I joined the navy while still in high school in Minnesota. It seemed to me they took too long to call me up so I signed up again. This came back to haunt me later. I was sent to boot camp in Idaho. When I finished there, I was sent to CA to San Pedro to work on the USS Callaghan. She was commissioned on Nov 27, 1943 and attached to the Pacific fleet. We sailed to Hawaii for our shake down cruise. While my ship was being outfitted, I attended radar school. Feb 5, 1944 we sailed to join the 5th fleet. We joined in on the air raids on the Palaus, Yapi, Ulythi, and Woleai Atolls in the Pacific Carolinas. It was our job to protect the carriers, battleships, etc. We surrounded the fleet searching for subs and on the lookout for enemy planes. We were expendable, the other ships were not. When attacking an island, our position was as close to shore as possible so we could shoot over the heads of the landing troops helping to soften up the enemy and clear the way ahead.
After the Atolls, we were involved in one battle after the other: Saipon, Tinian, Guam, Indo China, Hong Kong, Palous, Minlaseo, Luzopn, Formosa, Okinawa, Leyte Gulf, Nansei Shito, Iwo Jima and the Tokyo Area. One time 3 of us were assigned to help the Marines during one of their training sessions on taking an island. We took our radar gear ashore and set it up the day before. We were to direct their landing crafts onto the beach. We decided to sleep on the island that night instead of on a rolling ship in a narrow bunk. The next morning, the marines landed and started their assault training. Suddenly Japs popped up out of the sand using live ammunition. You never saw three sailors run so fast. One of the fellows with me was a little short fellow who made it into the water faster than we did. He said later that it was because he had less ground to cover being so short. The marines had to send for live ammunition quickly but, in the end, they took over the island. I learned that you can run on water pretty far if you are fast enough and I was!!!
One day, I was talking with one of my shipmates who were very depressed. He had just received word of the birth of his daughter. He kept saying, “Woody, I have to go home – now”! I told him we would be going soon but he insisted he had to go and see his daughter right then. He put out his hand to shake mine and said, “ Thanks Woody. You’ve been a good friend”. With that he walked to the ship’s rail and before I could move jumped over it into the water. I yelled, “Man overboard!” but, although the skipper searched for a long time, we never saw him again
We had shore leave only one time, on one of the little islands. On that leave, about 20 of us were going on a beer raid on another ship. We were on our way back to our ship with all these beer cases when an officer from that ship saw is. He yelled and about 50 of his men came running. A fight started and the officer fired a shot at the foot of one of our men and the fellow turned around and decked the officer. We were all on report. Our skipper restricted us to the ship while at sea. He told us that if we had lost the fight or the beer, he would have restricted us while we were docked. We had a good skipper. He was a good leader.
One of our jobs was to rescue downed pilots, something we always enjoyed. We hated having burials at sea. I always thought of the families at that time. I still think the ones at home had a. harder time of it, as they didn’t know where we were or what we were doing. We were young and invincible. We rescued two Japanese men from their planes. One died but the other lived. He has come to several of our reunions and always hosts a cocktail and dinner party for everyone on the last night as a thank you.
One day while we were at sea, I was told the Capt. wanted to see me. Wondering what I had done wrong this time I went to report to him. He informed me that he had received papers from the draft board in Minn. stating that if I did not report to them by the next day I would be declared a deserter! My skipper said that if I left the ship HE would declare me a deserter. He asked me what happened so I told him about the two enlistments. I‘m not sure what he thought about my story as he turned away for a moment. He finally said he would look into it and would get back to me. We were in the middle of the war by then so I didn’t have much time to worry about it. We were at battle station most days now. It was common to be at General Quarters for two days at a time. Once we were on ?for five days. We would take turns running down to get a shower and clean clothes, also to take a nap on deck by our station. One of us would run to the mess at meal times and get sandwiches for all of us. Planes would be coming in wave after wave. Quite a bit later the skipper told me he had friends in Washington who were taking care of my “desertion”.
One plane missed our ship but knocked out three radars and an antenna. We had to climb up the mast, tie ourselves down and repair everything while under fire. We couldn’t let them go as we used the radar to warn the carriers of incoming planes. Our radar extended further then theirs so it was up to us to alert them and get the planes up. One of the most stirring events was the flag raising at Iwo Jima. We were in as close to shore as possible as it was our job to shoot ahead of the marines when they landed. In fact, our skipper took us in so close we got hung up on the on the bottom. The Japs were firing on us and we were sitting ducks!
- On July 25th we were sent to join the battle at Okinawa, the last battle of WW2 and the largest Pacific campaign.
- On July 28th we were all happy and celebrating as we were to be relieved at midnight and head for home. Our ship was worn out and needed repairs. The destroyer that was to relieve us was late.
At a little after midnight, radar spotted a plane coming in low and slow. It turned out to be an old biplane. I was with the crew at the 20mm guns on the starboard side and we could see the plane coming up behind us on our side. We kept shooting and shouting, “There it is”! We had shot at it before and hit it, but it had turned around and was skimming the water. Even though it was crippled, it was coming back to us intent on suicide. It exploded on the starboard side of the ship and its bomb let loose and skidded across the deck and penetrated the after engineroom. Our ship flooded. My crew was all killed and blown overboard except me. I could never fathom why I was the exception. I was blown down the deck towards the bow and through a narrow passageway where I finally came to rest. I knew I was hurt badly and was gasping for breath so I crawled under the ladders to avoid being stepped upon. I kept thinking I would try to get down to my bunk to die. My mind is pretty blank after that but I do remember crawling into the radar room beside me.
The next thing I remember I was out on deck again with my life jacket on. Then somehow either someone picked me up and threw me or maybe I jumped myself. Either way, I was in the water. There was oil and blood all around me. More Jap planes had appeared and were strafing everyone they could, survivors and boats. I could see my ship burning and I could hear her crying and groaning for help as the planes were everywhere bombing and strafing us. The other ships were too busy defending our fleet to be able to give us any help. I saw a shark coming toward me and I thought it was the end for sure. I knew they were attracted to blood and there was plenty around me. He kept circling around me and I tried to keep an eye on him and one on my ship. I could hear her cries and groans and then there was a huge explosion and the USS Callaghan sank. It was 2:29 AM July 29th. I couldn’t stop the tears when I saw my ship disappear under the water, but just then I felt the shark bump against me. I reached out a hand and tried to push him away. He circled one more time and then left. I don’t know what kept him from attacking me but I thank God for whatever it was. Perhaps he didn’t like the blood and oil mixture or maybe he didn’t like the smell of my sox. This I will never know..
A whaleboat came along but didn’t see me in the water and I was unable to call out. Awhile later, two of my shipmates came floating past. When they saw me they stopped and stayed with me. When the next rescue boat came along they hailed it. The people in the boat said there was no more room. Don Bell, one of my shipmates and a good friend to this day, reached up and yanked one of the uninjured out. “Now you have room”, he said. They got me into the boat and took me to the Cassion Young, another destoyer there. The men in the boat climmbed up the rope ladder but when they realized I was unable to do so myself, they had the boat lifted to the deck and took me out of it on a stretcher then laid me on the deck and a corpsman stayed with me. A doctor came along and told him to leave me as I wasn’t going to make it. He got angry and told the doc to go to h…. Finally, they put me on a table in the wardroom. I remember a corpsman putting compresses and an IV into me and a black steward turning white from the sight of me.
My one lung had been blown open and had lead in it . Lead also filled my chest. I was then transferred to a converted hospital ship and again laid on the deck. A toe tag was put on me and I was left with the dead and dying. My skipper came along and asked if he could do anything for me. I tried to tell him that I wanted to be washed but couldn’t get it out. I could get one word out at a time but it took me a long time. The corpsman with me finally figured out what I was trying to say and told the Captain My Skipper stayed with me while they tried to clean me up. My friend, Don Bell, came along too. I told him to write to my parents and tell them I just had a scratch. I didn’t want them to get the telegram from the service about me being wounded and they worry, wondering what had happened. Don wrote them and my parents told me later they were so thankful to get my letter saying I was ok. They knew I wrote it so they were spared all the worry.
The doctor came out of the wardroom, took a look at me and said,” You still here? I might as well look at you then”. They put me on a table and the doctor punctured my chest with something. You could hear the air rush out. He waited a moment and let me get my first good breath since I had been wounded. He opened my chest up and found one lung collapsed and my chest filled with lead. He examined the rest of me and found lead all through my body and extremities. He repaired my lung and tried to remove as much lead from my chest as possible. He had them remove me from the table and put me back on deck. I was loaded onto a stretcher and somehow got sent to the airport instead of the hospital. I was put onto a plane that was loaded with wounded and it was headed for the states. We landed at Guam to refuel. A doctor came aboard to check everyone. When he came to me he called a corpsman and told him to take me off as I would never make it. I told him to let me at least try and he said NO as I couldn’t possibly live that long.
I was removed and put into the hospital at Guam. I couldn’t seem to keep any food down so a nurse there made me a special mixture of peanut butter and bananas. That seemed to work and I was able to keep that down. She would give me some every couple of hours and had them do it for me when she was off. She saved my life. A marine was in the bed next to me who was pretty well shot up too. One day a Red Cross lady came along and asked if I wanted a pack of cigarettes. They were those little packs that held four cigarettes. I said sure and she said that would be 1 dollar. Naturally I didn’t have any money since my clothes and everything else were at the bottom of the ocean. I only had the pair of shorts I was wearing. The marine next to me got so mad at the Red Cross person he hustled her down the ward and practically threw her out the door. Then he collapsed and they had to carry him back to his bed. Another day, an officer came by my bed, stopped for a second, said something, put his hand on my chest, then walked away talking to the pretty nurse who was with him. After he left, the marine asked if I knew what the officer had done and I said no. He said I had just received the Purple Heart and how did I like the officer’s presentation of it.
Three months later I was put aboard another plane and sent to the states. When I arrived in California. I was taken to Mare Island Hospital where I stayed until my discharge the following spring. I left the navy with a purple heart, 12 campaign ribbons, 14 battle stars and lots of metal throughout my body but I am just proud that I was able to serve my country.
Our ship was tied up at the pier, We’re always in the forefront,sir,
Our watch was all in town, Of any battle fought.
And I reclined upon a beach We rush right in and fight to win
To watch the sun go down. Without a wasted thought.
I see you are a sailor,son, For when the battle’s raging,
An old man said to me. And our line is wearing thin,
You have the look of someone The admiral shouts the order,
Who has spent long days at sea. Send the small boys in.
I sail aboard a tin can, sir, In war or peace while others rest
I answered him with pride, We’ve hardly just begun.
We always get the toughest jobs, We answer with a hearty,Aye,Aye, Sir.
And take them all in stride. What job do you want done?
I’m in the dungaree navy, Sir,
There’s nothing we can’t do, So when I go to heaven sir
No matter what the job is, Sir, Saint Peter will take my hand
We always see it through. And offer me a special place,
“Cause I am a tin-can man.
E. C. Woodward