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USS Kidd (DD-661)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

The USS Kidd Veterans Memorial consists of the restored WWII destroyer Kidd (DD-661) and a large two-floor museum with a variety of nautical exhibits including many model ships. Kidd first opened to the public in 1983 as a museum ship moored along the banks of the Mississippi River. She had been decommissioned in 1964 after a long and distinguished career during WWII and the postwar period. The Louisiana Naval War Memorial Commission, which has responsibility for operation and upkeep of the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial, constructed a unique concrete cradle in the Mississippi River bottom to hold the ship in place during the seasonal 40-foot rise and fall of the river.

On April 11, 1945, a kamikaze aircraft hit Kidd with the suicide attack killing 38 and wounding 55. The starboard side of the main deck shows the area where the plane hit the destroyer, and a short distance aft along the main deck there is a bronze plaque that lists the names and ranks of the 38 men killed in the battle action off Okinawa Island. The museum also has an exhibit in memory of those men killed in the kamikaze attack with a photograph of each man above his name and rank. The ship has few information plaques, with nothing on the history of the kamikaze attack, in order to keep the ship more authentic and reduce clutter according to the museum ship's attendant.


USS Kidd Museum Exhibit
on Operations During WWII and Korean War

Half of a large exhibition room on the museum's first floor is dedicated to the history of USS Kidd. The room has a large model of USS Kidd in a glass case in addition to many information signs and historical photographs. One wall displays a cutaway side view of the destroyer that shows locations of different compartments with historical photos of men in those areas of the ship. Another wall shows artifacts and photographs from the ship's service during World War II and the Korean War. Information plaques near the room entrance explain the unique dock to hold the ship and the ship's long restoration to the wartime configuration as of August 1945.

 

Both the museum and the ship contain several artifacts related to the kamikaze attack on April 11, 1945. The USS Kidd exhibition room in the museum displays several pieces of the Mitsubishi Zero that were taken from the wreckage aboard ship including a fragment of the exploded bomb carried by the kamikaze plane, cross section of the aluminum propeller, a piston, a piece of aluminum fuselage, and two instrument panel tags. The crew's mess area on the ship has a small exhibit of USS Kidd artifacts that includes a fuel pump from the kamikaze plane.

One exhibit in the USS Kidd area of the museum tells the story of Lieutenant Junior Grade Broox C. Garrett, Jr., who was injured in the kamikaze attack. Two aluminum rivet heads, sheared from the ship's decking by the blast, are exhibited. These were surgically removed from Garrett's abdomen, and one of the rivets amazingly still retains portions from Garrett's uniform. He was standing on the main deck, starboard side, leaning over the railing taking 8mm movies of the attacking Japanese plane, until his luck ran out. Above the two rivet heads is a photograph of Garrett sitting in a hospital bed with his eye bandaged.

The exhibit includes the following story told by the 72-year-old Garrett: "As he came spiraling down in a 'falling leaf' descent, he looked like he was going to splash. However, as he got right down to the water he suddenly leveled off—heading straight for us. I kept taking movies. He was smoking. Looking through the viewfinder made it appear like he was further out than he actually was, but when I heard the big 20mm gun shooting then you knew it was close. When I moved the camera aside I suddenly saw just how close he was. It was too late to move or duck, though. Then there was a terrific blast and I felt myself being hurled through the air and suddenly found myself on the far side of the passageway, laying on my back, with no clothes on except my belt—which had a few shreds of cloth hanging on it. And blood all over me. I looked down and saw my left femur protruding from my leg and said OH MY GOD, LOOK WHAT HAPPENED! I felt my left eye hanging down on my cheek. When I later saw my steel helmet with a bullet hole in it, then I realized that the bullet had punctured the steel part, glanced down, creasing my eyebrow, apparently pulling my eye out."

Pirate Captain Kidd, mascot
of the destroyer Kidd, is
painted on forward stack

 

The museum exhibit related to the kamikaze attack on Kidd contains the following background information about Japan's kamikaze tactics.

The Divine Wind

The Kamikaze attack had become an integral part of Japanese tactics after its successful tryout at Leyte Gulf, where it sank an escort carrier and damaged others. From then on, Allied seamen came to know suicide pilots well. Kamikaze – "divine wind" in English – attacks during the Lingayen Gulf operation were very effective, sinking four Allied vessels and damaging forty-three.

American and British seamen underwent their most fearsome trial by suicide planes during the Okinawa campaign. They were within close range of the airfields on the Japanese home islands, and both the invasion fleet and the fast carrier force were hit again and again. Thirty ships were sunk, and though none was larger than a destroyer, 368 were damaged, including carriers and battleships, some put out of action for months. Almost 5,000 Navy men were killed.

The USS Kidd museum displays the original two-page handwritten engineering log entry dated April 11, 1945, that recorded the results of the kamikaze attack. There is also a fascinating photograph taken by Lieutenant Junior Grade Broox C. Garrett, Jr., of the kamikaze plane that crashed into Kidd as it skimmed above the sea toward the ship with the destroyer USS Black (DD-666) in the background. At the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial, there is no mention by name of the kamikaze pilot who hit Kidd. Katsumi Hiragi's carefully researched 2005 Japanese book entitled Tokkou pairotto o sagase: Umoreta rekishi no nazo o horiokoshita shinjitsu no kiroku (Searching for a kamikaze pilot: Record of truth uncovered regarding puzzle of his hidden history) concludes that Lieutenant Junior Grade Shigehisa Yaguchi piloted the Zero fighter that crashed into the ship. The centerpiece exhibit for Kidd's WWII and Korean War history is the wooden figure of a Japanese pilot at a plane's control stick and supposedly dressed in a typical Japanese aviator flying suit, but it looks less than authentic.

The aft crew's berthing quarters of USS Kidd, a Fletcher-class destroyer, serves as a museum for all of the 175 Fletcher-class destroyers. The footlockers in this area have had glass covers installed, and now each one exhibits various artifacts and memorabilia from two or three ships. Several Fletcher-class destroyers were sunk or damaged by kamikaze attacks in the Philippines and around Okinawa. The ten Fletcher-class destroyers sunk by kamikaze aircraft include Pringle (DD-477), Luce (DD-522), Abner Read (DD-526), Bush (DD-529), Morrison (DD-560), William D. Porter (DD-579), Twiggs (DD-591), Callaghan (DD-792), Colhoun (DD-801), and Little (DD-803).

The museum has a gift shop on the first floor that sells a variety of items such as caps, shirts, and postcards. Visitors interested in learning more details about USS Kidd's history can purchase Robert F. Sumrall's 2002 book USS Kidd (DD-661) or the 23-minute DVD Introduction to the USS Kidd (2005) written by Mark Ballard and directed and edited by Donna Britt. The DVD highlights interviews with four Kidd WWII veterans who tell stories about the ship and her history as they tour the destroyer on which they fought. They provide personal accounts of the kamikaze attack and explain that every man in the forward boiler room got killed. The film shows a computer simulation of how the Zero fighter pilot headed toward the USS Black (DD-666) but went over that destroyer and then headed toward Kidd while he positioned the plane between the two destroyers to limit their gunfire due to fears of hitting the other ship.

The museum has created an excellent web site filled with photographs and information about USS Kidd and her history. The well-organized "Virtual Tour of the USS KIDD (DD-661)" takes the reader through various ship compartments in about 30 different web pages. The detailed "Ship's History" includes several fascinating photos such as one from the time when the crew hoisted the skull and crossbones of the Jolly Roger pirate flag in New York harbor when the ship was delivered to the Brooklyn Naval Shipyards. The "Oral History" section has accounts from about 25 WWII veterans including nine stories about the kamikaze plane that crashed into Kidd. Signalman 2nd Class Bill Gath describes the kamikaze attack from his position on the signal bridge:

This plane came out of the low clouds, started heading toward the BLACK, and then jumped the BLACK, more or less checkerboard style, over the top and dropped down low to the water, coming in on the USS KIDD. The ship could not fire its five-inch guns and 40mm guns due to the closeness of the ships in formation, or we would have been shooting our fellow men on the USS BLACK. At that time, the 20mm was shooting, and the plane was actually smoking and going down when it hit the starboard side of the USS KIDD right at the forward stack, underneath what would be the captain's gig. The bomb went through the ship and exploded on the portside just about at the entrance to the mess compartment down below.

The museum's web site also has a section dedicated to "Fallen Crew Members of USS KIDD (DD-661)" with a separate biographical page including photograph of about half of the 38 men killed in the kamikaze attack on April 11, 1945


USS Kidd Museum

The USS Kidd Veterans Memorial is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas and the day before these two holidays. Adult admission to both the museum building and ship together costs $8. Over the years many WWII destroyer crews have selected Baton Rouge as a reunion site with the opportunity to explore the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial.

Date of visit: January 18, 2012