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Always West

by Willie Lagarde

Starting with Marcus Island in August 1943, whenever Yorktown left her anchorage the general heading was west. Southwest sometimes and maybe northwest at times, but always west.

As we drove the Japs from their island bases we moved ours, from Pearl Harbor to the Marshals, then to the Carolines and then to the Philippines where the final thrust turned north.

We never knew what the latest target was when we weighed anchor but one thing was sure, ultimately it would be the Japanese home islands.

As we slowly made our way past the tankers, ammunition and cargo ships at anchor, we only knew we were going on a raid. That’s what we came for and that’s what the millions of Americans on the home front and in the defense plants expected us to do.

There was always speculation on what our target would be, the strength of Jap defenses and what we could expect in retaliation. For this reason when the force was shaping up we were anxious to see who would be with us.

A carrier task force was divided into two to four groups only rarely coming within sight of each other. Each group was formed around at least one large carrier and usually another or a smaller CVL, one or two battleships, three of four cruisers and ten or twelve destroyers. Each group was spread out over three to five miles and the entire task force as much as one hundred miles.

Knowing we would be the target of choice for any enemy counterattack we always liked to see another large carrier with whom to share the honor. There were only ten battleships fast enough to operate with us and because of their firepower we hoped for at least one. The AA cruisers were also reassuring. Some of them could fire fourteen five inch guns at an incoming attack. That’s compared to ten for the battleships, eight to starboard and twelve to port for us, eight for the light and heavy cruisers and five for most of the destroyers. The sight of those AA cruisers opening up on a target was awesome. They could put out over 200 five inch rounds a minute and would almost disappear in the gun flash. Two of these ships were sunk early in the war with a loss of 846 men.

We felt fairly secure with two battleships in our group as we headed out for another raid. Rumor had come down it was going to be a “big one.” After we cleared the anchorage the captain told us we going to Truk. We were very apprehensive about this raid because of all we had heard about Truk. At the time it was known as the Japanese Pearl Harbor and had never been attacked before. When our captain spoke to us over the PA system describing Truk and what we expected to find there he closed with, “We are going to give those little yellow bastards their own Pearl Harbor to remember”.

I often think, in this day and time that statement would probably have cost Capt. Ralph Jennings his command if not his career. But this was in the days before our country became a victim of PC insanity and there were no overly sensitive ears on our ships therefore no complaints of harassment or discrimination. The Japs prided themselves on never surrendering and fighting to the death so as one of our admirals put it, we’re here “to kill Japs.”
More on Truk later.

Sometime in the Truk raid time frame, while standing gun watch on the blackest night I have ever experienced I heard a crashing roar somewhere off the port quarter. Other gun mounts were calling in saying they heard it and were wondering what could it be. We found out at daybreak, Washington and Indiana were no longer with us. They collided in that black night and the fast carrier task forces were down to eight battleships for the next few months.

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