Orrin Wood Remembers WWII
The following article comes from interviews with residents at the Concord Deaconess and has been put into a book titled "Memories of World War II."
There is nothing heroic about my World War II experience in the Navy but it was a very interesting time of my life. I lucked out in my ship assignment to the USS Bennett (DD473). We covered a good part of the Western Pacific from the central islands down to a brief stint in the Southern Pacific, ending up going up to Alaska, the Aleutians, and over to Kamchatka Peninsula in the Soviet Union.
I had started Harvard that fall (with Bill Malcom) and as member of the Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), was encouraged to finish college on a speed-up basis, and so finished my degree and ensign commission in February 1944. All in the Naval ROTC were consolidated in one dormitory and put on a Navy regimen, standing watches, and more.
On graduation, I chose destroyer duty - they had the reputation of being a ship that got exposed to all kinds of activities, and they were small enough so you got a lot of responsibility quickly. Then I received orders and was flown out to Eniwetok to join the Bennett. The Bennett was a Fletcher Class (2,100 tons) about 325 feet long and about 40 foot beam, so if you looked at it from above, it looked like a cigar.
I was offered the chance to become machine gun officer that I accepted enthusiastically. The USS Bennett had been updated to become a fighter director ship with special radios and gear for directing the four fighter planes assigned to us. I was dropped off in Hawaii for five weeks of Gunnery School. The (gun) firing control system had to be able to pick up an object, usually a plane flying at 200 miles per hour (MPH), and anticipate where it would be when a projectile fired at it got to it.
On completion of gunnery school, I flew to Saipan, that was next to Tinian, from which B-29s were flying to bomb Japan. Our next invasion was Iwo Jima, located about 600 miles from Japan. We did some bombarding as part of a small group of ships. I can remember being a couple of miles offshore and being able (through binoculars) to see some of the landings being made, the planes firing rockets at the caves, and watching the GI's crawling from foxhole to foxhole. I remember thinking how lucky I was to be on a ship with always a decent bunk and for the most part, meals served to us at a dining room table by mess mates. Japanese planes came at us and we were able to shoot down one of them. Another one fired a torpedo at us that hit the tip of the bow. Fortunately it was a dud, otherwise it would have blown the bow off.
Our next destination was Okinawa, several hundred miles from the Japanese home islands. Our first assignment was on radar picket duty about 50 miles west of the landings and closest to Formosa, that is now Taiwan. There was an incident that happened on two separate occasions that really was a major concern. Japanese planes discovered that the effectiveness of radar was strictly line of sight. In other words, if they could fly in very low on the water, using the curvature of the earth, they could only be picked up about five miles from a ship. With these planes typically flying about 200 mph, it meant that in less than two minutes from being picked up, they could be over a ship.
I was one of 3 officers whose watch duties were in charge of the gun director attempting to pick up such planes. 3 ships were stationed together and we were assigned to the innermost point, the 1 closest to Okinawa in a direct line toward Japan. It was April 6 and 7, the two heaviest days of kamikaze raids on Okinawa. We were on this third station early in the afternoon when we heard that the ship on station No. 1, the one nearest Japan, the destroyer Bush, was under heavy attack. What the kamikazes were doing was ganging up on one ship, hoping to get one critical hit on it that would completely demobilize it. The Bush was sunk and the ship on station No. 2, the Calhoun, moved up to station No. 1 and we moved up to station No. 2. Within an hour or 2, we heard that the Calhoun had been badly hit and was sinking. We were given orders to move to station No. 1, closest to Japan, and to help both the Bush and the Calhoun. Within several hours, both were sunk.
We tried to rescue their survivors from the water. We had the horrible role, the worst experience I had during the war, of pickup up survivors. There were a few other smaller ships, the LCTs, that were assigned to this duty that were better equipped for the job. We were never successful at it and I can remember hearing cries across the water and not being able to located at night precisely where they cam from to pick up the survivors. The reason for the shortage of U.S. fighter planes for the radar picket ships like ours was they were all assigned to stop a suicide raid by the remaining Japanese Naval ships, including the Yamamoto, the largest battleship ever built. The Japanese ships' mission was to beach themselves on Okinawa where they were to act as artillery to repel the U.S. invasion of the islands. The U.S. planes were able to destroy this fleet soon after it left port.
Within a very short time, we were being buzzed again by a whole group of kamikazes. We ultimately shot down five of them with our ship's guns. But one of them got through the outer net. I can still see him coming in, even though our machine guns were hitting him continuously, but he kept coming right along the water. We were firing everything we possibly could at the plane, and it seemed to be getting hit and hit again, and yet it just kept coming. The captain turned the ship toward it but the plane came around the stern and hit us in about the middle of the ship on the starboard side. Unlike the Bush and the Calhoun, both of which had been sunk the day before, we were not attacked by a follow-up bunch of kamikazes in our weakened state.
We then headed for the main harbor in Okinawa, Karamaretto. The harbor was full of 50, perhaps even 200 ships, and ever one of them had been hit by one or more kamikazes.
We were credited with having shot down 15 Japanese planes and with also having been engaged with over 50. I feel that this was somewhat of an exaggeration although it was hard to get a good reading of the number because some we actually saw and many we didn't because they were shot down by the fighter planes assigned to us.
After we left Okinawa, we headed for the Seattle area, specifically to the Bremerton Navy Base that is right across Puget Sound, maybe 15 miles away, one of the largest Naval repair facilities in the country. We were there three months. Just as we were about to leave for the Pacific theatre again in early August of 1945, word came about a terrific new bomb that had been dropped on a place called Hiroshima in Japan. Of course, within a couple of days later, the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and the Japanese agreed to surrender and the war was over.
Note: This is just an excerpt of a more extensive memoir Orrin wrote that will be placed in the Concord Free Public Library.
For more information contact Dick Krug, director of Veteran Services for the town of Concord, located at 105 Everett Street. He can be reached at 978-318-3038 or by email.