- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Friday, April 6, 1945, is a day emblazoned in my memory. Sixty years ago today, off Okinawa in the East China Sea, a Japanese kamikaze plane crashed into the port side of my destroyer (called by sailors a “tin can”), penetrating the hull and exploding on the starboard side of the ship, the USS Morris. The bow was almost severed from the ship, and the explosion was catastrophic. When it was over, 24 men were dead and 44 wounded, almost 30 percent of the ship’s crew.

America and its allies had just landed 182,000 soldiers and Marines on the southwestern coast of Okinawa Gunto. I was on board as supply and disbursing officer, a lieutenant (junior grade) in my eighth Pacific campaign on Morris.

More than 2,528 ships descended on Okinawa in a final, devastating amphibious operation envisioned as the final onslaught before invading the Japanese home islands in October that same year.

I recall the tension aboard Morris on the eve of Easter Sunday. Before midnight, in pitch dark, Morris and ships nearby quietly moved forward to be ready for the pre-dawn landings. Dozens of destroyers were stationed about 14 miles offshore to intercept the expected attacks by swarms of desperate kamikaze planes.

Friday, April 6 was the most momentous day in the history of Morris. This was no accident, for the admiral who commanded all Japanese forces in the East China Sea began his Operation Ten-Go in earnest. He had 699 aircraft, 355 of them kamikazes, available for April 6 and April 7. This was to be the first of 10 massed kamikaze onslaughts called kikusui.

Historian Samuel Eliot Morrison noted that a Japanese plane, later identified as a “Kate,” carrying either a heavy bomb or torpedo, crashed into the ship on the port side between the No. 1 and No. 2 guns, just above the main deck. Fires spread rapidly. The fire main forward was severed. Fire hoses had insufficient water to check the fire. Ammo magazines were flooded and electricity forward was connected.

I was at my battle station in the combat information center when it happened, with about a dozen shipmates, perhaps 20-30 feet from the explosion. We were knocked violently to the deck and the CIC engulfed in total darkness. We came to, dazed but uninjured, and dashed out on deck to find total chaos, with dead and injured lying around with terrible damage to the forward half of the ship. We pulled the wounded to safety, administered first aid, manned fire hoses, organized rescue parties and tried to save the ship.

Another destroyer and a DE finally arrived alongside to help with the wounded and to fight fires. We thought that the ship would have to be abandoned, for ammunition was exploding, and the fire was fast spreading, a severe list of the ship to port was developing. But with the help of other ships and the heroic efforts of Morris’ surviving crew, it was saved.

About midnight, some six or seven hours after having been struck, the after-action report states that Morris slowly limped into the nearby anchorage of Kerama Retto, “underway with port engine ahead one-third, starboard engine ahead two thirds, maneuvering with left rudder because of a large section of hull bent outboard on starboard side-at a speed of seven knots. Steering control in after steering with directions from bridge over JV circuit. Commenced pumping A-4 and A-6 to remove a 5 degree port list.”

The repair officer at Kerama Retto recommended that Morris be towed to sea and sunk, because it was “junk.” But during two months at anchorage, and by heroic efforts of the surviving crew, Morris was patched up and set sail. It took almost 30 days to return to port in San Francisco’s Hunters Point on June 18.

American casualties were the highest of any campaign in the Pacific War: 49,151, including more than 12,000 killed or missing and more than 36,000 wounded. The Army alone suffered 4,482 killed and 19,099 wounded. Navy and Marine losses were high. The American fleet lost 36 ships sunk and 368 damaged. Japanese losses were staggering, with approximately 110,000 combatants and service troops killed. And more than 42,000 Okinawans perished.

Following the carnage, President Truman ordered two atomic bombs, and the war was ended.

Retired Rear Admiral Robert H. Spiro, Jr., was a supply and disbursing officer aboard the USS Morris.

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