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Kamikaze: "The Day I Can't Forget"
by Henry J. Blossy
Blue Book, May 1950, pp. 53-5

Introductory Comments

The table of contents in the popular magazine Blue Book's May 1950 issue lists this three-page story in the section titled "Stories of Fact and Experience." However, the article lacks details such as specific dates and ship names that would allow verification. Although the story may be roughly based on the author's actual wartime experiences, it seems unlikely that the details are true. For example, the Chaplain's serving on the bridge as a play-by-play announcer of battle action seems quite unrealistic.

The magazine article's third page has a drawing of a kamikaze plane diving on a ship marked "APD-14," which was the high speed transport USS Schley. This ship was at Okinawa from April 26 to 28, 1945, but not in late March as mentioned in the story.

The events of war have long ago been washed away by the confusion and circus trappings of this postwar whirligig of ours. It's all gone and forgotten now–all except one brief experience. I'll never forget it, not even if I live as long as Methuselah.

It was during one of those stifling mid-Pacific days in late March of 1945. Plowing across the Pacific from Pearl, it had been an unending succession of heat-laden days. You waked sweaty; you went through the day sweaty and you sweated some more in those miserable pancaked bunks at night.

I had been in the Pacific for over a year then. A good many of the others down in that hold, my buddies, had come out with me in the same replacement draft. Raw recruits, they called us then.

Shortly after joining outfits, we spearheaded the invasion of the Marianas. After that we went back to the Hawaiians for a rest and for replacements. Only we weren't raw recruits any more. We were seasoned veterans then; and the replacements, such as we had been just a few months before, got the "snow" jobs.

After a short rest period we began training for the next operation. Staging was old stuff for us that time. We worked just as hard as before, though–probably even harder. We knew then what doing the right thing at the right time meant. The new boys learned from us–and listened, just as we had done a short while before.

Pretty soon they jammed us on a transport again. Your name? Check! Go to the forward compartment. Follow the others. Follow–follow–follow.

We steamed over to Pearl and then out again, heading for–well, heading west; we at least knew that.

Our first few days out were just like the time before. Plenty of sack time. Plenty of time to talk about everything and anything. And plenty of time to tell the replacements about what to expect. Those guys really looked up to us. And don't think we didn't like playing the Big Brother act, either!

Of course we used to enlarge here and there on some of our stories–like Chow-hound Peters telling that hick Bushman about hopping in that Jap pillbox among a dozen slant-eyes who just stood there in amazement as he picked them off one by one. He actually had gone into the pillbox after it had got hit by one for our 105s. He captured the only Jap left alive, who was too dazed even to raise his arms. Yeah, that Bushman was a card–believe anything.

Right off the farm, he was, when he put on a uniform. He'd sure fall for anything.

"What's a kamikaze?" he upped and asked me one day.

"They're suicide missions," I told him. "They have their funeral before taking off, and fortified with a nice fat bomb under their plane, and a full bottle of sake in their lap, they pick out an American ship and crash their plane into it. If everything goes all right, no more plane, no more bomb, no more sake, no more ship and no more Jap, who was officially dead when he took off, anyway."

Well, after giving it to him straight like that, I couldn't help rubbing him down with it a little.

"Yeah, Bushy," I told him, "it's getting to be such a menace that the brass hats are drawing up plans to equip each ship with metal shields, one for the front of the ship and one for the back.

"The shields," I said, "are curved and supported by big cranes that can be run from the bridge. So," I went on–seeing he's taking everything in like a kid, "when the Captain sees one of these kamikaze diving at his ship, he can position the shield so it is between the plane and the ship. Then if the plane gets through the ack-ack it will hit the shield and ricochet off, never touching the ship."

"Yeah," he said after I was finished. "Gee, that's great." And his big ox eyes looked as if they'd fall out of their sockets.

"Yeah, that's straight dope," I told him, and then shut up before I spoiled it.

Soon after we'd upped anchor at our next stopover, Ulithi, we got the word official. It was going to be Okinawa in the Ryukyus, a place full of poisonous snakes and lots of Japs, they told us. And then they told us about the kamikaze again. They'd been raising hell with the lead ships, just like at Iwo, only worse. They were really desperate now.

And that's the way it was as we sat in that sweat-box, which we hoped would be for the last time. For the next day we were supposed to go ashore.

I can remember that heat as though I was still being drained by it. Every stitch on me was soaked, even the backs of my legs. It has to be pretty hot to have the backs of your legs sweat like that, believe me.

Pretty soon the Chaplain's voice came over the loud-speaker.

"Hello, this is the Chaplain on the bridge," he said. He always came on like that. He was supposed to keep us posted on what was going on. I sure wished I could have been in his shoes, up in the light away from that sweat-hole.

It seemed to me that the Chaplain's voice rasped more than usual. He was usually cheerful. This time he was solemn. There were reports of kamikaze action in the vicinity, he warned. Everyone should be sure that his life belt was on, he added.

That had slowed the talk down a bit. Everybody was thinking the same thing: Those crazy fools might be coming over to ram their planes into us, and there we were battened down in that packed compartment.

The talk started up again, though. This time it was different, however. "Kamikaze–kamikaze," every third word was "kamikaze." That word began getting on my nerves.

We were all sitting nearer the edge of our bunks, those who were sitting. One or two edged over toward the Captain, our company commander, who was standing at the foot of the ladder.

There was Blake–he had come out from the States with me. He was twenty feet nearer the ladder than when I had looked at him last. Stiddler was bunked in the far end of the second row of bunks. He was standing in the front part of the first row. He came out with me, too. Pretty tough baby with a grenade, that Stiddler. He'd tossed a couple of perfect strikes in the Marianas. He had a lot of guts. But he was nearer the ladder than he had been only ten minutes ago.

The Chaplain came on again. "Jap planes sighted, headed for the convoy," he said.

Were they kamikaze, or just bombers who would drop their loads and beat it for home like sensible people? We'd soon know.

"Looks like about ten," the Chaplain reported.

Cripes, it was quiet in that place.

Soon we heard some firing. Must be the D.E.s opening up out front, I thought.

"Escorts firing at planes," the Chaplain reported soon afterward. He sounded cool and collected. Must have said his prayers, I thought. I knew a few myself. I wasn't going to be stingy with them then.

"Please, God, just one more glimpse at the Golden Gate and San Fran," I pleaded.

"They're closing in," the Chaplain reported. He still sounded cool. But he was up on deck–not locked down in the sweltering trap.

Funny, but I had stopped sweating. My skin was cold. How could you be in a sweltering Turkish bath like that compartment and have cold skin?

The Chaplain came on again. "They're–" the swabbies started shooting their little pea-shooters. The Chaplain didn't come on any longer. What a hell of a time for the P.A. system to go blooie. Those lucky swabbies up on deck!

It was quiet as a graveyard in that compartment. Everybody was looking up, and at the ladder. Were those blasted kamikaze planes?

The swabbies were throwing everything at the attackers. The ship was going to shake to pieces if they kept it up, I was sure.

And then that humming whistle started. One of the devils was diving at us. Closer, closer, louder, louder, he came. He was going after us, and we were locked down in that crowded compartment.

I braced myself. My nails were digging into my palms. I gritted my teeth. I grabbed the rail. I was ready to die, to be blown to bits.

And then came the crash. My eyes were closed, my body shuddering.

But he had missed. Not by much, by the sound of the crash, but by enough. We were safe–for a while, at least.

They were still firing as fast as they could on deck.

How much could a man take? How much could one hundred and fifty men take, trapped down there in that jammed compartment?

That whistle started once again. It was another attempt to get us. The firing was deafening. But above it, mercilessly audible, was that whining, moaning of a diving plane, getting louder, louder, closer, closer.

Why didn't someone do something? Why didn't someone scream, shout, fire his rifle, anything? I couldn't take it any longer. I couldn't sit there staring at white faces.

Why didn't I say something? We've got to set an example for the recruits, I thought. Only Swartz wasn't a recruit. Neither was Gino. But they were edging toward the ladder. Get back, you fools, I tried to say. Only I couldn't say it. I couldn't say anything.

And then–I wasn't on my bunk any longer. I was on the deck. I was moving nearer the ladder.

They couldn't miss twice in a row. The moan got louder. It couldn't have been up more than a thousand feet. It wouldn't be long. Then came a whirr, a straining. The plane pulled out of its dive.

His motor got louder, louder. It was going to ram us horizontally. This was it. I was vibrating. Oh, no, God, no!

But it hadn't happened. The plane went overhead.

Everybody was in a knot. We were all crowded near the ladder. Those damn kamikaze. What had they done to us?

We had been told to stay down there. The best place, they had said. But could we? Could training win over that fear? Damn those kamikaze, I thought, what are they doing to my company? What are they doing to me?

The Captain felt it too. He knew someone might have bolted for that ladder any minute. He had his hand closer to his pistol. Why didn't he say something? Why didn't he say he'd shoot the first one who tried to force his way up the ladder?

He probably lost his voice. Probably was as scared as I. Sure, why shouldn't he? He was only human. How much could a human take?

There was no noise of a diving plane for what seemed like an eternity.

Why didn't someone say something, I thought. And then someone did, Bushman–that lame-brained. Bushman said something. "Shields–" He wished our ship had the new kamikaze shields so's the skipper could make the planes ricochet off. I almost laughed out loud. The guy still thought the gag about the shield was true.

"What about those shields?" It was the Captain. He knew the story on Bushman. He must've known it was a gag. Maybe he wanted out on that silence, I thought. Okay, I'd give it to him.

"You know, Captain," I screeched. "Those new inventions for making kamikaze ricochet off them, so they won't crash into a ship. I told Bushy about them," I said.

Shields, ricochet. First it was just a ripple. Then a little louder. And then it was a roar. Shields, ricochet. What a laugh. Funny as hell. Jones was laughing. Stiddler was laughing. The Captain was laughing. Everybody was laughing–everybody, that is, except Bushman.

"Yeah, and there's something else they're working on, Bushy," that was Freddie's voice. "They're going to have trapdoors on every ship–then when a kamikaze dives at a ship, the Captain'll just open it up, and the Jap will dive right through and into the sea," he ad libbed.

Trapdoors–open them up–Japs dive into the sea. That was pretty good. I slapped someone on the back in mirthful ferocity. They were still firing on deck. There was more whistling which told of diving planes. But I didn't have the slightest foreboding. How could you, when splitting a gut in roaring hilarity?

Next they had the decks painted with invisible paint so the ship couldn't be seen from above–each ship would have a fountain forward to make them look like whales . . . . What cards, what jokers! Everybody was laughing, including Bushman. Outside, Japs were still whistling, diving, moaning. But who cared? Shields–trapdoors–invisible paint–whales–everybody was laughing.

How long did this go on? I can't say. There were too many jokes. Too much laughing. But before we realized it, it was quiet out. No shooting. No sound of planes.

Pretty soon the Chaplain came on again. They had got the P.A. system working!

"Well, we made it," he said. "Shot down a Sally, I think. It missed the ship by fifty feet," he fairly cooed in relief. "We were lucky," he confided. "Another torpedo plane launched a fish at us which missed by about one hundred feet. Lucky again."

Lucky–lucky. Ha, ha! If he had only known how lucky! If he had only known about that forward compartment!

Yes sir. I might live to the age of Methuselah, but I'll never forget that hot day in late March of 1945.

Shields, invisible paint, trapdoors, whales. I still get a belly-laugh just thinking about it. And I also shudder sometimes too, when I think how it could have been.