Mr. Johnson, USMC – Part II

Yes, Mr. Johnson was in for it.

The carnage he was to experience would be absent even from the worst possible nightmare a nineteen year old boy can possibly have dreamed.

Violence no young boy of 19 should have to endure.

He would have two lives after he stepped into that Marine Corps recruiting station: one of reality during the day and of a nightmare he would never awaken from at night.

____________________________

I took them to breakfast for a belated 66th wedding anniversary and 88th birthdays. It’s softened as that’s how Marge wanted it.  Seal Beach, CA. August 14, 2011.

I was not close to Mr. Johnson as I was to Old Man Jack; perhaps it was because for the first five years after I moved into this patriotic Naval neighborhood, he and his good wife Marge traveled about the US in their motorhome.  They were gone for perhaps six to eight months out of the year.  Man, did they enjoy seeing the US of A.  After all, he fought for her.

He stayed indoors most of the time when at home while Marge would walkabout during the warm summer nights with her wine and chat with neighbors and me.  She enjoyed her Chablis very much.  Slowly, her legs would give way to age.  Mr. Johnson’s, too.

____________________________

In the early part of 1942, Mr. Johnson found himself on a little boat out in the middle of the Pacific – the Big E.

The USS Enterprise.

CV-6.

She was one of only three operational carriers in the Pacific.  The Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown.

The Battle for Midway

He was on his way to the Battle of Midway (Mr. Johnson did not tell me that.  Old Man Jack did.).  June of 1942.

A tremendous gamble of scarce naval assets and young men by Admiral Nimitz.

PFC Doreston “Johnnie” Johnson manned her anti-aircraft batteries as a US Marine.

Thousands of young lives were lost during the most critical sea battle – on both sides.  But the critical gamble paid off for the US.  The Japanese Imperial Navy lost four carriers.  They would never recover.

But we lost the Yorktown.  A tremendous loss for the United States…but the tide of war changed.

The USS Yorktown on fire at the crucial Battle of Midway. She would later be sunk.

Miraculously, the Enterprise escaped damage.

And as far as I understand, so did the young boy from Basile, Louisiana, Mr. Johnson.

At least physically.

_________________________

Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands Campaign

His next trial would be Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands campaign.

It would be an insult to to all the brave men that were there if I were to even try and express in writing what brutal sea combat was like.

I was not there.  But every young man there thought – every second – that there was a bomb coming at him.  Constantly.

Like hearing shrapnel from near bomb misses ricocheting off the batteries – or striking flesh.  The deafening, unending thundering of “whump-whump-whump” from AA batteries.  The yelling.  The sound of a mortally wounded enemy plane crashing into the water nearby with a likewise young pilot.  The screams of wounded or dying boys.

This is taken from a naval summary: “After a month of rest and overhaul, Enterprise sailed on 15 July for the South Pacific where she joined TF 61 to support the amphibious landings in the Solomon Islands on 8 August. For the next 2 weeks, the carrier and her planes guarded seaborne communication lines southwest of the Solomons. On 24 August a strong Japanese force was sighted some 200 miles north of Guadalcanal and TF 61 sent planes to the attack. An enemy light carrier was sent to the bottom and the Japanese troops intended for Guadalcanal were forced back. Enterprise suffered most heavily of the United States ships, 3 direct hits and 4 near misses killed 74, wounded 95, and inflicted serious damage on the carrier. But well-trained damage control parties, and quick, hard work patched her up so that she was able to return to Hawaii under her own power.”

“Repaired at Pearl Harbor from 10 September to 16 October, Enterprise departed once more for the South Pacific where with Hornet, she formed TF 61. On 26 October, Enterprise scout planes located a Japanese carrier force and the Battle of the Santa Cruz Island was underway. Enterprise aircraft struck carriers, battleships, and cruisers during the struggle, while the “Big E” herself underwent intensive attack. Hit twice by bombs, Enterprise lost 44 killed and had 75 wounded. Despite serious damage, she continued in action and took on board a large number of planes from Hornet when that carrier had to be abandoned. Though the American losses of a carrier and a destroyer were more severe than the Japanese loss of one light cruiser, the battle gained priceless time to reinforce Guadalcanal against the next enemy onslaught.

Regardless of who is correct – and we’ll never know for obvious reasons – Enterprise gunners shot down more planes at Eastern Solomons in 15 minutes and at Santa Cruz in 25 minutes than did the vast majority of all battleships, carriers, cruisers and destroyers throughout the entire war.

She was the last operating carrier in the Pacific.”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the violence of World War II, perhaps these photos will give you an idea.

Try – just try – to imagine you are on that ship…  Nineteen years old.  The Japanese planes are shooting at you and dropping bombs on you.  Dead and wounded boys are everywhere.  Fires are raging…  The ship is listing…and through all this, you must continue to man your anti-aircraft guns…  Protecting the ship and the lives of your fellow Americans.

A Japanese bomb explodes on the USS Enterprise
One of the direct bomb hits.  All the young men in this area (Gun Group 3) were killed. Many could not be found.
The USS Enterprise under attack. A near miss but men were killed or wounded by the shrapnel.
The USS Enterprise on fire. August 24, 1942. Mr. Johnson was on her.
A Val bomber on fire goes past the radar mast on the USS Enterprise. Perhaps one of Mr. Johnson’s rounds hit it.
Damaged hull from one of the near misses.
More hull damage from bomb shrapnel.
The USS Enterprise listing from battle damage.
Burning Japanese planes seen from the deck of the Enterprise. That’s how close they were. Up close and very personal.  Aug. 24, 1942.
Burial service at sea for 44 of the men after the battle at Santa Cruz. Oct 27 1942

Remember these young boys.  I always will.

Mr. Johnson was one of them.

Mr. Johnson was one of those wounded.

Twice.

And I have proof of his valor and guts on board as a US Marine.

___________________________

More to come in Part III.

29 thoughts on “Mr. Johnson, USMC – Part II”

    1. To think… Even if a young man survived the combat, the sheer terror and sights would plague ALL of them from that day on. Indeed, we should ALWAYS remember them – and what is sad is that we will largely not know who they were individually. I am hoping, however, to allow readers to know two of them here.

  1. Oh Koji, the picture of the Enterprise on fire and your comment that Mr. Johnson was on her. That image…trying to picture the reality of those young men on that ship. You are honoring him, and them all. God bless them. All.

  2. We may have to bury the bodies of our fallen soldiers, sailors and airmen, but their spirit can never be buried. God bless them all, for now and ever more.

  3. very touching – the pictures gave me time to reflect on those young men and the reality of what they had to endure. My husband and I were discussing the war in the Pacific and we feel sometimes that it is the forgotten war, thank you for remembering and sharing these stories so that we will never forget.

    1. My best to your husband… My mission will be fulfilled if ONE American takes hold of their sacrifices and passes it down to the next generation…no matter what country or nationality.

  4. KOJI, You never cease to amaze me with your writing ability……..We have never met but seem to know each other, how awsome is that !! Our common interest in Roush Mustangs have formed our friendship…..As you know My Dad as well as Ward’s were both in WW II……My Dad in the Aleution Islands in the Army/AirCorps and Ward’s Dad in the Army at Hickam Field at the time of the attack on America in the Pearl Harbor bombing…..That Anniversary will be tomorrow , December 7 th……..I just hope that our younger generation understands what Hero’s we have that have defended our Great Country in history and at the present time …… This war is everybit as deadly as the wars of the past and with only 1% of Americans in our military now, I think Freedom is being taken for granted ……..That should never happen now or in the future……God Bless Our Military Hero’s ………

    1. Thank you so much for your heartfelt comments and for going through the registration process to do so! And as for your representatives from the Greatest Generation, I salute them. Indeed, I am so concerned of the desk jockeys thinking the next wars will be electronically fought… drones, satellites, what have you. But one nuke or virus can take away our liberties in an instant… I share your concerns fully… Thanks again!! Long live Ford Mustangs! 🙂

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