by Willie Lagarde
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I was on Mt. 5 40MM for these two events; it was sometime in early 1944 and we were on our battle stations. For this attack I was assigned to the handling room a half deck lower than the gun mount and entered from the gun tub through a door about 2'x3'
40MM ammunition came to us in heavy galvanized cans each containing sixteen rounds in four clips. In addition to the ammunition in the handling room, cans were placed all around the outer edge of gun tub deck. Ammunition from these cans was used first. My job was to keep ready ammunition available to the loaders
Most men in a gun crew could only look at an incoming attack if for one reason or another, their gun wasn’t firing. Also, after the firing began a change in time perception turned seconds into minutes. It has been said events happened in slow motion.
All of the action described in this event from the time our gun stopped firing until the Jap plane crashed into the sea actually took place in less than a minute.
So it was for this particular attack. Mt 5 had stopped firing and the only reason I can offer is the plane was too low for our director operator to bring the gun to bear on him. Mt 7 just aft and lower than us was still firing as were all the other 20's and 40's on the starboard side with the exception of Mt. 3 (although I am not sure) which was on the forward end of the island structure and higher than we were.
I had the opportunity to watch the one remaining plane of a torpedo attack flying through a hail of flak. I have seen footage of this plane many times in films and documentaries. A single engine plane with the torpedo carried externally, flying through a stream of tracers.
I had remembered being told, perhaps in boot camp, if you knew a torpedo was about to hit your ship to flex your knees to absorb the shock. I don’t know how important that was but I was still new enough at the game not to question.
I estimated it was too late to stop him now and a torpedo hit was inevitable. I moved to the port side of the gun mount, flexed my knees waiting for the hit.
The next thing I saw was this plane, still carrying the torpedo, flying over the flight deck just forward of the island structure almost eye level with me. He had a small fire behind the canopy. The pilot was slumped over and the man in the back was looking us over, the last sight he would ever see before he died seconds later. If I had known him I could have recognized him.
There was much speculation on why the torpedo wasn’t released, the pilot had to be alive to pull the plane up over our flight deck.
Another example of Yorktown luck? It had to be, he had us cold.
Did our God trump his god? After all he went through was it just a mechanical malfunction that denied him a seat of honor among all the dead samurai? I have often thought had he been a kamikaze; our ship may have survived a torpedo exploding at hangar deck level, but many, perhaps hundreds of our crew would have died.
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