Nov 8, 2016
I was born in Yacolt, Washington on August 17, 1922. My twin brother and I barely made it into the world weighing only 5 lbs between us. We lost our mother at childbirth and were raised by our grandmother. My grandparents moved the family to Lapine in 1924 and that was where I grew up. I left school in the 7th grade and went home to help out on the ranch.
In October 1942, I joined the Navy. My father had been in the Navy in WWI and my brother and uncle (who was my age) had joined earlier that year. I went to boot camp in Farragut, Idaho. While there, I noticed the USS Portland in the Blue Jackets Manual. From then on, it consumed my mind. I wanted to serve on the Portland.
I was sent to Machinist school but could not do their advanced math so I opted out to join a deck crew. I was sent back to boots where I met up with others just like me. We were sent down to San Francisco to meet up with two cruisers down there that needed additional crew. To my surprise, one of them was the Portland. So, when we were mustered and marched down to the pier, I told the Sergeant at arms over and over…..”Put me on the Portland….Please, put me on the Portland.”. The line was cut, one man over from me….and I was placed on the Portland.
The others went to the other cruiser, the USS Indianapolis. I knew quite a few of those guys from our previous muster. That was the ship that took the components of the bomb over. So, you can imagine how I felt when they were left alone and sunk by the Japs. Not only did I know some of them….but, I could not swim. If I had gone there….I would not be here now.
Since the Portland was being repaired and refitted, the crew was placed on a paddle board boat. We had no idea what it was and could not figure how in the world we could ever fight in that boat. After standing a few fire watches while they worked on our ship, we were allowed to go aboard and that is where I spent the rest of my naval career.
After a shakeout cruise, we were fitted with heavy gear and sent up to Alaska to the battle for the Aleutians. We arrived and joined in on the last battle for Kiska Islands. It was there where we were involved in the infamous battle of the pips. Radar pips were picked up and it was thought that a Japanese fleet was present. The Portland along with Battleships Mississippi and Idaho expended all of their shells…..on a cloud formation. We were active in the battle of Kiska but because we were not there for the entire campaign, it was decided that we would not receive a battle star (a factor that bothered many of us.)
From there, we went down to Pearl for supplies and headed to the battle for Tarawa. The Japs knew we were coming and Tokyo Rose belittled us on the radio. She told us that they were ready for us and that we should just give up and go home. She went on to talk of an impending strike on somewhere in California. One of the guys on board the ship was struck with fear. We took him to sick bay but the Captain decided that it was not smart to listen to her anymore. I wanted to hear more but that was the last that I was able to.
After the Tarawa battle, we went on to be in the Marshall Island Operation where our captain took ill and was relieved of command. It was right after that battle that a new captain took command that would change the course of the rest of the war for us. His name was Capt. T.G.W. Settle.
He then led us through the Asiatic-Pacific Raids and the Hollandia Operation. Then after a short repair, we were active in the Western Caroline Island Operation and then on to Leyte.
In Peleliu, after assisting in the capture of the islands, we tied up to an ammunition ship. Our hatches were all open as was theirs as we began to take on ammunition. I was on the focsle when I heard the Japanese plane and watched in horror as it lined itself up on us and began its run. He dropped his bombs and missed us off to port. A hit could have sent both ships up like a tinder box. General Quarters was sounded along with the sea and anchor detail. I asked the chief boats where I should go and he said to just go to my GQ station. I sat in the powder circle waiting for us to leave. It was my scariest part of my naval career. Eventually, I felt the engines and the movement as we broke apart from the ammunition ship.
In the Leyte battle we were active in the landings and then in the battle of Surigao straits where we broke the back of the Jap fleet. The Portland was the only cruiser during the war to take on a Jap Battleship not once but twice. In Surigao, our 8 inch guns went up against the 14 inch of the Japanese. At 0400, we (along with ships around us) took on two Japanese battleships and a cruiser (Mogami). The Mogami received 4 strikes from our 8 inch guns taking out the bridge area. We pursued the Mogami and assisted in her sinking a couple of hours later. We came out unscathed. After battle stations were secured, we all came out on the deck and cheered as from one horizon to the other, all we could see were burning Jap ships. It is a sight that I will never forget.
The only downside during these battles, we blamed on MacArthur , who we also referred to as ‘Dug out Doug”. Dugout Doug left us in many of those battles low on supplies, provisions, and ammunition. In one battle, we were sent out with only 6 8 inch shells. Fortunately, we were on the back line of that battle or we would have been in dire straits.
We then went on to fight in the Mindoro and Lingayen Gulf landings and then on the battle for Corregidor. Somewhere in the midst of those battles, we were tied up to a pier in southern Philippines taking on supplies. We were tied up across from a ship that was taking on POW’s who had been saved from Jap prison camps. Our hearts went out to the men who looked like skeletons, their skin pasted to the bones beneath.
We were sent out to help clear mines and had just finished out sweeping and bringing back aboard the gear that was used when we were hit suddenly by a Typhoon. The storm hit us so fast that many of us were still out on deck. We had to work our way around the turrets to the port side of the ship. One blast of wind and pitch of the ocean sent the ship listing heavily. I grabbed an angle iron and thought my feet were going to come out from underneath me. We made our way to the side hatches and were pulled to safety from within. We rode that storm for a couple of days.
Then we joined the battle of Okinawa. The last major battle of the war. In the first day of the battle, we managed to evade 11 torpedo attacks and attempted to ram the submarine but failed. During that battle we took on many Kamikaze attacks. In all, our ship was involved in over 80 attacks of that type during the war. Our ships, once again, came out without a scratch largely due to two factors. Our gunners had discovered that if they hit the wings of the planes, the planes would veer off thus missing us. Unfortunately, a couple of other ships were hit by planes that had targeted us just by chance. The other factor was Capt Settles ability to zig zag the ship in crazy ways. At times he would take the helm himself throwing the ship from side to side and sending orders to from all ahead full, to all stop, to all back full. He drove the ship like he would drive a fine sports car.
He was also very adept at lining up firing angles (a factor that assisted us greatly when we took on the battleships in Surragao) Once, the ship was at right full rudder. The Capt went out to the bridge wing to work out firing angles. He did not notice that the swing of the ship was bringing them right at a landing craft full of Marines. The helmsman yelled out to the captain who did not hear him. The helmsman then took things into his own hands by flipping the rudder left full. The captain noticed the dilemma before that ship’s swing had taken. He ran into the bridge and yelled “Left Full rudder”. The calm helmsman spoke out, “My rudder is at left full, sir”. Capt Settle, caught by surprise, stopped and stared at the helmsman. Then he walked over and patted him on the back. He later gave the man an accommodation.
On one of attacks, I was boatswain mate of the watch. Over 200 bogies were reported headed our way. I was told to sound General Quarters. I turned to the bugler and told him, “you sound General Quarters, I am getting the heck off of this bridge”. I then ran to my GQ station.
In a kamikaze attack, the 8 inch guns did not go off. I would sit in the powder circle and listen to the guns. When the 20’s started shooting, I knew they were close in and that was when I got the most nervous. On one attack, a Jap plane had targeted the Portland. It had a large bomb attached to the bottom. As it swung in and came right at us, the forward guns sprayed at its wings. The plane flipped and landed harmlessly off to our port, floating the entire length of the ship as the crew watched. I was called up into the turret and looked out the side hatch as it floated by. “That one almost got us” , I was told.
We waited off of the coast of Okinawa after received word of the surrender. I was on watch one morning when a plane flew right over the bridge. It was a Jap and it flew right at and bombed a small cruiser. Two days later the same thing happened and this time the Pennsylvania was hit. The war was over but there were more men who were not coming home. Those incidents were kept low key as no one wanted the battle to grow back in force again.
We were sent back to the Caroline Islands to receive the Japanese surrender there at Truk. We were all in whites and I worked my way up to the front of the line. I pushed past chiefs and officers and found myself right up at the front. I was there as the Jap officers came aboard and was feet away as they signed the papers.
We were then sent homeward bound. Instead of going back to Mare Island, however, we were diverted through the Panama Canal and found ourselves in New York City. It was like a trip to an amusement park. I even got to see Woody Herman at Carnegie Hall. I marched in the parade with Admiral Nimitz down 5th avenue. It was such a long walk that we were dead tired at the end. At every intersection, there was a different band and I had to change my steps to march in step with the music.
We then participated in one of the European Magic Carpet bringing back our boys from Europe. We went straight to La Harve France where we took on guys and headed back home.
Upon arrival, I had enough points to get off and I headed home to Oregon via train. While I was gone, the Portland took its last trip. On return from Europe, it hit a huge hurricane that did more damage than any of the battles that it had been in. Upon its return, it was determined that she was best left for scrap.
In all, the Portland was given 16 battle stars. I was in 9 of those battles (10 if you count the Aleutians.) Capt Settle retired as a vice admiral and was given the distinguished Navy Cross for our battle of the Surigao straights.
After his retirement, he made the following quoted statement:
“I was fortunate to inherit a ship and a ship company who were second to none. It was my satisfaction that I was able to keep her going that way during my command. There was never a finer nor more gallant man of war’s fighting team than the Portland’s”
I am Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald D. Hicks. The D stands for the Day family of the Day ranch on Day road down in LaPine.