Nov 8, 2016
I was born on January 11, 1927 in Page, North Dakota. Later that year, my family moved to Bend.
With the war going on, my father signed for me at the age of 16 and I joined the Navy. I was 17 by the end of boot camp in San Diego.
I was then given orders to report to the USS Caperton, DD650. The Caperton joined the fleet in the Leyte Gulf where we joined up with third and fifth fleet led by Admiral Halsey aboard the USS Missouri. We then headed up to be involved in the battle of Okinawa.
We would have to run alongside the Missouri for replenishment and Admiral Halsey would sit up on the flight bridge with megaphone in hand. He would often berate us for chipped paint or not being active enough. He would say things like “Look Alive! Act like a bunch of men instead of slobs!”. One guy got fed up and gave him the finger. I remember him saying, “Aw, shut up!”. Well, the Admiral heard that and said, “I want that man. What is his name?”. No one would give it up so…I guess that is why we kind of became the Admiral’s pet. If there was something more dangerous….we had it.
We were placed on the picket duty off of Okinawa guarding the outer edges of the fleet. That meant that pretty much, if there was action, we probably were first. We spent most of our time at General Quarters.
We were fed battle rations consisting of green baloney sandwiches or spam on weevil bread……which was very very good.
My job was on the Twenty-millimeter Machine gun on the fantail….Mount 26. We never lost a guy in that battle although a few were injured from being strafed by kamikazes.
We were on the picket line and had a Kamikaze come at us from directly behind the ship. We swung our guns around at it but that put the 5 inch cannons right above our heads. When the 5 inchers went off, the concussion threw us down on the deck where I lost my hearing and had most of my teeth broken out. The records showed that I was treated with an APC…..all purpose capsule….aspirin. No record….no Purple Heart.
We were 80 miles off of the coast of Japan and scheduled to join the shore bombardment when we saw the planes overhead. B-29’s. We had no idea that it was the Enola Gay and company on their way to Hiroshima.
We were instructed to button down our sleeves and our collars and told to face the bulkhead. We were told not to look toward the shore. Now, I did what any other 18 yr old would do…..I looked and I saw the mushroom cloud.
So, after the bomb, and being Halsey’s little pet and expendable, we were the first to enter Tokyo bay right behind the minesweepers. All the buildings and houses had white sheets of surrender hanging from them. We had no idea how many guns might be pointed at us.
About an hour later, the Missouri showed up and anchored just 100 yds off our our Starboard. We remained at general quarters.
Three days later, the official ceremony convened on the Missouri and we had one of the best seats in the house. Everyone on the Missouri was in dress whites and I got to watch it from the bow of my ship in dungarees.
We were all greatly relieved as we could now back off of general quarters and we knew that there would be no invasion of Japan itself.
After the war, I got out but stayed in the reserve program while I finished graduating from Bend High.
In 1950, I re-enlisted and joined the Navy’s air transportation squadron at Barber’s Point, Hawaii. There we ferried troops and supplies to Korea during that campaign.
In the early 60’s, I was aboard the USS John W Thomason. We had sophisticated sonar aboard so on our way back home after a 10 month deployment and with our families waiting for us on the pier, the Air Force found a shadow off of the coast of California. We were dispatched and followed the submarine shadow all the way up to Seattle before we found it. We then hitched up the submarine which ended up being a large barnacled log and drug it back down to San Diego where we presented it to the Air Force.
In 1964, I was transferred to the USS Finch. We were placed on Dew Line watch out of San Francisco. The Dew line consisted of a six man raft, with a blinking light on it, and a bathometer attached. It had a 3 mile cable hooking it to the ocean bottom. For 30 days, we would patrol a 50 mile radius around the raft. During that time, we would also fish for the California Fish and Game Commision. We would come back into port with our refers full of Albacore Tuna.
One day, we were at the far end of the 50 miles, when we met up with a Russian trawler. We waved and so did they. Shortly afterwards, we realized they were heading straight for the raft. We turned around and went full steam ahead but when we got there the raft was gone.
We caught up with the Russians and steamed right alongside with our bumpers out. For miles we challenged them but they denied anything to do with the raft. We even got into a potato fight with them. Eventually, we broke away, returned to San Francisco and took another raft and cable out to the prescribed station.
We were sent to Vietnam where we patrolled some rivers until the swift boats were invented and relieved us. We were then put further out to sea where we inspected various boats for arms or explosives.
I retired from the Navy in 1970 and eventually made my way back to Central Oregon.
I am Chief Petty Officer Lawrence Zufelt……..but you can call me Red.