relieved Commander Joe Boulware.
January 6th HLE left the carriers and started into Lingayen Gulf. As HLE entered the narrow Gulf everything broke loose. The Japanese sent a suicide squadron after the group. At least nine planes were coming at them from all angles. There was no room to maneuver. A dive bomber was coming straight for the HLE but then veered off to hit California (BB 44). 44 people were killed and 155 wounded on the battleship. The ship passed sailors that had been knocked into the sea by the kamikaze. HLE had been on GQ for 20 hours. Once inside the Gulf the ship could turn to head back out but the Japanese aircraft had laid mines in the path. Two DD’s were ordered to remain in the gulf. DD663—HLE was one. It was a very long night. On January 9th the area was filled with troop transports. At 0930 troops landed with very little resistance. January 10th suicide boats mingled with the American ships and sank or damaged five vessels.
HLE assisted in getting two enemy planes, one of which had nicked Richard P. Leary, sister ship to HLE. From January 11 to 16th she was cruising in company with Task Group 56 covering the approaches to Lingayen Gulf and on the 17th picked up a pilot who had crashed at sea and took him back to his carrier. They re-entered the Gulf. January 22 the group was sent back to Ulithi in the Western Carolinas Islands for supplies.
On 24th of February HLE was rammed by the US destroyer Bryant (DD 665) opening a hole 3 feet high and 12 feet fore and aft. She continued firing for two more days after doing temporary repairs but was finally ordered to return to Saipan for repairs.
In Boston when the ship was being first provisioned, Gunner’s Mate 1st Class, Orly Signorelli (now Sorrel) consistently requisitioned a five gallon can of Grade A alcohol to be used for the cleaning of the firing pins on the 5-inch guns. Each requisition was vetoed and Grade C (called “Pink Lady”) was substituted. They needed a still to convert the Pink Lady into Grade A pure alcohol. In return for a promise of an occasional pint (or two) the metal smith made a still out of a two quart oil can, the top sealed with a cover and a fixture venting the can, to which they screwed on copper tubing and coils. A couple of the cooks were kind enough to donate a deep pan and ice (to cool the water for the coils) thru which the Grade C steam coursed converting the steam to pure and pristine 100 percent alcohol. This worked very well but more and more people were included in usage of the product from the still. After several were pronounced as suffering from acute alcoholism, by the ship’s doctor, after having passed out in the chain locker, the still had to go under wraps. It was claimed that the crewmen had passed out from a fire in the chain locker.
A rumor started thru the ship that the alcohol had to come from the torpedo gang since they were the only ones with access to Grade A. They denied it and proved that they had none unaccounted for. The still then had to go overboard still working and as beautiful and proficient as ever along with the hot plate and two bottles of pure Grade A, undoubtedly still resting on the bottom of Ulithi Atoll. The search had turned up nothing but the Grade C, “Pink Lady,” which everyone knew was poisonous for human consumption.
Another invention made by the crew in the aft metal shop was a diving helmet made from a large powder canister pilfered from a large cruiser. It worked very well and the crew was able to dive down into the tropical waters. Only once was it used for official purposes in de-fouling the ship’s propeller. Larry Gellerman was one of the crew who used it but diving hurt his ears so he used it very little.
By March 25th she was supporting underwater demolition teams and beach reconnaissance in the offensive against Kerama Retto which was off Okinawa. HLE expended almost 2000 rounds of ammo during the initial pounding as support. They not only had the suicide kamikaze planes but encountered enemy suicide boats. She was firing on Ie Shima airfield and Naha town and airfield. HLE was credited with destroying four grounded aircraft. Their orders read to do seven days of bombardment before troops would be landing. Life was constantly on General Quarters around the clock. Meals were continuously served on stations. Sandwiches were getting the men down. Suicide planes were diving on destroyers and casualties were mounting for other ships. HLE had not yet been hit except for the collision of Bryant running into them. March 28th a group of Japanese PT boats were out harassing the squadron. About 0130 GQ rang as eight of them were after Newcomb (DD 586), the squad commander of CDS 56. She got up to 35 knots and turned on toward the PT boats and hit one. HLE moved into assist but the PT boats left and American ships were unable to locate where they had gone in the dark. They were at GQ off and on all day including meal time. Sleep was in spurts. At 2000 hours no firing but shrapnel was falling on deck and missed the captain by about three feet.
March 29th at about 0550 planes started coming in. Breakfast was on stations. At 1025 they were along side tanker preparing to fuel. Gun and director crews were sent to stations. On the other side of tanker was O’Brien (DD 725) who had been hit by suicide plane. five signalmen were killed on the bridge and all radiomen in the radio center were killed. Noon our ship had finished fueling so were to take ammunition from LCI 701.
Lunch this day was in chow hall for a change but still sandwiches followed by ice cream. Crew was very tired from all the GQ and lack of sleep.
March 30 was GQ at 0230, again at 0335, again at 0520 but followed with breakfast in mess hall. March 31 was more patrolling on station
Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945 after being up all night shooting at planes, HLE was moving in for shore bombardment supporting the troop landings that had now begun for the Battle of Okinawa. GQ rang every couple hours. Per one diary, “Planes coming in by the billions.” April 2nd HLE had a close call when one plane came on them twice, dropped bombs, and tried to strafe them. Ship maneuvered so the plane tried to dive on HLE but was shot down before hitting. April 3rd, 4th and 5th was more shore bombardment, GQ, meals on station, sandwiches, of course. April 6, on GQ all night and day ready for mass air attack. This last night was the worst HLE had been through so far. Squadron flagship Newcomb was hit. Fire and explosions started with five more suicide planes aimed in on her. Leutze (DD 481) came to aid her and one of the suicide planes came thru and landed on her. In all that day Newcomb was hit by four kamikaze planes; Leutze, one kamikaze; Bush (DD 529), two kamikaze and was sunk; Callaghan (DD 792), two kamikaze; Laffey (DD 724), five kamikaze. Additionally two transports, two destroyer escorts and a couple smaller ships were hit. But the HLE was never hit. The Navy task force shot down about 14 enemy planes in all and the American planes shot down five more.
April 7th word was out that the Japanese fleet was on its way down so the US Navy was forming a powerful task force to meet them. ten cruisers, nine battleships and 19 destroyers were headed north with torpedoes ready. GQ in early hours, HLE was told to be alert for Japanese swimmers in the water with explosives attached. April 11 the ship had three GQ during the night. During the day Mannert L. Abele (DD 733) was sunk by two kamikaze planes. Also hit were Bryant, Lindsey (DM 32), Cassin Young (DD 793), Tennessee (BB 43) and Jeffers (DMS 27). Zellars (DD 777) was hit by a bomb.
April 13 HLE was sent to do more shore bombardment. The men felt like they were the only destroyer out there the way they had been called in to do so much shore bombardment. April 14 found them bombarding Ie Shima in morning followed by Radar Picket duty. They sank a number of barges while on picket duty as well as downing their 8th plane. April 16th, ship was again bombarding the beach preparing for more troops to go ashore. An air attack was happening as well. Destroyers Bryant, Hobson (DMS 26), Harding (DMS 28) and Laffey were hit by suicide planes. Pringle (DD 477) was sunk by mines. HLE was not hit. Ship has been on GQ for seven hours. April 20th the ship was patrolling again but had three air attacks the last night. Wadsworth (DD 516) was hit by one kamikaze. April 22 was spent with the task force and had two raids with 60 planes coming at the group but with no damage to HLE. April 25th, they had spent the last three days bombarding the beaches. At 0910 HLE secured from GQ after being up all night. They had 28 enemy raids the last night. Ralph Talbot (DD 390) was hit by two kamikaze, two APA were hit by one each and Aaron Ward (DM 34) was sunk by mines. April 26 was something of a day at rest. April 28th was a terrible day beginning with an air attack that lasted all night. Score was Hutchins hit by three suicide boats, a hospital ship bombed and sunk, Aaron Ward, McKinley and Bennion hit by two suicide planes and the Wadsworth hit by one plane. April 29 HLE was headed for Kerama Retto for fuel and ammunition but doing shore bombardment on the way including firing into the caves.
May 5th found them fueling from a tanker when enemy planes came in. HLE left in a great hurry. Score for the day was Morrison (DD 560) and Macomb (DMS 23) hit by three kamikaze; Mannert L. Abele, hit by five; Hutchins, hit by four; Little (DD 803) hit by one. Birmingham (CL 62) was hit by one bomb and then the plane dove into the ship. The engine was found three decks below. The entire bridge was blown off.
May 6th, 7th and 8th were spent bombarding and firing all night into the caves. At noon on May 8th all ships in Okinawa area fired a full salvo in celebration of V-E Day. May 9th they had to go for fuel and more ammo and hopefully mail. May 12th they were in Kerama Retto for repairs, changing radar antenna, fueling and loading ammunition. May 15th, it was back to Okinawa for more shore bombardment. Tokyo Rose said on the radio that marines might walk on the streets of Tokyo but no “Tin Can” sailors would. She forecast an air raid that night that all “Tin Can” sailors would remember. Air raid happened but not as bad as predicted.
HLE sent out whaleboats to aid in the rescue of the crewmen now jumping into the oil coated water with much of the oil burning. Larry Gellerman was Coxswain of boat #1, Lt. Joe Johnson the officer of boat, Art Fockler the motor mechanic, Felix Lombardi the pharmacist mate, and the bow hook was remembered to be either Ray Dybas or Bill Kopp. Art Fockler has commented that he was never again without his flashlight because the men that were blowing their whistles in the water were too hard to find since the sounds were echoing everywhere around them.
Other ships sent boats to the site as well. Some survivors were taken to the HLE for treatment by Dr. Frank Marino but most were taken to cruiser Salt Lake City (CA 25) or other LCIs in the area. At about 1600 hours HLE and her companion destroyer Picking (DD 685) in the area, were told to fire on the Longshaw to destroy her thus preventing the enemy from removing any equipment or classified items from the vessel. Because of the undertow, torpedoes were not too successful so HLE opened up with Five Inch guns. Twice they hit magazines and terrible explosions followed. Smoke bellowed up covered with flames. There were only 236 officers and crewmen rescued form the Longshaw. Ninety nine were wounded. Of those numbers two officers and five enlisted crewmen would die later. All counted up 11 officers, 74 crewmen and the captain lost their lives on this day. Nothing of value from that ship would fall into enemy hands.
We quote from the book “Blood on The Sea” by Robert Sinclair Parkin. Leo Scott, crewman on Longshaw, recalls his horrendous experience as follows “When the shore guns began to fire, I rushed to my battle station in the radar transmission room. We could feel the shells striking the ship, which was like being in a metal barrel that was being hit with a sledgehammer. Suddenly a violent explosion forward sent us reeling about the room. Then amidst all the confusion and the din of the shelling, I thought I heard the order to abandon ship. It was my responsibility to see that the secret magnetrons for the radar equipment were destroyed. However when I opened the door to the room where they were located, the space was like a blast furnace and filled with black smoke. Worse yet, I could hear the agonizing screams of the poor souls, most of whom were my friends, trapped in that inferno and I was unable to save them.” He ran around checking crewmen on deck and finding them dead finally ran aft and jumped into the sea. We quote again “When I was about 30 yards from the ship I could see that there were still several men on deck, and in spite of the shells bursting among them they were still trying to fight the fires. Apparently, they did not hear the order to abandon ship. Many of us in the water were tossed about whenever a shell detonated near us. One exploded so close to me that I was thrown out of the water. Although I was stunned by the blast, I did not lose consciousness, but I did suffer minor internal injuries and lost my hearing for some time after.”
As information the Longshaw was a Fletcher-class destroyer, built at Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corp (now Todd Shipyard) in Seattle, Washington. Her keel was laid on June 16, 1942, launched June 4, 1943. She was commissioned December 4, 1943, the second of only two destroyers lost for cause other than kamikaze planes at Okinawa. Longshaw earned nine battle stars.
May 22nd HLE continued bombarding the beach. The crew was wondering if they would ever secure from GQ. One hundred sixty-six planes in 24 hours were taken down by the squadron. At 1500 a plane came circling around but could not see HLE because of the smoke screen. A destroyer escort only 50 yards from HLE opened fire but the plane homed in on the tracers and crashed on the DE. 20 were injured. The men on the HLE thought for sure the plane would land on them. May 26 found them heading for Kerama Retto again for fuel, ammo and stores. This would be their first fresh food in over a month. They would have to get at least gun # 4 repaired. Her barrel was unusable. Some of their guns were replaced from other destroyers that were being cannibalized providing replacement parts for other destroyers. May 28 found the Japanese having a field day on the picket line of destroyers. The Braine (DD 630) was hit by three kamikazes with 150 men killed, Drexler (DD 741) was hit by two planes and sunk. Barry (APD 29) was smashed up. Shubrick (DD 639) was towed in. She was hit by a loaded bomber. Only 95 survivors and two were still trapped down in a handling room. They are receiving food through the hoist. Kerama Retto was beginning to look like a junkyard.
June found them back shelling the beaches of Okinawa and then going back to Kerama Retto for fuel and ammo. They learned that the J. William Ditter (DM 31) and Gwin (DM 33) had each been hit by two kamikazes and the Twiggs (DD 591) was hit by a torpedo plane. She went down in only 16 minutes and had only 96 survivors.
On June 20th it was learned that over 8,000 Japanese troops had committed Hari-Kari by jumping into the sea for the edge of the cliffs. Lt Don Rennie, the gunnery officer had announced that the HLE had fired 29,731 rounds of 5-inch ammo since the ship went into commission January 26, 1944. 15,930 rounds had been fired during this operation on Okinawa. The ship had been in the Okinawa Theater for 88 days at that time and had been firing the guns for 73 of those days. They had had to go down to Kerama Retto 11 times for fuel, ammo and supplies. They had averaged 261 rounds per day in the Okinawa Theater and averaged 57 rounds per day since commissioning. June 21st Okinawa was finally secured after 82 days of the landed troops fighting.
July 1st the ship had to go alongside a tender for repairs taking two weeks but on July 17th, they had to leave the tender because of oncoming typhoon. It was extremely rough with waves breaking all over the ship. This lasted over four days. On July 22 they went into Buckner Bay for mail and fuel and then further Radar Picket duty at Okinawa. HLE had spent 128 days at Okinawa under bombardment on fire support or radar picket station.
On July 28th they were relieved and told to proceed back to Leyte for duty in the North Pacific Fleet with their sister ship the Richard P. Leary and the LSD 16. August 2nd found them in Leyte where they watched their first movie in four months and the 1st section got liberty. August 3rd they were headed for Saipan when orders were changed to send them to Guam to have all the barrels of their guns replaced.
This was not a good day for testing the new guns. Because the bomb had been dropped the end of the war was presumed. One of the officers, who were allowed to have alcohol aboard, gave the enlisted crew two bottles of rum. They had a powdered root beer drink that tasted like root beer but had no fizz. They mixed up the root beer mix in a 30 gallon tureen and dumped the rum into the mix. It tasted awful. The torpedo crew still had torpedo juice (190 proof pure alcohol). The torpedo crew gladly gave two gallons of this juice to the mixture. This had a real kick to it. By the time the ship got out to the area to try out the guns most of the guys were too drunk to fire the guns. They were only able to assemble one gun crew. When the Captain would call “Fire gun # 1,” the crew would fire gun #1. When he would call for the next gun the same group would run down to that gun and fire it. This went thru for all the guns with just the one gun crew slowly making their way to all the guns for the testing. This shows ingenuity to sailor’s determination to get alcohol.
September 11 found HLE refueling at Manila Bay where they received mail. Finally the blackout regulations were lifted allowing movies on the fantail and smoking topside after dark. September 12 they entered Matsu Bay, going into Ominato. Weather was chilly here at night. Mines were around here in the water. HLE received Japanese officers aboard for instructions to get into Tokyo Harbor. They were to escort six Japanese vessels down to Tokyo. A heavy typhoon came along and held them up for two days but finally passed. HLE was made commander of this task force arriving Tokyo Bay on Sept 21st. The next day she was heading back to Ominato for more patrol. Early October found them in and out of Ominato Naval Base. Their mail finally caught up with them, including 21 bags of 2nd class mail. On October 9th 11 more crewmen left the ship for the United States. five had enough points and five more had three children plus one person re-enlisted. October 12 found them facing another typhoon requiring changes of berths to keep the ships from banging into each other. October 13 HLE received orders to move to Hachinoe to take charge of dumping 2400 tons of Japanese ammo over the side in 36 feet of water. This took several days.
November 11th was liberty for some of the crew. They took a “streamline ferry” (Kalakala) from Bremerton to Seattle. November 12th found HLE moving over to Todd’s Shipyard for repair work. She spent more time in Bremerton. Larry Gellerman had been re-assigned to Bremerton but to another ship, Lacerta (AKA-29). He would frequently come to visit HLE friends. Letters to home complained bitterly about the cold rainy weather in Bremerton. He thought it to be much colder than his native Minnesota after having been in the tropics for the last two years. Crew members were gradually collecting enough points and would be discharged and set home. Others were given 30 days leave plus eight days travel time before coming back to the ship. New crewmen were assigned to the ship to make it functional.
HLE was sent down to San Diego for decommissioning July 1, 1946 and placed in the Long Beach Group, Pacific Reserve Fleet.
“The Secretary of the Navy takes pleasure in commending THE UNITED STATES SHIP HEYWOOD L. EDWARDS for service as follows:
“For outstanding heroism in action against enemy Japanese forces in the Saipan-Tinian operations, June 12 to August 2, 1944: Palau, September 6 to 29, 1944; the Battle of Surigao Strait, October 24–25; 1944;; Iwo Jima, February 14 to March 9, 1945; and Okinawa, March 21 to April 18, 1945. Operating in the face of continued and persistent air attacks throughout five major campaigns, the U.S.S. HEYWOOD L. EDWARDS blasted Japanese shore emplacements, screened our attacking transports and effectively laid support barrages for amphibious assaults. On the night of 23–24 September, while on patrol duty, she detected a column of fourteen Japanese barges attempting to reinforce the Palau garrison and aided in destroying the whole group with its 650 enemy troops. During the Historic Battle of Surigao Strait, she gallantly led Section Three of Destroyer Squadron FIFTY-SIX in a coordinated night torpedo attack against the enemy’s Southern Force and rendered invaluable assistance in the utter defeat of these hostile units. In retiring, she made a thorough search of the Battle area and aided in sinking a crippled Japanese destroyer. At Iwo Jima she furnished continuous fire support for eleven days and during the Okinawa assault, spent 128 days on fire support and radar picket stations, conducting 350 bombardment missions. When several enemy aircraft attacked her fire support group, she scored direct hits on three of the planes and assisted in destroying a fourth, all within ninety seconds. Superbly handled by valiant officers and men, HEYWOOD L. EDWARDS rendered distinctive service, sustaining and enhancing the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
“All personnel attached to and serving on board the U.S.S. HEYWOOD L. EDWARDS during one or more of the above-mentioned periods are authorized to wear the NAVY UNIT COMMENDATION Ribbon.”
Signed, John L. Sullivan, Acting Secretary of the Navy.
Heywood L. Edwards received seven battle stars, one silver and two bronze which all personnel were entitled to wear. Larry Gellerman, as Coxswain and Lt. Joe Johnson as officer on the whaleboat that entered the burning oil and enemy shelling to pick up survivors from the ship Longshaw, each earned Navy Letters of Commendation for their actions. The crew as a whole were entitled to the following medals: The Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, The National Defense Medal, The Philippine Liberation Medal, the WWII Victory Medal, The Occupation Service Medal as well as The Combat Veterans Ribbon and The Overseas Service Veterans Ribbon.
Of the nine ships assigned to DesRon 56, eight were either hit or sunk by enemy fire or suicide planes. Heywood L. Edwards was the ninth. Never hit by enemy fire!!!! She fired more rounds of 5-inch ammo than any other destroyer. She completely wore out her guns. What better record could anyone ask?
Most of the information was gratefully taken from personal interviews with Francis H. Musselman, GM, 3/C, Robert Chantler, SOM 3/C, Orly (Signorelli) Sorrel, GM 1/C, Art Fockler, MM 1/C, Lt. Joseph Johnson, Leo Sterrenburg, CM 1/C and the wonderful personal diaries of George McEntee, RM 2/C, William Remolino, RDM 2/C and the ship’s captain for most of these writings, Cmdr. Joe Boulware. We also had access to the ship’s deck logs of Heywood L. Edwards from the Battle of Okinawa and the ship diary of the war years as well as some writings by Laurence Gellerman of his 2nd destroyer assignment. We thank these men who, despite Navy regulations, did keep diaries during the war years. We especially thank Bob Chantler for collecting and keeping all the paper history of this ship.
Books: U.S. Destroyers: Norman Friedman, Naval Institute Press, 1982; Blood On The Sea: Robert Sinclair Parkin, Sarpedon Publishers, 1995; United States Destroyer Operations in World War II: Theodore Roscoe/Fred Freedman, Naval Institute 1953; Fletcher Class Destroyers: Allan Raven, Naval Institute Press, 1986; History of United States Naval Operations in World War II – Volume XII, Leyte, June 1944–January 1945: Samuel Eliot Morison; Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Navy Department, Naval History Division, 1968; Fletcher DDs In Action: Jerry Scutts, Warship Number 8, Squadron/Signal Publications.