Lake Charles American-Press from Lake Charles, Louisiana on August 19, 1962 · Page 53
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August 19, 1962

Lake Charles American-Press from Lake Charles, Louisiana · Page 53

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Lake Charles, Louisiana
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Sunday, August 19, 1962
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Page 53
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The "North Carolina's 25 Minutes of Hell Experts said nobody would dare attack "The Showboat" but the Japs gave It a bloody test — and a history on entire state honors in a new American memorial By Vice Adm. G. H. FORT U.S.N. (Ret) as told to lack Ryan Editors' Note: Thin year a -new national shrine wax dedicated on Hie Cape Fear rirer in Wilmington. N. C. It is tin might\i battleship "North Carolina." which, after the disastrous attack on Pearl Harbor. Dec. 7, 1941. stood as one of the few defenders of our Pacific outposts. After winning 12 battle stars, she was doomed to a scrap heap, but North Carolinians organized a drive for funds to preserve her as a memorial for the state and the nation. This spring the "North Carolina" had her shakedown cruise as a grand old lady of history and provided a spectacular attraction. Her new glory recalls her first moment of glory 20 years ago this week. This is her story as told by the man who stood on the bridge of the "North Carolina" and commanded her through a devastating action. W E HAD BEEN at General Quarters almost four hours awaiting our first real showdown with the Japanese. At 5 p.m. on Aug. 24, 1942, a rasping voice came over the intercom: "Warning. Bogies (enemy aircraft) at 320 degrees. Distance 35 miles, decreasing." Task Force 16 increased speed to 27 knots, and destroyers and cruisers formed a 2,500-yard circle around a target which 40 Jap pilots were gambling their lives to hit—the carrier Enterprise. 1 was commanding the battleship North- Carolina, which was the Enterprise's guardian. We stayed outside the circle so we could throw an umbrella of fire over the carrier. When the North Carolina was launched the year before, experts dubbed her "The Showboat" and said she'd have a peaceful life even in war because no Japanese would dare take on her overwhelming firepower. But they hadn't figured how desperate men become in a life and death struggle. We had just landed Marines on Guadalcanal and were wresting air and naval supremacy from the Japs throughout the eastern Solomons. If the Japs wanted to hold on, the Enterprise had to go—and the North Carolina with her. The intercom droned on: "Bogies at 25 miles ... 20 and decreasing." Obviously the Japs didn't care what the experts said. And why not? The North Carolina was an untested ship with a battle-green crew, and the prize was worth the challenge. Finally, the key message: "Stand by to repel enemy attack." It was 5:01. About 15 VSBs (horizontal bombers) skimmed across the calm sea toward the Enterprise's stern. An entire section of the North Carolina erupted in flashing gunfire. Most of the VSBs turned back, but a few pressed through. We watched bombs spinning from their bellies. The second and third hit the carrier's starboard side. But the Japs needed more hits than that, and they must have realized they could not muster an attack without first distracting the North. Carolina, so 10 VSBs headed for our starboard bow. Our gunners shifted targets without ceasing fire. The main force dispersed, but one plane pressed through the curtain of fire and peeled off three delayed-action 1,000 pounders. We waited. A geyser shot skyward 75 yards from us, then the second at 50. We braced for the last. There was a muffled explosion, and the spray poured over the main deck amidships—but with no more damage than jarring a case ejector from a five-inch gun. Japs filled the sky now. but the attack was somewhat uncoordinated. We spotted 30 Aichi dive bombers, six Zeros, eight torpedo planes, plus the VSBs. Six of the latter tested us with an attack on the port airplane catapult, a relatively vulnerable spot since only 20-millimeter guns could concentrate on this area. As the group came on, the lead plane shook under the onslaught of steel and plunged nose first into the sea. A second belly flopped and burst into flame. But others ringed us with bombs and flooded the deck with water. As the action heightened, we seemed to be looking into a kaleidoscope. The darting planes were every color—black and dark green fuselages with silver or white bellies and horizontal stripes of red, yellow, and white. Some would hide behind towering clouds or in line with the blinding sun and come at us unexpectedly, the dive bombers dropping from 5,000 to 50 feet like falling leaves. Their bombs— eight at one time—churned the sea between the North Carolina and the Enterprise. All our 102 guns were in action, and their blazing fury caused the Saratoga in the distance to report: "The North Carolina appears to be on fire." Swirling smoke funneled up on the horizon, marking the graves of Jap pilots who had lost their gamble. We counted at least seven, and observers noted 14 badly damaged planes limping over the horizon. fTlHE ATTACK was broken, and most of the Jap J_ bombs were expended without serious damage. Yet one bomber made a last pass, clearing our decks by barely 50 feet. Its guns raked the length of the big ship, and one of the slugs killed AMM3c George E. Conlon. The sky was pockmarked with antiaircraft smoke but fewer and fewer planes. The last three dive bombers dipped almost into the water and zigzagged away like whipped puppies. At 5:26 the intercom again: "All ships cease firing." More than half the attackers were downed or disabled. The Enterprise was battered but ready to go on sweeping the enemy from the Solomons. As to how the North Carolina did in its first test, we got the answer from Adm. T. C. Kinkaid, commander of Task Force 16: "This was the first occasion on which a battleship has been present as part of a carrier task force during attack. The presence of the North Carolina was a distinct advantage. My Compliments." family Weekly. August 19,19G2

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