The "Foolish" Transfer
Jack was just 22 when he was drafted into the
service. He began as a typist at the Eastern
Sea Frontier Headquarters in New York
in 1942. My since-deceased grandfather worked
there for two years but he began to feel guilty about not having a more
active role in the war and as he said in a 1997 videotape, “foolishly put
in for a transfer,” to the Navy. He served as
a Yeoman in the Navy. As Yeoman, he had to relay the Captain’s orders
to all the men on the ship. My grandfather also
issued liberty passes, or passes giving sailors the right to leave the ship
when they were ported. Jack served on ships
called destroyers that were small, fast, highly maneuverable warships armed
with guns, torpedoes, depth charges, and guided missiles.
Jack went to Boston
and was placed on the ship USS Boyle and headed for Algiers,
a city in northern Algeria
which served as a headquarters for the Allied Forces.
Jack Carroll then returned to Boston
and joined the USS O’Brien for a shakedown cruise but was dropped off in
Bermuda because he had jaundice. The second USS O’Brien picked Jack up and the ship
received orders to be part of the Invasion of Normandy.
A Date that Will Live in Infamy
In the spring of 1944 the Allies were prepared
to deliver the greatest blow of the war yet – a long delayed invasion of
Northern Europe. In
the Soviet Union, the Red Army had fought and won a
great tank battle around Kursk
in July and continued to drive the Germans westward.
Powerful German armies however remained on German territory. The Soviets constantly pressed Britain
and the US
to open a second front in Western Europe with little
reaction. Finally, planning went underway at the
end of 1943 when the Allies agreed the great invasion couldn't be further
delayed. The invasion would serve the purpose of surrounding Germany
with enemy forces. After crossing France,
the British and Americans could attack Germany
from the West while Russia
closed in from the East - therefore cornering the Nazis.
Operation Overlord took place on June 6, 1944 on the French coast
of Normandy. The invasion was separated into five beaches: Utah,
Omaha, Gold, Juno, and
Sword. My grandfather was stationed off the coast
of Omaha Beach. Omaha Beach
is notoriously known to have been the most arduous and problematic beach
of D-day. The geology of the beach
was bad enough alone, with its steep banks and high cliffs from which Germans
were able to shoot at the American invaders. Add
to that, the fact that Omaha Beach was defended by the best German troops
in the area, meant that American landing boats were blasted to fire by Germans before
reaching shore, swimming tanks were sunk, and many beach clearing engineers
died, their clearing equipment lost with them, and you have the horror
of Omaha Beach. Jack recalled with a wistful
look on his usually tough face, “I remember sailing towards Normandy
with all these ships around us and about four or five in the morning all
the big ships opened up with their batteries, and it was like the Fourth
of July.” 3,000 Americans were killed at the
horrific invasion of Omaha Beach. The invasion of Normandy
served its purpose though and did push back the Germans with much success,
eventually surrounding them and leading to the Battle
of the Bulge.
This picture depicts Omaha Beach on
the day of Operation Overlord (D-Day), June 6, 1944. Located in Normandy,
France, Omaha Beach was one of the five beaches invaded by the Allies.
The main goal of D-Day was to push the Germans East as the Soviets pushed
them West, thus surrounding the Nazis.
The battle was bloody and difficult and by June 9th the forces at the other beaches
had gained more land than the Americans at Omaha. One unknown officer in his famous
words best describes the brutality of the battle, "Two kinds of people are
staying on this beach. The dead, and those about to die."
Bombardment at Cherbourg
The USS O’Brien was then called to Cherbourg,
France, a city
just northwest of Normandy,
a few days after Operation Overlord. They
bombarded the Nazis on the coast with shells and the O’Brien was eventually
hit by German fire, and though battered, stayed on duty hurling shells at
the enemy. Another ship, The Bellowing Texas,
was also on duty and was badly hit. The USS
O’Brien created massive amounts of smoke to cover the ship, thus allowing
it to safely retreat for repairs. My father
recalled a story he had once heard Jack tell about the bombardment, “The
shells were landing all around the ship and then one hit while he was talking
to the guy next to him and when he turned back the guy had been hit in the
face with a shell. Another friend of his was
blown up and landed draped over the mast. You
could tell that was something that really stayed with him his whole life.”
"I may be crazy but it looks like the Japanese have quit the
After returning to England and The United
States for repairs and taking part in various orders at Luzon, Ormoc Bay,
Mindora, Lingayen Gulf, Tokyo, Iwo Jima, Kerama Rhetto, and various small
islands in the Pacific, the USS O’Brien was called to the island of Okinawa,
as my grandfather said, “just off to another place we had never heard of.” Okinawa, however, would
prove to be far more unforgettable than the other missions Jack went through.
for Okinawa was a part of US
Admiral Nimitz’s “island-hopping” campaign of getting to Japan
by “hopping” from island to island. Okinawa
was a crucial island for the US
to gain because of its proximity to Japan. The Battle
for Okinawa began on March 26, 1945 when the Amphibious Support
Force moved into Okinawan waters. The northern
half of the island was seized rather quickly in less than a month. The Americans were shocked at the lack of opposition
in the north and Admiral Richmond Kelley Turner said, “I may be crazy but
it looks like the Japanese have quit the war.” Admiral
Nimitz responded, “Delete all after ‘crazy.’”
Nimitz would prove to be right. The Japanese had tricked the Americans into believing
Okinawa would be an easy win. Once the Americans reached the southern half,
they realized Japanese General Ushijima concentrated his forces
there. In May the bloody and hellish front,
the Shuri Line, was at a standstill. Many Japanese
soldiers and Okinawan natives committed suicide and by June 21st
when the battle had ended at least a third of the island’s population had
died and the Japanese lost 107,539 men. The Battle
for Okinawa was the bloodiest campaign of the Pacific
War, full of "violence, shock, blood, gore, and suffering,” said Marine
Eugene B. Sledge. 12,510 Americans were killed
or missing in action and 36,613 wounded.
The Marines dealt with the gory battling at
the Shuri Line while the Navy dealt with the looming fear of kamikaze attacks. On April 7,
1945 Jack’s ship was struck.
The Game of Survival
Kamikazes were Japanese pilots trained to make
suicidal strikes against enemy ships. Destroyers
were often targeted and Admiral Matome Ugaki was quoted as commanding, “get
the destroyers,” before sending kamikazes out. Suicide was considered an honorable act in Japanese
culture going back to bushido or the “way of the warrior”
which puts loyalty to the emperor, nation, and oneself as the cardinal virtue. Kamikazes were praised for their
seppuku, or ritual suicide, and were called “hero-gods
of the air.” Rarely was a destroyer on picket
duty for more than 5 hours without being hit by enemy bombers. Two sevenths
of all attempts were successful and during the Pacific War almost 5,000 aircrafts
were flown by kamikaze pilots.
My grandfather's boat, the USS O’Brien was
struck on April 7th a day of a massive kamikaze strike
against the American fleet. Jack recalled on
the video that, “You would be watching the skies out of the corners of your
eyes the whole day and you knew that if you saw a plane it was us or them.” 28 men were killed, 22 were missing, and more than
100 were injured. He commented that, “Once that
plane hit it was like judgment day." Jack was wounded
when he was hit in the leg with a piece of shrapnel.
My grandfather received the Purple Heart, a medal awarded for
being wounded by the enemy with an instrument of war.
When talking about the war, Jack recalled
a memory that stuck with him after the attack. “After
we had found the kamikaze pilot we saw that he had a setting sun
stitched in the lining of his coat. The Captain
pointed to the jacket and said ‘I want that.’ He had tears in his eyes and
I remember thinking that the Captain, who was my hero, this big tough guy,
was about to cry.”
This is a picture of a stone cold Japanese
kamikaze pilot preparing to take the step known as seppuku, or ritual suicide.
Kamikazes were pilots that attacked enemy ships by flying their planes into
them, their noses containing tons of TNT. Japanese culture glorified
these pilots often referring to kamikazes as "hero-gods of the air" and was
an act of patriotism, family honor, and unflagging loyalty to the emperor
(bushido). Destroyers were specifically targeted in the battle for Okinawa
and Admiral Matome Ugaki directly commanded the kamikazes to "get the destroyers."
Rarely was a destroyer on picket duty for more than 5 hours without being
hit. The Japanese made 3,000 kamikaze sorties against the American fleet
in the Pacific War. As Richard Frank said in Downfall, once the
ship was struck, "it was a game of survival, and almost all your instincts
were on high alert. And one of them wasn’t fear. You were too
damn worried about protecting your ship to be afraid."
Growing up I often heard about my grandfather
receiving the Purple Heart and his presence at some of the most prominent
battles in World War II. I like to think there
is no war glorification in the United States today but I always felt admiration
for my grandfather's service to his country. Perhaps,
however, I should have looked closer at the distant and painful expression
in his eyes when recalling war stories that has now become so clear as
I look back at a home movie of my grandfather talking about his involvement
in the war. My grandfather was a hero for answering
the call of duty and even joining the Navy by his own choice. This, however, doesn't seem to mean much to him as he
answers questions about the war on the 1997 videotape.
More important are the memories and events that were burned indelibly
in his mind. On the tape he talks about four
sailors that jumped off the boat while they were passing through a Japanese
straight he no longer remembers the name of to escape their Navy service. It would have been so easy for Jack to just try to
get out of his service or to stay in his office job but instead he chose
to take action. This leaves me with a question
he himself read in a war commemoration article, “It was the finest time in
the country and I often wonder if we still have people like that today.”
is the Purple Heart medal, my grandfather received for injuries sustained
at Okinawa on March 27, 1945. My grandfather’s boat, the USS O’Brien,
was hit by a kamikaze off the coast of Okinawa. The Purple Heart is awarded
to members of the armed forces who are wounded by an instrument of war in
the hands of the enemy. Gaining control over the island Okinawa was
crucial to the Pacific War because America needed to gain land close enough
to Japan to bomb B-29s at it. The battle for Okinawa was the bloodiest
campaign of the Pacific war and one-seventh of the Navy’s total causalities
in World War II were there (largely due to attacks by kamikazes). The
front of Okinawa, or the Shuri Line, in May was a constant hellish and arduous
battle for the last pieces of land.
Carroll, Jack. Personal interview, 1997.
Carroll, Jeffrey. Personal interview, 1 December 2003.
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New York City, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
Feldman, George. World War II Almanac. Boston, MA:
Imprint of the Gale Group, 1982.
Frank, Benis M.. Okinawa: The Great Island Battle.
New York City, NY: EP Dutton, 1978.
Miller, Donald M. The Story of World War II. New York City,
NY: Simon & Schuster, 2001.
O’Neil, Richard. Suicide Squads: WWII. New York City, NY:
St. Martin’s Press, 1981.
Smurthwaite, David. The Pacific War Atlas. New York City,
NY: Facts on File, 1995.
Snyder, Louis L. Historical Guide to World War II. Westport,
CT: Greenwood Press, 1982.
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