She Was My Yacht
Warren Gabelman

Warren Gabelman in 2006.

Warren Gabelman was Nicholas’ communications officer from May 1943–May 1945 and, late in his tour, officer of the deck at general quarters.
Life on a destroyer during World War II was hectic, particularly if you were operating in close contact with the enemy. Life was equally hectic for both the enlisted men and the officers. We had only enough crew to man the various needs for watches at sea and at general quarters. The press has documented battles involving our larger ships—carriers, battleships and heavy cruisers—but relatively little is said about the destroyers that provided antisubmarine screens, additional antiaircraft protection and the only surface source of torpedoes in battle. After such battles the major ships retired to safe harbors. The destroyers, meanwhile, remained on the fighting front convoying ships; supplying personnel, arms, fuel, food and other necessities for armed ground forces; and intercepting enemy ships trying to re-supply their forces or in some cases attempting to remove their troops when they could no longer hold territory under siege by the US Army and Marines. The only times we were apt to spend more than a day or two in port were if we needed time alongside a destroyer tender, e.g., for repairs, replacing ammunition and/or torpedoes.

In the South Pacific area, much of the destroyer surface action in 1942 and 1943 involved two squadrons of destroyers, the 1,620- and 1,630-tonners of Destroyer Squadron 12 and its predecessor Division 22 and the Fletcher-class 2,100-tonners of Destroyer Squadron 21.

Every ship had to train its crew to handle increased responsibilities as quickly as possible. Experienced officers and petty officers were needed to man new ships under construction. Your captain always needed a trained replacement to fill a void.

Shortly after coming on board, I was assigned to be a junior officer of the deck (JOOD) on one of three sea watches. This responsibility presented many new challenges. We were one of the new ships with a complete radar suite—air, surface and fire control. The Combat Information Center (CIC), which integrated tactical information of all types, was even newer and in a state of evolution, but I soon felt much safer on dark nights when we were wholly dependent on radar than under conditions where we could be seen by the Japanese.

I recommend two books for their narrative on destroyer warfare in the South Pacific.

The first is “South Pacific Destroyer” by Russell Sydnor Crenshaw Jr., Capt. USN retired, published by Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD. During 1943 he served as gunnery officer and later as executive officer on the USS Maury (DD 401).

The second book provides a wider view of the great naval battles of the war in the Pacific as seen by Japanese eyes, namely, “Japanese Destroyer Captain” by Captain Tameichi Hara of the Imperial Japanese Navy (translated by Fred Seito and Roger Pineau and published by Ballantine Books, New York.) He commanded the destroyer Shigure during the Battle of Vella LaVella. Earlier he commanded the destroyer Amatsukaze. He was in nearly every battle in the Pacific during World War II.

Not all was perfect however. Imagine being in contact with enemy forces while in amongst the Solomon Islands trying to go through narrow channels at night using charts based on soundings obtained by Captain James Cook in the middle of the 18th century!

Our surface search (SG) radar was a tremendous help in navigation. During night action, the accuracy from guns using fire control radar was vastly superior to Japanese gunfire based on optics. In contrast, the Japanese “Long Lance” torpedoes were vastly superior to ours. Many times we fired torpedoes at Japanese ships at relatively short ranges without success. The captains of our early destroyers eventually realized that the torpedoes were running much deeper than set. Compensation for depth settings was finally made in August 1943. During the Battle of Vella Gulf on August 6, the USS Dunlap (DD 384), USS Craven (DD 382) and USS Maury (DD 401) fired a spread of torpedoes at four Japanese destroyers, hitting all four and sinking the Kawakaze, Arashi and Hagikaze. Thereafter the effectiveness of the Japanese navy was greatly diminished.

On board my ship, the USS Nicholas (DD 449), we had many experiences that were unique to our ship, though every destroyer crew could tell similar tales.

After completing midshipman school training at the University of Notre Dame in late January 1943, I received orders to “proceed by available transportation to Nouméa, New Caledonia and report to Admiral Halsey’s command for assignment on a destroyer. Delay enroute and complete one month of training on torpedoes at the San Diego Naval Base.” On May 1, I was assigned to the Nicholas, the first destroyer of the Fletcher class commissioned and flagship of Destroyer Squadron 21. She had been in the South Pacific for about seven months.

On May 14, I reported for duty aboard the “Nick.” The following day the executive officer told me I would be assistant communications officer. While I was the fourth ensign to report to the Nicholas whose training was on torpedoes, the ship needed only one. Our communications officer had no assistant. I was assured that I would learn communications the hard way. And I did.

The Nicholas was alongside a destroyer tender when I reported aboard. The night before, while bombarding Japanese shore positions on Kolombangara Island, our ship had a “hangfire”—a shell jammed in the No. 3 5-inch/38 cal. gun—certain to detonate when it absorbed the heat built up in the gun from earlier salvoes. Fortunately everyone was evacuated before the shell blew.

The crew enthusiastically assumed they could now go to Pearl Harbor or San Francisco for a new gun. However, Admiral Halsey felt he could ill afford to remove an experienced crew from the Solomon Islands for a significant period of time. A new destroyer, the USS Hutchins (DD 476), which had just reported to Halsey’s command (with an inexperienced crew), was ordered to tie up alongside and our No. 3 gun was replaced by theirs! They went back to Pearl Harbor for a replacement.

After the new gun was installed, we needed to go to sea and use the gun to be sure that everything was satisfactory. Someone in authority thought this would be a great opportunity for naval pilots to make simulated runs on destroyers maneuvering at high speed. The planes were a mixture of torpedo planes and dive bombers. I do not know whether the planes were decrepit or whether the pilots were badly fatigued, but 10–12 failed to come out of their dives or came in too low on torpedo runs and hit the water and were lost. It was a sad happening; never again did they try this.

When we left the tender, we provided antisubmarine protection for the USS Monongahela (AO 42) from the New Hebrides to Guadalcanal. She carried about 3 million gallons of aviation gas. After offloading much of it at Guadalcanal, she proceeded to Tulagi to offload either oil or gas there. The Nicholas went alongside the Monongahela to top off our fuel tanks so we would be fully loaded. While alongside, we were suddenly called to general quarters. My assignment was in the coding room, a small enclosed space much like a minimum-sized toilet with a typewriter in front of your chair. The door to the coding shack was always closed. Coast watchers had reported 125 Japanese planes heading toward Guadalcanal. We got under way and out of Tulagi Harbor quickly so we would have speed and maneuverability. All at once, our 5-inch guns opened up. My curiosity was too great to stay in the coding shack so I went outside to see what they were firing at. Suddenly a chain of about six explosions (bombs?) occurred about 100 yards off the starboard side. If I could have dug a foxhole in a steel deck, I would have. Shortly after that, the planes were gone and we secured from general quarters. I headed to the wardroom for a cup of coffee and to find out more about the previous 30 minutes. When the gunnery officer came in, I said “Those bombs were close.” He looked at me a bit amused and informed me that that was only the new No. 3 5-inch gun which had “gone out” in elevation and was firing into the water.

The Solomon Islands are two chains of islands running from southeast to northwest, north of the Coral Sea. The southern chain is composed of San Cristobal, Guadalcanal and the New Georgia group of islands. The northern chain is composed of Malaita, Santa Isabel and Choiseul Islands. Both chains of islands merge at Bougainville.

Operating in these confined waters, both Japanese and US forces were dependent on old maps. Ours were based on records from Captain Cook. The Japanese used old British maps, perhaps also based on Captain Cook’s records. Whereas we had excellent surface search radar to assist us as we navigated narrow passages between islands, the Japanese were dependent on optics. The deep waters between the two island chains—the 250-mile long New Georgia Sound known to us as the “Slot”—became a favorite funnel for attacks from both sides.

After the battles involving carriers and battleships in and around the Coral Sea and Guadalcanal in 1942, our naval strategists decided that two divisions of light cruisers and three squadrons of destroyers, 12, 21 and 22, would be given the primary responsibility for whatever naval defenses and offenses would be required as we proceeded up the Solomon Islands chain towards the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul.

As it turned out, Rear Admiral Walden Ainsworth’s Cruiser Division 9—USS Honolulu (CL 48), USS St. Louis (CL 49) and USS Helena (CL 50)—and Destroyer Squadrons 21 and 12 took the brunt of enemy action in 1943. Three of our ten destroyers in Squadron 21 and its predecessor Cactus Striking Force were sunk: the USS De Haven (DD 469) on February 1 (167 men lost), the USS Strong (DD 467) before the Battle of Kula Gulf on July 4–5 (46 men lost) and the USS Chevalier (DD 451) following the Battle of Vella LaVella on October 6–7 (54 men lost).

At the Battle of Kula Gulf on the night of July 5–6, the cruiser Helena was sunk and a week later, at the Battle of Kolombangara, sisters Honolulu and St. Louis plus HMNZS Leander were torpedoed but not sunk. Thereafter, our remaining destroyers of Squadron 21 became the primary striking force in the Solomons, with Squadron 12 deeply involved in all operations as well.

Needless to say, nearly all the original and replacement destroyers of these two squadrons were damaged and ten of the 24 were sunk by the end of 1943. Collectively, they also earned five individual Presidential Unit Citations and one Navy Unit Commendation for this campaign.

From mid-June to mid-August, we patrolled up the Slot nearly every other night. The Nicholas’ moment of glory was when we and the USS Radford (DD 446) were ordered to stay behind after the Battle of Kula Gulf to pick up survivors of the Helena. Three hours later, our two ships had rescued 745 men even though we had to break off operations three times to take Japanese surface ships under torpedo and gunfire as they emerged from Kula Gulf toward us.

Later, during a stretch of 14 days, ships of Squadron 21 made ten trips up the Slot from our base at Purvis Bay in the Florida Islands across Iron Bottom Bay from Guadalcanal. Each trip started about 4:00 p.m. arriving in the combatant zones about dark. The crew would be at general quarters until we started back toward Purvis Bay about 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning, arriving about 9 a.m. Between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. we would have to replenish any used ammunition and fuel in case we were called back that same night. Otherwise we tended to go up the Slot every other night. Obviously, some nights we were called back with minimal opportunities for sleep.

During several nights, small Japanese planes that could not see us very well in the dark attempted to follow our wakes, from which light would fluoresce. When near our sterns, they would rev up their motors and rise sharply to either port or starboard as they dropped a pair of bombs and disappeared. Our air radar could not detect these planes effectively because of their low altitude and the radar interference caused by land masses nearby. Our first awareness of their presence was when we heard the planes’ motors rev up as they passed over the ship’s stern. Our countermove was to keep our speed down to 10–12 knots so the fluorescence was minimized. Destroyer sailors steaming at 10–12 knots feel like “sitting ducks.” One night, enemy planes made 10–12 bombing runs on us. Fortunately, even though some of the bombs were close enough to cause the ship’s stern to move laterally, we were never hit. It pays to be lucky.

By October 1943, we had fired 20,000 rounds of ammunition from our 5-inch battery. Navy regulations dictated that after 4,000 rounds per gun, the 5-inch gun should be replaced. Finally, we would be headed home.

Admiral Halsey sent us off with a message that made everyone in the squadron proud, concluding with, “You may be sure I will welcome you back with open arms anytime, any ocean.” We were ordered to proceed to the Fiji Islands to join a carrier task force that would be attacking the Gilbert Islands before we went to San Francisco. When we entered the harbor in the Fijis, we saw new ships as far as we could see. “Where in the hell have they been hiding?” said our gunnery officer.

As we were leaving the Fijis for the Gilberts in November 1943, planes towing sleeves flew for the purposes of antiaircraft practice. During these activities one of the destroyers fired at the sleeve when it was nearly over one of our major ships. This prompted the task force commander to order the destroyers to “cease fire” and in turn prompted one of our officers to retort under his breath, “they need to know what warfare is like.”

While operating with carriers, we often were assigned to follow the carrier launching or landing planes. As “plane guard,” we occasionally needed to return pilots picked up out of the ocean to their mother ship. They always rewarded us with ice cream. We also refueled from either the carriers or from battleships in the task force. If the seas were choppy, we had to be extremely vigilant on the bridge during refueling operations.

During the Gilberts operation, we had our first experiences operating with large fast carriers. When planes were to be launched, the screening destroyers often had to countermarch directly through the formation of carriers—so that when they turned into the wind to launch planes, we would have an appropriate antisubmarine screen in place. Ships passing each other with each going 25–30 knots required good seamanship and split-second timing on the part of the OOD to be on proper station.

At about 2 a.m. on the morning of November 27, we had a couple bogeys on the radar and did not want them to detect our presence. A night fighter team lead by veteran USS Enterprise (CV 6) pilot Butch O’Hare took off to intercept. Both bogeys disappeared but Butch O’Hare was lost. Chicago’s commercial airport O’Hare Field was later named in his honor.

After the Gilberts operation, we proceeded to San Francisco and spent two months receiving new 5-inch guns, replacing some of our smaller antiaircraft guns with 40mm Bofors and receiving other appropriate modifications. A major addition was an ice cream machine of our own!

During this time, the Nick lost 50% of her crew to new construction. This included the communications officer so, after only eight months’ experience, I found myself to be the communications officer, officer of the deck (OOD) for one of the three watch sections while at sea and OOD at general quarters—duties I still had when I left the ship 17 months later.

In January 1944, we took departure from San Francisco and headed back to the war zone. Upon our arrival at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nimitz came aboard to present to us our Presidential Unit Citation. Soon thereafter we joined up with a task force that raided Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands and Truk in the Carolines, after which we proceeded to the Southwest Pacific to report to General McArthur’s command. En route, we made radar contact at night with a surface object that turned out to be the Japanese submarine I-17. When the sub dived, we dropped a pattern of depth charges as we passed over its path. Our first pass was unsuccessful, whereupon the sub hid near the area where our depth charges had exploded. They knew that sonar echoes off the exploded areas were very similar to the echoes off submarines. Nearly two hours later, we reestablished sonar contact and were successful in our next attack.

While in the Southwest Pacific, we operated primarily out of Manus in the Admiralty Islands and for a lesser time out of the Treasury Islands in the Solomons. Once, while passing 20 miles off the coast of New Guinea in the vicinity of Aitape, we were forced to spend much of the morning avoiding large trees that had been washed off the island. They had apparently had a horribly severe storm on the island.

Most of the landings on New Guinea were supported only by destroyers. Once, when proceeding to a new landing site, one of the PT boats in our group of ships decided to turn around and head back to their base. It was about 2 a.m. and very dark so this was detected only by radar. Needless to say, someone had to run it down. It took the Nicholas about six hours to overtake the PT boat, turn it around and return it to our formation of ships.

At the landing on Biak, we were asked to provide close support to the landing area. We were assigned to destroy an ammunition dump in an area where the buildings looked much like a farm. The second or third salvo destroyed many of the buildings. A huge explosion was observed and white chickens were seen flying in all directions but no real ammo dump.

Being available on a continuous basis over an extended period of time, as ordered by Army commander General MacArthur, started to take its toll on destroyer sailors. When his New Guinea campaigns were over, it was time to move on to the Philippines. Leyte would be the next big operation. By this time our operations seemed more like a continuum of assignments rather than separate forays. We were no longer operating as or with a distinct task force.

Ships of our squadron arrived in Leyte Gulf on D+2 day, having been responsible for convoying logistic ships to support the landings. Once completed, we were immediately reassigned to wherever our firepower and men were needed. This continuous change of venue has blurred my perception of the time sequence of our activities over the next two months. In general, however, we jumped from antisubmarine screening to antiaircraft support to surface bombardment of island targets to attempting to relieve combatant ships needing help against Japanese surface units without interruption.

On the night of the Battle of Surigao Strait, October 24–25, 1944, we were riding at anchor in Leyte Gulf with a modified general quarters watch. It was the first time that we were near surface action but not in the middle of everything. In this case, we listened to much of the activities on the TBS (talk between ships) radio. During the night, the Nicholas and the USS O’Bannon (DD 450) and USS Taylor (DD 468) of our squadron were ordered to get underway and proceed to the northeast of Samar Island to relieve destroyers escorting small aircraft carriers there. First, however, we had to refuel and while refueling, learned that the Japanese were attacking that same task force—the Battle off Samar. Before we could get to the ships needing help, the Japanese had retreated and we returned to Leyte and screening duty off the entrance to Leyte Gulf.

We soon experienced single Japanese airplanes diving on destroyers with duties similar to ours—the kamikaze was born. Soon thereafter, while in Leyte Gulf with 20 other ships (destroyers, cruisers and battleships), we were attacked simultaneously by 20–25 kamikazes. Our ships went into a rotating circular formation to maximize our antiaircraft potential while under way. Even so, many of the planes were able to get through and crash into our ships. Some of our new battleships had rather low silhouettes and none of them was targeted. In contrast, the Australian heavy cruiser HMAS Shropshire, with a large superstructure, took 4–5 hits. Also, our old friend the light cruiser St. Louis, which was a mere 400 yards ahead of us, took three kamikaze hits. None of our ships were sunk.

Somewhat later, ships from our squadron were ordered to shell an area in Ormoc Bay, on the west side of Leyte. We were warned that the old navy maps might be inaccurate regarding depth and to be careful. Nonetheless, we proceeded on our bombardment mission at 25 knots. At one point, we obviously were plowing through a soft mud bottom and our speed slowed to 10 knots before we emerged into deeper water. We worried about the mud damaging sonar gear, the engines and/or propellers, but we were again a lucky ship.

A few days later, we had to go through a severe typhoon at its worst. When the bow dropped into the next approaching wave, we had 3–4 feet of water coming over the bridge, which was 37 feet above the waterline. It was also very, very dark throughout both day and night. Two or three days later, the waves were still rather high when we made radar contact on a friendly plane coming in from our starboard quarter. When he saw us, he changed his course to ours, passed over our ship and wiggled his wings to indicate he was in trouble. Our captain got on the loudspeaker to alert the deck crew that we may need to try to recover the pilot. The pilot did make a circle and proceeded 500 yards ahead of our ship, skillfully landed in the water and stepped into a small inflatable raft. Our chief boatswain’s mate tied himself to a steel stanchion near the bow so he would not be washed overboard and, on his first try, cast a line over the shoulder of the pilot which dragged him alongside the ship as it moved forward. A rope ladder was dropped over the port side amidships. With the raft riding a wave, the pilot simply grabbed the rope ladder and came aboard with one step. We probably slowed only to 10 or 12 knots.

Our captain had the pilot checked immediately by our doctor with the suggestion that if the doctor found him to be OK, then send him to the bridge. About a half an hour later, a 19-year-old pilot from near Chicago came to the bridge. He was on his first tour of duty at sea. He had lost his carrier and was headed for Samar when he flew over the Nicholas. He thought he had not more than 15–20 minutes of gas for flying. It was so dark during the day that he did not see us until nearly over us.

After these hectic several months, we were ordered to Ulithi Atoll for time alongside a destroyer tender for needed upkeep. After this, we would proceed to the west side of the Philippines. When ready to leave Ulithi, the Nicholas and the Taylor were ordered to escort the St. Louis from Ulithi to Palau Island, a rather short voyage. But on that first night on my watch, we made a surface contact at 23,000 yards. The speed of the contact was zero suggesting a submarine on the surface, but subs were seldom detected by radar beyond 12,000 yards. When we were less than 1,000 yards from it we could see it was a sub. At this distance, it was able to crash dive for the safety of the ocean depths. Fortunately, our first spread of depth charges destroyed it.

The sub, the I-37, was outfitted with four “human torpedoes”—to be guided by a small Japanese to the target. She had already sunk one ship before we got her. With help from the US Navy, the Japanese later published a book about kamikaze submarines and torpedoes, which clearly identified the Nick as the destroyer that sank the I-37. Destroyer Squadron 21 sank ten submarines in the Pacific during World War II.

After Leyte was secured, we next operated on the west side of the island of Luzon. Our first object was the capture of Lingayen Gulf north of Manila. After securing the gulf, we operated out of Subic Bay, just to the south. There was an officers club in Subic Bay. One day while there, everyone suddenly became quiet and rushed out of doors where two Filipinos had brought in a dead Japanese soldier. They carried him on their shoulders like deer hunters might bring in a dead deer—with wrists and ankles bound tightly together and a sturdy tree branch placed below the bound hands and feet.

While operating out of Subic Bay, our squadron provided close support for army paratroopers landing on Corregidor Island. The area was heavily mined. Minesweepers worked over the area, destroying mines as they floated to the surface. We had men stationed on the bow, stern, stacks and bridge with 30-06 rifles to destroy any floating mines that the minesweepers had failed to destroy. The Nicholas destroyed three or four mines. Others ship of our squadron, the Radford and USS La Vallette (DD 448), hit mines with significant damage and were put out of the war while the USS Hopewell (DD 681) and USS Fletcher (DD 445) were hit by shore batteries. All four suffered fatalities.

There were many Japanese with artillery located in caves on the cliffs of Corregidor. To detect them, we were ordered to get close enough to the shore to entice them to shoot at us, after which we could take them under fire. The Nick was not hit but one of our sailors was wounded by shrapnel, perhaps from a mortar. In a matter of minutes he was being operated on by our doctor using the dining room table in the officer’s wardroom as the operating table.

One day, when sailing between Mindoro and Palawan Islands, we found two outrigger canoes with three Filipino men in each. The canoes were full of water—only the outriggers kept them afloat. Each Filipino held a rifle above water in one hand. They were headed for Palawan, where two of them had wives and two had girlfriends captured by the Japanese and sent there from Luzon. On Palawan, the Japanese had recreational facilities for their troops. The Filipinos were going to try to rescue them, but would never have made it. We took them back to Mindoro.

Later we covered landings at Zamboanga, Mindanao Island’s southwestern tip. B-24s were bombing the beaches heavily in wave after wave. Near the end of the bombings, one of the B-24s flew back 300–400 feet above the bombed area, only to be hit by a bomb from the next wave. At 50 feet above the water a parachute opened—it was the tail gunner and only he survived.

Our next wartime activity, and my last, was to provide close support for landings at Tarakan, Borneo. Tarakan was a source of oil for the Japanese. Several experiences on this mission are worth noting. En route, we found 200 rafts each with two Japanese trying to flee Zamboanga. They were hoping that the Humboldt Current would take them SSW toward Borneo and freedom. Our squadron commander wanted to quiz some of them and had his intelligence officer, who could speak fluent Japanese, get on the loudspeaker and indicate our desires. As we approached the first two rafts, there were two puffs of smoke in each as all four used their hand grenades to take their own lives. We tried a second pair of rafts with the same results. After that we left them all to a much more horrible fate.

On our bridge, a small UHF radio was installed in January 1945. The UHF frequencies would travel as a straight line and, hence, would not be heard more than 10–12 miles away because of the curvature of the earth. Although we checked the radio every time we entered and left ports, we never used it at sea—we felt more comfortable with the TBS for voice transmission. About a day out from Tarakan (April 15), a voice came in clearly over the UHF radio, the only message we ever heard from this radio. The message was “those sons-of-bitches are coming at us from every direction”—and then silence. The captain and the commodore were both on the bridge; the commodore asked the captain who that message came from. The captain said he had no idea. At this point, I as OOD told them that the voice belonged to Julie Becton. The commodore said it cannot be. Julie Becton was now the captain of the new Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer USS Laffey (DD 724) and the Laffey was known to be operating off Okinawa. Julie Becton had been captain of the USS Aaron Ward (DD 483) when she was sunk in the Solomon Islands in 1943. After that, for three months, he served as chief of staff for Commander Destroyer Squadron 21 on our ship. He had a “nasal sounding” voice which was extremely unique—even though the UHF radio was not designed to be heard 3,000 miles away, I doubted if there could be another voice like it.

On May 13, when we got back to Subic Bay, I prepared to return to new destroyer construction in the United States. I left the ship the next day, exactly two years from the day I had reported to the Nicholas. One of the last bits of business I did as communications officer was to give the captain a message detaching us from our present duties along with the O’Bannon and Taylor. Their next assignment was to convoy support ships to Okinawa, after which the three ships were to report to Admiral Halsey and become part of his Task Force 38. It seems that Admiral Halsey sensed that the war would soon be over and he wanted to involve the three remaining operational ships of Squadron 21 with appropriate recognition. We had been with him in the Solomons and were now with him again at the end of the war. In the case of the Nicholas, on August 27 he had her meet the Japanese destroyer Hatsuzakura, from which the Nicholas offloaded pilots and other appropriate personnel for Third Fleet’s entry into Japanese coastal waters. The Nicholas, Taylor and O’Bannon formed the Flagship Task Group with the battleship Missouri for entry into Tokyo Bay. On September 2, the Nicholas picked up Allied representatives, including 87 generals and admirals from all over the world to take to the Missouri for the surrender ceremony. The Taylor from our squadron transferred the press from the Allied nations and Japan. Three destroyers from Squadron 12 escorted Admiral Nimitz’s flagship, the battleship South Dakota, into Tokyo Bay. On September 2, Squadron 12’s USS Buchanan (DD 484) transferred General MacArthur and his party to the surrender ceremony and the USS Lansdowne (DD 486) transported the Japanese delegation. Admirals Nimitz and Halsey did not forget!

A second thing happened as I was leaving the ship and was saying my good byes. I stopped at the commodore’s stateroom and he told me that after we came into Subic Bay from Tarakan the afternoon before, he had left the ship to have dinner with an admiral in the harbor. He recounted the story of the UHF radio message to the admiral. The admiral’s answer was, “Tell the communications officer that he has good ears.” It was Julie Becton!

The above experiences would suggest that we lived a hectic life. We did. But human beings adjust to all kinds of stress. It helped to be young. When I first went aboard, I was busy trying to learn communications and how to stand Junior Officer of the Deck watches at sea. After returning to the Pacific in January 1944, my responsibilities upgraded. But soon I felt comfortable. In fact, I once wrote my future wife that I felt blessed to sail my multimillion dollar yacht at sea for a least eight hours every day.

We were a lucky ship. When the De Haven was sunk by six dive bombers, eight more had gone after the Nicholas. We lost two men (our only two of the war) to a near miss. On at least two different occasions, we saw torpedoes passing our ship but missing. We were only 400 yards ahead of the Strong the night she was sunk by a torpedo fired from eleven miles away. Later in the war, a kamikaze tried to crash our ship. It barely missed the bridge but it did clip part of the yardarm high up on the mast. It took lots more than skill to remain afloat.

There is an old navy poem that says it best:


A man knocked at the heavenly gate

His face was scarred and old

He stood before the man of fate

For admission to the fold

“What have you done” Saint Peter asked

“To gain admission Here?”

“I have served on a destroyer sir,

For many and many a year”

The pearly gate swung open wide

Saint Peter touched the bell

“Come in and choose your harp” he said,

“You have served your time in hell!”