Friday, May 22, 2015

Flashback Friday - Memorial Day

Yesterday's post segues nicely into the unsung boats of the past.    Think memorable fighting ships of World War II and you may think the USS Enterprise, the most decorated one.  Or maybe the Battleship Missouri, or Arizona.  Perhaps the aircraft carriers we lost in battle might come to mind: Wasp, Hornet, Yorktown,  or the Lexington.  Certainly the Indianapolis comes to mind after Jaws jostled our memories about its fate after delivering the bomb.  

Behind these names were thousands and thousands of support ships, boats and crafts.  Behind the Cruisers, Destroyers, and Subs were every conceivable make of sea-going conveyance, some armed, some not.  Mail boats, supply ships, maintenance vessels,  thousands of ships toiling everyday, out of the spotlight.

This Memorial Day Weekend post is going to focus on one of the Pacific Theater ships that did its job with distinction, but you won't read anywhere in the history books about her.  She was the USS LCI (G)- 61.  She was too small and inconsequential to warrant a real name;  these support boats got numbers instead.  

 The LCI(G)'s were converted to gunboats after being built mainly as LCI(L)'s which were designed as landing craft.  Right after the attack on Pearl Harbor a rush to build landing craft seemed the right thing to do as a way to get soldiers on Pacific islands.  But after our entry into the European theater much of the men and material was send there instead of the Pacific.  Because the Pacific war was deemed secondary to the invasion of Europe, the boats were fitted with guns to shell enemy islands instead.  Actually the gunboats became important as a small craft able to sail into tributaries and river ways to assess enemy locations.         





These are pictures of 61 before it was converted from a landing craft to a gunboat.  It was built in Orange, Texas and begun on August 5, 1942.  It was launched on September 27, 1942, a mere 52 days.   It was commissioned USS LCI(L)-61 on November 12, 1942.   It was reclassified as Landing Craft Infantry(Guns) on June 15, 1944.




Here is the 61, pre-gunboat, actually doing its intended work, as a troop landing craft.  Interesting configuration - it has a traditional bow (that's the anchor in the center) with walkways on either side of the bow.   




On this diagram you can see that guns ere placed at the bow, the stern and one right behind the pilot house.  



Here is a picture of the 61's sister ship, the 67 having been grounded during a Pacific tsunami.  In this picture you can see how the boat was fitted with guns to make it a gunboat.

Our little boat was 158 feet 5 1/2 inches long.  Its maximum speed was 16 knots but could run well at 14 knots all day.  It had a complement of 5 officers and 65 enlisted men as her crew.  Her armament as a gunboat was 2 40 mm guns,  4 20 mm guns,  6 .50 cal machine guns, and 10 MK7 rocket launchers.  She was powered by 2 sets of 4 General Motors diesel engines.  


This inconsequential little boat was awarded campaign ribbons for the following actions:



American Campaign Medal


China Service Medal


Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal


Navy Occupation Service Medal


Philippines Presidential Citation Unit Medal


Philippine Liberation Medal


World War II Victory Medal

And so our little gunboat plied the waterways of the Philippines Islands.  Places like Mindanao, Cebu and Mindaro.  She was part of the force that recaptured the Philippines in 1945 and the liberation of he Solomon Islands in April and June of 1944.  

They avoided a Japanese torpedo attack one late moonlit night.  Quick action from the helm helped to move the gunboat away from the single torpedo that had been launched.  The moonlight helped just enough to see it coming.   

They also survived a cook/laundry worker who was caught stealing sailor belongings.   Ship crews have their own form of meeting out justice in cases like this.  When this crewman was caught they convened an on-board tribunal of sorts and then dropped him off at the nearest US base.  

The LCI(G)-61 did what all support ships do,  whatever it is asked to do.  The captain of the gunboat, a lieutenant (JG), a 90 day wonder, from 1944 to 1946 was one of thousands of the Greatest Generation that left their jobs or schools and joined the fight.  He was a college student in his Junior year who enlisted in the Navy hoping for submarine service but he was too tall.  He became the commanding officer when the previous captain was moved up to a different ship.  Every time he filled out his reports he requested a transfer to a destroyer.  

And so this college student who a few months removed was busy conceiving college pranks stood at the bridge of a ship in the Pacific.  In navigation class when he mistakenly had his vessel going through an island the instructor wrote on his test paper, "Amazing ship." But here he was on a real ship and navigating for real, too.  He and untold thousands went to war.  Like the countless before him and after in all of the wars,  these guys served and many sacrificed with their lives so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today.  Every American, every day should speak a silent thanks to all the soldiers, sailors, and airmen who gave their time and their lives.   We should, perhaps not so silently, yell with joy, "I'm free!"

In 1946, after serving as an occupation force in China, the LCI(G)-61 was decommissioned and struck from the Naval register on February 25, 1946.  She was transferred to the Maritime Commission.  This board was initially responsible for the shipbuilding plans to replace the old vintage World War I ships when the war commenced.  Its job now that the war was over was to decide the fate of the ships that were too many for a peacetime Navy.  The 61 was sold by the Commission on January 17, 1951 with the final entry on the history of the ship, "Sold, Final disposition, fate unknown."  The captain returned to finish his studies at a Midwestern school and would, eventually, marry his college sweetheart.          







That college sweetheart was my mother and that Lieutenant (JG) was my Dad.  Thank you for your service.  And thanks to all the others in the family and my friends who served in the armed forces.    














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