by Larry Guyton
A familiar face…
Even with a war that raged across the world, it was possible for two neighbor to meet 6,000 miles from home. Cpl. Joe Clark, United States Army Reserve and Lt. Cmdr. Radford Allen, United States Naval Reserve, met in New Caledonia as they fought their way across the Pacific. Clark was from Rosindale, and Allen hailed from Bladen Springs.
Although still limited in manpower and ships, the Navy started meeting Japanese forces and landing some blows of its own, however cautious.
During the month of May, two major sea battles would be fought. The carriers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown fought the Japanese carriers Shoho, Shokaku, and Zuikaku.
During the battle, the carrier Shoho was sunk, the Shokaku was severely damaged, and the Zuikau was unhurt.
On the American side, the USS Lexington was sunk, and the Yorktown severely damaged. Although the Lexington was lost, most of its crew was rescued to fight another day. Two of those men rescued were from Bladen County.
P.D. Porter Jr., a fireman second-class, and Gunner Marcus Long of Council made it safely off the sinking ship.
Long returned to his family later that same summer, and according to a news article which appeared in The Journal in July of 1942, Long received a 12-day pass, and by the time he made it home, he only had one day to spend with his family before having to return to duty. Long told a Journal reporter that the Lexington had been reported sunk by the Japanese nine different times before they actually sank it.
Fighting alongside the Lexington was the USS Yorktown, which also had a Bladen native on board, Seaman T.J Todd of Elizabethtown. Although damaged severely, the Yorktown returned to Pearl Harbor and was made ready to sail within 48 hours after docking. This refitting was remarkable considering it had been estimated the ship would need to be in drydock for three months.
The reason for the rush to get the Yorktown underway was the Battle of Midway, which was brewing and which would prove to be one of the most decisive battles of the war in the Pacific.
In the Battle of Midway, the Japanese would send 165 ships of all sizes against the 50 ships of the US Pacific Fleet. The Japanese hoped to capture the island of Midway and also deal a heavy blow on the American fleet, hopefully, to destroy the American fleet altogether.
The Americans had the advantage of knowing the Japanese intentions because they had broken the Japanese secret code. This turned out to be one of the best secrets of the war and would prove to be a major asset to the Americans.
When the battle was over, it was clearly a major victory for the Americans. The Japanese lost four carriers, one heavy cruiser, 275 planes, and 3500 men. The Americans lost one carrier, one destroyer, 132 planes, and 307 lives. The carrier sunk was the valiant Yorktown. However, Seaman Todd would survive and live to fight another day.
In August of 1942, the first land-based offensive of the war would be launched when the American landed troops on the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Island group.
Six bloody months later, the island would be in American hands, and its loss would cost Japan, once and for all, the initiative in the Southwest Pacific. England’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill said at the time, Guadalcanal was “the end of the beginning.”
Before the fight was over, the Japanese would lose over 30,000 men on the island, and the losses in air and sea battles were never known (there were no less than seven major sea engagements around the island).
The Americans lost 1,743 killed and 4,953 wounded on the island. The actual number of men lost in the sea battles was never determined.
Before the battle for the island was over, 24 warships on each side were lost. So many ships were sunk that the water around Guadalcanal was renamed Ironbottom Bay by the men who fought there.
One of the ships of the American Forces which did not go down was the APA USS President Jackson, a troop ship which would serve proudly through some of the roughest landings in the Pacific.
Joining the President Jackson in 1942 and serving for almost three years on her was Ensign Radford Allen of Bladen Springs.
Allen would emerge at the end of the war as a Lt. Commander in charge of guns on the ship. “I was overseas for 37 months,” said Allen. During that time, I made it home for two weeks during the middle of the war. We stayed busy all the time. We were involved with landings at New Georgia, New Guinea, Guam Bouganville, the Philippines, and Iwo Jima. Of these, I think that Iwo Jima was the roughest. We were supposed to be there for one-day ut ended up staying 16 days because we couldn’t get unloaded.”
Allen’s ship was primarily a troop transport, but it was designated an attack transport because of its many guns. Allen served as gunnery officer on board the ship, and it was at this time he first began to understand what the word, Kamikaze (Japanese suicide plane) meant.
“They would dive straight down on us, and unless we could literally blow them up in the air, they would crash on deck and explode.”
Once the President Jackson unloaded its cargo of 1,500 troops and their supplies, the Jackson would take wounded soldiers until it could leave the landing zone. “That was the hardest thing to get used to,” Allen said. “The smell of blood was overpowering sometimes.”
“It was funny that when we were at a beach unloading troops, we wanted to get out as quick as we could because we felt safer at sea, and the marines on board wanted to get on land as fast as they could because they felt safer there.”
No place is safe in a battle zone, but the men of Bladen County went and fought, even knowing the odds against them. Their battles were many, but yet so were their victories as they marched ahead in the war.