John M. DiFusco
QM3/c, U.S.N., U.S.S. Belleau Wood, 1942-
I entered the Navy in November, `42. I left my parents home on 11/27/42 to go to the recruiting station to be sworn in and go to boot camp, I took a bus to down town Providence because I did not want anyone to see me off, It was very hard For me to look my Mom in the face as I was leaving the house, she was crying very hard and I had to fight back tears myself.
I was sworn in and was expecting to leave for boot camp and they called out a lot of names and they were put on buses to go, well they did not call my name and a lot of other people, I guess they had enough for boot camp that day, they send the balance of us home and told us they would call us when they were ready for us, what a bummer , I had a going away party the night before and now I was going home, well I rode the bus home and got close to my parents home I could see my mom sitting by the window looking out, and when she saw me she came running out to asked what happened and I told her they did not want me any more, she was happy until I told here that they would call me up soon,
On 12/1/42 I received a tel call telling me to report on 12/2/42, so on that day I left again, we were all put on busses for the ride to Newport, Naval Training Station, it was about an hour or so trip, we got off the busses and the first day in the Navy started, Off to the barber shop to get scalped, and I do mean scalped and for the next 12 weeks we would be known as shin heads, than to the ships stores, they gave us a mattress cover, sea bag and a hammock, and than we got in line and gave out our sizes, when we were all done there we had out uniforms and went into a large room and put them on and prepared a box with our civilian clothes in and the Navy shipped them home for us.
The next day it started march, schooling and the mess of boot camp, went to the dentist and he pulled some teeth, filled others and all under gas, one stop service, that morning we were awaken at 4 am to shovel snow that had fallen the night before, as I was coming of the gas all the dental people were laughing, I asked was so funny, they told me that I had said; you sons of a bitches are not getting me up this early again to shovel snow, the training continued, after 3 weeks we could have visitors, so on Christmas day of 42 my parents, grand mother and youngest brother came down to see me and we went into the town of Newport and had dinner, my parents came down every Sunday to see me, If you had no one come down to see you, you would have happy hour, exercising.
I had worked in a shipyard before entering the Navy. I was a laborer when they were building the shipyard, before completion I went to school nights so I could learn a little about ship building, when the yard was completed I was hired as a shipfitter, it was a riot, they had ten people where they needed one, all a bunch of novices trying to build a ship, It was Rheem Shipyard in Providence, they built Liberty Ships and when the first one was launched everyone was amazed, it floated and did not sink, it took a long time to build it. After I joined the Navy it became Walsh Kaiser and I guess they built a lot of ships there. One day my boss at the ship yard ticked me off, he told me he was going to have me drafted. LOL, I never even had a draft notice so I know he was full of it. But it got me mad so I quit and joined the navy. I always wanted to be a swabbie. Also to me Army life was hard work, my 3 other brothers were Army men . Of course after the war ended, they did not like the sea!
In any case, because of my experience, I was called up to the office one day and was told that upon completion of boot camp I would be going to school in Dearborn Mi. to ship fitting school, I told them that I did not join the Navy to go to school that I wanted to go on a boat, did not know than the difference between a boat and a ship, I was told in no uncertain terms that I belonged to the Navy and that I would do what I was damn well told and not what I wanted. About a week before boot camp leave I was called in and told that the schooling in Dearborn had been canceled because of a flu epidemic in Dearborn, I was happy.
On 2/17/43 We were all given a weeks leave before being sent to other stations, it was great, good food for a week, sleep in every morning, no bull shit from anyone but like all good things on the 23 of Feb. I went back to Newport, on 2/24/43 they loaded a bunch of us on a train with box lunches and we were shipped to Philadelphia Navy Yard. A couple of days later a bunch of us were told that we were assigned to the Belleau Wood and we were to go to Gloucester N.J. where the ship was being finished. We were to live in an old warehouse until the ship was ready
Well the next day we all went down to see our carrier, the Belleau Wood. Boy were we surprised, expected to see a big carrier and what I saw was a medium size carrier with a Starboard List [tilting to the right]. Sh*t , I think most of us was ready to go AWOL. I was put in the Repair Division on ship, on 3/31/43 the ship was commissioned and now we were part of the Navy. That job was sort of a ship fitter job at this time. It was hard and dirty work. I hated the damn department I was put in but was told that is, so now we were living on the ship and working our asses off. We made trips to the Yard and tried to get familiar with the ship, learning where everything was et cetera.
We lived at a place called the Wellsback Building in Gloucester while the ship was being prepared for commissioning, some dump of an old building. But what the hell, it was better than being on some base with a lot of BS. The Wellsback was an old Manufacturing Building, where they had built Refrigerators. Never knew what the building was used for until after I go out of the Navy and went to school for Refrigeration.
I did get to go home on some week ends and it wasn't bad. We needed a pass anytime we were going over 50 miles from the ship, well we would hide in the crapper on the train if we saw any shore patrol. One time I got a pass and I went home and caught pneumonia, the local doc called the red cross who in turn notified the ship and I was home for a Week.
On April 20, I put in for a 3 day pass, on my request I put down that the 21st was going to be nineteen and I wanted to spend it with my parents because we were going to war and I would be killed and it would be the last time I would see my parents, well my division officer rejected it, so like a nut I went over his head to the head of my department and he read the request and said "son, not everyone dies in a war" and approved it. I went back to my division officer and told him to get someone to fill in for me and he asked why and I told him I was going home for 3 days. I showed where his boss approved it and I then became number one on my division officers shit list.
I went home and when I got back he called me in and transferred me out of his department into the Navigation Department where they had an opening. When I reported to the Navigator he was pissed off because he said all his men were hand picked by him and he did not want anyone that was thrown at him, well he had no choice. It was the best deal I ever got in the Navy and I worked hard at my new job and later the Navigator told me he was happy to have me in his department. This was a much better assignment than the Repair Division. As QM I pushed a pencil and was in the know of everything that was going on.
The USS Belleau Wood was designed as a light cruiser but because of the shortage of carriers they converted it and the others of her class which had been building or about to be built at this ship yard before the war started. They were called the Independence Class and they were fast like the larger carriers but carried less aircraft. If you can just imagine getting a bunch of high school kids and a few teachers and put them on a ship and telling them we are going to fight a war, well basically that is what we were. We were all young kids, first time away from home but raring to go. Our teachers were Navy men who had been in awhile. We were put into different divisions to learn, as I said, I was put into the Navigation Dept.
Eventually we were finished at Gloucester, in the New York Ship yard. We went to Philly to commission the ship and to do some final final fixing up. But not everything was done and there were civilians still doing some work on it in Philly. In a photo of us making the big move down the Delaware from Gloucester to Philly Navy Yard, you can see scaffolding around the stacks still. We went into commission on March 31, 1943.
We took a shake down trip to Trinidad to train our air groups and make sailors out of the rest of us and also to make sure the ship would perform. It was alot of fun being a young sailor.
In July of 43 we left Philadelphia and headed to war, all trained and ready to go. Well almost all ready to go, parts of the ship still needed work. We even took some civilians with us to Pearl Harbor so they could complete some work on the way.
We went through the Panama canal and that was something. We went through the canal without any problem. After all we were a Cruiser Hull, so all went well. We also had shore leave there. It was the pits, hot and humid, typical jungle heat.
Then it was on to Pearl Harbor. When we arrived in Pearl and I saw all the sunken ships I asked myself what have I done. I was not drafted, the Navy at that time was all volunteer and any time you bitched the old sailors would tell you that you asked to join, they did not ask you.
We had a chance to go in to Honolulu visit different places, got to go swimming at Waikiki Beach , this is a place I had never even dreamed of ever seeing and here I was. There were only two hotels on the beach and the Mona had machine guns under the floor opening to the ocean, just in case an invasion, it was a lot of fun and it was beautiful, coming from Rhode Island I was not use to seeing Palm Trees and other Tropical type plants and flowers, did a lot of sight seeing when I was off duty, there were air fields with fake air planes, big shore guns to ward off and enemy invasion and now this old man of 19 was a little apprehensive about it all.
Well our sight seeing days came to an end and we were ready to leave Pearl Harbor and go and do what we came here for, that is to take the war to the door steps of the Emperor.
On the 25 of August 1943 we left Pearl Harbor with the carrier Princeton, another CVL and supporting ships to covering the amphibious forces occupying Baker Island. We were building air fields there to protect Hawaii in case the Japs tried to invade the Islands.
The operation went well and we felt better, we were all scared, the fear of the unknown will play tricks on your mind. We crossed the Equator 32 times, we were right at Equator patrolling, as per Navy Traditions we had the converting of "pollywog" [men who had not crossed the Equator before] to become Shellbacks, [men who had crossed the Equator before], to say the least it is quite a show, kissing the stomach of the fattest man on the ship, which had some foul tasting stuff on it, to getting your hair shave off, getting beat on while you are in a slippery tow target [a long canvas, about 24" in diameter and filled will slimy stuff in it, all the while someone beating on you rear end with a canvas sock, with rags in it and having been soaked in sea water, "not a pleasant day, to say the least, it was all worth it, now you are a shellac and the meal served That evening was second to none I ever had.
We left Baker Island and headed for the Gilbert Islands, mainly Tarawa atoll to bomb them and prepare for a future invasion, now we know that we will meet some Jap Resistance and again we were wondering what was going to happen, Our air group bombed the air field and our fighters destroyed twelve fighters on the ground.
During combat operations, or even just sailing the ship, life on the bridge was hectic. Always something going on, such as launching and landing aircraft. When we were launching and landing aircraft if was very noisy and dangerous for the crews on the flight deck, landing was very dangerous, small flight deck and sometimes the planes would crash and we would have a fire, never a dull moment on a carrier during flight operations, my hat was always off to Navy Pilots.
Other events were taking on fuel from a fleet oiler, taking on all bombs, ammo, for ships guns and for our aircraft, all this time the ship are moving on set course, Very critical time for the helmsman, keeping on course and not hitting the supply ship, being the BW was a converted cruiser the bridge are was very small, when I was on duty on the bridge I was never more than 10 feet away from the captain, I worked with the officer of the deck and the asst. officer of the deck. The officer of the deck would keep the ship on station and the junior officer would give all the commands to the helmsman and to the engine room. The Captain sat about 3 feet or less from the junior officer of the deck was and the officer of the deck would roam the bridge, we, the Quartermaster would keep the ships log when he was on duty and after his watch was over the officer of the deck would write the high lights from the log and than is was typed and kept as a permanent record. Our shifts would differ daily, mostly 4 hours on and 8 hours off, during your off time you had other duties to perform, such as resetting the ships clocks after changing a time zone, keeping the bridge clean, correcting charts, during battle situations you were at your battle stations constantly. The Quartermaster striker [helper] keep fresh coffee brewed all the time, we even had a dairy type milk can with fresh water in it so we even had coffee in some of our long periods of time at hour battle stations, During battle stations most of the fresh water lines were closed.
When the shipping was heading in one direction and the wind was behind us, we would get the fumes from the engines gases and at times it was unbearable, damn near needed a gas mask. Unlike the rest of the ship, the bridge was not to hot, hell it was wide open, only a canvas covered our heads, not very bullet proof, but than we had it much better than the people in the fire rooms and engines rooms, theses people hardly ever saw the sun shine and their bodies were milky whit with all kind of heat rashes, at least we were in the fresh air. At normal operating conditions our speed was about 18 knots, a little higher when we launched or took on planes, some time at our top speed the ship would vibrate and it felt like it would fall apart at any minute. When the planes started their engines it was noisy and the smoke from the engines was not to bad, it has to be known that a war ship is a war ship, not a Love Boat, the most important function was to fight a war, the ship came first and you can understand why.
On the 16th of September we began retiring from the strike and the ships radar picked up a plane and we sent our pilots to check it out, it was a twin engine bomber, a Betty, our fighters shot it down,
We left the area to return to Peal Harbor, so far we have passed the test, I am sure that the rest of the crew felt like I did, were a little more confident, We were to become a well oiled machine that had to be in top condition at all times and so far we proved we could do it. I was happy that we were going back to Pearl Harbor for a little rest, days at sea in a combative area are long and tiresome.
Besides the stress of being in a combat area, we had poor living conditions. Our quarters, well prisoners in civilian prisons have better quarters than we had, we were cramped tightly together, no air conditioning, we had one fan too try to keep 6 men cool, the last man to go to bed would turn it in his direction and the rest of us would sweat, it was not very good, but than again we had it a hell of a lot better than the sailors on smaller ships. So why complain, further more who would listen. Food, as a whole was not too bad, they feed us well we also had a soda fountain where we could get ice cream. The heads, hmm, well you loose your vanity there if you had any left, long troughs with seats to fit the contour of your butt and sea water pumping water under your butt all the time, showers, not bad, no privacy, and you turned on the water and soaped down and turn it on again to rinse, the valves did not remain on.
Of course we also didn't have much rest or recreation. Some music, my favorite song would be I am dreaming of a White Christmas, that song would tear me up, other than that not much music. It was all work and battle stations, never had any free time to speak of.
After 3 weeks at sea it was nice to get back to Pearl Harbor, we came back with more confidence and I must say a little cocky, so far so good, Spent some time at the beach and in Honolulu, was surprised at some of the long lines at places in town, was soon to find out that they were houses of ill repute, I stayed away from them to say the least, Got to eat some non-Navy food, maybe not as good as Navy food but no lines to stand in and wait, waiting is something that you do a lot of in the Navy.
On October 1, 1943 we left Pear Harbor with 5 other carriers, wow what a fleet, we thought we could wipe the Japs out in one good battle, how little we knew, we were still just green horns [rookies] learning about war, I was told by the Navigator to get certain charts out for him and when I did that I knew where we were going, we were on our way to Wake Island, holy shit, that was once our base and the Japs took it from us, now we have the chance to kick their asses and I can tell you, the fear of the unknown hit us and we all were a little nervous, On rainy day, October 5th. we the task group [launched their aircraft and for two days we bombed the shit out of them, we were starting to get Even for what the yellow bastards did to us at Pearl Harbor, for some reason that I don't know the task group never did get attacked, I guess it was that what ever Jap came out to hit us were knocked out of the sky by the groups patrols, we were spared.
We left wake after the two days and headed back to Pearl Harbor again, boy were we a cocky bunch of kids. We got to Pearl on the 11 of October, again, we took in the sites, went to the pineapple plantations and stole some pineapples, well sort of you know, visited many places on the Island and it was nice, in those day Honolulu was loaded with service people, to get a date was impossible, also there was martial law there, we had to be back to the ship at 6 PM, if I remember correctly. I bought some tailor made white uniforms there in Honolulu for I think seven dollars real bargain, right I was making about seventy dollars a month with my sea pay, but what the hell, what else could I do with my money. Well after almost a month in Pearl harbor it was time to go again, so on November 10.1943 we left Pearl Harbor and again I got the charts out for the Navigator and we were headed for the Gilbert Islands, it amazed me and others that we had so many ships now compared to what we had at Baker Island, there were 4 Task Groups with a total of eleven carriers, six large fleet carriers and Five smaller, but as fast CVL's, to see all these ships us something you never forget. Some of the ships were covering the Marine landings at Tarawa, and others covering the landings at Makin Island. Four days later the Island were ours, but what a costly victory it was, the Japs were buried on Tarawa and we blasted the fell out of them but they were well dug in, we learned a lesson them and the future landings will be preceded by more bombing and more Battleships and smaller ships blasting them with their bug guns.
We had a real great Thanksgiving Dinner, for most of us our first Thanksgiving away from home., shortly after dinner that night the battle alarm sounded, when that goes off you drop everything your are doing in a hurry and get to you battle station, if you are not fast enough you could find your self locked in an area where the water tight doors had been closed and you would not dare open those doors once they are closed, if you did you would have a not so nice meeting with the captain. We were under attack by Jap Bombers, this was there territory and the were going to put up a fight for it, raid after raid came for us, is was dark, we did not have night fighters [fighter planes with radar], The ships in the group shot a lot of the Japs down, About one on the morning we had our first close call, a lookout spotted a torpedo coming our way, we heard the plane over head after he had dropped his fish [torpedo], the Captain took evasive action and we could see the torpedo wake as it passed our ship about 30 feet from us, amen brother, We had been at out battle stations for over eight hours, we were tired, tense and yet very happy that we did not get hit, On the fourth of December we bombed Kwajalein I Island, a Jap strong hold, the Japs did not come out after us during the day but at sunset they came out after us and would not get too close to the ships, they just wanted us to stay at our battle stations all night and be real tired, tired or not, the war goes on. We left that area the next day and headed for our base at pearl harbor.
We got back to Pearl harbor and as usual we were happy to have our feet on solid ground and to be able to go into Honolulu for some fun and some drinking legally the drinking age was twenty-one but we always got served, I guess they thought that if we were old enough to go to war we were old enough to drink.
On December 7th, I had the Quarter Deck Watch from four am until eight am, the quarterdeck is where you all leave the ship and also come aboard there, I don more than got there and the Officer of the deck told me to sound general quarters, [ battle stations] , I did it without asking because you do as you are told, well all the ships in Pearl got up power and ready to leave, we did not want another December of 1941, all the Radar's had picked up a Bogey, unidentified plane, there were no friendly's in the area so it had to be a Jap we all went to our battle stations and prepared to get underway, to head out to sea, awhile the bogey no longer showed up on radar, the Japs did have submarines that could launch aircraft, this all did happen and I know it can be found in the log books of the ship in port at that time.
We did our usual thing that we did in port, clean, paint and see lots of movies on the hanger deck and also on the flight deck, a chance to rest, relax and forget about the war for a bit.
Before Christmas a group of us were sent to a rest camp for a week, in was a place called camp Andrews I think, but one week to do what you wanted to, no uniform to wear, just a bathing suit and a shirt, get up when we damn, well pleased, no officers, lived in tents with wooden floors and lots of screen area, beautiful, nice and cool. One day at the beach I saw a mattress cover floating in the water, I swam out to get on it and ride to shore, just as i reached for it the air came out of it, I turned and looked toward the shore and it seemed a million miles away, the undertow was real bad at that beach, there were no life guards, I swam, I dog paddled, I floated and did everything I was taught to do in a situation like this and I finally got to the beach, if you have ever seen a cartoon of a ship wrecked sailor who had made to shore and just stayed there, well you are seeing me, I was damn tired and if a cool head had not prevailed I would not be writing this now, I would have drowned and I know that would have caused my mom to die. Needless to say, I did not do anything that stupid again. After a week of rest returned to the ship and more men left for the rest camp.
Got to see Bob Hope and his troop. It was at Pearl Harbor out in the open air, sailors all over the place, make shift stage, e were all standing, refreshments? Cold beer, steak sandwiches, cold soda, now if you believe this I want to tell you about a bridge that I have crossing over the Grand Canyon, for you I have a good price. The entertainment was great, Jerry Colona, Frances Langford, and some person named Romano, I think it was Tony Romano, and others that I can't remember their names, he put on a great show and we all enjoyed it. It was a lot of laughs.
Never saw a fight in Pearl, we had to be back on the ships at 6:PM, there was Martial Law there at that time. As for girls, lol , the houses of ill repute did all the business, I never went to one, but the saw the lines outside the hotels. 3 dollars for three minutes, not my kind of love making, LOL.
I found out we had a new division officer, the other ass hole left the ship to go to flight school, he went to get away from the war, after we got shot at a few times he felt that the ship was no place for him, I wont mention his name because he is dead and I feel for his family, in 1992 I met a retired Naval commander who has been a sub sailor and went to flight school and became a pilot, he was in Viet Nam, he is 10 years younger than I am. Well I went to pay him a visit and we got to talking and I mentioned the ass holes name and he laughed, he said that he was his first squadron commander and he further told me that he was also an ass hole than, I guess a Zebra don't shed it's stripes. Well the new division officer was an Ensign Baines, a real nice guy, he was a great division officer, we met in 1991 in Dover Mass, he was from Maryland visiting a daughter and I was there from Arizona visiting a nephew, it was 4 hours of non stop talking, we still call each other once a month. The only thing I did not like about him was that he ordered me to play basketball for our division, he himself had played for Columbia and he was a fanatic. we were a small division and he needed a body. I hated basket ball with a passion, still do, I always felt you be able to take the ball out of your opponents hands anyway you could, needless to say I kept the ref blowing his whistle. I was forever called on fouls, too much of a gentlemen's game compared to hockey and foot ball. We played on a nice steel hanger deck floor, ouch.
Christmas day I was off duty along with Don Bourne and John Allard, both of them from Rhode Island, we decided to go into Honolulu for dinner rather than have it on the ship, although they had better food on the ship, just a matter of getting away from chow lines. We had a nice dinner and than decided to hitch hike up the mountains, an American doctor and his wife gave us a lift, all the local papers had the news of our latest missions and they asked us if we had been in them and we told them yes, no details except that we were there, The lady asked me what I miss and being an honest kid I said fresh milk, they asked us we would like to got to their house as they were having some friends over and of course we were ready to free load, they treated us great, and I got my fresh milk, later a Naval Officer and a Marine Officer, friends of the couple arrived, the host was giving them booze but not for us because we were only nineteen years old, passing the glasses right under our noses, Johnny Allard was giving me some real dirty looks because I had mentioned the fresh milk, we left there later and we were walking down the mountains and Johnny came getting all over my case about the officers having booze and we had milk, he was a tough little Irish kid, all the way down he kept telling me, here it is Christmas and I am drinking all your fault you damn wop, oh well we did go into a bar and had a few drinks before we left for the ship, He never let me live that day down, right up until the day he was killed. I close my eyes to this day and I can see Johnny Allard. We had over a month in port and I will tell you it felt good, got a lot of bunk time in and did a lot of work on the ship.
Another new year arrived and now we were off again to do harm to the Japs, On January 19 were we went to sea again, as in the past, every time we leave we have more ships joining us, now we were becoming a powerful force and ready to take on anything the Japs could throw at us, we wanted this damn war to end so we could go home, but that was a long way off at this time.
This time when we operated out of Pearl we did not have much of a fleet, at first the task forces left together and than as we built up a little different groups left for different target, you have to realize that in 1943 we did not have much of a Navy, everything was going to the European Area.
When we left the dock we all formed in a single line, carriers, destroyers, cruisers and battle ships and when we left the cannel and got to the open sea we formed up our task group. After Christmas we headed for the Marshall Islands, our target was Kwajlein Atoll, after the Bloody mess the marines had at Tarawa they, the flag, felt that we should really blast the hell of the island and we sure did, not a palm tree left, bombed from the sky and from the battle ships. After we left Port the Capt, got on the P.A.System and told us where we were going, no John Wayne speeches, he told us what we had to do and to be alert at all times and he expected and knew we would do our very best.
The planes from The Belleau Wood were on bombing and strafing missions, Tarawa and Kwajalein. we gave them hell and we were also covering the landings of our marines who were hitting the beaches, they really had it tough, enough praise cannot be given to those brave young men who get out of the landing craft and face murderous gun fire from the Japs, they, the Japs never surrender, they think it is a disgrace, on the other hand we were taught that if we get into an impossible situation and there is no way to win it than surrender, because we will live to fight again, the Japs wasted a lot of men and I could have care less, they were the enemy and it was our job to kill them, so we did just that. On February 4th Kwajalein was in American Hands, it was ours and we knew we had beaten the Japs at there own game. That afternoon we anchored in Majuro Lagoon, no longer was Pearl Harbor to be our base, we now had this forward base and there was a lot of nothing there, no towns, no bars, no women, lots of nothing.To go ashore for a bit we would tie a lot of rubber rafts together and be towed ashore buy one of our 2 boats, the boat carried the beer and we could get our 2 bottles of beer and than wait to go back to the ship. Pure boredom.
After 8 short day of rest we started to leave Majuro, A long stream of war ships, this time no one was asked to get any charts out, I guess this was going to be follow the admiral, the rumor mill was running wild as to where in the hell are we going. Then came the news, holy ship we were going to Truk, Truk was the Japs Pearl Harbor, fortified to the frigging teeth, this was a big one, we have to knock it out so we can get closer to the Japs home, Another Task Group was headed for Eniwetok to cover the Marianas who were going to land there, so we had to draw out the Japs and get their attention away from Eniwetok.
I will attempt to tell you what it was like on strike days. My division usually had a good idea when we were told what charts to get out. We got up real early, about 3 or 3:30 AM.,they fed us a battle breakfast, steak and eggs, it would hold us all day because we would be at our battle stations the entire day, We usually got word of where we were going to strike, t was from the flag ship and than passed on to our crew, ,it was done in different ways, usually the captain would tell all hands on the PA system, sailors reaction, "where the hell is that place ," of course I knew, I had to get the charts ready. We were concerned when we bombed Truk, that was the Japs Pearl Harbor, did not get the fight we expected, we by passed it but did drop a few bombs at times to let them know we were not to far away, Like I said before, in 43 it was hit and run for us, we had nothing to fight with nor could we match their power, when we finally built up the fleet we felt we could kick their asses all over the Pacific and as history tells it, we did. We had become a well oiled machine, fast to our battle stations and good with the ships guns.
The entire task group would head into the wind and launch their aircraft before day light, this would give them time to be over the target at daybreak and catch the Japs asleep, it worked most of the time, after launching we, the task force, would set another course and get ready for the enemy to come to us. we did have planes in the sky to protect us from the enemy so we had some protection, they could not get them all but they did get most of them and than it was up to us to shot them down, our ships guns accounted for nine Jap planes, that was good, considering that we were in the center of the group with ships and bigger guns than ours surrounding the carriers, not only that but our main battery wee only 40 MM AA guns, The crew was always anxious, after all we were a bunch of young kids who did not know any better, LOL, I don't think we were nervous, I think it was more of being afraid of the unknown, once the planes got close to the ship that feeling left us and it was time to fight, you don't have time to think or to be afraid. When we first joined the fleet we had a couple of small groups, each with two or three carriers, but as the fleet grew, we would have four task groups in one task force and we were in a position to not take any crap from the Japs.In 44 it was a sight to see the task groups, I don't think that it will ever be seen again, all the ships and planes, a sight I will never forget, the flight deck was always a busy place with the props spinning and all the noise, a few planes would be catapulted up and the others would make deck runs, than they would all for up and off to the war. We would than get ready for their return and sweat it out, it was a long day, we were always proud to paint the Jap kills on our bridge for the planes shot down but the ships guns and also on the Island Structure we would put the planes shot down by our air groups and also the planes would put their kills on their planes and these were all verified by their gun cameras.
We knew that this time we were going to meet the Jap Fleet , who so far had not come out to fight us, they had war ships at Truk plus their land base bombers so this was not going to be a picnic, we all fired up but then the fear of the unknown came into play, to me, this was the worst part of being out there, your luck has to run out some time, so far we have been lucky, but i thought that this may be the time, I have to admit that I was scared, not for me, because the end can come fast, but I was more concerned about my family, if it had been my destiny to die in the war than so be it, but I was more worried about my parents, who I pressured into signing the papers for me so I could go into the Navy, for 3 days we sneaked westward to the Caroline Islands, Truk was part of this chain, then a Jap patrol bomber was picked up on shops Radar, one of the groups pilot spotted him and shot him down, but we did not know if he has seen us or and reported us.
On Feb. 16 the target was only about 20 minutes flying time away and the Task Groups planes were Launched, by noon time 204 Jap planes were destroyed, of which 127 were blown out of the sky and their pilots joined their ancestors, we don't pick up Jap pilots who had been shot down, hell the Japs themselves never tried find the downed pilots and why in the hell should we worry about the yellow bastards, A few Jap planes got close to us but the pilots from my ship shot down 2 of them. The Jap fleet never came out to meet us, they had hauled ass out of Truk, I guess they knew better than come out and face us.
Man we were a happy fleet of sailors and I guess to dumb to real y be scared shitless and the Admiral was taking us to the Marianas Island group to raise some hell, the Islands were only 1500 moles from Tokyo, remember this was in Feb. of 1944, There are a group of Island there, Saipan, Guam, and more. Saipan was a lot like Oahu, mountains and all and the places we had bombed and landed were flat atolls, this would be different.
After fueling at sea we hauled ass for Saipan, On Feb.21, in the later part of the day a Jap patrol Bomber spotted us, I am sure he reported us, All night long they sent planes out after us, we were at our battle stations the entire night, they were harassing us, dropping flares to locate us, they lost about 15 or 20 planes that night with out doing any damage to the ships in the Task Group. We were lucky again. At dawn we launched our air attack on the Islands, Suddenly a group of Jap bombers came in, just above the water, ready to drop torpedoes on the ships, this one plane was headed for us, the other ships and us started firing at him, he just kept coming, he was headed for the bridge, where I worked and where the command of the ship is, knowing that if he knocked out the command they could finish us off, he kept coming and I knew this was going to be my last day in this world, he could not possibly miss us, he was real close to the water, as a matter of fact our flight deck was higher than he was, the Captain swung the ship and he just cleared our radar screen and crashed on the other side of the ship, I was standing close to our air officer, who was a long time flyer and he said that it was impossible to do that with an airplane, that not even a fighter plane could pull up that fast and clear the flight deck, I leave up to you to figure it out, I know who did that and it was no man, a lot of us got religion that day. A half hour later another twin engine bomber got past the screen of surrounding ships and came for us, about 30 feet above the water his guns firing at us and ready to drop his torpedo, we put so much fire power in him that when he was about a 1000 feet from us he went down ahead of us, some more good Japs were made that day, Like Admiral Halsey said, " the only good Jap is one who has been dead six months". A few minutes later another Jap plane a bomb close to another carrier and than he came for us and we knocked his ass out of the sky, What a day, the ships guns had shot down 3 Jap Planes and we painted the Jap Flags on the Bridge. The task groups planes bombed the Islands again and on Feb. 26 we headed back to the fleet anchorage at Majuro, what an action filled two weeks we had just had and I am sure that there were a lot of people who had skid marks on their shorts, it is terrifying to see a plane attacking you with his guns firing, another mission over with, we are getting closer to the Japs homeland and closer to ending the frigging war and going home, little did we know what was in store for us.
On March 15 we left Majuro and we were 3 task groups with 4 carriers each and all the support ships, cruisers, Battle ships, Destroyers, What a showing for what we had when we joined the fleet, when we joined with another carrier we became the 4 and 5 carrier to join the fleet.
We made a short stop over in Espiritu Santos. This was the first place we could buy beer, but as we left the ship they gave us 2 chits to get two free cans of beer. Well I was on duty there with the Officer Of The Deck and I got a handful of chits when no one was looking, LOL, well when I went ashore I had enough chits to get a case of beer, they were having an USO Show there featuring Ray Milland, I was in the front row sitting in the case of beer, drinking some and giving some away. After a few beers I wasn't feeling any pain and he had some girls his troupe and I yelled out "Here I am you lucky girls". I guess I made an ass out of myself, well it wasn't the first time nor was it the last.
Sometimes when our ships were anchored close to shore, Japs would come down at night and swim out to the ship and tie some charges to the screws [propellers], so at night we had marines posted on the flight deck with machine guns just in case the Yellow Bastards came close to our ship. Well that time at Espiritu one of our boats was coming back to the ship and it was real dark. There were some pilots on the boat and the ships Athletic Director. The marine heard the engine on the boat but could not recognize it because of the darkness so he yelled out "boat ahoy, boat ahoy" and it kept on coming. Well hell with the noise of the boat engine and the splashing of the water on the boat they could not hear the Marine. The Marine waited and yelled again and than opened fire on the boat. The boat hauled ass out of there and did not return to the ship until daybreak. The Athletic Director did not like the Marines after that.
We soon found out that we had headed for Espiritu Santos to assemble for the bombing of Palau in the Eastern Caroline Islands. We got the following message from Admiral Mitscher, "we are enroute to give Palau a treatment, Japs probably think something is coming, but don't know when or where, it behooves us to be on our toes, any Jap that gets in reach of your guns and bombs and I hope there are plenty will get the prescribed treatment" our planes from my ship shot down 3 planes, the entire task force destroyed over 200 planes, sinking 31 ships of all sizes and types and damaging 18 others, all with very little loss of aircraft and none of our ships were damaged. The rest of our planes were destroying the anti air craft facilities, wharves, barracks and other ground targets including seven grounded planes, With another job well done we headed for our fleet anchorage at Majuro.
On April 12, our Captain, Alfred M.Pride, was promoted to Rear Admiral, when it was announced on the ships P A System the crew went bananas and I swear the ship vibrated from all the yells and screams, this man had been one of us, an ex enlisted man who was loved by every man on the ship, we were happy for him but sad to lose him and wondering who his replacement would Be. We were all really concerned. This man Pride, had taken his ship with a bunch of kids and made them a fine, tough and responsible crew, he made the boys into men with his superb leadership.
The new Captain, John Perry had an opposite personality, rough, tough, cussing, chain smoking coffee drinking sailor who I found out later was quite a drinker ashore.
With our new Captain we Left Majuro and we were headed for Hollandia in New Guiena, we have been taking base after base away from the Japs on our way to Tokyo. We were going to support Mac Arthurs troops landing there, you can bet your sweet ass that dug out Doug would not be there, my opinion he was nothing but a glory hound, could not walk in the shoes of our admirals who were always with us and the much loved Bull Haley, a sailors sailor.
Well, we hit Hollandia on the birthday of a well know person, me, I celebrated my 20 Th. birthday on April 21, along way from home. We did our usual at Hollandia, bomb them, destroy air planes and strafing the barracks and such, our job was done there and we were on our way back to Majuro but the Admiral thought it would be nice to bomb Truk again, have to let the Japs there know we have not forgotten them, the yellow sons a bitches, We, the task group, shot down 60 Japs planes and destroyed 60 more on the ground, a few Japs tried to come out and greet us but we sent the bastards to meet their ancestors in hell. There were no Jap ships to be found and their once pearl Harbor was as useless as tits on a bull. So we go back to Majuro to rest a bit and get ready for the next conquest
The entire month of May was spent at the Fleet Anchorage's at Majuro and Kwajalein, it was good to rest up, we still had plenty to do, correct charts clean the bridge area where we worked at sea, time to write letter and to go ashore in the God forsaken atolls for two beers, sometimes it was not even worth it, we had movies every night on the flight deck and got our long awaited mail from home, Busy time answering it all and we could not say much, all our out going mail was censored, we could not have cameras, we could not keep a diary so I guess that we were prisoners, only difference we got shot at. Still it was a hell'va lot better than the Army and Marines had it.
The food was good, we would load up with food, fuel oil for the ship, gasoline for our planes and bombs and other munitions that we dropped on the Japs. At sea you go to your battle station one hour before sunrise for an hours and one hour at sunset, every day, it was routine, than you also went during the real thing, but in port no battle stations, even had to wear the whit uniforms, at sea it was dungarees all the time and most of the time no hats, I liked that, to this day I don't wear a hat.
Well time to get our asses in gear and go kill more frigging Japs, our favorite past time, So on June 6, 1944, while the landings were going on in Europe [ D Day] we set out with 17 carriers, all the supports ships and headed for Marianas Islands , 1200 miles away, The Japs sensed that we were coming because even they knew we had to take the Marianas on our way to Tokyo. On June 11 we [the task group] launched aircraft to clear the skies of Jap planes over the Marianas, A lot of Jap planes were shot out of the sky and a lot damaged on the ground but they still had planes on Iwo Jima and the Bonin Islands that they could send down to attack us. We moved north and on June 15 we attacked Haha Jima and Chichi Jima, the weather was bad, rough seas, the ship was rolling and pitching and made it very dangerous for flight operations, late that evening one of our planes crashed into the barriers, hit the island structure [the bridge area] and caught fire, we were all trapped on the bridge, our only exit was blocked by the burning plane, the only escape was to jump 69 feet to the water, it was almost dark and that really was not a good choice, so we stayed away from the rising flames for about 30 minutes before the fire was put out, damn skid marks on my shorts again, you get to wondering how God damn long will your luck hold out, some times I said piss on it, if I get killed I get killed, I really never expected to go home, but than again we all want to live.
We were only 700 miles from Tokyo and the Jap Fleet would have to come out and fight sometime, so will this be it, again, the fear of the unknown.
While the Marianas were taking Saipan word came that two Jap forces were coming out, carriers, Battle ships Cruisers, Destroyers, the Japs plan was to launch their carrier based plane to hit us and than also hit us with their land based bombers and wipe us out. What a frigging joke, don't misunderstand me, we were all concerned but we also knew we could handle them.
Still it was one of the worst days of the war for us. On this day, June 19, 1944, the biggest aerial battle of the war was fought. Our bombers went to the Jap air bases and bombed the hell out of them. But the Japs had us, so they thought. We were between their carrier based air and their land based air. At about ten in the morning the raids started. The whole fleet was surrounded by Jap planes. Radar was picking them up all over the place. All the fighter planes in the task group hauled ass out to meet the Jap planes from their carriers and their land bases, all hell was about to break loose.
Radar was picking up large groups of planes from all over, all headed for our task group. I made mention to an Ensign on the bridge that I guess this is our last day in this world, he did not help when he agreed with me.
That morning over Guam 10 of our fighters from the Belleau Wood were jumped by 20 zeros our planes shot down 10 and 3 probables, all with out a loss for us. Our Fleet's planes shot most of the attacking Jap planes down and the ships in the fleet done in the rest.
We headed west to find their carriers, it was late in the afternoon when we spotted them, 300 miles away. They were running away, frigging yellow bastards. It was late and to risk sending our planes after their carriers meant that they would not have enough gas to get back to our ships and also it would be dark. We did not do night landings in those days. Admiral Mitchner gave the word, go get them, and off went the planes from the task group carriers.
We sent 4 torpedo planes from our carrier and fighter escorts and we felt bad, we did not think we would ever see them again and the brave American naval pilots from all the carriers also knew it, but they went as ordered. All we could do on the ship was to wait and pray for them and believe me we did. They were all young men, in their twenties and a few older men. They had the guts to go. Our pilots got to the target about 7 PM, they made their run on a Jap carrier, they were attacked by Jap fighters and got by them and now were facing the anti aircraft fire from the ship, all four planes dropped their torpedoes, one plane was hit and on fire and the pilot ordered his two crewmen to jump and they did, the pilot was wounded, the plane was burning and he carried on. We had sent four torpedo bombers and six fighter plane escorts, when all the planes met to form up to come home they saw the plane that had been hit was with them, the fire was out but the plane was badly damaged and the pilot was in bad shape, it was getting dark and the wounded pilot disappeared, never to be seen again, I was standing next to the air officer when this pilot got in his plane to take off and the air officer told him to get a carrier, Brownie did and never came back, but he got the carrier, his two crewmen saw the entire battle while floating in the ocean, a Jap Battle ship tried to run them down, they were featured in Yank Magazine with their story.
All the task group planes found their way back to the carriers, some ran out of gas and landed in the water, it was now dark, to light a big spot light at night in a dark ocean was suicide, you could not even smoke out side at night, a small light can be seen a long way off, finally the Admiral said turn on the lights, it all lit up like day time, planes were landing on carriers other than their own, what a mess but we were happy, of the 10 planes we sent up only one landed on our ship, they landed on any ship that had room to land. Some pilots only had a gallon or two of gas, others ran out of gas and hand to land in the ocean, all were picked up, thank God.
The Belleau Woods Planes were given credit to sinking a Jap carrier larger than we were, I guess we were ahead of the game. This battle had been called the Marianas Turkey shoot, close to 400 Jap planes destroyed, very little losses of our planes and no US ships lost, also a book was written called "Mission Beyond Darkness", We left the group and fueled at sea and Headed for Pearl Harbor to rest And to get a ship overhaul, The first since leaving the states a year ago, even ships get tired. Here are some of the messages sent to ships from the admirals,
" The enemy knows we are coming, he knows we have left Majuro but has not found us yet, he is still searching for us, Keep a bright lookout for snoopers"
"Guam has been alerted, all hands keep sharp lookout and prepare hot lead reception for enemy planes"
"Message to all hands, we need no special incentive but Guam belongs to us, deliver every bomb and bullet where it will do the most good, destroy the yellow bastards, God be with you and good luck, " signed Admiral Clark.
On July 2nd we docked at Pear harbor, the ship was tired and so was it's crew, it was good to get back to civilization and see people other than sailors, a welcome relief. I think that in Hawaii the ratio to male and female was 200 to 1, some chance of getting a date. I never met a sailor who had a date there, the Army men stationed there would marry girls so they could have someone. I was crazy but not that crazy. The entire ship had to be painted, it was a mess and so back to the rest camp for a week and I had learned my lesson the last time, no more stupid tricks, spent most of my days writing letters home or sleeping.This time on the way back from the rest camp we were on a narrow twisting mountain road and we had to have a bus driver who wanted to be a Kamikaze Pilot, the way he wheeled that bus around the curves, we met another bus coming from the opposite direction and we side swiped him and pieces of glass from the rear view mirror come flying into the bus, a few sailors got some minor cuts.
At Pearl, I had one of two brushes with famous admirals. I was within ten feet of Admiral Nimitz when he presented some medals to our crew members on the dock at Pearl. I dont remember the date, I think it was sometime in 44 long before we came back for repairs in November. So this stay in July seems likely. When the ceremony took place, we all got off the ship and were on the pier. He came and awarded some medals to the pilots, his closing statement was "I hope next time I can give out more medals".
Our air groups had been with us from the start and now they were all replaced with new ones, They had spent more time in combat than any other group in the Navy.
We had been in Port about three weeks and the ship was in great condition so we were going to go out to sea for a few days and give our pilots some time and also check all the ship over, we had a destroyer go with us in case any of our pilots had to bail out and land in the water, also to give the crew a lot of drills to get up in shape also, we had no more than cleared the channel and got into the open ocean and we started our drills, we were at our stations for the abandon ship drill and believe it or not the damn destroyer ran into us and made a big hole in the Chief Petty Officers Galley, must of had a blind bastard for a skipper, we went back to Pearl 3 days later and got ready to go back to the frigging war.
We were to leave pear harbor and go back to sea and if I can remember back I think we got a new Executive Officer, what a friggin winner he was, never saw combat and a first class pain in the ass, to other officers and enlisted men, the new Captain seems like a good man so far, a little rough around the edges but good to his crew, a good captain knows that A happy crew is a good crew.
So we left Pearl with new air groups and a new EO, got out the charts and found out we were off to join the fleet covering the landings at Guam and Saipan, From August 3 to August 10 our planes bombed and strafed the Islands, and on the 13 of August we anchored in a new fleet anchorage at Eniwetok, bot talk about a nothing island, it was a half moon and it was ideal For an anchorage, In low tide it looked like all land and at high tide half of it was covered, the highest point was maybe 10 above the water, good swimming but not much good for anything else. I think it was here where the new XO made an a** of himself the first time, we were showing movies in the hanger deck and the officers sat in the front and the rest in the rear, we could not here it to well so we started yelling, he stopped the movie and said if that continued that would be the end of the movies for that night, so it was restarted and we started to raise hell again, well the a**hole stopped the movie, the Captain was on another ship in the Lagoon and the next day the Chaplain told the Captain what had happened the night before, when we went to the movies the second night all the enlisted men were in front and the officers were in the rear, chalk up one for us, and now we knew the captain was OK.
Continued at Biography of John DiFusco, Part Two
- John M. DiFusco
Unit History of USS Belleau Wood, CVL-24
Boot Camp Liberty - Photo of John M. DiFusco and Mother
USS Belleau Wood - En Route to Sea from Commissioning
USS Belleau Wood, CVL24 - A frontal view
Majuro Lagoon - Photo of Boats of U.S.S. Belleau Wood 2/1944
Marianas - Photo of 2/22/1944
My Closest Friend - Crew Member of USS YW 112, 1945
John Di Fusco - Before Retirement
Kamikaze Hit on USS Belleau Wood - Photo of 10/30/1944
Kamikaze Hit on USS Belleau Wood, 2nd view - 2nd Photo of 10/30/1944
Kamikaze Hit on USS Belleau Wood, 3rnd view - 3rd Photo of 10/30/1944
More of the Crew - Crew of USS YW 112, San Francisco 1945
Motley Crew - Crew of USS YW 112, 1945
We Got Even - Photo of 1945
With Dad - John Di Fusco with Father Age 1
USS Cabot - Recent Photo USS Cabot, Belleau Wood Sister-ship
San Francisco - Photo of John M. DiFusco, 1/1945
At The Beach - Photo of John M. DiFusco, 1946
Quartermaster, A Story by John DiFusco
Reunion - Photo of John M. DiFusco and comrades 1987
At The Wheel Again - Photo of 1987 on USS Saratoga
San Diego Reunion - Photo of crew reunion on new Belleau Wood, 1989
USS Belleau Wood, LHA3 - Photo of The Modern Day Ship Where 1989 Reunion Photos Taken
USS Belleau Wood, LHA3, Description, with link to home page of modern Belleau Wood, Use Back Key To Return
Bookcase, Photograph of Artwork of John DiFusco
Fireplace Screens, Photograph of Artwork of John DiFusco
Frames, Photograph of Artwork of John DiFusco
Back To Justin Oral History, Navy Biographies
Please Share your Stories! E-mail the Curator to share or discuss or with any questions!