Thursday, September 23, 2021

An awful lot of sore ears

’We did enough bombarding to last us a lifetime, I guess the Cleveland and us still hold the title of firing more shells than any other ship in this invasion and that includes the Japs and maybe any warship afloat anywhere in the world. There are an awful lot of sore ears, the cotton and ear plugs are no good.’ This is able seaman and gunner, James J. Fahey, who died 30 years ago today. He served on a light cruiser in the Japanese naval theatre of WW2, and, secretly, kept a diary with detailed accounts of the fierce war going on around him, ‘with all its glory and horror, achievement and boredom’.

Fahey was born in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York in 1918. Both of his parents died when he was very young, leaving him and his siblings to be raised with an uncle’s family in Waltham, Massachusetts. He enlisted in the navy in 1942, and six weeks later boarded the light cruiser U.S.S. Montpelier with the rank Seaman First Class, charged with firing a 40 millimetre machine gun. The vessel fought in nearly every battle in the South and Central Pacific achieving 13 battle stars, the most of any ship in the Pacific during World War II. The Montpelier was also among the first ships to visit Hiroshima after the bombing, where Fahey walked through the city - later suffering health problems from the radiation poisoning. On returning to Waltham, he worked as a rubbish collector and later drove a rubbish truck.

During the war, Fahey kept a diary - against all regulations - on any paper he could find. Back home, at the end of 1945, he hid these scraps in a tin box under his bed. In 1960, Samuel Elliot Morrison, an admiral on the Montpelier, was writing a memoir about his service during the war and asked Fahey for his memories. Fahey offered his diary and the admiral was astounded by its contents. He suggested Fahey show it to the publisher Houghton Mifflin who then published it as Pacific War Diary, 1942-1945 (1963). The book was a bestseller, and led to Fahey receiving an award from the city of Waltham. He was also honoured with a visit to President John F. Kennedy to gift him a copy of the book. In 1964, he was recognised as the national Garbage Man of the Year.

Fahey donated all of his proceeds from the book to help build Our Lady of Dolors, a Roman Catholic Church in the village of Mettupatti in southern India. With money donated by Waltham residents, he traveled there in 1967 to be an honoured guest at the church’s dedication. And three years later he married Adele (Fuller) Darrah there. He died on 23 September 1991. A little further information is available from the United States Naval Academy, the The JFK Library, The Chicago Tribune, or Good Reads.

Some pages of Pacific War Diary 1942-1945, reissued in 2003, can be read at Googlebooks. Morison contributed a short foreword to the first edition of the book. He concludes: ‘The great merit of Mr. Fahey’s diary is that it gives the American bluejacket’s point of view about the naval war in the Pacific, with all its glory and horror, achievement and boredom; it tells how sailors felt going into battle, their opinions of their officers, their hunger of Okinawa when the long logistics line grew thin, and their fortitude in meeting the menace of the Kamikaze Corps.’

Here are several extracts from the diary.

7 October 1942
‘I got up early this morning for my trip to Boston, on my way to Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Chicago, Illinois.

Before leaving I shook my father’s hand and kissed him goodbye.

It was a clear cool morning as my sister Mary, brother John and I headed for the bus at the corner of Cedar Street. The bus and trolley car were crowded with people going to work. When we reached the Post Office Building in Boston I shook John’s hand and kissed Mary goodbye.

After a long tiresome day of hanging around we were finally on our way to the train station. The group was very large and they came from the New England states. We were called the Lexington Volunteers in honor of the carrier Lexington. It was sunk by the Japanese Navy May 7, 1942, in the battle of the Coral Sea.

With a big band leading the way we marched through downtown Boston before thousands of people. It took about half an hour to reach the North Station and at 5:30 P.M. we were on our way.

When the train passed through my city it was beginning to get dark and I could picture the folks at home having supper. There would be an empty place at the table for some time. It would have been very easy for me to feel sad and lonely with these thoughts in my mind but we should not give in to our feelings. If we always gave in to our feelings instead of our judgment we would fall by the wayside when the going got rough.

It will be a long tiresome trip and our bed will be the seat we sit in, two to a seat.’

17 June 1944
‘Well here I am back again with my pen in hand, last Tuesday June 13, 1944 was the last time I wrote in the diary, good old number thirteen is still my lucky number, a lot of things have happened since I last wrote. I am sitting on the communication deck, quite a bit of it has been blown away, the concussion from our guns did it. We fired the 5 & 6 inch guns from Wed. morning at 3 a.m. until Saturday morning at 7 a.m.

We did enough bombarding to last us a lifetime, I guess the Cleveland and us still hold the title of firing more shells than any other ship in this invasion and that includes the Japs and maybe any warship afloat anywhere in the world. There are an awful lot of sore ears, the cotton and ear plugs are no good. I will try to write down some of the many things that happened and what I saw. I do not know how to begin, I am no newspaper reporter, but here goes. 

Wednesday morning at 2 a.m. June 14, 1944 all hands went to battle stations and stayed there until 7:30 a.m., Sat. morning June 17, 1944, you can just imagine the few winks of sleep we got in that time. We also had to get more ammunition in the meantime, now back to my story of what happened. About 3 a.m. Wed. morning a Jap sub surfaced and one of our destroyers sunk it. The ships firing made a good target in the dark, about 4:30 a.m. the same morning a big Jap cargo ship tried to sneak out of Saipan, but we sent one of our destroyers after it and they sunk it. We could see the high hills of Saipan, it was rather dark. Our guns continued to fire all day, we were very close to land. In the daytime we fired low and point blank, but at night we fired higher and further into the shore. Hollywood could get some great pictures, it was like a movie. Big alcohol plants were blown sky high, assembly plants, oil storage plants, ammunition dumps, miles of sugar cane, buildings, railroads, trains, trucks, etc., not to mention the military side of the picture, such as thousands of troops, planes, tanks, airfields etc. Thick smoke miles high was all over the island. I never saw anything like it before, it was like the great Chicago fire. Any large city would be in ruins if it took the shells and bombs Saipan took for almost a week. Our planes spotted for us, and we would knock the targets sky high, with direct hits. One time 25 Japs ran into a building and we got direct hits on it blowing it sky high. You could see freight cars and tracks blow up. A big ammunition dump was blown to bits. Our troops tried to take a hill with tanks, but the Japs artillery on top of it stopped them. We opened up on them and wiped them out. Another time the Japs tried to put radar and radio equipment into a truck, and we blew everything up, troops and equipment. We knocked out pillboxes etc. It was just like a movie. You could see big explosions everywhere. At night we fired a lot of star shells so our troops could see the Japs, if they tried to sneak into our lines. Our ship knocked out a twin 5 inch turret, on Magicienne Bay. Our five inch shell entered the Japanese five inch twin turret through a gun opening causing an explosion which put the Jap battery out of action, thus permitting our ships to enter Magicienne Bay without opposition. On another occasion Jap shore guns opened up on us and we were forced to put up a smoke screen. We then commenced firing on the Japs, and it was not long before we silenced their guns. The battleship California was hit by Jap shore batteries and thirty men were killed, not to mention the wounded. We fired at the Japs day and night, the idea was to have them punch drunk, but if you ask me I think some of us are also punchy. The men on the 5 & 6 inch guns had a rugged time. They were in those hot stuffy mounts and turrets all those days and nights with very little time off for rest, they spent most of the time passing the shells and powder cases into the guns and they had very little to eat. They were dirty from the dust and sweat. The deck of the mounts and turrets was covered with their perspiration, they looked like ghosts when it was over. If they did lay down to get some rest the concussion and noise from the guns shook them up and made sleep impossible. Some of the fellows passed out from exhaustion. They took quite a licking, you cannot go day and night. We had a candy bar for breakfast, two cookies and an apple for dinner, and at night we did not have very much either. The fellows on the machine guns, like myself, had it easier, not much to do. We could see everything that was going on. In the daytime it was quite a show. Our planes would go through a hail of machine gun fire, drop their bombs on the Japs and go like a bullet, straight up in the clouds and away. This island got the worst bombardment of them all. They said we landed 40,000 troops and the Japs have a good 30,000. Our Marines landed Thurs. June 15, 1944, 8:30 A.M. They ran into murderous gunfire when on their way in planes in them.

At 11:30 a.m Sat June l7, 1944 we finished carrying ammunition and left this area. We are going to join another task force. A big Jap fleet is heading this way and our job is to intercept them. They have carriers, battleship, cruisers, destroyers and subs. They are not going to lose Saipan without putting up a fight. We are on our way to the open sea and we will not see any land for some time.

This afternoon Sat. June 17, 1944 at 4 P.M. we met a task force of warships, it consisted of five battleships, the New Jersey was one of them, two big carriers, two smaller ones, one heavy cruiser, thirty destroyers and also light cruisers, the Cleveland and Birmingham are two of them. We might meet more ships later. While I was writing this at 4:05 in the evening Jap planes were picked up and all hands went to battle stations, but nothing happened. I will try to continue writing, it is up to the Japs to stop me. 

Friday while we were bombarding we received word that Japan was bombed by the Big B-29 Super Flying Fortresses. They are the largest in the world and have the longest range. They came from our base in China, a big cheer went up when the announcement came over the loudspeaker. This is the first time Japan has been hit since Jimmy Doolittle did it in 1942.

Then they flew their B-25 twin engine bombers off carriers. 

Later this evening we met another big task force. It looks like it is in four groups. It must consist of hundreds of warships, as far as the eye can see, this is a fleet now this is the Fifth Fleet, it is one piece, what a sight. Before we met on the other side of the horizon there was nothing, but later you could see little specks appear and then they got larger and before long, you could see the complete outline and then more would appear and before you knew it, the ocean was covered with all sorts of warships, as far as the eye could see. They are all very fast ships. This is the most powerful fleet of warships the world has ever seen. We have carriers, battleships, heavy and light cruisers, destroyers and submarines. This is the 5th Fleet, Admiral Spruance is in command. We are part of Task Force 58, with Admiral Marc Mitscher in command. It was a beautiful evening, as we had sunset General Quarters. We are now in no man’s sea a long way from the U.S.A. but close to Japan. I hit the sack at 8 p.m., it looks like I will get some sleep, it will be the first night’s sleep in about a week, it will be under the stars.’

7 November 1944
‘This is what happened during our stay at Pearl Harbor. I got a special pass to visit my brother Joe on Ford Island. He censors mail б days a week. He has 1 day off, and no watches to stand. His hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. He also showed me where he was on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor. He came very close to being hit by Jap machine guns and bombs. You could still see the spot where the Japs hit. He also showed me around Honolulu and we took in a pro football game, we had a nice time. The climate here is very good, you can’t beat it. Joe will have 9 years in the Navy, March 1945. He is going to put in 20 years and then retire, he will be 42 then. The people here are very small, the girls are good-looking. The war news for the last week of October said that our Navy knocked the Jap Navy out and our troops landed in the Central Philippines on Leyte. The Jap fleet lost many warships, all kinds. They called it the greatest sea battle in history, the Japs lost 64 warships. We will be out there soon. Today is election day, I think Roosevelt will get elected again. Everyone here thinks he will get in by a big margin. We left Pearl Harbor this morning at 8 a.m. for a couple of days of gunnery.’

No comments: