Historical Documentation from Crewmembers

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James Smith’s Letter


This is a slightly edited version of a letter from Jimmy Smith to his mother dated 23 June 1945. At that time, Jimmy was in a hospital in the Marianas Islands being treated for severe burns in suffered in the battle of 11 May 1945. Jimmy dictated this letter to a Red Cross worker. He later reached Mare Island Naval Hospital in California, but died of his injuries on 21 July 1945. Jimmy was 18 1/2 years old at the time. He is buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis, MN. Mr. Smith’s cousin, Jim Duncan, provided this website with the letter’s text in December 2009.

Dearest Mom,

I’ve been getting your letters quite regularly and I’m sure glad you are writing. Your last letter was dated May 5th.

I guess the Doc will ship me to a hospital in the States pretty quick. I wouldn’t want to go through this thing for a million dollars.

You wanted to know what happened to me. Well Mom, I’ll tell you the truth. I got burned pretty bad when a suicide plane hit our gun mount. It hit the mount square about five feet from where I was. The plane burst into gasoline flames and caught me right square. Finally, I managed to jump over the side, after I tried to find some of my buddies.

Cardin, my gun Captain, a guy from Wisconsin I knew before I joined the Navy got killed. I think the wing of the Zero wrapped around him. The 40 mm shells were all on the deck and started exploding all around us where the plane hit. I consider myself very lucky to get out alive. There were quite a few casualties aboard ship. The Chief Gunner Mate had a 40mm shell explode right in his stomach. It blew him all to heck. The ship is still afloat but I don’t know where it is. During the time we were under attack our ship shot down more planes than any other ship in the fleet had during the whole War. We got 23 planes in two hours and however long we were under attack. We had 2 others to our credit so that makes 25 planes. The USS Calvin, another destroyer had the record before that. But, we couldn’t get them all. It took four suicide planes, two torpedoes and I don’t know how many bombs. The sky was black with Jap planes. I never saw so many in my life. every kind they had was there, all suicides. There was supposed to be over 250 in the air. We were in the water, I was one of the last to go in. Everybody was afraid they would start straffing us and all that. Then there was one of the prettiest sights I ever saw. Flying low over the water came about 300 American fighter planes. The Japs didn’t stick around very long. There was some dog fighting and the rest of the Japs ran.

I was in the water about three hours, on a life raft, the last hour and a half, they gave me morphine on account of my burns while in the life raft. Finally, they picked us up and placed us aboard an LST. From the LST I was transferred to a regular Hospital Ship. From there I was sent to the Army Hospital in the Marianas Islands. It took 6 days to get here. That was the 19th of May. I got my eyes opened the next day, and have been in bed ever since.

Mom, I didn’t want to tell you but you wanted to know. So that’s about the story. When I got to this hospital I thought about John Cardin. It hit me hard and I cried for several hours about him.

Well, I guess I’ll close, and I’m hoping I’ll get home soon.

Lots of love to you and Tom,