Sunday, May 4, 2008

Anniversary of a WWII Battle

May 4, 1945 a destroyer mine-layer named U.S.S. Shea was on duty off Okinawa when the peaceful morning quiet was shattered by the appearance of a baka bomber that quickly attacked, decimating the ship and killing twenty-six men and one officer. Ninety-one more were wounded. My father, Lt. j.g. Frederick James Manor was one of the wounded, although not severely. (I have his purple heart.)

After he died in 1999, I found accounts of the Shea and the battles it was in on-line. He would have been amazed, I think, by all the information and the pictures. The Shea was not a large ship and the men and officers lived at close quarters.

While I was growing up, Papa never spoke much about the war. He would tell funny stories occasionally, if someone pressed him. When I asked him about that years later, he said, "I did not think that war was a suitable topic of conversation for children."

Once, when I was in my forties, he spoke at greater length about that day in May. His job was to see to all of the storage areas on the ship that included the area where the bombs and ammo were kept. After the baka bomb raked the ship, and after the fire had been put out, Papa had to descend into that area to see if anyone had survived. It was hardly likely that anyone could have, but he had to make sure. He said, in his beautiful, quiet, grave voice, "I have never forgotten the smell of burning flesh."

Post traumatic stress syndrome had not been identified then, but I am sure that he and all who returned from the war suffered from it to a greater or lesser degree. I am sure that he smoked because of it, and the smoking eventually killed him. He died from emphysema.

He counted his blessings for he was as he said one of the fortunate ones who returned. The story of his ship is quite exciting and heroic even after more than sixty-years. They plugged holes in the side with mattresses and listing she made it to Haushi and then Kerama Retto where she underwent repairs and left behind most of what was left of her ammunition along with much of her gear. She was headed home. First to Pearl Harbor and then San Diego through the Panama Canal and home to, I believe, Newport News, Virginia for extensive repairs. By the time she reached the Atlantic the war in Europe was over, and as Papa said, they were able to travel at night with lights on and doors open for fresh air. They were safe and it must have been a surreal experience to have been safe, in this damaged ship that still bore the scars and probably the smells of battle, especially since the war in the Pacific was still going on.

I have always felt so blessed to have had this man for my father and as the daughter of a World War II Navy vet, I feel a special connection to the Navy. I hold them in my heart today along with all those serving in our military now.

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