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USS South Dakota

by Willie Lagarde

This is an account of a day in Yorktown’s history and it is more of a tribute to a another ship. There is a reason I have an affinity for battleship USS South Dakota.

I don’t remember the exact date of this event but it was around Okinawa and South Dakota was in our group. The Japs were sending out scores of kamikazes and while most were destroyed by our combat air patrol many did managed to break through over the force. Once they broke through, our planes were instructed to get out. It was almost impossible to visually identify planes as they got in gun range, consequently unless we told specifically otherwise, during an attack anything flying inside the force was deemed enemy.

We were starting the second day on our battle stations, living on horsecock sandwiches and what little sleep we had was on the deck using our shoes for head support.

The day had an ominous look, ships were getting hit and more than ever I felt this will be the day our “luck” runs out.

They came at the force in several attacks throughout the day.

Sometime late in the day South Dakota had been moved up on our port quarter closer than I had ever seen a battleship get to us. It could only mean one thing, our group commander was concerned he may have another carrier hit .

As dusk approached, the sky was red and gun flashes were visible on nearly every ship in the force.

Our gun had been switched to local control because the fire control director had to concentrate on starboard side targets. We were told to pick out any target and fire on it. I was loading powder when the spade hung up momentarily. This gave me the opportunity to look away from the loading tray and I saw a kamikaze coming in unopposed, apparently not a single tracer going out at him from our ship. He was only seconds away and I could see he was going to crash right on top of us. There wasn’t enough time for our pointer and trainer to get him in their sights. Our gun was almost totally ineffective on close in targets anyway. I started saying my act of contrition and thought about my mother getting the telegram she dreaded.

When I was down to what if I thought was the last few seconds of my life the plane flipped over violently and went into the sea.

I don’t know if South Dakota was officially credited with shooting him down but she was the only one in a position to hit him. She will always have a place in my heart and mind for creating a win/win/win result. A young Jap pilot got instant transportation to see his ancestors, our flight deck stayed intact, many Yorktowners got to live another day and my mother got to see her son again.

Yes, my mother was very proud of me.

Photo Choice: South Dakota

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