by Willie Lagarde
We were in two typhoons during my time aboard Yorktown and I remember more about the first one. I don’t know if I can add much to what has been recorded and what I remember is not always in agreement with what has been written by others.
Mistakenly or not, we had confidence our ship could weather whatever wind and sea a typhoon could generate and didn’t think our lives were threatened. Since we had the whole force with us our concern was for the smaller ships especially the destroyers.
I remember in the early stages we tried to top off destroyers. As I stood with my heaving line at the ready and watched the first approach our starboard side the entire bow was lifting out of the water. You could see daylight under the hull all the way back to the forward gun mount. The attempt was abandoned.
Our destroyer crews were in grave danger throughout both typhoons and whenever I hear the Navy hymn and the words "for those in peril on the sea" I think of those men. The words were never more appropriate.
Three destroyers were sunk and over 750 men died for their country in the first typhoon.
It was almost like a truce or temporary cease fire had been called in our war because the whereabouts of the Jap enemy was suddenly of secondary importance.
Aboard ship there was always a lot of traffic in the second deck starboard passageway from the marine quarters all the way back to sick bay. While walking down this passageway where you could see ahead through several compartments, sea legs would adjust to the angle of the deck as the ship rolled back and forth from port to starboard. Occasionally, the ship would roll in one direction, hang a while and then rather than come back it would roll a little more in the same direction. Everyone would stop moving, get a fix on the nearest way out, then wait to see what was coming next. After the ship started rolling back the other way everyone resumed whatever they were doing.
We didn’t sleep in our bunks during the typhoons but rarely did anyway.
Up on the gun deck I remember looking up at the crest of the waves and at times solid green water broke over the flight deck.
When the storm was at its peak, visibility was down to a few hundred feet and when it started clearing up I don’t remember seeing any of the other ships that had been in our group. I had heard there were fires on some of the CVL’s but if so we couldn’t have seen them.
We only had sandwiches to eat during the typhoons and here again, I didn’t mind because in my opinion they were as palatable as the cooked food. If they were made with pork luncheon meat I would have preferred them to cooked food coming out of the galley. I’m not knocking our cooks, they did the best they could with what they had to work with. Our bread was as good as anything stateside even if it was always stale when we got it.The typhoon of June 1945 was less severe as I recall but our sister carrier Hornet had about thirty feet of her forward flight deck collapse and the cruiser Pittsburgh lost over a hundred feet of her bow.
I was in another storm in the north Pacific aboard a merchant ship in 1947. We lost part of a deck cargo of rice threshers bound for China. When the captain told the radio operator to raise any ship or station to report our situation the closest contact was a thousand miles to the south. In the worst day of that storm our noon to noon progress was minus four miles. It took all of the power that ship could deliver to stay out of the trough. We literally took the sea wave by wave. Because we were alone and on a much smaller ship I would rate this my worst ride at sea and I was more concerned about dying here than I was during the WW2 typhoons aboard Yorktown.
As you would expect, the arm chair second guessers and hind sight experts want to blame Adm. Halsey for leading the force into the typhoons. Never mind that weather prediction and storm tracking technology was primitive or non existent in those days.
How quickly they forget, or I should say never knew, it was his aggressive leadership and courage that carried us through the early stages of WW2 when the Japs had us outnumbered, outgunned and ruled the western Pacific.
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