The overall operation in Lingayen Gulf was much the same as in our previous invasions. The difference being in the number and severity of air attacks; and a new twist: suicide boats and suicide swimmers. Also, this was the first time the Newcomb suffered significant damage.
Our first day of shore bombardment was January 6, 1945. We had been at GQ 4 times early in the day, and went to GQ at 1420 for shore bombardment. Air attacks started again at 1600, and were heavy at 1700 when the fleet started to retire from the Gulf for the night. The Newcomb had several near misses from suicide planes which crashed nearby. As one plane passed along our starboard side, attempting to hit the bridge, we were hit by fire from another ship (probably another destroyer or the battleship California) firing at the plane. We were hit on the bridge wings, the flying bridge, the fire-control director, and the after head.
Two of my good friends were killed and 15 others of us were wounded. Ed Schoeneberg, a Fire-Control-Man was always right beside me on the flying bridge during GQ. He was less that two feet away from me when a large chunk of shrapnel passed right through his chest—only two feet away. Also, Ray Collins, Signalman, was hit in the hip by a large piece of shrapnel. John Mulqueen, Quartermaster was close by on the flying bridge and received severe shrapnel wounds in his legs. I was able to control his bleeding until a medic arrived. The rest of us were very lucky, receiving only minor wounds. My kapok life preserver (that each of us wore during action) stopped a lot of small shrapnel.
When, later, I went to the wardroom (our “hospital”) to be probed for shrapnel and a bit of a bandage, Ray Collins was lying on the table; thoroughly doped up. I spoke with him, and I can still remember his words: “Nate, there’s something in my hip pocket that hurts. Can you do something about it?” I couldn’t. He died that night.
In the general scheme of war, this was a very minor affair. The biggest problem was that our fire control director was damaged and we would not be much good at anti-aircraft work. However, it was most sobering for some of us—we were not invincible after all; and I can still recall the sicky-sweet smell of Ed Schoenenberg’s blood on the deck of the flying bridge; a smell that lingered for some days.
Next day, Ed and Ray were given a Naval burial at sea in the center of Lingayen Gulf. Sewn into a heavy canvas shroud, with a 5-inch shell for weight, they were dropped over the side; a clean, final, and wholly fitting burial; a burial that even I can appreciate.
A month or two later several of us were called to the bridge, and were formally awarded the “Purple Heart” Medal. I have always felt a little embarrassed; my many friends who died received the Purple Heart—and those of us who were hardly hurt at all received the same medal.
On January 24 we left the Philippine Islands heading for Ulithi Island for repairs and to prepare for the next invasion—Iwo Jima. (continued)