I can’t say that the ten weeks in Kerama Retto were pleasant. We lived aboard the Wayne until April 20 when most of the crew were sent back to the States for liberty and to await our return. 75 of us, all volunteers, stayed with the ship to bring it back for repairs. We would have to be towed back as we had no power; and we could not be towed back until substantial hull repairs were made to make us sea-worthy.
And so we waited and we waited. The problem was very simple. Every day ships were being hit by the Kamikazes. Some were sunk, some were scuttled (as the Newcomb should have been) and others had various degrees of damage. At one time I counted 65 damaged men-of-war in Kerama Retto, mostly destroyers. The repair facilities were limited, so priority was (properly) given to ships that could be repaired enough to go out and fight again. The Newcomb had the lowest priority; clearly she would not fight again for at least a year. And so we waited and we waited.
In Kerama Retto it was fairly quiet during the day, but at night it was different. The Japanese were using most of their air-power attacking the fleet near Okinawa. But every night they would carry out small air raids over Kerama Retto. To try to protect all of the defenseless ships in the harbor, the Navy used LCVPs with smoke-making gear to create a smoke screen cover. It was eerie; we could hear the planes but not see them. We didn’t know whether they could see our masts. A couple times ships tried firing with 20mm guns through the smoke. Unfortunately the enemy could see the tracer shells and follow them down for a Kamikaze crash; which they did.
We were all in a state of shock and fear. I remember one evening, it was dark and the enemy planes were overhead. I found myself on deck, crouched, backing away—from what? I had no idea how I had gotten there, but I was petrified. This was not a happy time.
In addition to the planes, we had to worry about the Japanese still on the islands. They were harassing us in several ways. The extent wasn’t clear but we knew that some had swum out at night, climbed a ship’s anchor chain, and knifed some sailors. Other “suicide swimmers” had explosives attached to their torso in such a way that they couldn’t be removed without exploding.
The enemy also had quite a few “suicide boats” at Kerama Retto. The boats were fast plywood boats about 16 feet long with 4 cylinder inboard engines. Typically, they would try to get close enough to a ship to drop a depth charge or other explosives over the side.
So the nights were really scary; and when we stood watch we were armed with machine guns. The water was very calm and oily; the air was smoky. There was a lot of trash in the water, so every time you saw something such as a floating box that could hide an enemy swimmer’s head—we shot at it. So there we were, many, many ships, shooting at any sizable thing that floated by. We all said that it sounded like a shooting gallery—but not as much fun.
My night watches were up on the bridge, all alone. The ship would roll slightly back and forth, and being damaged, would creak and groan. How do you tell a harmless creak from one caused by a suicide swimmer sneaking up onto the bridge? I was scared; all of us were scared. One day Gene Sharpe and I agreed to sleep up on the bridge during the other’s watch, so we would not be all alone. What a difference that made! We became good friends and still keep in close touch.
Finally repairs were started. We went into a floating dry-dock to have our bottom patched up. Large I-beams were welded to the sides and to the deck to strengthen the hull. The rubble areas in the above two photos were cleaned up and a deck of steel plates was welded in place. We referred to this expanse of new decking as our “flight deck” as it looked more like an aircraft carrier. The photo shows the “flight deck” under construction. Number 1 stack has been removed. (continued)