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John Pineau speaking at
USS Morrison Memorial Service
on May 4, 2007

 
2007 USS Morrison (DD-560) Reunion
by Bill Gordon

In the early morning of May 4, 1945, four kamikaze planes crashed into the destroyer USS Morrison (DD-560) at Radar Picket Station No. 1 just north of Okinawa. The ship sank so quickly that many men stationed below deck lost their lives. A landing craft (LCS(L)-21), often referred to as a "pallbearer," picked up the last of 187 survivors about three hours after Morrison went down, but 155 men lost their lives due to the kamikaze plane strikes and the ship's sinking. From April 30 to May 5, 2007, 10 survivors and 30 other family members and friends met together in Reno, Nevada, to remember the destroyer's crewmen who died in battle 62 years ago and others who have passed away since then. The Reno reunion marks the 20th year that these survivors have met together since the first reunion in 1988 attended by about 85 former Morrison crewmen, including men who had served aboard the destroyer prior to the sinking.

Memorial Service

On Friday, May 4, the reunion group held a memorial service at the convent of Carmel of Our Lady of the Mountains in a modern chapel with one entire side made of glass providing a spectacular view of Reno and the surrounding mountains. After beginning with the Pledge of Allegiance and a local high school color guard at the front of the chapel, John and Joan Pineau gave a history of the destroyer USS Morrison. John said the ship had a fun crew with nicknames for each other (his was Tubby), and he related some humorous incidents aboard ship. His wife Joan then read the destroyer's history, including the ship's distinguished battle accomplishments. She introduced the kamikaze attack by 25 to 40 Japanese planes on May 4, 1945, with the following words:

American destroyers were singled out to stand between the Japanese mainland and the U.S. invading fleet. They alone were given the task of intercepting the massive Japanese suicidal air-sea attacks.… Few suffered a more devastating attack, in such a short period, as did the Morrison.

Art Perryman, who managed to escape the sinking ship despite working below deck when the kamikaze planes hit, read the first half of the names of his shipmates who gave their lives on May 4, 1945. Howie Snell, the reunion group's chaplain who survived not only Morrison's sinking but also Pearl Harbor and Midway, read the second half of the names of Morrison crewmembers who died in the kamikaze attack. Four other people in the reunion group then read the names of crewmen who had passed away since May 4, 1945.


Morrison Survivors at 2007 Reunion
Front row (left to right):  John Ryan, John Pineau, Elbert Hudson,
Jack Simpson, Ed Lewis
Back row (left to right):
Bill Schurmeier, Art Perryman, Dave Beckett 
Reunion attendees not shown in photo: Howie Snell, Art Turnbull

Next, there was a recording of "Taps" as played by Sid Bick, who was one of the last live bugle players from WWII until he passed away a couple of years ago. During his retirement he played Taps at hundreds of funerals for WWII veterans. His nephew, Howard Buchler, now lives in Reno, so he and his wife Beth graciously opened their home to the entire reunion group for a barbeque dinner on Tuesday night.

The memorial service concluded with the songs "God Bless America" and "Anchors Aweigh," a poem entitled "Sailor's Grave," and a final prayer by John Pineau, whose voice cracked with emotion. John also encouraged Morrison survivors to give a signed certificate of crew membership to any family member who wanted to join. The certificate has the following words:

Certificate of Proclamation

U.S.S. Morrison
United States Navy Destroyer
Serving in World War II
(December 18, 1943 - May 4, 1945)

We hereby grant any living relative of the sailors who served on the U.S.S. Morrison full-fledged crewmember status to carry on the remembrance of this great ship.

This proclamation granting said privilege shall be confirmed and sealed by a salute from any surviving sailor.

Signed by Crew Member

Bill Schurmeier (left), founder of 
USS Morrison Reunion Association, and
 Jack Simpson (right), Morrison's
Executive Officer at time of sinking

 
Founding of Reunion Association

Bill Schurmeier, whose general quarters station was on Morrison's starboard forward gun mount, trained his gun on the kamikaze planes headed toward the ship in the early morning of May 4, 1945. The explosions of one or both of the first two kamikaze planes, which hit the ship seconds apart, blasted the right side of Bill's body. He did not see the last two kamikaze planes hit the ship, but he realized soon after that he had to get off and swim like mad to get away from the sinking ship. He remembers a crewman hanging onto the ship's bow sticking up that soon slipped under the water.

Japanese planes came in strafing men swimming in the water, so Bill and Chief Engineer Jesse Franklin, swimming next to him, slipped off their life jackets to dive under the water to avoid bullets. About an hour later, landing craft LCS(L)-21 stopped next to the two men in the water and let down cargo nets. Crewmen on the ship helped them onto the deck, and Bill soon went into shock. He was transferred to the hospital ship Mercy, and he went to a Guam hospital for three weeks to recover from his wounds. The many pieces of shrapnel, estimated to total about 100, in the right side of his body from head to feet did not bother him except for one piece of metal in a finger on his right hand. Although a Navy doctor said none of the shrapnel, including the fragment in his finger driving painfully into his bone, needed to be removed, Bill decided to perform his own operation without the doctor's knowledge. He took out his pocket knife and cut out the metal fragment in his finger.

After the war, Bill suffered from combat fatigue syndrome and had some dreams where he was captain of the ship that never did sink. In 1987, 42 years after Morrison sank off Okinawa, he decided to find out whether an organization existed for men who had served aboard the destroyer. He found none, so he ran ads in some veterans' magazines to see whether he could find some former crewmembers. He located 10 or 11 guys this way, so he embarked on a more wide-ranging search. Bill contacted the National Archives to get the destroyer's complete muster rolls, which were prepared every three months for enlisted men and every month for officers. Through the assistance of a US senator from his home state of Minnesota, he obtained current addresses from the Veterans Administration (VA), but he had to fight some VA attorneys who had concerns he was trying to profit from this activity. He managed to get in touch with about 110 to 115 former crewmen who were still living.

Bill organized the first Morrison reunion in 1988, and about 85 former crewmen attended in Baton Rouge, home of the USS Kidd (DD-661), which also got hit during the Battle of Okinawa by a kamikaze plane that killed 38 men. He almost single-handedly put together annual reunions across the U.S. for the next 15 years. He commissioned a painting of Morrison battling kamikaze planes ten minutes before she sank, and he distributed a photo of the painting to each surviving crewman. On May 4, 1994, the USS Morrison Reunion Association dedicated a memorial plaque, which includes a photo of the painting, at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas. Bill and his wife Joy still attend every reunion, but in recent years he has left the planning and organization to a member of the younger generation. Mike Ryan has devoted much time and energy to organize recent reunions for survivors of Morrison's sinking and their family members. His father John, who also attended the 2007 Reno reunion, served as fighter control director aboard Morrison when the ship was sunk by kamikaze planes.

History of USS Morrison

The destroyer USS Morrison (DD-560) achieved a distinguished record during WWII when the ship earned two Navy Unit Commendations and eight battle stars. After her commissioning on December 18, 1943, and her shakedown cruise, she participated in screening operations for air strikes against the Caroline Islands and then returned to Pearl Harbor on May 9, 1944. In June, Morrison supported the invasion of Saipan where she performed escort duties, provided gunfire support for landings, and shot down three enemy planes. In September 1944, after battle action off the coast of Mindanao, Morrison became the first US warship to enter a Philippine harbor since the Japanese occupation in 1942. 

Morrison's crew earned their first Navy Unit Commendation on October 24, 1944, during salvage operations of the light aircraft carrier USS Princeton, which had been critically damaged by a bomb dropped by a lone Japanese dive bomber. Morrison came alongside the stricken carrier to help fight the fires and to take personnel off the ship, but the destroyer's mast and forward stack became locked for about an hour in Princeton's uptakes. The destroyer finally managed to break free with about 400 men from Princeton aboard, but about ten minutes later the light carrier's magazines exploded, dooming the ship to be sunk by friendly torpedoes a little more than two hours later. Over 100 men from Princeton lost their lives that day, and 85 men died from the cruiser Birmingham, which was alongside at the time of the explosion. The heavily damaged Morrison returned for repairs to San Francisco via Ulithi and Pearl Harbor.

On March 25, 1945, Morrison left Ulithi to join the American fleet amassed for the invasion of Okinawa. On March 31, the day before the American landings on Okinawa, the destroyers Morrison and Stockton (DD-646) attacked and sank the Japanese submarine I-8 with depth charges and gunfire. A small boat from Morrison rescued a single survivor. The same submarine sunk by Morrison and Stockton had in March 1944 torpedoed the Dutch freighter Tjisalak in the Indian Ocean, and several former I-8 crewmen were sentenced in Tokyo in 1946 for war crimes for torturing and killing survivors from the freighter that they took aboard the submarine. Only five men from the freighter Tjisalak survived the Japanese atrocities. During the month of April 1945, Morrison served on three different picket stations, which protected the main fleet by using radar to detect enemy planes and by directing Combat Air Patrol (CAP) fighters to meet incoming Japanese planes.


USS Morrison (DD-560)

On April 30, 1945, Morrison moved to Radar Picket Station No. 1 about 50 miles north of Okinawa and in the flight path of many kamikaze planes from air bases in southern Kyushu. The destroyer Ingraham (DD-694) and four smaller landing craft were at this same picket station when about 25 enemy planes were sighted on radar at 7:15 a.m. on May 4. Although American CAP fighters downed many planes, several Japanese planes got through to Picket Station No. 1. One plane hit Morrison at 8:32, and another hit at 8:33 [1]. Two floatplanes then hit the destroyer in quick succession at 8:35 [2], and the ship started to sink and went under by 8:40 [3]. The four kamikaze planes hit so rapidly and the ship sank so quickly that most men below deck were lost. LCS(L)-21 (Landing Craft, Support (Large) 21) began to pick up Morrison survivors at 9:40 after first picking up 49 survivors [4] from LSM(R)-194 (Landing Ship, Medium (Rocket) 194), which had sunk after being hit by a kamikaze plane. At 11:20, LCS(L)-21 finished picking up 187 survivors from Morrison [5], but 155 men from the destroyer lost their lives [6].

The Secretary of Navy awarded Morrison a second Naval Unit Commendation for her heroism during the kamikaze attacks on May 4, 1945:

For outstanding heroism in action as a Fighter Direction Ship on Radar Picket duty at Okinawa, May 4, 1945. Promptly opening fire on a group of more than forty Japanese planes which penetrated our aircraft screen to attack the ships of the radar picket station, the U.S.S. MORRISON skillfully fought off the determined attackers for over an hour and, with her own gunfire, shot down five aircraft before they could complete suicide dives. Maintaining a steady barrage against the overwhelming force, she gallantly continued in action despite severe damage from four suicide planes which struck her in rapid succession, fighting resolutely until she went down shortly after the last hit. Her sturdy and valiant service under a prolonged suicide-bombing attack contributed to the effective defense of our ships and reflects the highest credit upon the MORRISON, her courageous officers and men and the United States Naval Service.

Tony Teal, whose father served aboard the destroyer Ingraham in the early 1960s, attended the 2007 Reno conference and presented his tentative conclusions about what happened at Radar Picket Station No. 1 on May 4, 1945, based on extensive research of American and Japanese sources. Ingraham lost 15 men when hit by a kamikaze plane, which forced the heavily damaged ship out of the rest of the war for repairs. Tony first became interested in events of May 4, 1945, when he attended an Ingraham reunion in 2005. Since then, he has gathered firsthand accounts of the kamikaze attack and analyzed often conflicting information. He has reached some tentative conclusions that contradict official Navy accounts regarding certain details of the kamikaze plane attacks. For example, the USS Morrison Action Report states that the first two kamikaze planes to hit the ship were Zekes (Zero fighters) [7]. However, Japanese records indicate that two pilots of Franks (Hayate Army Type 4 Fighters) from the 60th Shinbu Squadron radioed that they were diving on targets just before the times that the USS Ingraham Action Report indicates that Morrison got hit by the first two planes. Tony believes that the first two planes to hit Morrison must have been these two Franks.

Dave Beckett (right) with
his wife Fran and his son Keith

 
Survival Tales

Dave Beckett did not see any of the four kamikaze planes that hit Morrison, since he was busy loading the twin 40-mm guns on the port side in front of the bridge. The explosion from the first kamikaze plane threw shrapnel into the gun mount captain's back, but Dave escaped the blast. The gun mount crew continued firing as it went to manual after the explosion cut off electrical power, but word soon came to abandon ship after more planes struck and the ship started sinking rapidly.

Dave went quickly into the water with his kapok life jacket, but he spotted Ted Mooneyham without a life jacket struggling in the water as he could not grab ahold of the floating gunpowder cans since they were soaked with oil. Ted also had flash burns in his eyes and a large cut on one arm. Dave let Ted hold on to his life jacket for the 90 minutes or so that they treaded in the water covered with oil until a landing craft arrived. By then Dave had no strength to even crawl up to the deck, so he rested on the ship's "push block" near water level for about ten minutes before he regained enough strength to climb up to the deck.

After Dave finished his 30-day survivor's leave at home, he reported back to the naval station in Philadelphia. He talked with Ted, who received the Purple Heart in Philadelphia, about what would have happened if they had been in the water any longer before being rescued. Morrison's deck officer Ensign Painter wanted to recommend that Dave receive a commendation for lifesaving, but he refused by saying that he was just doing his job as anyone else would have done in the same circumstances. Since the first Morrison reunion in 1988, Dave has attended every annual reunion except one. He was surprised and happy when he first saw his former gun mount captain at a reunion in San Diego, since he had thought for many years that he did not survive due to the shrapnel in his back from the first kamikaze plane's explosion. The gun mount captain had yelled that he needed help to get off the sinking ship, but he did not remember at the San Diego reunion even how he made it into the water.

John Pineau, in the after steering room when the four kamikaze planes hit Morrison, was one of the few crewmen below deck who escaped the sinking ship. As he went into the water with his life jacket, Japanese planes continued to strafe the area for several minutes. With most of the area covered in two to three inches of oil, he swam out where the oil had not reached and tried to help some of the men wipe oil off. He saw eight or ten men floating with life jackets who were already dead. He treaded water for about four hours until rescued by LCS(L)-21.

Although John physically only had one piece of shrapnel in his chin from the kamikaze attack, emotionally he had to "put the experience in a capsule and then go on" in order to make it during the years after the war. When he went to his first Morrison reunion in 1995, he felt "great relief when talking" about his experiences with former shipmates. He and his wife Joan attended a reunion of the National Kamikaze Survivors Association in 2002 near Seattle along with about 400 others, and he had the opportunity to tell his story and express his emotions with many other veterans who survived Japan's kamikaze attacks. Since he and his wife started to attend the Morrison reunions, they enthusiastically organize and lead each year's memorial service.


Mike Ryan (middle) with his father John (left) and
Jack Simpson (right), Morrison's Executive Officer, who
helped save John's life and the lives of other crewman

Art Perryman, just promoted to Petty Officer 1st Class three days before the kamikaze attacks on Morrison, was working below deck in the after fire room when the Japanese planes hit. He had been working until recently in the after engine room, but luckily for him had recently changed positions with another crewmember. Except for Art Turnbull, who also attended the 2007 reunion, all men working below deck in both the forward and after engine rooms were killed on May 4, 1945, during the kamikaze crashes and the ship's sinking. Warren Thiele, who had worked together with Art Perryman in the after fire room, went into the water with a broken arm and no life jacket. Art took off his jacket in the water and shared it with Warren as they treaded water hanging on together with one hand each on the life jacket. They moved away from the life raft full of men since they thought this would be the best target for Japanese planes trying to strafe survivors in the water. The LCS(L)-21 picked up Art and Warren after they had treaded water for about four hours.

Concluding Thoughts

John Pineau mentioned more than once during the reunion week that the destroyer Morrison had a fun crew. Art Perryman still had plenty of humorous remarks for his former crewmen. When the group was discussing who would go to Lake Tahoe for a two-hour cruise, Art said that he did not plan to go. When someone asked whether he was afraid to be on the water, he said, "No, only with this group." At the Thursday morning business meeting, the former crew voted to have next year's reunion in Indianapolis, but at Thursday's dinner banquet Bill Schurmeier grumbled to me that he could not even remember who proposed that location. He stood up in front of the 40 attendees and made a plea for Norfolk to be next year's location, and all of the compliant former crewmembers in attendance quickly agreed with the new recommendation. Maybe everyone was sleeping at the morning meeting!

The 2007 USS Morrison Reunion was the second reunion of kamikaze survivors that my wife and I had the honor to attend. In the same way as the 2006 USS Drexler Reunion, the family members of former Morrison crewmembers are actively involved in activities to remember both survivors and those crewmembers who had died either during the attack or afterward. Mike Ryan, son of survivor John Ryan, told me that he plans to continue to hold a memorial ceremony each year on May 4 even after the deaths of all of the men who survived the kamikaze attacks in 1945. He told me of the pride that he has for the courageous ship and each member of her crew. He expressed his great gratitude to Jack Simpson, Morrison's Executive Office, for his role in saving his father's life:

For about 20 minutes after the ship had sunk, a 19-year-old ensign, my father, John Ryan, had been struggling without a life jacket in the water. He was a very good swimmer, but his new, very expensive $5 leather boots were weighing him down. Every time he bent over to take those boots off, he would sink like a rock. The ship's Executive Officer (XO) Jack Simpson yelled to Ensign Ryan off in the distance, "Are you okay sailor?" My dad said, "No, I am a good swimmer, but I have to get out of these boots or I am going to drown." The XO, who was wearing a life preserver swam over to Ensign Ryan and helped him up in his arms while he got out of the new boots, which were slowly sapping his strength and pulling him under.

Jack Simpson, who attended the 2007 reunion, also helped save many other men on May 4, 1945, as he ran around the destroyer shouting to abandon ship after the communication system stopped working. He jumped off into the water just before the ship went under.

Notes

1. From USS Ingraham (DD-694) Action Report for period from April 29 through May 4, 1945.

2. Same as Note 1.

3. From USS Morrison (DD-560) Action Report for May 4, 1945.

4. From USS LCS(L)-21 Action Report for May 4, 1945.

5. Same as Note 5.

6. The number of 155 dead comes from an official US Navy listing of men killed in the kamikaze attack that Bill Schurmeier obtained in the late 1980s when trying to get information on former Morrison crewmen. The USS Morrison (DD-560) Action Report for May 4, 1945, states the following: "Out of a total complement of three hundred thirty-one men, only seventy-one uninjured men and one hundred eight wounded men were picked up by the LCS 21 after these men had been in the water about two hours." Based on these figures in the Action Report, 152 men died on May 4, 1945. The number of 152 dead is used in other sources, such as the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

7. Although the USS Morrison (DD-560) Action Report for May 4, 1945, indicates that the second plane to hit the ship was a Zeke, some sources (e.g., Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships) indicate that the second plane to hit Morrison was a floatplane.