The Last Battle: A perspective
By
Johnny Mack Hood

Born in 1925 and raised in Alamosa, CO I was drafted into the Navy in 1943. After my schooling as an electronics technician I was sent to Hawaii to board the USS Nicholson DD442.

I’m a destroyer man; or was at least during WWII. A lot has been said or written about the great battles of that war; the Bulge, the Normandy landings, Iwo Jima, etc. But I only participated in one great battle, the last one, The Battle of Okinawa. So I can only speak to that occasion.

Most people don’t know that the Naval part of that battle was the longest continuous battle engagement in The world's Naval history; April 6, 1945 to June 21, 1945. 4907 sailors lost their lives and 4824 more were severely injured in the unremitting onslaught of over 1900 Kamikaze aircraft - suicide pilots. 253 Naval warships, mostly destroyers and destroyer escorts, were sunk or wrecked. The ship tonnage lost was greater than that lost in all prior history of naval warfare for the United States. The loss of life for the Navy was 30% greater than that at Pearl Harbor for which we set aside a special day of remembrance each year.

Destroyers, destroyer escorts and smaller ships stood radar picket duty in groups of four at stations designed to protect the troops ashore, and when called upon to provide the ground forces with artillery fire support. The destroyer in each of these groups was always the primary target of the suicide planes. The toll was so high that the other ships, the smaller ones, referred to themselves as the “pall bearers.” The action was so fierce that destroyer crews got no sleep or much food for days on end. It got so bad that most of the young men “knew” they would never see home. The only question was “when” they would get it.
Somehow popular knowledge of history has passed over this titanic battle with hardly a mention. The years pass and soon there will be no one to tell the tale. A search of Naval picture archives unearths very few pictures of these tragic and horrendous losses. There are plenty of pictures of the “hits” on our great ships, the carriers (8 severely damaged, none sunk), battleships (10 severely damaged, none sunk), and cruisers (none sunk).
These gallant little ships, the destroyers, had a deadly sting and they were always first in harm’s way. That was their job. But they were also easily sunk or totally wrecked and left barely afloat by the impact of from one to six successful Japanese Kamikazes. Ships that survived these attacks often lost more than half their crew of from 300 to 400 sailors.

It is now past time to recognize the sacrifices the Navy made at Okinawa and it is not too early to note that the thousands of young Japanese that manned these planes were pulled out of schools and universities and told they would give their lives for their country. They had no choice and, incidentally, very little training. Even so their success rate was a remarkable 32%. Admiral King – commander of the entire Navy – judged the weapon, the Kamikaze, as unbeatable. In the summer of ’45 he formed a large task force of ships and planes to work out a solution to the problem. They failed.

The Atom Bomb ended the war. The Japanese had 380 squadrons, 6000 planes, at the time of the surrender; more than they had at the time of Pearl Harbor. We did not win the sea battle of Okinawa. The collapse of the Japanese forces ashore and the A-Bomb gave us reprieve.

Suicide pilots are not cowards, they are effective, and they are hard to defeat on their terms, as we seem to be learning again to our chagrin.

I propose a national day of remembrance for this momentous Naval battle, April 6, 1945, the day the first wave of 700 planes attacked our fleet – 350 of them Kamikazes. The men who died or were maimed in those attacks were fathers, sons, sweethearts, husbands, and brothers.

USS Bush – sunk – April 6
USS Colhown – sunk – April 6
USS Pringle – sunk – April 16
USS Little – sunk – May 3
USS Luce – sunk – May 4 …..
and on and on for a total of more than 70 sunk or wrecked for 76 long, excruciating, interminable days.

Lest we forget during these days of remembrance of 9/11 let’s not forget April the 6, 1945 when we faced a determined enemy using tactics we are just now finding again difficult to deal with.