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Reader’s Digest

Reader’s Digest Book
”Illustrated Story of World War II”
Following are segments of the Readers Digest book, “Illustrated Story of World War II”, commencing on page 488:

by Mitchell Dana

“As the last great enemy bastion astride the ocean road for invasion of Japan – an invasion that would never take place – the island of Okinawa was of crucial strategic importance. ….Americans from April 1, 1945, into late June fought one of the toughest and certainly the most costly of battles, for both sides, in the entire war. The United States paid for its victory with 12,500 killed or missing, 36,600 wounded, the Japanese, with 109,600 killed and 7,800 taken prisoner.”

“….the soldiers and marines were mortally dependent on the continuing flow of troop reinforcements and supplies. To keep the sea lanes open, the Navy deployed a picket line of destroyers and destroyer escorts. The ships and men of this force became the primary targets for the Japanese suicide squadrons – the kamikaze assault, a fanatic, half-mad and eventually futile enterprise born of Japanese desperation. It is the remarkable story of the picket line, a saga of incredible courage, that is told here.”

“….for the destroyer men of the United States it was a nightmare come true. What the destroyer men took, and what they dished out there, seems unbelievable now.”

“….It was men who wanted to live against men who wanted to die. Men in thin-skinned, skittering little ‘cans’ against men in swift hurtling planes, rockets and torpedoes. And, almost incredibly, it was the men in the little ships who won. Pure skill, bulldog tenacity and death-defying bravery won out. Men who were too proud to run; men who were determined on self destruction.”

“There were many good little ships in the picket line that surrounded bloody Okinawa. …..But there was one destroyer, the USS HUGH W. HADLEY, that somehow symbolized the spirit of all the gallant “small boys” of the American fleets.”

“Suicide weapons had been tried before, but never on the horrible scale of Okinawa.”

“Besides the plane and rocket pilots, there were other death dedicated suicide volunteers. Speedboats packed with high explosives were used, too; and midget submarines, operated by one or two suiciders, served as living torpedoes. …At sea the U.S. Navy lost more men and ships than in any other comparable battle-time campaign: nearly 5000 seamen dead; another 4800 wounded; 13 destroyers and 1 destroyer escort sunk; 13 carriers, 10 battleships and 5 cruisers severely damaged; and 47 destroyers and destroyer escorts mauled and battered. How many Japanese died, no one will ever know.”

“The picket line at Okinawa was the worst ordeal ever faced by the American Navy. …. No less than ninety eight destroyers and fifty two destroyer escorts fought in this last great struggle of the Japanese. Sixty-one of them were hit in the furious day and night battles.“

“Seventy miles out….the first picket line took stations. Forty miles, the second line began…. Then twenty miles out….the last line was set up.”

“At the first only one destroyer was assigned to each picket group. But as days of furious attacks followed one another , more were added. Toward the end, in May, there were two or three DD’s in each station.”

“As many as nineteen picket groups ringed the island….each group in an Indian-fighting circle, for mutual help. Whenever enemy planes were spotted, timely warning enabled the transport area guards to blanket the helpless transports with protective smoke.”

“It was up to the ‘tin cans’. The big carriers, much too clumsy for the job, stood far away beyond the horizon. Their fighter planes came on call. Bombardment battleships and cruisers came in for short-time gun attacks on the island and quickly drew back from the danger zone. Blockading submarines stood far out to warn of approaching surface attack. But it was from the air that the danger would come. For that, the destroyer men were sent out.”

“USS HADLEY joined one of the picket lines (Station 15, north of the transport area), and settled down to this group’s control.”

(This was HADLEY’s second picket line assignment).

“The ship worked in a team with another crack DD, the EVANS. Between them they were to blast some 50 suicide planes and rockets out of the air in one terrific day, incredible as it sounds. One day of furious action – May 11 – was typical of how the iron men in the ‘tin cans’ could fight.”

“Early in the morning of the 11th the kamikazes came like flies. Out of the misty haze to the north the first one came, straight for the Hadley.”

“….More than 150 suicide planes hurled themselves at the HADLEY and the EVANS on that eventful day in May. Wave after wave came hurling out of the sky. How many more were shot down, high above, in wild dogfights, no one will ever know.”

“Like a porcupine, the HADLEY’s guns bristled in all direction, fighting off attackers. A canopy of streaming steel flame and smoke hung over her like a wall to hold off the swarms above. Her men labored and sweated, feeding and firing their guns like lost souls who were doomed to everlasting labor in the fiery pits of hell.”

“By 9 a.m. the EVANS was three miles away, desperately fighting for it’s own life. Then the EVANS was hit and put out of action and the HADLEY was alone.”

(Subsequently, HADLEY was hit by three Kamikazes and a 500 lb. Bomb inflicting about 100 casualties. The story by Mitchell Dana in Reader’s Digest Book goes on to relate in narrative form most of the details of the official Action Report, and concludes with the following statement:)

“The USS HADLEY paid the price, as did so many other destroyers of the immoral picket line. The ship was a battered mess. But she was still there, and her indomitable men were triumphant. The Kikusui had blown itself out.”