World War II veterans recall kamikaze attack on ship

By JAY MEISEL | Highlands Today, Sebring, Fla. | Published: September 27, 2013

SEBRING, Fla. — It was around 4 a.m. on May 1, 1945, on board the USS Terror when crew member Fred Bartlett got relieved of duty and was ready to get some sleep, he recalled Friday.

He said he heard a boom that he later learned was a Japanese kamikaze attack and was told get to his battle station.

"I didn't make it to my battle station," he said. Although the situation was beyond his control, Bartlett recalled, "I felt very bad about it."

He was one of nine survivors who toured the Military Sea Services Museum in Sebring as part of a reunion.

While the attack on the ship, described as the flagship of the Pacific minesweepers, near Okinawa, resulted in 48 men dying and 123 being injured, the toll of time has taken the lives of many more since then.

Allie Ryan, who was not on the ship at the time of the attack, but became a replacement crew member, said when they began having reunions, he had a mailing list of 350 living crewmen.

Because of deaths and illnesses, attendance at reunions dropped to around 100 a few years ago and only nine were able to attend this year..

"The attrition rate is terrible," he said.

Bob Brewer, who was on the ship and knew many of the people who died there or since, recalled that he enlisted at the age of 17 from Union City, Mich., and found that the situation "was scary, but I wasn't scared."

He recalled that when the plane hit the ship, "it became as dark as hell."

Fred Bartlett, another survivor who was originally from Oklahoma, said after the attack he ended up in the water for a few hours before being rescued. He floated in a life jacket and even fell asleep, he said.

"We were all exhausted," he said.

Bartlett and the others helped complete the mission of the ship, which was to remove and lay mines.

He said the ship arrived at Iwo Jima three days before the military attack and at Okinawa five days before the attack,

With the ship's mission, the crew had to be very careful, he said. "You don't make mistakes when you're messing around with 1,000 mines aboard."

"I was lucky to have lived," he said in retrospect about the attack.

Charles Ed Wolfe, who is 91 and still bills himself as an actor, artist and motivational speaker, said after enlisting in the military in 1941, "I put in for sea duty because I wanted to get involved in the action."

He got what he wanted.

He said the Japanese plane crashed almost close enough to the point where he could touch it, he said. "The sound was unbelievable."

He's had many close calls with death over the years, but has managed to persevere, he said.

Nicholas Marra, who was 17 when he enlisted in 1942, recalled that he was five decks below the surface in the boiler room when the plane hit.

He and others headed up toward the deck, but steam forced them to climb back down, as going through a heavy concentration of steam would have suffocated them, he said. They ended up climbing through an escape hatch, he added.

Marra said the surviving crew had to shut off some areas of the ship where they knew some crew members would die.

In the succeeding years, he said, he hasn't stopped thinking about those crew members.

"They're always there (in his thoughts and dreams)," he said.


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