Four stayed, but hundreds of thousands still remember them.
Decades have passed since World War II, but those who lost their lives in the war – especially those who fought on an LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) – were honored on Wednesday afternoon at a memorial service on Mare Island in front of the USS LCS 102.
It was a bleak moment of reflection, especially for the last four LCS sailors who boarded the USS LCS-102 and cast a wreath in the Napa River together while a few dozen onlookers and other veterans watched. A fifth veteran from Vallejo, who fought in World War II and the Korean War, joined the last four surviving LCS sailors – 96-year-old Preston Edwards and Ed Desmond and 95-year-old Bill Mason and Gill Nadeau.
The USS LCS 102 is a heavily armed gunboat from World War II that has served as a floating memorial and museum of naval history on the former Mare Island naval base since 2007. It is the last remaining ship of 130 ships built in 1944 and 1945 to provide additional firepower and protect American and Allied forces in the Pacific as they hit the beaches of famous islands like Iwo Jima, the Philippines and Okinawa.
The mission of these men and their ships was to support the landing forces with gunfire all the way to shore and then stay nearby to provide supportive firepower to the men on the beach. Their enormous firepower and ability to lurk just a few hundred yards or less from shore earned them the nickname “Mighty Midgets”.
“It means a lot to me,” Mason said of the ship and himself and the other veterans who threw the wreath in the river. “Above all, that there are only four of us left. You think of many things on this ship. I think of “Burpie” who was the last surviving member of LCS-86 (the ship Mason was on). You think of the Battle of Okinawa. I’m glad they brought this ship (the LCS-102) over from Thailand so we can see it. “
Edwards made the trip all the way from North Carolina and was glad his family could be with him to see the ship again.
“It’s amazing to step on it again after all these years,” said Edwards. “All sorts of memories come back. It’s the only time I’ve seen the ship, but I wouldn’t miss this chance for the world. “
Edwards remembers what it was like to be on the LCS-70, trapped in a typhoon that seemed to lift the ship seven stories before it crashed. “The ship was going to rock and roll and you thought it was going to turn around. But it would smooth out, ”he recalls. “I was glad to serve on it.”
Landing Craft Support Museum chairman Christopher Lehman reminded the audience that within a few months, 26 of the 130 LCS ships built were either sunk or irreparably damaged – with the loss of thousands of lives. Lehman said that in February 1945, three LCS ships were sunk in just a few minutes in an attack in the middle of the night by small and fast suicide boats full of explosives.
In another battle in June 1945, the LCS 122 was attacked by Japanese kamikaze suicide planes with a direct hit on the ship’s bridge. Commanding Officer LT Richard M. McCool received the Congressional Medal of Honor for valor in rescuing his ship and rescuing sailors.
During the ceremony, a bell was rung for each of the 56 sailors who had died since their last reunion. The names were read aloud, the ship’s bell rang, and a white carnation was pinned to a wreath.
At the end of the ceremony, the group sang “God Bless America”. The somber sounds of Bag Pipes could be heard when they played “Amazing Grace”, followed by a lonely horn player playing “Taps”.
“There were four sailors here today and I’m glad they could travel and see that, but we think of the 10,000+ sailors who were lost on a day like today,” said Lehman. “I have to give absolute compliments to the Mare Island dry docks for maintaining this ship. Especially people like Bill Dunbar, Steve DeLeo and Christina Snyder. It’s such a great thing to witness and I have a feeling that most of the city doesn’t even know about it. It really is a hidden treasure in Vallejo. “
The Landing Craft Support Museum is located at 289 Waterfront Avenue on Mare Island. Tour guides offer tours through all areas of the museum ship, from the engine room to the wheelhouse. The ship is open to the public on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To learn more about the ship, the museum, and countless other stories from that period, visit www.usslcs102.org.