By Laura Carroll

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 war."

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.

The Battle 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.”

This 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.


Primary Sources

Carroll, Jack.  Personal interview, 1997.

Carroll, Jeffrey.  Personal interview, 1 December 2003.


The D-Day Encyclopedia.  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.

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