Leo A. Nicholas GM2/c – Service # 2020619.

Story also posted on Fold3.com

Leo Nicholas survived one sinking but was KIA by a kamikaze on the USS Hadley.

Leo Arnold Nicholas was among the thousands of young men who enlisted in the Navy after the attack at Pearl Harbor. He was born February 20, 1917, in Dorchester, Massachusetts. He was 24 when he enlisted on 15 December 1941in Boston.

His mother, Grace B. Brooking was head of household in the 1940 census. She had married Robert V. Brooking in 1934. He was no longer living in the household. Two younger adults, John and Marcia Rankin were listed. Nicholas was employed as a truck driver.

Nicholas was a gunner’s mate and was assigned to the Gunnery Training ship USS Wyoming AG-17 in June of 1942. He then joined the destroyer USS Mayrant DD-402.  His ship was assigned to troop escort in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.  On 26 July 1943 the Mayrant was badly damaged by German dive bombers. Mayrant nearly sank but made it to Malta for repairs. Five men were killed and 18 wounded. Nicholas was transferred to USS Landsdale DD-426.  On 20 April 1944 Landsdale was escorting a convoy off the coast of Algeria. It was attacked by German torpedo planes and sunk. There were 119 survivors including Nicholas. After 30 days survivors leave, Nicholas was reassigned to the new Sumner Class destroyer USS Hugh W. Hadley DD-774.

Nicholas was among a handful of older experienced sailors who would help train younger inexperienced crewmembers. He joined the Hadley prior to commissioning in San Diego on 25 November 1944. The ship and crew left for Pearl Harbor in January of 1945 for more training.

In April Hadley proceeded to Ulithi where they joined a convoy of troop ships and transports headed for Okinawa. This would become the final major battle of WWII. It was a Japanese home island and would be needed as a staging area for the U.S. invasion of Japan. It became the costliest battle for the Navy during the Pacific War. Kamikazes and conventional air attacks sunk 36 ships, damaged 368 and killed 4,907 sailors. Leo Nicholas was the among those killed.

On 11 May 1945, the USS Hadley was ordered out to Radar Picket station #15 about 50 miles northwest of Okinawa. This had been one of the deadliest patrol areas because it was in direct line of attack from Japan. Their primary mission was to provide early warning of enemy planes to the fleet anchored at Okinawa. The secondary mission was to shoot down enemy planes before they reached higher value ship in the anchorage. They were attacked by five raids totaling 56 planes that morning. They shot down 23 planes – a naval record for a single engagement – and were hit by three kamikazes, two conventional bombs and a powerful ohka baka bomb. Thirty Hadley crewmembers were killed and 131 were wounded. Nicholas was among the nine men who kept a 40mm gun firing as a kamikaze crashed into their position. All the men on that gun mount were killed. They received recognition for “outstanding performance of duty.” Cardin was listed as buried at sea. In truth most of the men were never found. Cardin was among those who were blown out to sea. 

GM2/c Nicholas’ sacrifice is memorialized in Hawaii. His name is inscribed on the Courts of the Missing in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific located in Honolulu, Hawaii. His remains are interred in the East China Sea.


by Jeff Veesenmeyer