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After the attack...

Those are the things you remember.


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(interviewer) Well, let’s get started.
Just tell me just basically before we even
get to the Navy, tell me a little bit about
yourself; where you were born, what you did
growing up, what your parents did, that kind of thing.
(Ari Phoutrides) Well, I was born
in Seattle, Washington in 1925.
I was the—one of three children.
I had a sister—an older sister and older brother.
My father was a priest.
And because of his profession, he was
moved around the country quite a bit.
So in the first, I believe, twelve years of my
life, I spent in Seattle, Washington, Oakland,
California, Kansas City, Missouri, and Haverhill,
Massachusetts, and then came back to Seattle
where I attended high school for four years.
At the end of the four years, I went back to MIT.
I had a scholarship to that school.
And during my freshman year toward the
end of it, I decided to join the Navy.
And I left school, joined the Navy in Boston,
and that was the beginning of my Naval career.
(interviewer) Why did you choose to join the Navy and not
the Marine Corp or the Army?
(Ari) Well, I wanted to join the Marine Corp.
But at that time—I was under age of course—and at
that time, the Marines were invading Guadalcanal.
And all you saw in the headlines was the
carnage that was going on in Guadalcanal.
My mother said, “Absolutely no.”
(laughs) “I’ll let you join the Navy but not the Marines.”
So I went to the Navy.
(interviewer) Did a lot of your friends join up, too?
How old were you when you joined up?
(Ari) Let’s see, 1940.
I was still sixteen. Sixteen.
(interviewer) So just a baby.
(Ari) Just a baby. Yeah.
(interviewer) Did a bunch of your friends
join up, too, at the same time?
(Ari) No. Well, actually, no.
I can’t say that they did.
Of course, the people at MIT did not join.
Friends back in Seattle, I think eventually
they joined, but not at the same time I did.
(interviewer) Where were you when you found out Pearl Harbor
had been attacked?
(Ari) We were entertaining.
We had two Army men from Fort Lewis for dinner that day.
And I remember we had the radio on.
And they heard the announcement of Pearl Harbor
and the requirement for them to return to
the base immediately. And they just took off.
But it was a Sunday afternoon at dinner I heard it.
(interviewer) What did you think when you heard the news?
(Ari) I was shocked.
I was shocked like everybody else,
I think probably a little upset.
I didn’t like the idea of a sneak
attack and that sort of thing.
(interviewer) So you found out about Pearl Harbor.
And just like anybody else, it irritated you a little bit.
Your patriotism kicked in a little
bit and you wanted to go fight.
(Ari) I guess. Yes. Yeah. (laughter)
(interviewer) Where did you wind up joining up at?
Where did you go into service?
(Ari) Newport, Rhode Island.
Well, actually, I enlisted in Boston.
And then they sent me to Newport,
Rhode Island for my boot camp.
(interviewer) How was boot camp for you?
Had you ever experienced anything like that before?
(Ari) Not at all.
I was young, eager, and I accepted it.
It wasn’t particularly grueling. But it was different.
And I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it.
(interviewer) What did they train you for?
Did you come out as a striker?
(Ari) I came out as a striker.
Well, actually, I think it was—you
had one stripe—one white stripe.
Seaman apprentice, I remember.
But then I had the opportunity to go to school.
I applied for quartermaster school.
And I went to quartermaster school at Newport
for three months and was fortunate enough
to get a rate when I got out.
At the end of the session, they asked us
what type of ship we wanted to go on.
And I put down destroyers.
And fortunately, I got one.
(interviewer) Why did you put down destroyers and not one
of the big boys?
(Ari) I’m allergic to anything big. I really am.
I don’t like big cities. I don’t like big ships.
I don’t like big organizations, really, or big plants.
I like the smaller ones. (phone ringing)
(interviewer) Did you need to stop and get the phone?
(Ari) Just let it ring.
That’s all right.
(interviewer) So you asked for—that’s kind of rare that
you actually got to choose where you
wanted to go and actually got it.
(Ari) Yeah, that was kind of interesting.
(interviewer) I’ve heard a lot of people asking to be
put on aircraft and they got put on
minesweepers or something like that.
Farthest thing from it.
When did you pick up Laffey?
(Ari) Picked up Laffey on day of commissioning,
February the eighth, 1944, pier
number one, Boston Navy Yard.
(interviewer) So you’re a plank owner?
(Ari) I’m a plank owner.
(interviewer) Tell me, Captain Beckton, he worked that ship
into shape pretty quick.
What kind of a man was Captain Beckton?
(Ari) It’s hard to describe that man.
I had nothing but the deepest respect for
him as an individual and as an officer.
He was—I think I can truthfully say that
he was one of two officers in the whole US
Navy that I truly respected.
He was compassionate, he was a tactician,
a good seaman, he was just a good man all around.
(interviewer) He certainly proved
his medal off Okinawa in ’45.
(Ari) Oh, he certainly did.
Well, I’ll tell you when I had—I obtained—had
great faith in him was at Cherbourg.
We went into—there was a task force that
went in to bombard the—I believe they called
it Battery Hamburg.
And the purpose of the task force was to divert
the attention of the battery from the troops
coming in from the north—the south—no, from the north.
They were coming down from the north.
During that particular action, the
Germans were—had an advantage.
There was—I remember there was a haze on the water.
And they could see us by their radar.
But we could not see them.
We could not visually see their gun
flashes or anything like that.
So we were literally sitting ducks in that operation.
And practically every ship in that operation got hit.
We were not the exception either.
We got hit also.
But I do recall that one time we
were straddled by a three-gun salvo.
And I was looking at the—off the port side.
You could see—I did not see the first shell where it hit.
But I could see the second and third shell.
They were off of our beam and stern.
And of course, immediately when I saw that,
I thought, let’s get the hell out of here, to myself.
And the skipper did just the opposite.
He went right toward the beach.
And I thought, this man’s going to get us killed.
And a few seconds later, I’m not saying
the salvo would’ve hit us, but it landed
in the general area where we
would’ve been if we’d gone seaward.
So when I saw the way he outsmarted the Germans,
I figured I’ll follow him to the end of the earth.
(interviewer) I could see where that would make you feel—
(Ari) I told him that.
At one of the reunions, I said,
“Captain, I thought you were crazy.”
He just smiled, “Well, I just figured that
the Germans thought I would go to sea—go seaward.”
(interviewer) Well, tell me,
you guys get assigned to go overseas.
And you get to go to Europe.
I would imagine having read about the actions
of Guadalcanal and Pearl Harbor, you probably
wanted to go—I’m assuming—wanted to go
fight the Japanese and probably could care
less about the Germans.
What were your feelings on that?
Or did you care?
(Ari) No, I just wanted to see action.
I didn’t care whether Japanese—you see, I
didn’t have any—I was surprised, I was
angry with what the Japanese did.
But at the same time, I had a lot of Japanese friends.
So I think that kind of tempered my feelings.
In fact, a third of our school was Japanese.
I’ll never forget that.
(interviewer) So you didn’t carry a deep hatred for them.
(Ari) No, no. I never carried a deep hatred from them.
I thought they were crazy, especially the Kamikazes.
(laughs) But no, I had no deep hatred for them.
Some of the men aboard ship did and still do.
I mean, they still do.
And you know, I don’t pass judgment on them.
(interviewer) You guys were part of the Normandy invasion.
You were part of the task force at that time
which was the largest task force ever put to sea.
What was that like?
What did you see? What was going on?
(Ari) Seth, you wouldn’t believe it.
We knew we were in the Invasion of France.
We knew were in Utah Beach.
But I don’t think any of us knew—well,
I know we didn’t know—but we didn’t
understand the enormity of that operation.
We were just a small unit.
We were escorting some LC—I think
it was LCIs to the beachhead.
So all we saw, basically, were those few ships around us.
And the day of the invasion, of course you
saw the ship in the background firing and
you saw the planes overhead, but you didn’t
get any idea of the scope of the operation.
It was kind of—the only time I realized how
bit it was, Seth, was when I went back
and toured Normandy from Gold Beach right on down to Utah.
Then I realized what a big, big undertaking that was.
(interviewer) When did you go back?
(Ari) I think it was ’95. Ninety-five, ’96.
(interviewer) Right after the fiftieth.
(Ari) Yeah.
(interviewer) Tell me what happened with Laffey off the
coast of Normandy there in June.
(Ari) Well, it was pretty uneventful, I think, the
first day we went in.
we escorted the RCIs in the beachhead, then
we retired to seaward to screen the heavies
against possible—they call them e-boats
which is like a torpedo boat—German torpedo boat.
And then the next couple of days, we did
go in closer and bombard selected targets.
And then we’d patrol at night.
I remember one night we chased a bunch of
E-boats that we saw on our radar screen. Fired at them.
We don’t know if we hit them or not.
It was hard to determine.
And that was boom.
We just continually patrolled the area at night.
And this was kind of nerve-wracking only because
the Germans would come over and drop flares.
And they had flares that would
last for, I swear, ten minutes.
You could read a newspaper by them.
Then they’d drop mines.
They wouldn’t make bombing runs on us or anything like that.
They’d just drop mines and hope
that one of the ships would hit.
And they did. A few of the ships did.
In fact, it was the Meredith which went over
on the convoy that was hit by a mine and sank.
But that was the only thing I remember
about the invasion itself at Utah.
And of course, I told you the story about Sherbert.
That was another thing.
And I kind of chuckled to myself because I
read reports of that action afterwards and
you’d swear we had obliterated the Germans.
It was just the other way around.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a dog
with its tail between its hind legs.
That’s how that task force was.
They just took off.
They couldn’t do anything. (laughs)
(interviewer) You guys took a hit out there that you didn’t
even know about.
(Ari) We didn’t know about that hit. Not.
(interviewer) What happened? How’d that go down?
(Ari) Well, that three-gun salvo that I told you
about that I spotted, the first one actually hit the bow.
And we didn’t know it hit the bow.
None of us saw it, of course.
There wasn’t any explosion or anything.
I think it was a dud, fortunately.
But one of the electricians who was monitoring
the electrical gauges back aft noticed that
there was a break, I guess, in the degaussing coil signal.
And you know what a degaussing coil is?
(interviewer) Isn’t it for the mines?
(Ari) The mines. Yeah.
It sets up another magnetic field which supposedly
offsets the magnetic field of the magnetic mine.
And so the skipper sent the—he was our chief
electrician, Al—oh, geez—I know it like
it was my own name.
Al was his first name, anyway.
He sent to inspect the degaussing coil.
And when he came up to the forward part of
the ship in the bosun’s locker, he saw the shell there.
And then after that, they got a group of men
down there and pulled it out and dumped it
over the side.
(interviewer) That had to have been a pucker moment, I guess
you could say, seeing that big old shell in there.
Mr. Deluskey said that it was a [inaudible] shell.
There’s the possibility that slave labor—and it’s true.
I mean, it was a fairly common occurrence.
(Ari) My theory was that the Germans had never seen
a 2,200-ton destroyer before.
And from a distance, Seth, they look like a cruiser.
And I think they used an armor-piercing, eight-inch
shell thinking it was a cruiser and the three-eighths
inch metal skin of our ship was not
thick enough to detonate the shell.
That’s my theory anyway rather than the sabotage.
I don’t know. (laughs)
(interviewer) Sabotage sounds sexier.
(Ari) Yeah, I know. (laughter)
(interviewer) But let’s talk about that for a second.
The whole tin cans—destroyers are called tin cans.
You guys didn’t have much armor on that thing.
Even the turrets—
(Ari) Three-eighths.
Three-eighths. That’s all it is.
(interviewer) Armor-piercing ammo.
Did that make you guys feel a little uneasy?
(Ari) No, not at all.
(interviewer) She was fast.
(Ari) They were fast. They were fast.
On our shakedown cruise, the maximum speed I
believe was thirty-seven and a half knots
which is pretty good.
That’s what I liked about a destroyer. It was fast.
And it was always moving.
It was mobile.
And it had a variety of jobs to do.
That made it interesting, as a young man anyway.
(interviewer) Sure.
Were you guys—you’re done and off the
coast of Normandy and you head back home.
Well, you had to be repaired.
(Ari) We went back to Boston. Boston Navy Yard.
They made alterations at the bridge, thank God.
And they put on some new fire control radar.
Certainly, they put a new surface radar and air radar.
And also, I think they improved the sonar gear.
Upgraded that.
(interviewer) You said they improved the bridge. Thank God.
(Ari) Oh, yeah.
(interviewer) Wasn’t the bridge very low?
(Ari) It was low, and it was—it did not have an
outer bridge to it in the forward part of the bridge.
It was like, what do they call it, a British-type
bridge where you’re hoping it came straight down.
You couldn’t walk out in front of it.
And they made that alteration which was a great alteration.
(interviewer) So the captain could get outside.
(Ari) Could get outside and look forward. Yeah.
(interviewer) And did they raise the roof?
(Ari) Oh, they raised the roof. Yeah.
I heard a story about that.
I don’t know how true it is.
(laughs) I forgot what the story was about
somebody had bumped their head or something.
(interviewer) Yeah, I read that in Beckton’s book.
He said there were stories about guys
bashing their heads on the top of the—
(Ari) Well, I wasn’t that tall.
So I didn’t see. (laughter)
(interviewer) When you guys get orders to the Pacific and
then you head out there and join
the fleet, what was going on?
You guys went to the canal and then went
straight from there to Pearl Harbor?
(Ari) No. Yeah, we went to Pearl Harbor.
And we stayed here about a month.
And several exercises, torpedo
exercises and gunnery exercises.
And after that period, they sent us to the Ford area.
Yeah, we went by way of Ulithi.
And then from Ulithi, I think—no, no, it was Enewetak.
Excuse me, Enewetak.
And then we went—we were dispatched to Australia.
And just before we got above the equator,
we had orders to turn around and go up to
the Philippine area.
And then from then on, it was continuous.
I think we had four or five invasions.
And finally, Okinawa.
(interviewer) Tell me about—Mr. Deluskey, he talked about
it a pretty good length—Ormoc Bay.
What happened there?
(Ari) Ormoc Bay was a rather interesting one.
They sent—the Army was coming down, I guess,
from the original beachhead on either side.
And I believe the Navy wanted to
establish—wanted to cut that area in half.
So they instituted a landing—or I guess
the Army did with the help of the Navy.
And that’s all I know about the tactical part of it.
But as far as the Navy part of it
goes, it was a small invasion.
It consisted mostly of destroyers, some
LCIs, some rocket-launching craft.
We approached the beachhead, I remember, without
any problems at all, got in very close to
the beach and bombarded.
In fact, I remember picking up my binoculars
and looking at the beachhead, and I saw this
one Japanese guy come out of his bunker
just running like hell up the hill.
And we were that close.
But then on the return from that—I think we
stayed there maybe three or four hours—but
on the return to Leyte—was it Leyte?
Yeah, Leyte—we ran into quite a few kamikazes,
not—our ship wasn’t attacked it, but the
other ships in the formation were. I remember that.
I remember it being protected by P38s.
P38s were an interesting plane because whenever
they got close to you, they’d always bank.
So you could see their twin booms.
And you would fire at them because we had
a tendency to fire at our own planes.
Believe me. Not this ship.
We didn’t. But I’ve seen that with other ships.
At any rate, the—for us, at least my feeling was
that the invasion at Ormoc Bay was a small—I
won’t say insignificant, but uneventful invasion.
But then when we got into Leyte, we found
out that the Cooper—yeah, it was the Cooper
that had gone up there the night before
with another destroyer to bombard.
She was sunk by a Japanese submarine.
And I don’t know, Seth, this one, even though
I didn’t know anybody aboard the Cooper—the
one that was sunk—but she was part of our squadron.
I felt very badly about that one.
That kind of touched me. I’ll never forget it.
In fact, I sat down and wrote a little story about it.
(interviewer) Why do you think it affected you so much?
(Ari) I don’t know.
I don’t know why.
I just—I guess maybe it’s because it was the
first time that a destroyer that I knew was sunk.
And I knew that people had been killed.
I think maybe that was it.
(interviewer) Was that the first time you guys had seen
kamikazes around there?
(Ari) No. No, we had seen kamikaze before that.
I believe it was the Hughes that
was attack just outside the Gulf.
And they disabled the Hughes.
And we went alongside and took off
some of the dead and then towed her
for a while until one of the bigger tugs came
in from the beachhead and took her under toll.
So no, that wasn’t the first time, no.
(interviewer) What did you think about that?
Here’s perfectly good airplanes piloted
by sane men crashing into ships.
(Ari) At first, I couldn’t understand it.
As I said, I thought they were crazy.
Any man who would purposely crash drive an
aircraft into a ship was out of his mind.
But then slowly after you see a few of them,
you realize that was their mentality.
And you just accepted it and hoped that
you could protect yourself against it.
(interviewer) They all said that they just couldn’t wrap
their minds around—the American mentality
is nothing like that—you just couldn’t
wrap your mind around it.
Like you said, they just thought that they
were insane, that these people were nuts.
That was the first time they had seen
up close what the kamikazes could do.
What do you recall of that?
(Ari) I don’t remember too much about that one.
I didn’t—I knew that we removed
the dead and that sort of thing.
But I didn’t actually see it.
So I didn’t react to that. I’ll put it that way.
(interviewer) After that, you’re in the Philippines for
a little while.
And Okinawa is the last big invasion of the war.
What was your purpose off Okinawa?
(Ari) Basically, screening the heavies at night
and bombarding—they would put these
short-fire control parties on the beach.
They would direct your fire to enemy positions.
We did that.
That was all I—at one time, I don’t know
if Larry told you about this one—but were
a part of a task group that went after
the remnants of the Japanese fleet.
(interviewer) No, he didn’t.
(Ari) Oh, he didn’t?
(interviewer) He left that one out.
(Ari) Oh, that was—well, on the bridge you don’t see everything.
You don’t see the big picture, I guess you call that.
No, I’ll never forget this.
I think it was the second large
kamikaze had just taken place.
I think it was the twelfth of April.
The first one I think was the sixth.
And then the second one was the twelfth.
Anyway, we were just—it was a beautiful day out.
And we were just, I don’t know, patrolling
on station or some darn thing, and all of
a sudden—oh, I know what it was.
I was below. I was below deck.
So we weren’t at general quarters.
All of a sudden, I hear the engines rev
up and I knew something was going on.
We went to general quarters and I get topside,
and I just see all these—it’s hard to
describe—all these warships going every which direction.
Well, obviously, they were getting into formation.
And when it all settled down, we had a formation.
It was a circular formation with
twenty-two destroyers in a circle.
And they were guarding, I believe it was, six
battleships and about seven or eight cruise ships.
And come to find out—and we started to head
north—come to find out that they had spotted
the remnants of the Japanese fleet coming
out of the inland sea which was the Yamato
and I think three cruisers and
about four or five destroyers.
They were coming down toward the beachhead.
And so we were sent up to intercept them.
And just about—I think about six hours later,
we went into—this was a beautiful sight,
too—it wasn’t six hours.
It was about four hours because it was still daylight.
We went from the circular formation to an
attack formation which is essentially an arrow.
The cruisers last on the shaft of the arrow.
And the battleships were in the front.
And the destroyers were on the side this way.
And we were supposed to make
contact with them in the morning.
A few hours later, we found out that the Halsey—was
it Halsey—no, no, Mitcher’s carrier force
had attacked them and sunk the Yamato and I
think a couple of the destroyers and one
of the cruisers.
So we just high-tailed it back.
But I’ll never forget that scene as long as I live.
From the formation—from the circular
formation to an attack formation.
We were eager to get after them because
we knew we could’ve beaten them.
(laughs) But Mitcher beat us to it.
(interviewer) That must have been an impressive sight to
see all the power.
(Ari) Oh, it really was. Yeah. Yeah.
(interviewer) Never see anything like that ever again.
(Ari) Yeah.
(interviewer) Especially battleships.
They aren’t in commission anymore.
I think the last one was Wisconsin.
(Ari) Oh, is that right?
(interviewer) I think so.
And she’s up in Norfolk now.
Well, when did you guys get the orders to go—Kerama Retto.
(Ari) Yeah, I think it was the twenty-fifth or twenty-sixth
of March.
We hit Kerama Retto and secured that.
And then the invasion of Okinawa was April the first.
(interviewer) Didn’t you guys use Kerama Retto as a staging
area before you went out on the picket stations?
(Ari) Oh, yeah.
That was an ideal staging area.
It was protected by islands.
And it was deep enough for all
the ships required in Anchorage.
I think the only—I remember—well,
it wasn’t really an invasion.
They landed some troops and that was it.
But that was the only time I saw Kerama
Retto until of course, the fourteenth.
And when we went into Kerama Retto to take
on ammunition and take on the team, the fire
control team—the fire director.
(interviewer) Two guys, wasn’t it?
(Ari) Four. (interviewer) Four? Really?
(Ari) I think there were four.
(interviewer) Tell me, Admiral Beckton, in his book, he
said those were the orders he knew
he was going to get to go out there.
And he didn’t want to get them.
And then when he got them, it was
like, well, that’s why we’re here.
He didn’t really say anything in
the book as I’m sure you know.
He kind of eluded to the fact that the
team was like, oh, yeah, here we go.
(Ari) Oh, yeah.
(interviewer) Because you’d seen what had come out of
that area.
And you knew what you were going
into kind of like you’re going into—
(Ari) Let me tell you a story, Seth.
This is a true story.
I was on the bridge the night that we got
the orders that we were going to raid our
picket station.
The radio man came up and handed this message to the OD.
The skipper had already seen it.
And as he left, he—I talked to him
and said, “What was that all about?”
And he said, “We got orders to go to a picket station.”
And I said, “Really?”
Now I’m not saying that I thought of this.
But one of the guys on the bridge
said, “It’s Friday the thirteenth.”
And that’s bad enough, okay, because
sailors are a superstitious lot.
But then somebody said, “Look at the number
of our ship; seven, two, four, thirteen.”
(laughs) And that really spread like wildfire.
And we’d been pretty lucky at to that point.
And I think that most of us thought that
we would probably get hit—or get attacked.
I’ll put it that way.
It was a combination of Friday the
thirteenth and the ship’s number.
(interviewer) Bad omen.
(Ari) (laughs) And then, of course, when we went
into Kerama Retto to pick up the ammunition
and what not, you saw all these ships.
I remember two of them especially.
One of them had their bow blown right back to the bridge.
First two mounts were just back like that.
Another one was just the entire midships was just wiped out.
You can’t help to think about that.
When you see it, that didn’t
build up our morale, believe me.
(interviewer) Well, when you got out there, you were out
there for a couple days. It was relatively quiet.
Y’all saw some action.
But it wasn’t anything like what was coming.
What went on those first couple of days?
(Ari) Nothing. We just patrol—I believe it’s
around ten miles or so—five miles.
You just go around in a circle, so to speak.
And during that time the first day, I believe
the CAP knocked down, I don’t know, close
to a dozen planes, intercepted the Japanese coming down.
We didn’t fire a shot.
The second day, we picked up—there wasn’t
any air action as I recall—we picked up
a Japanese pilot. I think they were dead.
It was one of those. He was dead.
The plane had crashed.
It remained on the water.
But that’s the extent of what we
went through the first couple days.
But that night, in the early-morning hours
of the sixteenth, the Japanese would fly in
just out of range of the five-inch
guns and circle and then go back.
And of course, we’d have to go to general
quarters every time that happened.
And we had a feeling the next morning
that something would happen.
And it did.
(interviewer) Do you think maybe they were scouting you?
(Ari) Yeah. Yeah.
I think they were scouting us and just keeping us up.
(interviewer) You had two other ships or boats, really,
with you.
(Ari) Yeah.
They were LCIs, I believe.
They were small ships that had some firepower
but not to the extent that we had.
(interviewer) Well, go ahead and tell me the story.
(Ari) Tell you the story.
(interviewer) Tell me the story.
(Ari) Well, okay.
I was having breakfast.
It was about eight o’clock, 8:10, :8:15, I think.
General quarters rang.
I went up to the bridge. My station.
I’m quartermaster of the watch.
And I heard reports that they had spotted
close to fifty planes in the area.
So we just sat there, basically,
and waited for them to come in.
Now unbeknownst to me and to a
lot of us, we knew we had a CAP. We actually had two CAPs.
We had a two-plane CAP which was flying low
and a four-plane CAP that was flying high.
We lost communication with the two-plane CAP.
And so we directed the four-plane CAP to go
after this huge number of planes that we had
spotted on the radar.
No, they had spotted some planes—that’s what it was.
We had spotted planes—four planes, supposedly—going—let’s
see, they would be northwest of us.
So we dispatched the four-plane CAP after them.
Now we lost control of the two planes.
So they were useless to us.
Then about the same time that this happened, this
four-plane CAP was going after the Japanese.
We had no contact with the two-lane CAP.
It was necessary for the planes to change stations.
The men had to go back to their ship.
They ran out of fuel and what not.
There was a bit of confusion there.
So for a while, we didn’t have any CAP
coverage with which we had contact.
So we knew that.
We knew that the CAP wasn’t around.
Or at least we couldn’t talk to them.
Then finally, around 8:15, 8:20, we
spotted the first four planes coming in.
And they came in from—I remember very vividly—from
the ship and then they split up and kind of
came in this way two from
each—basically, two from each side.
I know the book describes it a little bit differently.
But that’s what it was.
They split and came in this way.
Well, we were ready for them.
And we shot all of them down.
And then there were lulls in the action.
And all of a sudden, they started to come
in about every two or three minutes, as I recall.
They were just—they’d just circle overhead.
All these planes were circling overhead.
And they’d come in one or two at a time.
Well, finally, you had the Japanese planes coming down.
Finally, our CAP—we had a new CAP
and we had contact with them.
They came into the picture.
And it got a little bit hectic.
It was to a point where you couldn’t really—the
FIDO team couldn’t really direct the CAP
because there was just so damn much confusion.
here’s planes flying all over the
places diving and this sort of thing.
Then of course, halfway through the action,
a Japanese comes in and drops a bomb off of
our stern which ruptured our hydraulic
lines to our steering mechanism.
So all we could do was go in circles.
That added to the excitement.
Although, this again, I think, showed
what a great thinker our skipper was.
You stop and think about it now.
All we could do was go in a circle.
And now you have to add to this scenario the
fact that I think—and this is just my theory—I
think the Japanese were taught to aim for the bridge. Okay.
Now keep that in mind.
So we have a ship basically dead in the
water that can only go in a circle.
The skipper would wait until he saw a plane diving on us.
Then he’d go to emergency flank.
So the ship—here you have the
Japanese plane spotting the ship.
And I’m going to hit the bridge.
And he’s aiming for the bridge.
And the skipper can only go left at an accelerated speed.
Well, this Japanese pilot isn’t experienced
enough to follow the swing of the ship.
And every one of them hit the aft of the ship,
aft of the bridge which I think saved us.
Their inexperience, the fact that the skipper
knew how to—he was outguessing the Japanese
like he outguessed the Germans.
He figured they couldn’t follow the swing of the ship.
And he waited to the last moment to do this.
And as I said, after that, it was
very confusing and very hectic.
And all of a sudden, it was over.
(interviewer) It was over as suddenly as it began.
(Ari) Yeah, a few minutes later, it’s—there
were things in between that were—actually
there were some humorous things in between
if you can believe that. (laughs)
(interviewer) Like what?
(Ari) Well, let’s see.
One of them was we lost communication
with the aft part of the ships.
The skipper sent me back to get evaluation
of the damage from the officers back there.
So I went back there, got my information.
I was coming up the starboard side of the main deck.
And I ran across a gentleman called John Schneider.
He was a first-class torpedo man.
Big man; six-foot-two, six-foot-three.
And just absent-mindedly, I said, “How’s it going, John?”
And he says, “Greek”—they used to call me
Greek—"If I could find a piece of rust
under this ship, I’d crawl under it.”
And I couldn’t help laughing.
And the other one was I was on the ship—yeah,
I was on the bridge, inside the bridge.
The skipper was there.
And Frank Manson—we’d just been hit by a
couple kamikazes—Frank Manson came up
to the bridge and said—he was
talking to the skipper about it.
And he said, “Captain, for a moment, I
thought you’d have to abandon ship.”
The skipper says very calmly, “I’ll never
abandon ship as long as a gun will fire.”
And then he left the bridge.
(laughs) And one of the guys on the—he was
on the enunciator—said, “Yeah, if I can
find a man to fire it.”
(laughs) Lost our—we didn’t have our CAP.
And finally, one of the lookouts yelled out.
He said, “They’re planes overhead.”
And I said, “Thank God, the CAP is back.”
He said, “CAP hell. They’re Japs.”
(laughs) I aged ten years.
(interviewer) I bet.
Well, tell me what you can remember, if you
even saw it, the first time she got him.
You guys took a kamikaze before you took a bomb, didn’t you?
(Ari) Mhm. (affirmative) Seth, I hate to tell you this.
I did not see one kamikaze hit.
You heard the explosion.
That’s about all.
And it wasn’t a particularly loud explosion.
It just kind of reminded me of a giant firecracker
which was kind of strange when I say that
because whenever you saw another ship hit
by a kamikaze, it was the most frightening
thing you ever want to see.
Just a huge ball of fire.
I didn’t have that visual concept of it.
I just heard this firecracker going off.
We were moving.
And I’m thinking, okay, we’re not sinking.
(interviewer) You mentioned a minute ago, you said you were
sent back—Captain Beckton sent you to get the
evaluation from the officers towards the
stern, what did she look like
when you were going back there?
(Ari) That was the worst part of my—of the day for me.
I went back there, of course, and I
hadn’t visually seen what happened.
What had happened, of course, I think it was
two of them hit back there and wiped out the
gun crews, especially the twenty-millimeters
because they were exposed.
And there was one man in the straps.
I’ll never forget it.
He had both his legs blown off. And he was crying.
He was saying, “Please, get me out of these straps.”
And we pulled.
We couldn’t get to him. He died.
That bothered the hell out of me.
And then the second time I went back, a plane
had hit the aft part of the ship, wiped out
a complete four-man damage control party.
There was carnage.
That was really—that bothered me.
That was the worst part of the day for me.
(interviewer) In your eyes at that time, did you think the
ship was going to sink after what you’d seen?
(Ari) No, no.
(interviewer) Treading water?
(Ari) Don’t ask me why.
I just felt that we were going to survive this.
I felt this—I don’t know why I felt that
exactly—I do remember the last plane that
came in, the JOD was on the starboard side.
And the last plane came in off of the starboard bridge.
And said he’s dropping a bomb. And I looked up.
And you could see the bomb coming down.
And fortunately, it missed the bridge.
But unfortunately, it hit the gun mount
below and killed four men there.
And then there was almost a silence, a dead silence.
And I just felt okay, this is it.
There won’t be anymore.
We’re going to survive this.
And I was right.
(interviewer) How was the captain during all of this?
What was going on with him that you could see?
(Ari) Commander Beckton was a very calm person.
There was—the only orders he—well, initially,
he was able to spit out orders to the Helsman.
But then once the rudder was jammed, there was no use.
All he could do was give orders to the man
on the Enunciator which controls the speed
of the ship—I mean, gives signals to the engine room.
He did that very calmly.
He wasn’t frustrated at all.
You have no idea how I admired that man.
In fact, if you see, I have his picture next
to my father’s picture because I considered
him my second father.
(interviewer) I guess somebody
like that, after going through
something like that, his calmness
would’ve rubbed off on some of you guys.
(Ari) Oh, yeah.
(interviewer) He’s Joe Cool.
And I guess everything’s going to be okay.
(Ari) You’re absolutely right, Seth. Yeah.
He was quite a man.
(interviewer) What happened after?
You guys had taken a lot of damage.
(Ari) We were down by the stern.
(interviewer) Your pumps weren’t working.
(Ari) They weren’t working very well.
Well, they weren’t big enough actually.
And the Mecum which is another
destroyer came offside to help—no, no.
She tried to tow us.
That’s what it was.
She tried to tow us.
And that’s when I got a little bit concerned.
About that time, two tugs came up from the beachhead.
And they came alongside.
They had the pumps.
And they had the capacity to tow us back.
And for the first time, Seth, I think maybe
about an hour after the—yeah, about an hour
after that action stopped, they sent additional
planes to protect us.
And I’ll never forget this as long as I live.
They had close to either ten or twelve flying
low at about five thousand feet and ten or
twelve flying higher crisscrossing us all
the time on the way back to Okinawa.
And that was a very, very comforting sight to see.
And we felt pretty good about that.
(interviewer) You mentioned CAP a little while ago.
Could you see any of our planes?
There’s a story of one of the corsairs
nipping the top of the destroyer.
Did you see any of our guys zipping through
there and shooting down any of the Japs?
(Ari) No. I’d be lying to you. I just saw planes.
(interviewer) Yeah.
(Ari) I just saw planes.
Planes diving, planes firing.
I couldn’t tell you whether it was—at
least now I can’t remember if it was or
F4Us or Wildcats.
Both of those were there.
But I don’t remember.
(interviewer) I can understand that.
(Ari) Yeah, I don’t—I don’t understand how
they could have identified all those planes they did.
But I guess they did.
(interviewer) When you guys—you’re towed, you get back
to—they send you right back to Kerama Retto
(Ari) No, they sent us to beachhead.
No, no, they didn’t send us to Kerama Retto.
We went to the beachhead. That’s a contention.
I don’t know why they say that.
I should know because I was a quartermaster.
But yeah, they sent us there for—I think it was five days.
They patched us up.
And now, Seth, that’s when I was really—people
have asked me, “Were you scared during the action?”
Yeah, I’m sure I was scared but not to the
level that I couldn’t follow orders and
that sort of thing.
But I do remember at Okinawa at the beachhead,
they had us anchored with other ships.
At night, the Japanese would come over and bomb the area.
Of course, we had warning that they were coming down.
And we were ordered to make smoke to hide all the ships.
But we were not allowed to open fire.
Only the beach batteries could fire on the planes.
Well, I’ll have to admit that
during that time, I wasn’t scared.
I was petrified.
It may seem strange to you, but I
felt kind of helpless I guess.
You couldn’t do anything.
But we survived that, too.
(interviewer) Tell me the story about how you jumped under
the table.
(Ari) (laughs) Well, it was this last plane that
came and then dropped a bomb.
The skipper had always told us the
last minute, you can seek cover.
And this chart table was on the starboard
side of the ship just aft of the patch.
And three of us dived for that table.
(laughs) As I said, we got our heads
underneath there, but that’s all.
(laughs) That’s all.
Sonny just never lets me live that down.
(interviewer) You guys were ordered back to Pearl, huh?
(Ari) Yeah.
(interviewer) Didn’t you have to escort another ship?
And they, in turn, told you we’re escorting
you or something along those lines?
(Ari) Oh, I think—I have the message upstairs.
But I think it went something to the effect
that we’re honored to be escorted by—we
were supposed to be escorting them. Yeah.
And they said we’re honored to have you as our escort.
It was very nice.
But the biggest honor I felt that we’ve
ever had and I’ve ever experienced—and
it’s not to me, it was to the
ship—as we entered Pearl Harbor.
Have you ever been to Pearl Harbor?
(interviewer) Mhm. (affirmative)
(Ari) Okay. It was a long channel going north.
There was ships on both sides of the—no, no,
mostly on the right-hand side of the channel,
there was ships including a huge cruiser.
Every one of those ships dipped their colors to us.
And if you don’t think that made me feel good.
(laughs) Yeah.
Every one of them.
(interviewer) So y’all were in Pearl for temporary repairs?
And then they sent you back?
(Ari) Yeah, I’ve kind of—I’ve forgotten.
Maybe three or four days we were there.
(interviewer) Did you get liberty?
(Ari) Yeah.
All I remember was getting a quart of ice cream.
(interviewer) Really?
(Ari) Yeah, I wasn’t a beer drinker.
(interviewer) I was going to say, I know I would be drinking
some beer.
(Ari) I never drank beer in the Navy. I do now.
(interviewer) You’d be dragging me out of the bar.
(Ari) What was funny—going out of Pearl, though,
was funny because about halfway to the states—we
were supposed to go to Mare Island, you know—and
halfway there, I’d just gotten off the
bridge and I was down on my bunk.
And I heard the skipper.
I knew the skipper’s voice on the PA system.
And he says, “Phoutrides, report to the bridge immediately.”
And I said, “Oh, Jesus.
What did I do now?”
(laughs) So I went up there and says, “Yes,
sir?” and he said, “Phoutrides, do you
know where Todd Shipyards are?”
“Well, that’s a big shipyard in Seattle.”
The minute he said that, I knew we were going to Seattle.
I said, “I’ll take you right there, captain.”
And that’s where we went instead of Mare Island.
(interviewer) And when you got to Seattle, they opened the
ship up for public, didn’t they?
(Ari) Yes. Yeah.
(interviewer) What happened there?
What was going on?
(Ari) Well, I understand that they were losing—well,
I think some of the shipyard
workers were quitting their job.
They thought the war was over and that sort of thing.
And so the Navy thought that if they population
saw the damage that was done—the kamikazes
had done to the Navy that these men would
have second thoughts about quitting their
jobs or maybe even more men would
apply to do the shipyard work.
So that was the purpose of that.
In fact, I think that was the first ship that
was open to the public for damages due to
engagements such as that.
(interviewer) And you had a flock of people.
(Ari) Oh, my God. There were thousands.
(interviewer) Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them.
You were open for two or three days or something like that?
(Ari) Three days at least.
Then we went down to Tacoma and did the same thing.
(interviewer) Oh, did they? I didn’t know that.
(Ari) Yeah, it may have—I think it helped a little bit.
(interviewer) Well, after you get back to the states, what
happens for you? where do you go?
(Ari) After we got repaired?
(interviewer) Mhm. (affirmative)
(Ari) Then we went down to—we had to go down to
San Diego for a shakedown cruise after our repairs.
And this was a very humiliating event.
The first day out on the shakedown
cruise—you know the story?
(interviewer) Unh-uh. (negative)
(Ari) We were going through the main channel just
about ready to hit the international channel.
And we struck a PC, sank it, killed two men.
That was—turn that thing off and I’ll tell you.
(interviewer) All right.
How long were you on Laffey after Captain—
(Ari) Let’s see, from July, August, September,
October, November, December, January,
February, March April, about ten months.
(interviewer) Did your enlistment
run out and you were taken
off of her?
Were you transferred? Or what happened?
(Ari) No, I finally got enough points.
Being single took a little bit longer
than if you were married with a family.
And I finally just got out after about three years.
(interviewer) So you served your time?
(Ari) So I served my time.
I was discharged in Bremerton.
An amusing story to that.
They gave me my final check.
And it was something like close to three hundred dollars.
And I said, “This is wrong.
This can’t be right,” because they’re
supposed to only give you money from your
point of discharge to your home.
That’s what my understanding was.
Well, I lived in Seattle.
I was discharged in Bremerton.
that’s the cost of the ticket on the ferry
which was maybe a dollar, you know?
(laughs) And here I had close to a
three-hundred-dollar check in my thing.
Well, I thought the government had filed.
I said I’m not going to say anything about it.
Well, come to find out, they had the last
laugh because the regulation is that you get
paid from your point of enlistment to your home.
So I got paid from Boston to Seattle.
And even though I had just happened to
cross the bay to get to my hometown.
(interviewer) So your folks were in Seattle by then?
(Ari) Yeah, they were in Seattle.
(interviewer) After you got out of the Navy, what’d you do?
(Ari) I finished my school in chemical engineering
at the University of Washington.
My third year in college, I met my wife and married her.
We were together that last year from.
And from then on, I went down to Camas, Washington,
started to work for Crown-Zellerbach and stayed
with them for thirty-three years until I retired.
(interviewer) That job was down here in Portland?
(Ari) In Portland. Yeah.
(interviewer) Tell me about when
Captain Beckton was relieved.
That must have been kind of a sad day
for the crew having him being gone.
(Ari) Yeah, it was.
I hated to see him go.
But you always know that when a person leaves
that way, especially with the war record he
had, he was going on to bigger, better things.
(interviewer) Which he did.
(Ari) Yeah.
(interviewer) What about the reunion?
(Ari) Oh, Seth, I knew you were probably going to
ask me that.
He was in the—had to be in the early sixties.
I wasn’t at the very first one.
But I was probably—I probably—I remember
going to them from seventy on, 1970 on.
(interviewer) And you had them all over the country?
(Ari) No, basically they started out at Charleston
where the ship was.
(interviewer) That makes sense.
(Ari) Yeah, it does.
But then people got a little
bit—they wanted to go other places.
So they said okay, every other year, we’ll
have it at Charleston and then that odd year
or the off year, wherever it was voted on to go.
So that’s what they do.
It’s Charleston, any other city,
Charleston, that sort of thing.
(interviewer) It still operates?
You said you didn’t go to the one this year.
Did you go to the one last year?
Or when was the last one you went to?
(Ari) It might have been three years ago when I
went to one. Yeah.
As I say, I’ve always—I’ve enjoyed the
work parties more than the reunions.
(interviewer) Why’s that?
(Ari) There’s more comradery.
You had no idea—the crew gets together.
It’s a little bit different than
when you have your wives with you. (laughs)
(interviewer) I can understand that.
You get three generations of crews on there? Three wars?
You get World War II, Korea, and ‘nam on there.
(Ari) Yeah, yeah.
There’s a great group of men.
I can’t say enough about them.
In fact, I had to say a couple, what I call
my best friends, are now those men, and not
necessarily for World War II, from other eras.
(interviewer) Well, the destroyer, it’s a small vessel.
It's a small crew.
Even after the war, did you stay
in contact with a lot of the guys?
(Ari) I kept in contact mostly with—well, I’ll
tell you, I kept in contact with my skipper.
And I’ll tell you why.
I was recalled into Korea.
And just before I graduated from college,
I thought, well, I might as—I wasn’t in
the active reserve.
So I thought, well, I might as well try for a commission.
And so I put in my application.
And I received my commission.
But then I wrote to Admiral Beckton.
And I asked him—I said, “I received my commission.
I’d like to get some good advice from you.”
And he was gracious enough to write me a couple letters.
We kept in contact that way.
I did keep in contact with a couple the crew.
One of them was Jim Spriggs who was snipe.
And then also, Stan Ketron who was a gunner’s mate.
But those are the only two that I—
(interviewer) When you think of that day, what is a memory
that sticks out in your mind?
A good one or a bad one. And why?
When you think of that day, what is
the thought that pops in your head?
(Ari) Okay, it’s—well, it was a reaction.
That’s the memory that I—I’ll tell you the circumstances.
I saw this—they were firing—during the
action, they were firing the port.
And we looked up and—some of us looked up.
I’m not sure that some of us saw
this plane coming in from starboard.
And it’s flying low out a couple of miles.
You can see them all coming in.
But all the main action was the port.
And so I saw this plane coming in.
And it had a bomb under its bay.
You could see it.
And as it approached, the bomb got
bigger and bigger and bigger.
And I remember—I told you that the skipper
told us we could seek cover the last minute.
Well, this guy was coming on us so fast.
And I didn’t see any action.
I didn’t see any guns firing at it.
They’re all firing at port.
And I remember just looking at it,
Seth, and saying, “I’m going to die.
This is it.”
And the last second, number two mount swung
around—the gun captain must’ve seen it—swung
around and fired two rounds, hit that plane
right on the nose and exploded no more than
fifty yards from the ship, if that.
But that remains in my mind.
I just thought to myself—I was resigned.
I remember that feeling of resignation.
That’s the only time I didn’t feel good.
I said okay, this is it.
But those are the things you remember.
(interviewer) I can see why.
I can definitely see why.
Well, is there anything you want
to add before we wrap it up?
(Ari) I can’t think of anything else that—I
will say this: That I’ve always considered
it a great honor to be on that ship and to
be associated with the men and certainly, I
can never repay those men that gave their
lives because if they hadn’t done what they
did, I wouldn’t be here talking to you.
(interviewer) How many planes
did she shoot down during that attack?
(Ari) They were supposedly credited with eight.
Yeah, eight by the ship, eight by the CAP,
and then of course, six that struck us.
(interviewer) And you took four bombs?
(Ari) Four bombs.
It’s—the older I get, the more I
realize I witnessed a small miracle.
You see, that’s the thing I told you about.
They were trained—the Japanese were trained
to hit, I’m sure because I’ve seen this—hit
the large ships first, the big
ones, then go for the small ones.
They were taught to hit the bridge because if
one of those planes had hit the waterline,
just one, one lousy plane had hit
the waterline, it would’ve sunk us.
(interviewer) They all hit up, didn’t they?
(Ari) They all hit up.
As I said, they were aiming in the bridge.
And they all kit in the aft part of the ship.
(interviewer) There’s no doubt that somebody had a hand
in that because you see big ships get
hit by one or two and poof, they went.
(Ari) We were coming—have you read—do you read
books very much?
(interviewer) Oh, yeah!
(Ari) Have you read A War with the Wind?
(interviewer) No, the one I’m reading now is about
the Franklin’s inferno.
(Ari) You read that one. The War with the Wind.
Tremendous book. But anyway, I was telling this story about a
destroyer that was going through the Surigao
Straight up to the invasion of Mindoro.
And this plane came in flying low
because there were islands around.
And they detect—weren’t detected by radar.
They headed toward a destroyer.
And at the last minute, saw the cruiser ahead of it.
It veered off the destroyer and hit the cruiser.
That was our ship that destroyed it. I remember that.
I remember seeing that plane come in.
And I said, “It’s going to hit us. It’s going to hit us.”
And at the last minute, it veered off
and hit that cruiser forward of us.
And then it wasn’t funny, but you wondered
what they were thinking at the Invasion of
Lingayen Gulf.
Three days prior to the invasion,
they bombarded the beachhead.
And the bombardment consisted of, I
don’t know, three or four battleships.
They started out about ten miles in the battle line.
And they would just steam in one straight
line parallel to the beach and fire at the
beachhead, make a turn toward the beach.
They just made continual S’s like that.
The kamikazes came over.
And they had all the destroyers and the
small ships they could’ve hit very easily.
And they went for the battleships.
And the battleships, yeah, they get hit,
but they just keep on steaming and firing.
They couldn’t knock out sixteen inches of steel.
(laughs) It was funny—no, it wasn’t funny,
but you just wonder what they were thinking.
(interviewer) Of any ship that you would not want to attack,
it’d be a battle.
(Ari) Yeah, yeah.
You’d kill a few men, sure.
But you kill the guys on the forties and twenties.
You won’t hurt anybody in the gun mounts.
The main battery.
(interviewer) You’re not even going to slow it down.
(Ari) They just kind of bounced off.
And they just keep on going.
(interviewer) Well, that’s about all I got to ask you
unless there’s something you want to say.
(Ari) I feel very fortunate.
I count my blessings every day, Seth, believe me.
(interviewer) Understandable.
Captioned by


Ari Phoutrides was born in Seattle in 1925. His father was a priest who was moved around the country often.After high school Phoutrides attended MIT [Annotator's Note: Massachusetts Institute of Technology] on a scholarship. Toward the end of his freshman year he left school and joined the navy in Boston.Phoutrides wanted to join the Marine Corps but his mother wouldn't let him because of the carnage being publicized about Guadalcanal. He was 16 years old at the time.On 7 December 1941 the Phoutrides family was hosting two army soldiers for dinner when they heard the announcement on the radio. He was shocked.Phoutrides did his boot camp at Newport, Rhode Island. It was different than anything he had ever experienced. After boot camp he attended quartermaster school and graduated with a rating. He then requested and was given destroyer service.Phoutrides is a plank owner [Annotator's Note: an original member of the crew] aboard the Laffey [Annotator's Note: US Laffey, DD-724]. He went aboard on 8 February 1944 at Pier 1, Boston Navy Yard. Captain Becton [Annotator's Note: Admiral F. Julian Becton] got the Laffey into shape quickly.Phoutrides truly came to respect Captain Becton during the operation at Cherbourg, France. Almost all of the ships were hit. Captain Becton headed the ship toward the beach when the splashes landed close by. On the follow-up rounds the Germans over shot the ship.Phoutrides had no hatred for the Japanese unlike some of his fellow sailors.


Phoutrides took part in the Normandy invasion. He knew what was happening but couldn't understand the enormity of the operation. He didn't comprehend the scope of the invasion until he returned to Normandy in 1995.The first day was uneventful. They did some escorting and some patrolling. On one night they chased several German E-Boats [Annotator's Note: also called S-Boats; German motor torpedo boats].At night the Germans would drop mines and some ship hit them and sank.At Cherbourg the Laffey [Annotator's Note: USS Laffey, DD-724] was hit by a round and they didn't even realize it until a chief electrician noticed a break in the signal from the degaussing coil. They inspected the coil and discovered that a shell had hit them.Phoutrides believes that the shell failed to detonate because the skin of the destroyer was too thin to detonate the shell.Destroyers were thin skinned but were fast and always moving and had a variety of roles to fill.The ship returned to the Boston Navy Yard for repairs. At the yard the bridge was altered, upgraded radar was installed, and upgraded sonar was installed.After repairs and upgrades the Laffey steamed to Pearl Harbor. She took part in numerous exercises then headed out for Eniwetok then on to Australia.Before they got to Australia they were ordered to the Philippines.The Laffey took part in four or five invasions before ending up at Okinawa.


The invasion at Ormoc Bay was small and consisted mainly of destroyers and rocket firing landing craft.The Laffey [Annotator's Note: USS Laffey, DD-724] moved in so close that when Phoutrides looked through his binoculars he was able to see a Japanese soldier leave his bunker and flee inland.After a few hours of supporting the Ormoc Bay landings the Laffey headed to Leyte.At Leyte they encountered a number of kamikazes but were not hit by any.When P-38s [Annotator's Note: American fighter planes] were protecting the ship they would bank to show the gunners aboard ship their twin tail so they wouldn't be fired upon and mistaken as the enemy. At Leyte the Laffey's crew learned that the USS Cooper [Annotator's Note: USS Cooper, DD-695] had gone up there [Annotator's Note: to Ormoc Bay] with another destroyer to bombard and was sunk by a Japanese submarine [Annotator's Note: DD-695, USS Cooper, was sunk by the Japanese destroyer IJN Take on 3 December 1944].The Cooper's sinking had a profound effect on Phoutrides.Leyte was not the first encounter Phoutrides had had with kamikazes.They had assisted the Hughes [Annotator's Note: USS Hughes, DD-410] after she had been hit.At first Phoutrides thought that the kamikaze pilots were crazy but came to understand that it was just the enemy's mentality.When the Laffey arrived at Okinawa her job was to screen the "heavies" at night and provide supporting fire for the men on the beach during the day.After the second major kamikaze attack, Phoutrides heard the general quarters alarm. When he got topside he saw 22 destroyers in a circular formation guarding 6 battle ships and 7 or 8 cruisers. He was impressed with how quickly the ships reformed into into an attack formation. They were on their way after the remnants of the Japanese fleet.


Kerama Retto [Annotator's Note: Kerama Islands off of Okinawa] was used as a staging area for the destroyers going out on picket duty.On Friday the 13th the Laffey [Annotator's Note: USS Laffey, DD-724] received orders to go out on picket duty. One of the sailors mentioned that it was Friday the 13th. The hull number of the Laffey was 724 which equals 13. That fact spread like wildfire.When the Laffey went into Kerama Retto the men could see all of the damaged and destroyed destroyers and that added to the apprehension of the crew.On the first day on station the CAP [Annotator's Note: combat air patrol] shot down close to a dozen Japanese planes. On the second day the Laffey picked up the body of a Japanese pilot.On the night of the 15th and early morning of the 16th [Annotator's Note: 15 or 16 April 1945] Japanese planes came into the area but remained just out of range of the Laffey's guns.Phoutrides was having breakfast between 8 and 8:15am when the general quarters alarm rang. He went to the bridge where his battle station was located.Phoutrides heard that almost 50 enemy planes had been sighted. The Laffey had 2 CAPs. A two plane CAP flying low and a four plane CAP flying high. Communication with the two plane CAP was lost so they called the four plane CAP to intercept a flight of Japanese planes heading northwest.Due to some confusion there was no CAP covering the Laffey that they could communicate with.


Around 8:15 or 8:20 [Annotator's Note: on the morning of 16 April 1945] the first 4 Japanese kamikaze planes heading for the ships were spotted. The plane split up and came at the Laffey [Annotator's Note: USS Laffey, DD-724] in groups of 2 but were shot down. As the attack continued more planes headed for the Laffey. The battle was very confused.A bomb hit the hydraulic steering lines so the ship could only steam in a circle.Phoutrides believes that the Japanese plan was to aim for the bridge. When the planes came in the skipper would increase the speed of the ship forcing the inexperienced pilots to hit aft of the bridge. Phoutrides credits this strategy with saving the lives of the men on the bridge.The battle was over just as quickly as it started.There were some humorous incidents that occured during the battle.A lookout yelled out that he saw planes overhead. When Phoutrides replied that he was glad that the CAP had returned the lookout told him that the planes were Japanese.Phoutrides never saw a kamikaze hit the Laffey but he did hear the explosion that sounded like a fire cracker. This surprised Phoutrides because he had seen kamikazes hit other ships and seen the massive explosions.When Phoutrides was sent to the rear of the ship he saw that many of the gunners had been killed. He saw one gunner who was missing his legs and was crying for someone to help him.There was a four man damage control party that had been killed on another part of the ship. There was carnage everywhere but Phoutrides never thought that the ship would sink.


During the battle Commander Becton [Annotator's Note: Admiral F. Julian Becton] was very calm. He gave orders to the helmsman until the steering was damaged but continued to issue orders to the man on the annunciator who passed them to the engine room.Phoutrides had a lot of respect for Commander Becton, so much so that even today Phoutrides has a photograph of Becton next to one of his father.The pumps aboard the Laffey [Annotator's Note: USS Laffey, DD-724] weren't working and weren't big enough to handle the flooding anyway. After the attack the Maycomb [Annotator's Note: USS Maycomb, DD-458] tried to tow the Laffey but the line broke twice. Soon after two ocean going tugs arrived.About an hour after the attack ended several planes were sent out to guard the Laffey. A number of them flew in the high position and several flew in the low. Seeing the planes was comforting to the crew of the ship.The Laffey was towed to the beachhead for temporary repairs. They were at the beachhead for about 5 days.The Laffey was tasked to escort another ship when returning to Pearl Harbor. A message from the other ship stated that they were honored to be escorted by the Laffey.The biggest honor for Phoutrides was when the Laffey returned to Pearl Harbor. As they passed into the harbor all of the ships dipped their colors to the Laffey.After leaving Pearl Harbor, Phoutrides was called to the bridge and asked where Todds Shipyards were located. Phoutrides knew then that they were going to Seattle.


In Seattle the ship was opened to the pubic to try to convince them to keep working hard. Ari Phoutrides believes that the Laffey [Annotator's Note: USS Laffey, DD-724] was the first ship to be opened to the public. She was opened in Seattle for a few days then went to Tacoma.After repairs were completed the ship went out on a shakedown cruise. While exiting the channel the Laffey hit and sank a PC [Annotator's Note: Patrol Craft] and sunk it killing two people.Phoutrides left the navy after about three years. He was discharged in Bremerton, Washington.After leaving the navy Phoutrides returned to University of Washington to finish his chemical engineering degree. He met his wife in his third year of school.Phoutrides then went to work for the same company for 33 years.Phoutrides was disappointed when Becton was relieved but knew that he was going on to bigger and better things.The reunions started in Charleston where the ship is but soon branched out to other cities. They are still held in Charleston every other year.Phoutrides prefers the work parties to the reunions because of the camaraderie. Things are different when the wives aren't around. There are crew members working aboard the ship from three wars; WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.Phoutrides kept in contact with his skipper after the war. He was recalled to duty for Korea. Just before graduating from college Phoutrides was commissioned as an ensign and contacted his skipper, Admiral Becton, and asked him for advice.He also stayed in touch with a couple of others.


Ari Phoutrides's only thought of that day [Annotator's Note: a kamikaze attack on 15 to 16 April 1945] was that it was all a reaction. He saw a plane coming in from the port side. The skipper had told the men on the bridge that they could seek cover when being attacked. During the final moments of the approach the number two mount swung around and shot the plane down.Phoutrides feels that it was a great honor to serve aboard the Laffey [Annotator's Note: USS Laffey, DD-724].During the attack Laffey was credited with shooting down eight Japanese planes. The CAP [Annotator's Note: combat air patrol] was credited with eight. The ship was hit by six planes and four bombs. Phoutrides feels that he witnessed a small miracle. If just one of the planes would have hit the water line they would have been sunk but instead the Japanese all aimed for the bridge and ended up hitting the rear of the ship.Prior to the invasion of Linguyan Gulf the area was bombarded by several battleships. Flights of kamikazes arrived and went after the battleships instead of the smaller vessels. The battleships just shrugged off the hits and kept on going.

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