The Wartime Journal of Leonard T. Rose of the USS Landing Ship Tank 981

Sailors – as like all servicemen – of World War II often maintained journals of their time overseas. Those records were kept for a variety of reasons. Some boys wanted to have a memory key, by which they might unlock the fading past in years to come. Others, not so sanguine about their future, wanted some record left behind to tell of their life with all its hardships and loves. Still others just wanted someone beside themselves to know what a world war looked like from a common soldier’s perspective. No one was supposed to keep such a record of combat – the brass believed them capable of falling into enemy hands and blessing the foe with valuable intelligence. Common sense led the sailor to see profound absurdity in that idea. Like so many others young seafarers, Leonard Tarver Rose wrote frequently in a small pocket-sized notebook. Thanks to his diligence, life has returned to the USS Landing Ship Tank (LST) 981 after more than seven decades.

LST 981 (Landing Ship Tank) was launched 27 January 1944. The ship served in both the European and Pacific Theaters. LST 981 was responsible for landing eighty-five British Royal engineers on Utah Beach, Normandy, France 6 Jun 1944. The ship was damaged by an underwater explosion and had to abort further missions. LST 981 was then towed to England for repairs. The ship returned to duty and was sent to the Pacific, where she performed landings and resupply during operations on Okinawa May-Jun 1945, and logistical missions in support of the occupation of Japan.

Radioman 3rd Class Leonard T. Rose became close friends with two other 981 crewmen. A brief biography of the three sailors follows.

Leonard Tarver Rose was born 18 Nov 1925 in Whitney, Texas. He was the son of J B and Ramah Irene (Tarver) Rose. Leonard married Mary Helen Necessary. He died 9 Jun 1973 in Dallas. Leonard was originally buried in Restland Memorial Park, Dallas. At some point he was reinterred at Whitney Memorial Park, Whitney.

Photo (left): Whitney, not out of the ordinary at one time, issued its own currency.

Walter Francis Barlow Jr.

Walter was born 16 May 1926 in Ridley Park, PA. Son of Walter F and Mary R (Bulger) Barlow. Enlisted in the US Navy 15 May 1944. Service # 2466199. He came aboard LST 981 on 19 Oct 1944 for duty. Died 9 Mar 2018 (see excerpt from obituary).

Walter Barlow Obituary

Walter Barlow, 91, a long-time resident of Aston, PA died peacefully at home on March 9th, 2018. He was the devoted husband to his loving wife of 61 years, Mary Cassell. Walter was predeceased by Mary, who passed away in September of 2012.

Walter was born in Chester, PA on May 16th, 1926 and was later raised in Morton. Mr. Barlow was the son of the late Walter F. Barlow and Mary D. Bulger Barlow. He attended Nativity B.V.M. School in Media, PA and graduated from St. James High School on June 4th, 1944. Four hours after his high school graduation, Walter enlisted in the United States Navy. On June 6th, 1944 he reported to Camp Perry [SP] in Virginia, where he became a Signalman 3rd Class on L.S.T. # 981. During World War II, Walter was a proud participant in the Pacific Theatre and Okinawa. He received two gold stars for his involvement in Okinawa as well as a submarine siege. On June 6th, 1946, Walter was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy.                                    

In 1949, Walter was visiting Hotel Henry Hudson in Camp Caramac where he met his soon to be wife, Mary Cassell. The couple married on May 26th, 1951. Shortly after their marriage, Walter began working for Sun Oil Company, located in Marcus Hook, PA and worked there until he retired in 1984. While employed, Walter played for the Sun Oil softball league for eight years. Mr. Barlow was an excellent softball player and, much to his wife’s dismay, hit a homerun off of his brother-in-law, Frank Cassell, during a game. Afterwards, Mary did not speak to Walter for two days. Walter also coached Sun Oil Little League baseball for several years.

In 1953, Walter and Mary moved to Bridgewater Farms in Aston and established their family there. The family became part of St. Joseph’s Parish, where Walter coached C.Y.O. basketball. His teams won the St. James Basketball Tournament, the St. Roberts Basketball Tournament, and were also C.Y.O. Regional Champions. In addition to coaching, Walter enjoyed playing golf with his friends and vacationing in Wildwood with his family.             

Seaman 2nd Class Wayne “E” Patterson

Wayne was born 27 Nov 1925 in Middle Branch, Michigan. He was the son of Thomas and Edna Leola (Hulliberger) Patterson of Marion, Michigan. He enlisted in the US Navy 15 Dec 1943. Service # 8950480. Wayne came aboard LST 981 for duty 19 Oct 1944. Married Audrey L White 19 Jun 1948 in Chelsea, MI.

The Rose Family of Whitney, Texas

The story of Leonard Rose’s journey began long before LST 981 slipped into the sea for her maiden cruise. Leonard Tarver Rose started his trek toward war on 18 November 1925 in Whitney, Texas. The Houston and Texas Central Railroad gave breath to Whitney in late 1879. Half a century later, the effects of the Great Depression left Whitney with a meager population of 750 residents. Postwar Whitney expanded again with the building of the Whitney Dam in 1947, however the town was never a booming metropolis.

The first Rose to appear in Whitney, Hill County records was Elijah Rose, a Tennessee transplant who had served during the Civil War, oddly, in a Union regiment. Sometime in the mid-1870s his twenty-five-year-old nephew, Ashton Elihugh “Hugh” Rose arrived and boarded with Elijah. Hugh married Mary Alice Walker and from that union J.B Rose was born. J.B Rose married  Ramah Irene Tarver in 1920.

Two boys were born to the union of J.B. and Ramah. The first, Leonard Tarver, as stated earlier, was born in 1925 and Lester Ray came along 2 August 1927. Less than two-months later, the boys’ mother died from what the attending doctor labeled as “heart block.” Ramah was four months short of her twenty-eighth birthday.  J.B. packed up his boys and returned to the home of his mother, Mary Alice Rose, living at 93 N. 4th St. in Whitney. Both J.B. and Alice Rose shared the unfortunate status of being widowed. Mary Alice provided a woman’s caring hand to the two boys while J.B. earned a reasonable living as proprietor of a retail dry goods store.

During WWI, J.B. served in the 329th Quarter Master Corps. He was most likely the root of his sons’ patriotism and their draw toward military service. Alice Rose died in September 1939, once more leaving the boys without a mother figure in their lives. The boys, it seems, were very close to their father and they obviously considered wherever he was home.

Leonard Rose entered the US Navy on 17 November 1943 which indicates he was still seventeen-years-old. He was not an exception to age restrictions being ignored and Leonard’s was technically only one day short. Recruiters were typically more concerned that a recruit “liked girls” than if a five-foot-nine, 163-pound healthy farm boy was underage. In all likelihood, J.B. would have signed the papers for his son’s early entry anyway. Leonard received the service number 3579196 and shipped out to San Diego for basic training.    

Lester was too young to immediately follow his brother into the navy.  The war was almost over when he turned eighteen. Nevertheless, Lester entered the navy as soon as the law permitted and served the last months of the war aboard the escort carrier USS Saidor (CVE-117). The Saidor saw little action during the war but was assigned as the photographic laboratory for the atomic bomb tests performed in late July 1946 at Bikini Atoll.

USS Saidor

The Leonard Rose Story: A Ship, A War, and A Journal

The sun had not quite made noon as Leonard Rose negotiated the first obstacles before him. He had arrived that day, 21 November 1944 to San Diego and soon met his cadre of drill instructors. His journal remained empty of any pleasures or pain Rose encountered as a navy recruit – not quite sailor but no longer a civilian. Graduation from basic training was accomplished; it is assumed, without major problems.

On 27 January 1944, Rose arrived at the campus of the Agricultural & Mechanical College of Texas (future Texas A&M University) for a nineteen-week course officially called the Electronics Training Program (ETP). Texas A&M was one of six colleges selected by the US Navy to teach the course that most sailors referred to simply as “radio school.” In spite of the commonly used title, EPT was not for the simple sailor. The program required an intelligence generally associated with college graduates or officers. The classes were full of math, electronics, and theory, all-the-while a student was expected to look and act like a United States sailor. If a sailor did not know how to type, he was taught. Transmissions and translations of messages in Morse Code became the student’s second language. The course was often more demanding than a sailor was willing to endure. The drop rate was enormous.

Leonard’s home was about 125 miles away and the opportunity to see his father and brother was a strong pull. He later admitted in his journal that about sixteen of the nineteen weekends were spent at home. Orders reached the freshly graduated radioman directing him to report to Camp Bradford, Virginia. Leonard was given an eight-day delay and he spent them all at home with the family. He arrived early evening at Bradford on 20 June. He was, he recorded in the journal, “getting salty now.”

Bradford was one of four bases built along Little Creek, Princess Anne County, Virginia. Navy Seabees were trained on the acres of swamp and farmland that had formerly belonged to the man for which the base was named. Bradford shifted missions in 1943 and became the primary training center for sailors being assigned to LSTs. Sailors were not the only inhabitants at Bradford. Army units learned how to move equipment and themselves from LSTs and LCIs (Landing Craft Infantry). Men of the Naval Beach Battalions also trained at Bradford. Leonard trained at Bradford through the end of September.

The first week of October Leonard left for New York City. He carried orders that instructed him to report to the captain of LST 981. LSTs were not given names, only their distinct numbers. Although, LST 981 was different from other LSTs, she had a history. LST 981 was launched 27 January 1944. On the morning of 6 Jun 1944 (D-Day), LST 981 was responsible for landing eighty-five British Royal engineers on Utah Beach, Normandy, France. The ship was damaged by an underwater explosion and had to abort further missions. LST 981 was first towed to England. Then on 6 September, the USS Choctaw departed Milford Haven, Wales with LST 981 in tow and headed for the United States. The convoy arrived at Pier 42, New York Harbor 30 September. Two civilian tugs maneuvered LST 981 into its mooring.[1] Leonard arrived in the middle of the maintenance work. Officially, he was added to the crew muster roll of LST 981 on 19 October.

Leonard was first housed at Pier 92, which looked back at the Manhattan skyline. Each of the piers stretched out 1100 feet into the harbor. A span of 400 feet separated the piers from one another. Pier 92 had once been the familiar berth of the HMS Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. Within eyesight of 92 was Pier 88. In February 1942 the USS Layfette (formally the French liner Normandie) was anchored at 88 when a mysterious fire erupted aboard. The ship was in the process of being converted to a troop transport. The Layfette capsized and sank at the pier. The hull of Layfette remained well after the war and became the primary classroom for the navy’s diving schools.[2]

Almost a week went by before Leonard was allowed to go aboard his new ship, still immobile at Pier 42.[3] It was short lived and after only a few days he was sent back to quarters on Pier 92, while 981 was moved to dry-dock for final repairs.[4] Leonard spent most of the month on SP (Shore Patrol) duty.  Two types of SPs existed on and around naval bases. The first was the permanent SP personnel that were trained as military law enforcement officers and equivalent to the Army’s military police (MP). The men that served in the job title of SP were authorized to work alone or in teams to patrol nearby towns and enforce naval regulations while maintaining civil order. They did not have authority to police civilians, unless of course, the situation was life-threatening.

The duty, which Leonard was assigned, was a temporary status, an ad hoc SP, so to speak. These men patrolled the docks and ships where large numbers of vessels and sailors were congregating for schools, repairs, forming convoys and similar activities. On occasion the temporary SP was paired with civilian police to supplement the duties of the regular SPs. Most often the sailor assigned the duty roamed the harbor and ships in a bored state, on a watch that amounted to little more than guard duty. Then, there was the too frequent Saturday-night drunk stumbling back to his ship, angry because the watering hole he favored closed and looking to take it out on someone. For the temporary SP, drunks presented both challenge and excitement. An SP had wide discretion within his area of responsibility. He could be hard-assed (picky) about enforcing navy regs (regulations: Uniform Code of Military Justice) or look the other way until the offender was out of sight. If a sailor returned to ship or quarters a few minutes past the end of shore liberty, the SP’s kindness could be the difference between freedom and the brig on a diet of bread and water.[5]

Sailors seldom missed the hotspots of the host town where their ship was anchored. They seldom traveled alone, both for safety and to multiply the fun. The same day Leonard was assigned to 981, two more radiomen also came aboard for permanent duty. Over the course of the war the three would become close friends, brothers to a great extent. Walter Francis Barlow Jr. was born in Chester, Pennsylvania 16 May 1926. Walter graduated from St. James High School and two days later he reported to Camp Peary, Virginia, Camp Peary (often misnamed Camp Perry) was named for Arctic explorer Rear Admiral Robert E. Peary. Until late in the war Peary was used for training Seabees. After the war Peary would become the primary training site for recruits of the Central Intelligence Agency and take on the more infamous moniker of “The Farm.” Walter, on the other hand was there to begin his journey toward becoming a signalman.

Unlike Leonard who communicated across radio waves, signalmen were trained in visual communication. They signaled by the use of semaphore flags, typically to other ships. Signalmen also had to know Morse Code but rather than tapping it out on a keyboard they encoded and decoded through a sophisticated system of flag patterns or signal light manipulation. Each variation of the halted position of the signalman’s flags represented a letter of the alphabet or a number. For example, when the flags were held straight out and parallel to the deck (the signaler appeared to be a cross) the letter “R” was transmitted. The signalmen were nicknamed “Sigs,” or the more derogatory “Skivvy Waver.”

Leonard’s second boon companion was Wayne “E” Patterson. Wayne was born 27 Nov 1925 in Middle Branch, Michigan. Wayne was the old salt of the three, having enlisted 15 December 1943. He too was made a signalman (technician) while aboard LST 981. The three remained together aboard 981 throughout the war.      

On 12 January after much anticipation, Leonard and friends got their first official ride on a war-bruised LST 981. The voyage soon determined that the repairs done in New York were insufficient for sailing any great distance. LST 981 arrived at Norfolk Navy Yard at 0910 hours 14 January 1945. The ship was diverted there for minor repairs. The Fleet Administrative Office recorded that LST 981 departed at 0800 hours on 15 January only to return at 0855 on 18 January. The ship pulled away  at 0755 hours on Sunday morning 21 January after “repairs and alternations” were completed.

The 981, along with LSTs 208, 229 and 961, arrived safely at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Operating Base No. 115) before noon 28 January. On 29 January LST 981 met with four additional LSTs, the USS W.R Keever and Herman F. Whiton to form convoy GZ-118. The convoy’s escort was PC 1215 (Patrol Craft) and PC 1211. The boys got their first look at the operating process of the Panama Canal. At one moment their ship was floating in water from the Caribbean Sea and the next riding on that of the Pacific. The log reported that LST 981, 855, and 898 cleared Balboa on 4 February. LST 981 arrived at San Diego on 15 February for “repair work to be accomplished by the Industrial Command.”

Next, the new men got their first look at Hawaii. LST 981 moored at berth 6, Iroquois Point, Pearl Harbor. Leonard and friends were anchored long enough to draw some liberty in Honolulu. He did not comment on what that entailed but every sailor that had the privilege of visiting Hawaii knew that meant they were going to be entertained properly. Hotel Street was greatly advertised. Along its stretch, bars and eateries were in abundance. For those brave souls who wanted to take the risk, working girls were easy to find. Too quickly the good times ended for the crew of 981. Assigned to LST Flotilla Thirty-five, LST 981 got underway 1 April en-route to Eniwetok Atoll. There was no liberty on Eniwetok, as 981 was loaded with cargo and that required constant work on the crew’s part.

On 24 April, a convoy of LSTs and fifteen merchant ships formed at Kossol Passage, Palau Islands and then proceeded to Samar, Philippine Islands (PI). The crew stayed busy unloading and loading cargo from one port to the next.[6] After this entry, Leonard was apparently too busy to include daily entries. The journal picked back up on 28 May. The 981 pulled into Okinawa for a ten-day stay. While unloading cargo was the main concern for the 981, the war still raged nearby for marines and soldiers wrenching the island from the Japanese one-foot at a time on many days. The battleships and Allied gunboats of all types were still pummeling inland of the southern coast of Okinawa with their big guns. The continuous noise hammered at the eardrums of the men of LST 981 and 827, beached alongside each other at Nakagusuku Bay.[7]

Suicide bombers roamed the skies and there were several instances where the kamikaze pilots managed to evade the picket screens surrounding Okinawa and attack ships at anchorage points. Leonard remarked they stood many hours of GQs [battle stations] during the time they were beached on Okinawa[8] The frequent kamikaze sightings during May and into June were no doubt the reasons behind the alerts. On 10 June, LST 981 set sail for Leyte. A convoy incorporating LST Group Forty-six departed San Pedro, Leyte on 23 June, three LSTs including 981 were quickly detached from the convoy and ordered to Morotai.

After being diverted from the convoy, LST 981 along with 1013 and 768 arrived at Morotai Island, Maluku Islands on 26 June. US Army infantry divisions assaulted Morotai 15 September 1944 and overwhelmed the Japanese garrison’s defenses. Japanese holdouts, however, continued to hide and harass American and Australian forces into 1945. Perhaps, more exciting than the battle for the island was the 20 April 1945 mutiny by a group of Aussie airmen. Eight senior pilots, including the ace and Group Captain Clive Caldwell of the Royal Australian Air Force, resigned on the grounds that they were being given unnecessary and tactically useless assignments against backwater targets, bypassed in the major campaigns. The Morotai Mutiny was one of the few such acts that resulted in the mutineers getting their way. In the aftermath, three senior officers of the Tactical Air Force Headquarters were relieved and most of the pilots, resignations be-damned, continued to fly combat missions through the remaining months of the war.

When Leonard Rose arrived in June, he found the island swarming with Aussies. Generally speaking, even today Australians are quick to show the American serviceman a good time. Leonard remarked in his journal that it was the “best liberty I hit out here.”[9] He added, beer was plentiful – “For a Price!” Soon, he would appreciate the small pleasures of the peaceful subdued islands even more.

The ship pulled out to open sea 17 July carrying troops and supplies headed for Okinawa. A major typhoon was approaching and 981 headed for open sea two days later to avoid being caught in Buckner Bay. Leonard made an entry for 20 July, he was suffering from an age-old seafarer’s affliction, seasickness. The sea, “very high…felt funny at my stomach while on watch last night, but never heaved.” It was a small victory but still a win. The ship headed back to Buckner Bay, Okinawa to await further orders. LST 981 arrived and anchored on the following evening. 

In accordance with orders, Task Unit 99.1.18 (OKI#6) departed Buckner Bay and sailed for Leyte. The escort commander aboard the USS Underhill (DD-682) formed up the escort vessels, PCs 1251, 803, 804, 807, SCs 1306, 1309, 1315 and PCE 872. The principle convoy consisted of LSTs 981, 739, 1013, 940, 768, 647, 999 and AF-30. In retrospect, Allied ships operated with impunity by 22 July, when OKI#6 left its forward location and headed toward rear-area harbors. However, Japanese submarine activity was not without possibility.

At 0908 hours 24 June a Japanese Mitsubishi Ki-46, nicknamed a “Dinah” appeared and shadowed the convoy. Dinahs were twin-engine reconnaissance planes flown by Imperial Japanese Army pilots. The plane disappeared about ten-minutes later. It hovered above just long enough to establish the number, make-up and direction of the convoy.

The morning remained peaceful but at 1411 hours the Underhill spotted a floating “horned” mine and fired upon it with their guns, intent on sinking it before another ship struck it. Soon after the Underhill engaged the mine, sonar contact was made with another vessel and PC 804 was dispatched to investigate. The contact was believed to be a submarine. As the moments ticked away, a third sonar contact was made. All ships went to General Quarters but the LSTs were ill-equipped to battle with submarines and they had thousands of troops to protect by staying out of the fray. Like ducks following their leader, the convoy made a ninety-degree turn to port to avoid the mine sighted by the Underhill.

PC 804’s commanding officer, Lt. V.A. Hampshire, stated in the after-action report that it was believed at the time there were at least four Japanese midget submarines (Kaiten manned torpedoes or suicide subs) in close proximity to the convoy. How that determination was established, was not stated. While the report added that it was thought one regular enemy sub was engaged, there were several midget subs sighted. The presumption of the presence of a full-sized sub was probably due to the knowledge that midget subs had to be launched from a regular (mother) submarine. Admittedly, the report acknowledged that though the sea was “almost flat,” wakes from passing ships interfered with the sonar and returned several false echoes.[10]

Aboard LST 981, Radioman Rose was recording the events as they unfolded. Aboard PC 804, Radioman Fletcher was doing the same and keeping the convoy commander topside of his ship dutifully informed. At 1442 hours the Underhill reported, “believe we saw a periscope on port quarter [.] we are turning around to begin contact.” The next transmission quickly followed, “we now have contact [,] request permission to attack?” Permission was granted. The last transmission from the Underhill bridge came at 1450 hours, “we are going to ram.” Fletcher continued to record messages from other ships at the same time; “there are torpedoes in the water,” another stated, “he is chasing a one [-] man sub going like hell.” Then, “MM18 [Underhill] chasing one [-] man sub made sharp turn to right and blew up (1508) [.] bow blown off.”[11]    

Aboard the Underhill, at approximately 1508 hours, Lt. Commander Robert Masten Newcomb commanding, gave the order to “prepare to ram.” The sub was apparently a Kaiten and the explosion ripped through the hull of the Underhill and severed a huge portion of the bow from the ship. Sailors were getting no response from the bridge and each man sought conclusions from his past training and experiences. Most simply fled toward the rear of the ship. In reality the bridge and most of the senior officers were gone. The massive explosion had taken them in an instant. The Underhill was slowly sinking and it did not take an officer to tell the survivors that getting off the ship quickly was of the utmost importance.

Ignoring that subs were still operating in the area, PC 804 and 803 headed toward the Underhill. Numerous men from the dying ship were already in the water, either blown there or had made the decision to abandon ship on their own. The two PCs gathered as many of the Underhill’s crew as could be found. More than half the crew of the Underhill perished.

The rescue operations went on through 1800 hours. PC 804 and 803 then fired into the Underhill, intent on sinking it before they left the area. The tough little ship did not want to go to the bottom. Finally, the PCs had to get in danger close to get direct hits before the Underhill that they were in danger of hitting each other. Only then did the Underhill sink from sight. With one escort gone and two engaged in rescue operations, the convoy could not reform and move again until after 1900.

Leonard Rose reflected throughout the following week in his journal about the incidents and tragedy of 24 July. The following day was very quiet, sad perhaps, too. On the 26th a memorial ceremony was held aboard the 981. Everyone not on watch was expected to attend, and did. Allied planes met the convoy and transported the seriously wounded to hospitals on secure islands. One way or another, everyone thought of the Underhill.    

The LSTs in the convoy were fully loaded with troops they had picked up in Okinawa. Had one of those been struck by a sub, hundreds if not thousands might have lost their lives. The Underhill’s great sacrifice did not go unappreciated. Leonard wrote, “I as well as everyone else owe their life to the Underhill.”[12]The convoy, minus Underhill, arrived and anchored in San Pedro Bay, Leyte before noon on 27 July. There was no time to take a breath and relax.

LST 981 joined another convoy bound for Mindoro. By 0800 they had all cleared the harbor and were back at sea.  LST 981 and her five sister LSTs arrived safely at Mindoro 31 July.[13] These types of movements were common for LSTs. They were the train cars and big-rigs of the ocean. They served to transport and that required staying in motion almost constantly. LSTs were the logistical queens of Allied invasion forces, hauling ton after ton of human and materiel cargo and dumping them directly onto a beach. They slid bow-first onto the beach and from their yawning double doors that made up their bows every piece of rolling stock from jeeps to Sherman tanks could exit and go into action immediately. The LSTs were indispensable and in one word, incredible. They were seldom at sea and empty. LST Group Forty-six arrived in the morning of the 31st and disembarked the 96th Infantry Division on Mindoro. Immediately, they loaded aviation augmentation units aboard in the place of the infantry. They were underway for Subic Bay, PI by the afternoon of 2 August. Picking up an escort and additional vessels, a convoy of thirty-three LSTs, with eight LSMs (Landing Ship Medium) headed for Okinawa at 0715 on 6 August. The pace never slowed, especially when the buildup for the planned invasion of Japan proper was in full swing.

Unknown to the crew of the 981, at the same time they were leaving for Okinawa a B-29 nicknamed “Enola Gay” was nearing the Japanese city of Hiroshima. From six-miles above the city, the plane released only one bomb, codenamed “Little Boy.” As the bomb detonated, the heat vaporized humans and animals and left shadows permanently imbedded in walls where a man or woman had only milliseconds before stood. In spite of the almost supernatural destruction, another such “atomic bomb” would have to level another Japanese city before the Emperor called the war to a halt.

Sailors throughout the Pacific, as well as marines and soldiers, took a sigh of relief. The odds of survival increased tenfold overnight. Two major events were worthy of recording on 10 August. The first, one LSM accidentally rammed another, jamming the bow doors. The second bit of news as quite a bit more important in the grand scheme, “Received word, ‘Japs want to surrender but emperor to remain.’” Last notation was that 981 arrived in Okinawa. The long-awaited day of celebration had finally come. “Everyone excited about the Japs giving up” the 11 August entry stated. Only two days later the 981 was beached and unloading troops. The ship returned to Hagushi anchorage on Okinawa. The official word came on 15 August, Leonard echoed it in his journal, “Received word that Japan has accepted our peace terms.” ”Leonard made a note in his journal on 19 August that underscored the mood, “underway as before, Holiday Routine.”

The surrender of Imperial Japanese forces was signed aboard the USS Missouri on 2 September 1945. LST 981 was moored at Okinawa at the time. Everyone near and far celebrated the end of WWII, but work remained to be done. The majority of ships in the Pacific played some role in occupation duties of Japan proper. There were still dangerous waters ahead.

With peace officially in affect, sailors had time to stop and smell the tropical flowers, as the saying might be modified to fit the situation. The crew of 981 spent the day of the 3rd anchored off Talaga Beach, Batangas Bay, Luzon. The following day the ship moved to Kota beach and commenced loading troops and cargo, going first to Manila and then on to Japan. Leonard’s section drew liberty call. The war was freshly over but no one quite knew what to do with themselves after the shooting ceased. For combat veterans there remained what might be described as an overdose level of adrenalin surging through their bodies. The body had not had time to settle to a state of stable equilibrium. Incidents and accidents in all three theaters rose after the fighting was done. Alcohol and free time may have been the vehicles of destruction but the root psychological and physiological causes have never been fully determined. It is most likely a collection of factors, not a single emotion lay at the origin. However, the effect was young battle-hardened men gone manic in the aftermath of living on the edge for months and even years at a time. With the chain of command attempting to restore the prewar rules of military discipline, the opposing forces became a clash of wills.

The off-duty men of 981 were not immune to the primitive yearning to rid themselves of the backlash of emotions that hits some combat veterans after the fight is over and done. The Navy only saw the effect: fights, drunk and disorderly, unauthorized absences, insubordination and general lack of military order. From one night on the town, 5 September brought about twenty-five Captain’s Masts to sailors of 981 – the issuance of nonjudicial punishment (NJP) by the commanding officer of the unit or ship for minor infractions. The accused has the right to accept the punishment set by the commander or can request a trial by court-martial. Usually, the commander issues punishments that are fair and equal to the offense and are seen as such in the light of day and with a clear head. Although Leonard mentions the number of offenders going before the skipper, he does not list the outcome or sentences. Leonard was more enthused that he “missed it.”[14] He knew what that meant but did not expound for any future interlopers gaining access to the journal.   

A large convoy, including fifty-eight LSTs got underway on the morning of 6 September, bound for Tokyo Bay. The mood was relaxed. Leonard had time to play a few hands of Blackjack, coming out $60.00 to the good.[15] The war with man may have been over but the sailor’s battle with nature was never-ending. The wind began to pick up during the afternoon of the 9th and whitecaps appeared indicating a gathering typhoon. All ships were ordered to go to Typhoon Condition II, “double lashing all boats and cargo, and maintain maximum water-tight integrity.”[16]

By the following day, winds had increased to thirty-five knots and waves were bouncing ships about like bathtub toys. Weather conditions were the worst they could be for any type of trouble to strike, which of course it did. LST 936 was the fourth ship in section eight of the convoy. By some strange misfortune, in the middle of the ocean and the pack, 936 struck what was believed to be a mine at approximately 1101 hours. The explosion tore a fifteen-foot hole in the starboard side bow. The damaged ship was quickly taking on water and in danger of sinking.

The first responsibility was to get the bulk of the crew off the damaged ship. USS Jack C. Robinson (APD 72) was ordered to come alongside 936 and evacuate troops and unessential personnel. The seas were at their highest at that time. In disregard of the danger, Jack C. Robinson took aboard 193 troops. The transfer took until 2030 hours. With the winds subsiding the Jack C. Robinson and LST 936 were instructed by the convoy commander to head back to Kerama Retto, southwest of Okinawa. The crew of 936 kept their ship afloat and sailing despite the several inches of water in the tank deck.[17] LST 936 beached at Buckner Bay with no loss of life. The convoy proceeded on toward Japan.

A journal was a place where one could confess things, if only to themselves, they were unable to allow to escape from their mouths. LST 981 entered Tokyo Bay around 1700 hours 15 September. In spite of the auspicious event, Leonard could only think of the debilitating cold he had. He wrote, “first time I’ve really felt sick since I’ve been in the Navy.”[18]  Journal entry for 19 September read, “liberty today and 9 men transferred [,] going home to the States. Got a few (2) souvenirs.” Watching fellow shipmates leave for home was always a bittersweet affair. On 10 November, 981 got underway again.

The occupation of Japan was no joy ride. The LSTs were running almost nonstop to ferry troops and equipment to the harbors of the former enemy’s mainland. The whole Pacific was still alive with activity. The Journal entry for 18 October presented a wakeup call for the victory drunk sailors. It read, “five mines floated through the convoy today.” The obstacles, flotsam and jetsam of war, presented dangers to those that allowed their guard to drop too soon. LST 981 arrived to Tokyo Bay in early afternoon the following day. Liberty was sounded on 20 October. The once feared and hated Asian land had become the GI and sailor’s playground. On the 25th, 981 headed back to Buckner Bay. Peacetime returned the unwelcome focus on naval regulations and uniformity. While at sea, the skipper now had time to conduct an inspection. The next day, Leonard added a dose of sarcasm into the daily record, “Our Capt[ain] is getting a relief. Boy oh Boy.”[19] Arriving at Hagushi, Okinawa, the crew spent the first day loading. Leonard received liberty on the 30th and went into the city of Naha. The ship departed for Manila at 0800 on 31 October, just another routine voyage for an old veteran LST.  

Leonard’s journal was flush with memories and amazing experiences for 17 November through 7 December. He noted on the 17th, “two years ago today I was sworn in the USNR in Dallas, Texas.  The following day the entry read, “20 years old today.” The 19th he wrote, “arrived and anchored in Tokyo Bay at about 1100 (at Yokosuka).” There were no more entries until 3 December, “Destination – SENAMI HAKUCHI, Japan. ETA Dec 7.” As predicted, 981 arrived on Pearl Harbor Day, 1945. Four years before, the US Navy was nearly decimated and now they roamed the seas and former conquests of the once seemingly invincible empire with impunity. Sailors were being transferred home in twos and threes. Leonard’s time in the Orient was also drawing to a close.

Christmas Day 1945, “Went aboard the USS Bogue (CVE 9) for transportation to Uncle Sugar Able.”[20] Leonard was in Yokosuka, Japan. His own ship had arrived there around the 13th. Some might have said he received the best Christmas present he would ever get that year. He was going home. At 0900 hours, the day after the USS Bogue got underway. The Bogue anchored at San Francisco 8 Jan 1946. Leonard celebrated the New Year aboard a ship at sea, but it was a peaceful celebration unlike the past three he had spent in the Pacific battleground. He was sent to Treasure Island, California, a common debarkation station for acquiring the proper paperwork to get home. He departed on a southeast bound train for Camp Wallace, Galveston County, Texas. On 14 January he arrived to Camp Wallace, then home to the Naval Personnel Separation Center. Every leg of the journey brought him closer to home and family.

USS Bogue – Homeward bound.

Camp Wallace (left). Photo credit: University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; Genevieve Miller Hitchcock Public Library.

With a pencil spilling out his exuberance in bold flaring strokes onto the last page of his journal, Leonard made his final two entries. “At about 1530 on this date [16 Jan 46] I was handed my Discharge.” On the 19th he added, “Got home…The End.”

However, it was not really the end. Leonard remained on active duty and served during the Korean War. He worked from Building T-40R, on Love Field in his home state of Texas. The Cold War was heating up toward a bloody conflict in Korea, in which no one would win. During these times the radiomen took on a new task of transcribing Russian messages. In doing so, Leonard picked up a bit of Russian to entertain the family with. The unfortunate thing was, Leonard did not enlighten those sailors and generations that came after him with a continuation of his journal during his second tour of duty. 

Leonard is operating the CRV-46147 Mod. Radio Receiver in the above photos. The receiver was manufactured by the RCA Victor Division between 1943 and 1947. The unit weighed 162 pounds.

Leonard’s second enlistment in the in the US Navy ran from 13 Sep 1950 to 20 May 1952. He served in Texas and Cuba.


Muster Roll of LST 981 for 1 July 1945

Footnotes

[1] War Diary, USS Choctaw, September 1944.

[2] Charles A. Bartholomew and William I. Milwee Jr, Mud, Muscle, and Miracles : marine salvage in the United States Navy (Washington, D.C: Naval History & Heritage Command, 2009).

[3] Rose, Leonard, Personal Journal (1944-46); in possession of his daughter.

[4] LST 981’s “Report of Changes” indicated that he and most of the crew were transferred back to the Receiving Station on 4 November.

[5] Ordway Hilton, “The Navy Shore Patrol,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1943): 122-6.

[6] Rose, Journal, 27 April 45.

[7] War Diaries, LST 827, 30 May 45.

[8] Rose, Journal, 28 May 45.

[9] Rose, Journal, 26 Jun 45.

[10] War Diary, PC 804, 1-31 Jul 45.

[11] War Diary, PC 804, 1-31 Jul 45.

[12] Rose, Journal, 29 Jul 45.

[13] Rose wrote that they arrived at Leyte on 27 July.

[14] Rose, Journal, 5 Sep 45.

[15] Rose, Journal, 8 Sep 45.

[16] War Diary, USS LST 1101, 1-30 Sep 1945.

[17] Rose, Journal, 11 Sep 45; War Diary, LST 1101, 1-30 Sep 45.

[18] Rose, Journal, 15 Sep 45.

[19] Rose, Journal, 28 Oct 45.

[20] Rose, Journal, 25 Dec 1945.

Thanks to Deborah Rose Easthom, Leonard’s daughter, for sharing the journal with us.