USS Missouri – BB-63
As a teenager, fresh out of Garfield High School—Akron, Ohio—I joined the U.S. Navy on the 21st of May, 1950—my seventeenth birthday.
As my training at the Naval Recruit Training Center (RTC), in Great Lakes, Illinois was nearing its end; military action in Korea was heating up. A message was sent to the Chief of Naval Personnel (BuPers) in Washington D.C., requesting additional crew-members for the battleship USS Missouri. BuPers than transmitted an order to the RTC, which directed that the next graduating class be sent to Norfolk, Virginia to be put aboard the Missouri.
The RTC combined Recruit Company’s 106 and 107 into one company; a total of one-hundred and twenty men. They informed us that all post-graduate orders and personnel leave were canceled. Then we received our new orders—report to duty aboard the Missouri.
We traveled by troop train to Norfolk and upon our arrival, we were taken by trucks to NOB (Naval Operating Base). Here we were assigned to a large Quonset hut, for a one night stay and given a Cinderella Liberty; meaning we had the run of the base until midnight. Most of the men of Company 107 got noisily inebriated that evening. Needless to say, the next morning we woke to the smell of vomit.
Having showered, shaved, and our seabags packed, we marched less than a half-a-mile to Pier 7. As I stood there in ranks, this teenage boy was startled at the sight of the battleship moored in front of him. She was a sight to behold, and I still recall that moment quite vividly.
We were informed that the first thirty-five-to-forty men to step aboard would be assigned to Deck Divisions. I was among the second group of twelve who were assigned to the FA Division. Asking what FA Division did, I was told it involved fire control. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy to learn that I would be putting out the ships fires.
However, I was happy to learn that the FA Division didn’t put out fires, but was responsible for the ships armament. The Division was comprised of Firecontrolman (FC) and Firecontrol Technician (FT) ratings. There were three main turrets, two turrets forward of the superstructure and one aft, with three 16 inch guns (we called them rifles) to each turret. She was also equipped with ten 5” .38 caliber anti-aircraft mounts, twenty Quad 40mm anti-aircraft mounts, and forty-nine Twin 20mm guns. The U.S. Marine Corps Detachment aboard was responsible for the 20mm guns.
Our “skipper” was Captain Irving T. Duke, and the Executive Officer (XO) was Commander Pierre Charbonnet. The XO was someone to be feared, but also respected. When he walked through the ship, you stepped aside and stood at attention!
General MacArthur had drawn up a plan to land ground troops at Inchon, behind the North Korean Army in the hope of catching them between the forces that were breaking out of the Pusan Perimeter. In order for the Inchon Invasion to be successful, he needed Naval firepower; thus, the hurried need for the Missouri.
On Saturday the 19th of August 1950, the Missouri cleared Hampton Roads—headed for open sea. Suddenly, the Captain’s voice blared-out over the speakers that the Missouri was steaming, with haste, to Korea. The crew voiced their approval with a thundering roar.
Due to her urgent need in Korea, the Missouri went to sea in threatening weather. En route to the Panama Canal, we encountered a hurricane off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. During this time we were having daily anti-aircraft live-fire drills, and the smell of burned gunpowder filled the air; the odor was almost unbearable. The weather was “unreal” and many of the crew became sick. To escape the stench, I made my way up the superstructure to the 0-11 level. The air there was fresh, but you could feel the swaying back and forth a lot more. I can recall the bow of the ship disappearing under the huge waves, and when the bow emerged, it shook and shuddered from side-to-side.
The wind and waves were so powerful that one of the parapets surrounding one of the 40mm mounts broke loose and washed overboard. The parapets were made of half-inch steel plate.
Having stopped in San Diego, and Pearl Harbor, for supplies we where again under way for Korea. However, we ran into a typhoon so we did not arrive in time to offer support for the Inchon Invasion. After nineteen days we finally reached our first bombardment mission—Samchok, North Korea. I was not the only one aboard who shook with fear during our first taste of combat.
When “General Quarters” was sounded, all hands were to man their battle stations. My berthing compartment was the first compartment aft of the Anchor Windless Room—up in the bow. However, my GQ station was on the 40mm mount located at the stern (fantail) of the ship, port side. To reach my station I had to run almost the full length of the ship.
During one incident I arrived at my station and noticed I had forgotten to put on my trousers. The Director Operator wrapped the Gun Director cover around me. The cover was made of canvas, and was quite stiff from the cold.
When firing her 16 inch rifles, the concussion would ripple furiously across the water. Since the concussion was so strong, the fantail had to be cleared of all personnel when turret #3 was fired. On one occasion there was a need to fire turret #3 and as the gun crews of the 20mm and 40mm guns raced to the superstructure, three of us didn’t make it. The hatch was open and the man closest to it was thrown down across the opening, breaking several ribs. Being the next closest, I was thrown to the deck—with enormous force—sustaining minor injuries to my spine. However, I was still able to help my shipmate through the open hatch. The sailor who was the farthest away was blown off his feet and into the cable railings mounted at the sides of the ship. Luckily he didn’t end up in the water, but he sustained serious injuries. We were fortunate to get him inside before turret #3 fired again.
During a firing mission to stop enemy mortar fire on our troops, the ship was ordered to use the 5” and 40mm guns to pepper the entire mountainside that was facing us. Pappy Miller, our Gun Director, got permission from the Gun Boss to ricochet 40mm rounds up the side of the mountain off the thick ice that had formed close to shore. We fired until the ice had been destroyed and no longer usable for ricocheting; Pappy’s idea worked.
As I recall, a round weighed about four pounds and the projectile about two pounds. A magazine clip, which was passed from below the mount through an opening in the deck, held four-or-six rounds. The loader had to lift the clip to about his eye level in order to insert it into the weapon.
When the 16 inch rifles fired, you could actually watch the projectile as it flew through the air. As the round left the muzzle we used to say “there goes another Cadillac.” Including round and powder bags, it cost about the same as a Cadillac.
I will always remember Christmas Eve of 1950, as we were involved in the evacuation at Hungnam. We were anchored close to shore and surrounded by LSMR (small rocket firing boats). As the crew was celebrating Christmas below deck, we were celebrating the Fourth of July above deck.
When we were in need of food and ammo, we went to Sasebo, Japan. Loading the ship was an “all hands evolution.” The working party for unloading the barges that tied along side the ship was made up of several men from each division. Needless to say, unloading was hard work and by the end of the day, we looked like coal miners. If we were in port for only two days, half of the ship would take liberty while the other half had to remain aboard; this was called Port and Starboard Liberty. However, if we were in port for three days, the ship would have 3-section liberty; one section each day.
During one of our replenishing missions, the rifled lining of the 16 inch guns, which had been forced out of the barrel by extensive use, had to be shaved off flush with the end of the barrel.
The Missouri, during her tenure in Korea, was involved in nineteen bombardment missions. Of which, two were considered major battles, thereby earning battle stars for her engagements.
I believe that being a crew member aboard the “MO” (nickname for the Missouri) made me a better person. Aboard her, I made the first steps from boyhood to manhood.
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After being away for fifty-eight years, I have returned to my ship. I have always loved the battleship, and now I am part of the volunteer force working to keep her afloat at Pier Foxtrot 5 on Ford Island, Oahu, Hawaii.