Stepping Into a History Book: A US Navy Destroyer Reunion


Of the estimated 100 to 110 billion people who have ever lived anywhere on this earth, a generous 4+ percent have lived in liberty in free nations, and a large share of those have lived in the United States or in nations that have modeled in some fashion the American “We the people” experiment of 1787.  (Source: 7 Tipping Points that Saved the World – Chris Stewart & Ted Stewart)

I have more to say on this at the end of this piece.

Diana and I recently stepped into a history book. A history book that gave us a peek into the lives of some brave sailors who fought at the front lines defending those freedoms; from World War II  … through Korea … through the Cold War …  and finally Vietnam; and of the wives of those sailors maintaining the home front.

When I was growing up, I was captivated by a TV series “Victory at Sea.” The scenes of war at sea, though graphic, seemed so far away in the past and thus distant from where I was as a youngster.  Even when I served aboard the Porterfield in 1965-66, those battle scenes still seemed in the remote past having nothing to do with me.  Then in relatively recent years I started to read a few books about those historic battles; Sea of Thunder and The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and still the battles were far removed from me. Then just a few weeks ago we watched a TV program about the Battle off Samar, an incredible story of  American tin-cans going against a vastly superior Japanese fleet. Again, even just a few weeks from the writing of this piece, such actions seemed far – far away.

And just the weekend before stepping into this history book, my oldest grandson Jake and I visited the Navy Ship museum at Fall River Massachusetts where we went aboard the USS Joseph P. Kennedy (DD- 850) the USS Massachusetts (BB-59) the USS Lionfish (SS-298) and a PT boat of the type President John F. Kennedy served on in World War II. But still, these ships and the battles seemed so far away in the distant past.

But then we met these sailors face-to-face and broke bread with them.

So let’s take a look at what we learned – and lets meet some of the men and women we became part of at the:

Balch-Porterfield Reunion 2013 – Salt Lake City, Utah September 2013

English: USS Balch (DD-363) off the Bethlehem ...

English: USS Balch (DD-363) off the Bethlehem Steel Company’s Fore River Plant, Quincy, Massachusetts, 23 September 1936, probably during builder’s trials. The ship’s gun directors and 1.1″ anti-aircraft machine guns have not yet been fitted. Note that Balch’s bow numbers are painted close to the waterline. Removed caption read: Photo # NH 61695 USS Balch off Quincy, Massachusetts, 23 September 1936 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First let me tell you why a reunion of two ships – the Balch DD-363 and the Porterfield DD-682; I will return to the records of these two fine ships at the end of this piece.

The USS Balch (DD-363) was commissioned in October 1936. When World War II began, production of naval ships ramped up significantly with the USS Porterfield (DD-682) being commissioned in October 1943.  In order to seed the new ship with a seasoned crew, some of the sailors from the Balch were transferred to the Porterfield, and the reunion association has honored that bond to the present time.


The welcome was immediate and warm. We arrived at the hotel about Sunday noon and many were already there at the quarterdeck and they were genuine and kind in greeting us. Several of my old shipmates were there as well as those from the earlier years, so let me try to reconstruct the stories from the scratchy notes I scribbled out throughout the week; I’ll just write about them as they show up in my notes so they may seem a bit scattered. My apologizes for any errors, please let me know of any you find and I will set the record straight.

As I mentioned above, the Porterfield crew was seeded from the Balch, but Warren Seward stayed with the Balch till 1946. Sam Thomas, Gene Beckstrom and Jack Spradlin stayed with the Porterfield till 1946. Warren said that the Balch lost only one sailor during the entire duration of the war, even though the Balch saw extended battle duty including the battle of Midway, the turning point in the Pacific war, and the Doolittle raid.  The one death was due to an accident.

The guys on the Porterfield; Sam, Gene and Jack told me they were on the ship and at sea for 2 years, 7 months and 24 days. Mind you, these young men were in the engineering department which meant their working hours were spent below decks in the hot engine rooms and fire rooms.

The Korean vets told of their experiences off the coast of Korea:

  • Shelling North Korean artillery installations to draw fire so the cruisers could then hammer them.
  • Shelling North Korean railroad tunnels so as to trap supply trains and prevent the North Korean troops from being resupplied.
  • Operating off the North Korean coastline in the winter with temperatures reaching  –58 degrees F. according to Pat Fisher Mind you, the Porterfield had no inside passageways, so you often had to move fore and aft precariously exposed to the weather and icy decks and depending for your very life on a firm grip of the lifelines.
  • Ed Bennett came up to me one morning with a big smile on his face and said “I’ve got one for you!” He then went on to tell the story of the submarine, the USS Barb (SS-220)  that sank a Japanese train.
  • Ed also told me of witnessing  nuclear bomb testing at the Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific in 1952. My friend and colleague Tom Reese also told similar stories when I worked with him years later. Perhaps Tom & Ed were shipmates; I believe Tom also served in Korea but I don’t know any details.

Eula Rotter told the stories of her husband Les and her friend June and her husband Sam. The four of them were living together off base in a $20 a month rental, a Quonset hut, and the sailors would go off to work on the ship each day. They weren’t allowed to disclose ships movements, but they all knew that one day they would leave for work and not come home.  Well that day came and the men didn’t come home … they were gone for the duration of the war, however long that was. The young wives didn’t know when or even if they would see their husbands again. Fortunately these two wives did see their husbands again, but not for close to 3 years. These four remained life long friends, and we shared time and conversation, and broke bread with two of them, Sam and Eula. What an honor to know them.

Another lifelong friendship was between Ernesto (Ernie) Gomez and Mike Casillas shipmates of mine. Ernie was a Torpedo man (TM) and Mike was an Internal Communications  Electrician (IC). I knew and remembered Mike because he and I shared the same work space in “plot.” Well Mike and Ernie, like I said, became lifelong friends, but their first meeting didn’t portend such a long lasting friendship; We were working an all-hands working party taking on stores (food for you land lubbers) and Ernie was shoving heavy boxes of frozen meat down to Mike one deck below. Well, Mike thought Ernie was being just a bit to aggressive in shoving the meat, and they had words about the procedure. After the working party was secured, the two of them continued their conversation … with fists and feet. It wasn’t clear to me who won the debate, but the two of them continue to joke about it.

Going back to the guys from the big war, let me tell you of how three of them joined the Navy.

Jack joined the Navy when he was 15 years old. The recruiter handed him the papers and told him to fill them out and then have his dad sign them. Well Jack said “my dad won’t sign this.” The recruiter then look at him and said “you’re the dumbest son of a bitch I’ve ever seen, take these papers behind that wall over there and I’ll sign for your pa.”  I asked Jack what his parents said when he told them “I never went home” he told me.

Gene joined when he was 16. A ward of the state at that time, the recruiting  paperwork said he was 18. When asked how old he was, Gene said 16. At that point the Judge said to the recruiter “I say he’s 18, now who ya going to believe … me a judge or that lying kid?” Gene went in.

Sam (now 91) went in with his parent’s permission at 17 years of age.

We were told of these times, the depression years, and how some young boys joined the Navy to eat. One young boy was turned away because he wasn’t heavy enough, and he said “that’s why I want to join, so I can eat.”

Then there was Van Harddesty, a shipmate of mine from 65-66. Van was a Gunners Mate and loved, and still loves, the Navy. You see, Van had a tough upbringing and  didn’t have much of a home life, so the Navy became family for him. He still speaks fondly of his shipmates, and especially of my friend and fellow FT Jack Hix. Van was a delight to be with after all these years and it is clear he loves his shipmates wherever they may be.

Then there is the touching story of Whatduck. In the liberty port of Olongapo City in the Philippines there is a place (I never saw it) where you can buy a duck and throw it in with the alligators and watch the fun. Well one young sailor bought his duck, but when time came to feed it he just couldn’t do it so he smuggled it on to the ship. Well he almost made it, but the OD (Officer of the Deck) Ensign Church, spotted the duck on the quarterdeck at which point the smuggler ran off with the contraband with the watch messenger chasing after him. Below decks in the engine room the smuggler stashes the duck up in some pipes where he remained for the duration of the cruise, eluding all attempts at capture.

So the duck become the engineering department mascot, and whenever someone, especially Ensign Church, asked about or attempted to round up the duck the crew would respond “Whatduck?” which became his official name.

The story continues to get better. Coming home and close to San Diego, crew members were allowed to make a call home. Well, our smuggler, and caretaker of Whatduck calls the San Diego Zoo instead of home, explains the story and situation of Whatduck and makes arrangements for zoo keepers to meet Whatduck at the pier and take him away to his new home with many other ducks at the zoo.  So the ship ties up at the pier and Whatduck is prepared for his homecoming; he is placed in a cardboard box, but of course he is now full grown and the crew cuts a hole in the top of the box so Whatduck’s head can stick out.

So who do you think is on the quarterdeck when Whatduck makes his appearance? You guessed it … Ensign Church, and he is furious. The only problem is that the zoo-keepers have arrived with a TV news crew in tow. So Ensign Church quickly changes his demeanor and now pretends to know and love the duck and reaches down to pet the cute little creatures head. Whatduck is not fooled by this supposed change of heart and reaches up and bites Ensign Church on the finger.

Someone is concerned about poor Ensign Church’s finger and asked if he’s ok. “I’m bleeding just a bit, but I’m ok” he says, at which point he is placed under medical quarantine for two weeks. Whatduck’s final revenge!

So let me change gears and tell a few of my own stories and experiences.

In boot camp I became one of the privileged few because I had a year of college. I and several others also having a bit of college, were made Recruit Petty Officers. These were cushy jobs, and all we had to do was to lord it over those lesser guys that had no college. Well of course this skinny little kid put on a lot of weight, mostly in the head as it swelled and swelled with self importance. After boot camp I went to an A school where I learned a bit about my next job as a Fire Control Technician. (FT)

So when I reported aboard the Porterfield as the new kid and still with the big head, I was greeted warmly (yea) and immediately sent down to the mess deck where I spent the next many months preparing for and cleaning up after the meals. And no, I was not a cook.

The hours were long, beginning in the wee hours before breakfast and ending after clean up of the evening meal. Gone were the cushy days of boot camp and school … this was the real Navy, and I was low man.

One night I was swabbing the deck and anxious to get out of there. I was doing a half-assed job of it and I knew it … more importantly the Master at Arms of the mess deck, a 3’rd class electrician named John Terrell knew it. If you remember Ken Norton, the guy that broke Mohamed Ali’s jaw, well Terrell was built a lot like Norton.

So Terrell and I went nose to nose, probably at least a half-second or so, before I found myself down on the deck (no … John did not hit me) with only a bucket, a sponge and a scouring pad. And I cleaned that entire deck corner to corner on my hands and knees.

In those minutes or hours of scouring that deck, my head somehow shrunk down to it’s former size and I learned a valuable lesson. I understood my place and I understood who was boss … and it wasn’t me. I cherish that experience because it helped me to grow up. And I respected Terrell for doing what needed to be done and have never held any grudge towards him … then or now.

Some sea stories:

Sea Stories. Being a Fire Control Technician (FT), part of my job was controlling the 5-5 inch guns the Porterfield carried. Again, being the junior guy, my first “battle station” was in the ammo magazines deep in the bowels of the ship, fetching and passing on powder casings and shells up to the ready room just below the gun mount. As time progressed, I was moved to the gun mount crew and eventually to the two main Fire Control spaces. The gun director sat above the bridge and was used to control the guns, with radar or with elevation and bearing operators using hand wheels to point the guns, and a large stereoscopic optical range finder to measure range to the target. The other FT space was called Plot. The main feature of Plot was a large mechanical computer, the Mk1-A. This was a bunch of electro mechanical stuff which made sure the shells arrived on target. None of us knew how it worked, and fortunately it never broke down. It was operated by a series of knobs; one for range, another for bearing, and another for elevation. It also got input from the Stable Platform, a gyro system alongside the computer which gave the artillery solution a sense of how the gun mounts were reacting to sea motion. All of this gave a very high degree of accuracy out to a range of 10-12 miles.

PICT0013

Part of our training at sea was tracking drills against incoming hostile aircraft. The systems were designed to defend against WW II planes such as the Japanese Zero, but in 1966 we were going up against F-4 Phantom jets and there was no way we could track them let alone lock up a firing solution. Well, when we deployed to the South China Sea off Vietnam I heard the general quarters call for the first time with the words “THIS IS NOT A DRILL” added. This added a bit of fear into the equation, and all of a sudden I realized that I was in a real shooting war. It turns out that one of our planes was shot up in a bombing raid in North Vietnam, and was unable to identify himself as it returned to the carrier USS Enterprise. I eventually realized that there was no credible enemy threat to those of us fortunate to be safe off shore, and GQ became more routine.

Our routine off Vietnam was often split into a three day rotation. Day one was plane guarding where we took up station aft of the carrier and acted as a life guard for pilots having to ditch for whatever reason. Day two was devoted to taking on fuel, food and ammo from a supply ship or the carrier, sometimes both in the same day. Day three was gun fire support where we would help the Marines or GIs against the Viet Cong or the North Vietnam army. I remember one night when we were ordered to steam full speed from the north (Yankee Station) to the south (Dixie Station) to support a large Marine operation. On arrival we spent hours with almost constant bombardment of enemy positions and troops. Another time we arrived on station for fire support and let loose with a full 5 gun salvo. I was on the elevation knob in plot, and after the first salvo I received a huge up spot which I entered, followed by the second salvo. Then, another huge up spot followed by “Cease Fire”. Apparently we got a bad batch of ammo and the shells were cooking off in the barrels, and spreading shrapnel far short of the target. Three of our guns were swollen about halfway out looking like they had swallowed an egg. Needless to say, that took us out of action, and we spent the next week in the yards at Subic Bay getting re-gunned. Fortunately there were no injuries or deaths.

DD682BadFuze

This is a story from after my Porterfield days and I was assigned the reserve ship USS Shields (DD-596) to finish up four more years of reserve duty.  We were steaming North past San Francisco and taking on fuel. My job was to help haul over the fueling lines from the oiler, and once pulled over my job was done and I was off to my rack for a few Z’s. After just dozing off I was rudely awakened by the clanging collision alarm. I quickly jumped out of the rack and bounded up the ladder to the forward hatch in the bow to see what was going on. By then the ship was shuddering under an abrupt reversal under full power. I looked to my right and there coming out of a patchy fog bank was a large freighter, steaming right across the path of our three ship refueling formation; us on the starboard of the oiler and another destroyer, the USS Agerholm, on the port side. The Agerholm had broken away from the oiler and was breaking hard to port at flank speed in order to clear the area. The oiler could only try to back down but because of its huge mass and lack of maneuvering room was essentially helpless. We were for a time trapped between the oiler and the freighter, eventually backing clear of the oncoming freighter. After what seemed an eternity the two sips collided with the oiler hitting the freighter just below the bridge and causing it to list at about 40 some degrees. Eventually it righted itself, but there was a huge gaping hole in the hull. Fortunately the freighter was riding high in the water and the bow of the oiler hit well above the water line and the ship did not sink.

I enjoyed being at sea, there is just something majestic in experiencing the huge overpowering waves, and the still of the night on a calm sea watching the luminescent wake under a sky full of stars.

FightingFletcher

I also learned a few things that happened while I was on the Porterfield that I was unaware of:

Mike the IC electrician was almost washed overboard by a wave that washed over the fantail and sent Mike sprawling across the deck towards the sea. Mike hung on to the life lines at the decks edge, but was badly hurt. As I recall he and Ernie telling the story, a ship in formation behind us actually saw Mike clinging onto the lifeline and alerted the bridge of the Porterfield; all this time Ernie is yelling for help for his friend. Mike was transferred to a hospital ship where he spent several months recovering.

Van had a similar, though less severe, experience when the ship rolled and he went sprawling across the O2 level (one deck up from the main deck) and he wound up hanging from the O2 level life lines. He was unhurt and able to lift himself up.

I heard the story of a young engineer who lost his life when a steam pipe he was working on sprayed high pressure and high temperature steam directly into his face. I don’t remember who told me this story; Van Mike or Ernie, but he saw this young man later, lying unmoving on the fantail.

Operating off shore, we were never under serious threat although I found out that on several occasions we were shot at by the North Vietnamese, including a rocket/missile shot as we crossed the DMZ into North Vietnamese waters. Mike with his 8mm movie camera actually filmed an engagement where we were shelling positions along the shoreline and the film showing the Vietnamese firing back at us.

There is one episode that had bothered me for years, and it occurred while we were plane guarding astern of the USS Enterprise.  Plane guarding is when an escort ship takes up a position astern of the carrier and rescues or assists in the rescue or recovery of pilots that, for whatever reason miss the landing and wind up in the water.

A plane returning from a mission in the North was shot up and missed his landing and wound up in the water while his plane was sinking under him. Somehow he managed to get out of the aircraft, and our recue team reached him and pulled him into the small whale boat and brought him to the Porterfield. I watched this whole episode from a distance vantage point on the fantail, and by the time this pilot reached us he was dead. For years after, I thought that our rescue swimmer was careless and had drowned this man. Eventually I talked myself out of this recollection … why would I accuse that rescuer of such a thing? But that’s what I thought I saw.

But … but hold on! Now I have seen the rest of the story. My friend and shipmate Mike Casillas, the IC guy, had an 8 mm movie camera and actually filmed that entire rescue evolution, from the failed landing attempt to the rescue attempt itself and to the final conclusion of the pilot lying on our deck waiting for the Enterprise to retrieve him.  I saw the whole episode, now some 47 years later, and can finally lay that to rest. Our team did a heroic job in attempting to save that brave pilot’s life. Praise the Lord!

Mike did a lot of filming on that cruise, and hopefully I can get a copy of what he did. Good job Mike!

A couple of interesting items here:

  • Gene, Jack and Sam were on the Porterfield when it was commissioned in 1943. The ship was decommissioned after the war and was mothballed in San Diego.
  • Pat Fisher was part of the re-commissioning crew when the Porterfield was re-activated for service in Korea in 1951.
  • Dave Lesh stood the last watch before Porterfield was de-commissioned in 1969.
  • All of these men were with us in Salt Lake City.

So what about life after the Navy?

Most of us served out our two, three or four years and went back to civilian life. John Bryan however stayed on for 20 years and then spent another 24 years in the Merchant Marine.

Several times Van referred to Ernie becoming a preacher, so one morning at the elevator I cornered him and asked him to tell Diana and me how a brawling hard drinking Torpedo-man became a preacher. So at breakfast Ernie held our rapt attention as he gave his testimony; the story of a young man, a talented musician making his rounds in the night club scene of Southern California, and how the Lord touched his life. Ernesto Gomez went to Bible college, became a pastor and teacher of a large congregation in New Mexico, and at one point was awarded an honorary Doctorate.  Good job my friend!

And a few interesting notes about some episodes my new friends Ernesto and Mike got themselves involved in:

First Ernie tells the story of when he was working at the University of New Mexico when a group of protestors were creating a ruckus of some sort and were headed to the flag pole on a mission of mischief against the flag. Ernie was having none of this and quickly rounded up a big strapping NM football player and they rushed to defend the flag. On the way Ernie ripped off a car antenna and brandished it as a whip against the protesters and disrupted whatever they were up to. Mind you, this was in 1976, a couple of years after the Vietnam war ended so it most likely wasn’t an anti-war protest; Ernie doesn’t know or remember what the protest was all about, but his picture brandishing the antenna was on the front page the next day.

Then there’s Mike Casillas the Harley rider. There is a very large event called Rolling Thunder that takes place in Washington DC every year to draw attention to the cause of bringing full accountability for the Prisoners Of War-Missing In Action (POW/MIA) of all wars, reminding the government, the media and the public by our watchwords: “We Will Not Forget.”

Mike has been involved in this event, and he described the cross country ride he and his fellow veterans made from Southern California to Washington DC. He tells of some 600 bikers beginning the trip and the growth of that one group as they crossed middle American picking up more bikers as they rolled along. People all across America greeting them and cheering them on with flags waving and food to be had. This year an estimated 500,000 bikers showed up at the nations capital. We’ve been to one of these events, and it is truly an awesome site that brings tears to even the driest eye.

We saw the lone Marine standing at attention and wept as he saluted the veterans as if to say “Thanks fellows, now it’s our turn!”  Mike tells us that this lone Marine has been doing this for 15 years now.

Then there is Gene Beckstrom from the WW II Porterfield. Remember how Gene joined the Navy as a ward of the state? Well, Gene cornered me one morning and told his story. A story hauntingly similar to the one Ernie told us a day or two before.  The Lord touched Gene and he became a pastor and started a series of churches in the remote towns of Northern Minnesota and North Dakota, and is still active in his ministries. Again … good job my friend and fellow shipmate!

Well that’s about as much as my memory recalls, and my notes have run their course. So now let me finish off with the records of these two fine US Navy ships: the USS Balch (DD-363) and the USS Porterfield (DD-682).

But one final word about my shipmates.

All of these shipmates – from the WWII guys through my shipmates during our Vietnam tour, and even those that served in the few years following me,  continually made the point that “No matter when, no matter for how long, if you served on one of these ships then you are my shipmate.”

And the Navy wives warmly welcomed my Navy wife into the sisterhood of those who waited and maintained the home front.


The distinguished record of these two ships. (Source: Wikipedia)

USS Balch (DD-363)

On 1 December 1941, Balch put to sea as a unit of TF 8, and remained with the Task Force after the Pearl Harbor attack. She cruised in the Pacific during the early months of the war, and participated in the bombardment of Tarawa Island, Marshall Islands (1 February 1942). Between February 1942 and June 1944, Balch performed widespread screening, patrolling, and fire support duties during the Wake Island raid (24 February 1942), the Doolittle Raid (18 April 1942), the decisive Battle of Midway (4–7 June), during which she rescued 545 survivors of Yorktown; Guadalcanal landings (7–30 August); Attu invasion (11 May-2 June 1943); Toem-Wakde-Sarmi landings (25–28 May 1944) and Biak Island invasion (28 May-18 June).

On 15 July 1944, Balch arrived at New York. Between 2 August 1944 and 23 May 1945, she completed five trans-Atlantic convoy escort crossings to various North African ports. On 16 June 1945, she commenced her pre-inactivation overhaul at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was decommissioned 19 October 1945 and scrapped in 1946.

Awards

Balch received six battle stars for her Pacific service during World War II.

USS Porterfield (DD-682)

Following her shakedown, Porterfield joined Task Force 53 (TF 53), getting underway 12 January 1944 and arriving off the Marshalls on the 31st. Porterfield’s first job was shore bombardment on Ennomennet and Ennubirr Islands, followed by harassing and neutalizing fire on Roi and Namur.

By 4 February the situation was well in hand, and Porterfield left to convoy several cargo and transport ships to Funafuti. Here she joined three merchantmen and another destroyer, Fletcher (DD-445), en route to Majuro. On 20 February Porterfield got underway from Majuro in company with a division of battleships for shore bombardment in the Marshalls. The destroyers screened as the battleships’ guns worked over enemy installations thoroughly for two days.

After a quick voyage to Pearl Harbor, Porterfield joined the replenishment group for the fast carrier task force, screening the oilers which refueled the striking forces during the raids on Yap, Palau and Satawan. This duty continued until the end of April, when Porterfield again set course for Pearl Harbor.

Porterfield ‘s next assignment was screening escort carriers during the Marianas invasion. The group sortied from Pearl Harbor 30 June, with Porterfield’s group of jeep carriers furnishing air coverage for the advance. The group arrived off Saipan 15 June and enemy air attacks began shortly thereafter. Porterfield stayed with the force, rescuing two pilots, before being sent to Eniwetok 1 July for dry-docking. After her repairs, the ship reached Saipan again 11 July and operated with the carrier screen until sent to Guam early in August.

On 3 August, Porterfield was detached from the carrier group to join the Fast Carrier Task Force (then 5th Fleet’s TF 58). She rendezvoused with Task Group 58.4 (TG 58.4) east of Guam 6 August and operated with that group during the rest of the Guam campaign, returning to Eniwetok for upkeep 10 August.

The group put to sea again 29 August and launched raids against Palau and Mindanao in support of the landings in the Palaus. The ships remained in the general area between the Philippines and the Palaus during all of September, striking at islands within the Philippines.

The carrier force left Ulithi 6 October, with Okinawa and Formosa as their objectives. Air raids were heavier this time, and Porterfield splashed three planes, also rescuing the crew of a torpedo bomber from Hornet (CV-12). Following the attacks on Okinawa and Formosa, the group was sent to the Philippines, lying in wait for units of the Japanese Fleet, which were supposed to be planning an attack.

At dawn 25 October the carrier planes from the formation began their strikes against the Japanese forces, crippling the entire group and sending it scurrying back toward Japan. Porterfield was ordered to join four cruisers to finish off the damaged ships. The group engaged one Japanese cruiser which sank just as the destroyers were pressing a torpedo attack.

The group sortied again 1 November for an operating area east of Samar. On the morning of the 5th, the carriers launched a strike against Luzon, amid gathering stormy weather. One pilot from Langley (CVL-27) crashed, and had to be hauled aboard Porterfield by a life boat. The Japanese struck back in the early afternoon, and Lexington (CV-16) took a kamikaze crash. Again Porterfield was undamaged.

On 22 November she again sortied from Ulithi for more raids on Luzon, returning to Ulithi for logistics and upkeep 3 December. A week later she was again underway for Luzon, and recovered another Langley pilot on the 13th.

On the group’s next raid, it was decided to enter the South China Sea via the Bashi Channel between Formosa and Luzon. Once inside, the group conducted a shipping raid along the China coast which cost the Japanese a heavy toll of their remaining shipping strength.

1945

The group cleared the China Sea 19 January 1945, and again sent planes against Formosa. The Japanese defense was more effective this time, however, as two suicide planes crashed into Ticonderoga (CV-14) and one bomb hit Langley’s flight deck. Further strikes were launched against Okinawa Gunto before the group returned to Ulithi 27 January.

On 10 February the ships sortied again, bound for Tokyo and subsequent support of the Iwo Jima landings. On the second day out, Porterfield rescued two pilots from the carrier Cowpens (CVL-25). The Fast Carrier Task Force penetrated to within 60 miles (110 km) of Tokyo without being attacked, and then retired toward Iwo Jima to provide direct support for the landings there. The carrier planes flew direct support missions until 23 February, when the group refueled and set course for Tokyo. During the Iwo Jima campaign Porterfield added another plane to her credit. The group prowled off the Japanese home islands for several days, striking almost at will.

Early on the morning of 26 February, Porterfield picked up a Japanese picket boat on her radar screen, and promptly engaged her. The 150-foot (46 m) boat put up a stiff fight, aided by rough seas which made fire control difficult, but Porterfield sank her within fifteen minutes.

The following day, with the weather steadily improving, the task group refueled and Porterfield departed for Ulithi, arriving 1 March. She stayed in Ulithi for three weeks before leaving for Okinawa Jima, where she was to lend fire support for the landings on Kerama Retto and Okinawa.

On 6 April, just as the ships were forming for night retirement, kamikaze suicide planes swarmed over the formation, diving at any ship which presented a good target. Porterfield shot down one, and was then sent to the aid of destroyers Leutze (DD-481) and Newcomb (DD-586). The attack was still in full swing when Porterfield maneuvered close to the two burning ships, putting over boats to rescue survivors. She then screened the damaged ships to Kerama Retto and transferred the wounded to a hospital ship.

Later that day, Porterfield was ordered out with Task Force 54, to intercept units of the Japanese fleet, including the giant battleship Yamato, which were steaming toward Okinawa. The two forces never met, however, as planes of Task Force 58 destroyed the Japanese units. Porterfield then returned to Okinawa, continuing on screening and bombardment duty during which she downed two Japanese planes 10 April.

On the 12th, another heavy air attack materialized. Porterfield, in the leading screen position in her formation, met the attackers, which included about 10 bombers and torpedo planes. With one of her five-inch (127 mm) guns out of commission, she nevertheless threw up a tremendous amount of highly accurate fire, downing four planes before they could get past her. Four more were brought down as they proceeded over Porterfield to the heavy units. Two managed to crash into ships, one hitting a destroyer and another smashing into a battleship. Porterfield continued her fine fire support, shooting down another enemy plane before being forced to return to the rear area because of damage to one engine. Upon arriving in Saipan, however, the ship was immediately ordered back to Okinawa as a convoy escort.

Early in May, however, the ship was ordered back to Ulithi where she remained until 20 June, when she got underway for Okinawa, only to find that the engine previously damaged was still inoperative. On 4 July Porterfield was ordered back to the Puget Sound Navy Yard for an availability. The ship arrived at the Puget Sound Navy Yard 24 July, and was still undergoing repairs when the end of the war was announced. On 27 September she reported to the Pacific Fleet and 3 October got underway for San Diego for decommissioning.

1951 – 1969

Porterfield re-commissioned 27 April 1951 and arrived Pearl Harbor 28 July, steaming for Yokosuka, Japan 7 August. Her first Korean assignment was in support of United Nations policies as a part of Task Force 77 off the Korean East Coast where she performed screening and destroyer duties. On 12 December Porterfield joined Task Group 95.11 in the Yellow Sea off the Korean West Coast, and until late December acted as a screening unit and plane guard as well as participating in numerous close support patrols.

Porterfield returned to San Diego 8 March 1952, commencing her second far eastern tour 4 October. With Task Force 77 off the Korean East Coast, the ship’s duties consisted mainly of screening and plane guarding for the fast carriers, with occasional shore bombardments. This was followed by Taiwan patrol duty. She returned to San Diego 6 May 1953.

USS Porterfield, 1966-67.

Porterfield continued to alternate periods of underway training and operations off the California coast with deployments to the western Pacific which took place in 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, and 1958. On the last of these deployments Porterfield participated in the Taiwan patrol for several weeks commencing with the intensification of military action from the Chinese mainland against the off-shore islands.

On her eighth western Pacific cruise in 1959 Porterfield operated extensively as a member of a Hunter Killer AntiSubmarine Task Group. She deployed again from November 1960 to April 1961, and from November 1962 to June 1963. Further western Pacific deployments were made in 1964 and 1966, when she worked with amphibious groups off the coast of Vietnam.

Porterfield was decommissioned 7 November 1969. She was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register 1 March 1975. Designated as a target in 1976, she was sunk 18 July 1982.

Awards

Porterfield received ten battle stars for World War II service and four battle stars for Korean War service.


*  *  *  *

Now I return to the blurb at the beginning of this piece — about liberty and freedom.

The stories I have recounted here, and the events I myself experienced are stories and sacrifices that countless sailors, soldiers, Marines and airmen experienced in the wars and battles fought during the lifetimes of these two great ships. Thanks to the great sacrifice and wisdom of our founding fathers, and to these heroes and patriots,  we in our present age can count ourselves blessed to be in that very small number of people who have have lived in liberty in a free nation.

The 4% of us that have lived free is,  fundamentally and at its core what makes this nation, the United States of America an exceptional nation.

I hope I have done some small part in raising the level of  all of us in our appreciation and gratitude for veterans of all of our wars in defense of liberty — including todays soldiers, Marines, airman and sailors.

Anchors away my friends and shipmates … anchors away!

Don Johnson – September 2013

5 responses to “Stepping Into a History Book: A US Navy Destroyer Reunion

  1. This is good stuff, Don. I really enjoy the characters and details. There exists collectives for a book…..Ed

  2. Ken Calderwood Temecula, CA

    Very good and interesting report report, Don—- Ken C

  3. Pingback: When Serving Was Worth Risking The Brig | A Yearning for Publius

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