Segment 1

Segment 2

Segment 3

Segment 4

Segment 5

Segment 6

Segment 7

Segment 8

Segment 9

Segment 10

Segment 11

Segment 12

They made a dud just for us.

Annotation

The Laffey [Annotator's Note: US Navy destroyer USS Laffey, DD-724] had new radar and sonar equipment and that put the ship in demand when it got to the Pacific. The Laffey steamed with aircraft carriers, bombardment groups, landing craft, support troops, and even covered Underwater Demolition Teams [Annotator's Note: Underwater Demolition Teams or UDTs went on to become the US Navy Seals] when they were preparing for a landing.When the Laffey covered a landing, the ship would steam up and down the coast of an island taking radar fixes. Then at night the fleet would fall back to give it some maneuvering room and the Laffey would stay in to pick likely targets.On the same day the Laffey was hit and had several kamikazes on her screen [Annotator's Note: on the ship's radar screen], there were 3 other ships that were hit as well. The McDermut [Annotator's Note: US Navy destroyer, DD-677], the Bowers [Annotator's Note: US Navy destroyer escort USS Bowers, DE-637], the Bryant [Annotator's Note: US Navy destroyer USS Bryant, DD-665], and the Laffey were all hit on the same day. All together there were 196 men wounded and 114 dead aboard the those 4 ships [Annotator's Note: according to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships these 4 destroyers were hit on 3 different days. The USS Laffey was hit on 15 April 1945, the USS Bryant and McDermut were hit on 16 April, and the USS Bowers was hit on 17 April. This confusion is more than likely a result of the battles taking place across the International Date Line]. Delewski states that over 300 destroyers were built during World War II.Delewski was born and raised in Reading, Pennsylvania. He believes in guardian angels. His first remembrance of a guardian angel was in 5th grade. His father had lost everything in the Great Depression so Delewski was transferred from his church school to a public school. Most of his older brothers had to quit school in order to work. They made sure that he stayed in school. Delewski was a standout football player for Reading High School. His school played against teams from all over the state.When he found out about Pearl Harbor he was having dinner with the captain of the cheerleading team and her family.

Annotation

Delewski had never heard of Pearl Harbor before the attack and never planned to go into the Navy. He graduated high school in 1942 and had ambitions to play football in college.Delewski was drafted. At the time there more people volunteering and getting drafted then they could train. Delewski saw newsreels of men training and saw some of them carrying rain spouts marked "Bazooka" and others pushing wheel barrows marked "Tank." There were so many people that the military just wasn't ready for all of those men.When Delewski was called up he went to Sampson, New York for basic training. After basic training he went to gunnery school.At gunnery school he learned how to operate and how to maintain fighting equipment. The gunnery school was in Newport, Rhode Island. Delewski lived in barracks that hadn't been used since World War I. There were so many people that they went to school in 2 shifts, from 7:00 in the morning to 7:00 at night or 9:00 in the morning to 9:00 at night. There was only 1 mess hall.Delewski was assigned to the Laffey by accident. Someone screwed up his training papers. He was sent to the Naval Gun Factory in Washington, DC for further training. When he got there they laughed at him because they realized his orders had been messed up. That particular training was for people who had been in the Navy for 8, 10, or 12 years. The Chief gave Delewski a paint brush and he started painting. The Chief liked his work and kept him on there. Delewski had to stay in the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington, DC.While he was at the Marine Corps barracks he started to find out about his friends getting killed. This hit him hard, he realized that he could not in good conscious spend the war painting. He volunteered for sea duty and that's how he got on the Laffey.The crew was assembled in Norfolk, Virginia and quartered in Quonset huts until the whole crew was organized . When the ship was ready for them the crew was brought to Boston. The ship had been built in Bath, Maine and was brought down to Boston where the crew went aboard and put the ship into commission.Delewski was a kid when he commissioned the Laffey and everything was new to him.Delewski recognized that the ship had a good captain. When the ship was put into commission there was a formal inspection. Afterward, the captain told the crew that as far as he was concerned that was the last inspection they would have. The crew's job was to make sure that everything worked.Whenever the crewmen spoke with the captain he would always ask about their family. He really cared about his men.On the crew's 1st payday the captain withheld 1 dollar from each man. He gave the money to an officer and sent him off to buy an ice cream machine. They could get all of the dried milk they needed but couldn't get sugar and flavorings. When the ship put into port the captain would let the crew leave an hour early if they "scrounged" up flavorings for the ice cream. The captain always looked out for his men as individuals. That was 1 of his leadership qualities and it went a long way.

Annotation

Delewski took part in the Normandy operation. That was the first time the Laffey saw action. He was put in charge of gun mount number 3. That put him in charge of 29 men. He was a 3rd Class Gunner's Mate. There was a 1st Class Gunner's Mate who had come to the Laffey from a cruiser who was in charge of 3 20-milimeter guns on the fantail.The weather during the Normandy invasion was rough. It took special skill to hit their targets. Delewski credits Harry Burns and the people he trained as well as the fire control equipment with enabling them to be successful. The Laffey fired so many rounds she had to return to England to reload.Delewski remembers seeing the beach at Normandy but most of the fire they directed was a mile or 2 inland and they were not able to spot those shells.The Laffey was hit at Cherbourg. They had to take Cherbourg because of its deep water harbor. The Allies needed a place to land [Annotator's Note: to land men, supplies, and equipment]. The Germans knew this and heavily fortified the area. Delewski believes that the German gunners singled out the Laffey and the ships in her squadron. When the Germans saw the twin guns [Annotator's Note: 2 guns in a single turret] they thought the Laffey was a cruiser and focused their fire on her. That was a scary moment for Delewski because he could actually see the 11 inch [Annotator's Note: there is some discrepancy in the claims of the size of the shell that hit the Laffey. The projectile was an 8 inch, 9.4 inch, or 11 inch] shells coming toward him.The Laffey took 1 hit. Fortunately it was well forward and hit a line locker. The ship's electricians found the unexploded shell while looking for the reason that the vessel's degaussing [Annotator's Note: degaussing is a process used to reduce or eliminate a ship's magnetic field] equipment wasn't working. Delewski to this day has many anonymous thank yous to hand out to the German slave laborer who made sure that shell was a dud.The crew was able to get some ropes around it, pick it up, and throw it over the side.Delewski feels that somewhere there is a slave laborer that made that shell a dud just for the men of the Laffey.It was a tense moment for Delewski when he saw the size of the shell and realized how much damage it could have done if it had exploded.

Annotation

Years ago Delewski did an interview for National Geographic. He accompanied his commanding officer Captain Becton [Annotator's Note: US Navy Commander Frederick Julian Becton] on the trip. After returning Captain Becton left Delewski to attend a meeting of officers where he was to be the featured speaker. The day after the meeting, Captain Becton called him and told him that a full Army Colonel came up to him and thanked him for all the good work they did at Normandy.After the Laffey [Annotator's Note: US Navy destroyer USS Laffey, DD-724] was hit by the dud shell, it was patched up and eventually returned to the US and docked in Boston. They had to remove the zigzag pattern camouflage used in the Atlantic and repaint the ship to a camouflage pattern used by the ships in the Pacific. After painting the ship Delewski went on 14 days leave. The crew knew they were headed to the Pacific. The Laffey was outfitted with new radar and new sonar equipment. They ran maneuvers in the Chesapeake Bay to test the radar out on submarines and other vessels.

Annotation

While the Laffey was undergoing training on Chesapeake Bay some of the gunners were sent to Dam Neck, Virginia for gunnery practice. Delewski was the sailor sent and he had a good time. They practiced anti-aircraft gunnery with 20-millimeter and 40-millimeter guns.After leaving the Chesapeake Bay they headed to the Pacific via the Panama Canal. While passing through the Panama Canal, the crew of the Laffey improvised some leave. An officer aboard the Laffey announced that the ship was short some parts for her 40-millimeter guns and that the ship would have to leave formation to get the necessary parts. This was not true and during the 6 hour wait to be placed back into the line the crew disembarked the ship and played a baseball game. A local beer distributor drove his truck by and saw the game between the sailors. He swung his truck around and opened up the back and sold it to the sailors of the Laffey. Since there was no drinking on ship the men got in life rafts and drank it around the boat. The captain turned a blind eye to that, but learned something from it as well.While in the Pacific the Laffey would occasionally stop at the island of Mogmog. Mogmog is a small coral island that is submerged when the tide is high.The crew of the Laffey was anxious to get out to the Pacific. On their way out, they stopped in Pearl Harbor for a few days before being assigned to a squadron of battleships which had been repaired and were heading west.On the Laffey's first day in Pearl Harbor, Delewski was assigned to gunnery practice. Delewski thought the practice was neat. There was a structure like a gigantic pool table with water in it. Ships would be moved back and forth and the gunners had to look through their glasses to determine legitimate targets. Delewski liked it so much he volunteered for a 2nd day of training.From Pearl Harbor they went on various assignments depending on which fleet they were working with. There was a landing at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines in which the Laffey had to escort ships and provide support for the landing.

Annotation

When the Laffey left Pearl Harbor she was assigned as a escort for an old battleship heading out into the Pacific to rejoin the fleet.The Laffey's duties varied by which fleet she was assigned to. The main US landing in the Philippines was at Leyte Gulf and while American forces were landing there the Japanese were landing forces at Ormoc Bay. When it was decided to close up Ormoc, the Laffey escorted landing craft to and then into Ormoc Bay.The Japanese seemed to be a little screwed up. As the US landings were taking place a Japanese transport and its accompanying ships attempted to enter the harbor. Land-based American planes took care of the transport. The Japanese commander was so angry with this SNAFU [Annotator's Note: common acronym used by military personnel meaning Situation Normal, All Fouled Up] that he sent as many as 90 planes to wipe out the American flotilla that had the audacity to land in Ormac Bay.Delewski sat there all day watching dogfights. That was the first time he ever saw a P-38 [Annotator's Note: Lockheed P-38 "Lightening" fighter aircraft] in action. The P-38s were battling Japanese Zero's overhead. It was the 1st time Delewski had seen a dogfight and it fascinated him. A number of the ships near the Laffey sustained some damage from the attack. This was the 1st time the Laffey had a close encounter with a suicide plane. 1 of the destroyers escorting the landing group into Ormoc was the Hughes [Annotator's Note: US Navy destroyer USS Hughes, DD-410]. The Hughes was hit and the Laffey ended up having to tow her for an hour or 2 until a seagoing tug came out and was able to take over the tow. The Laffey stayed next to the Hughes to help out with the fires and the wounded.Delewski observed that many of the sailors aboard the Hughes wore beards and there was many terrible burns as a result of that. The following day the captain of the Laffey, Captain Becton, got on the horn and informed the crew that they could wear a beard, but it had to be trimmed by the ship's barber every day at the cost of 1 dollar per day. It didn't take long for all of the beards to disappear.Dealing with the kamikaze stricken Hughes was the 1st time the Laffey was close to a victim of a kamikaze attack.Delewski thought that the Japanese were definitely a little bit crazy for slamming their planes into ships and killing themselves. He believes that some of the Japanese thought that by committing suicide in that fashion they were guaranteeing themselves and their family a spot in heaven. Delewski feels that if that is what they believed in then that is what they believed in.Delewski has come to realize that not the entire story about the kamikaze attacks has been told except by a story that ran on public television in Japan. He states that the untold story is about the many Japanese Army pilots drafted into the kamikaze units because they had more navigational training and could act as guides for the suicide pilots.

Annotation

Before going out on duty at Picket Station Number 1 the men of the Laffey saw all sorts of damage to ships while docked at Kerama Retto. This was in addition to what they had seen on the Hughes and the Franklin [Annotator's Note: US Navy aircraft carrier USS Franklin, CV-13]. When the Franklin was hit, Delewski was no more than a mile away in the anchorage watching a movie.It was all part of the job. Damage was routine and in the Pacific it occured regularly.When the Laffey was making its way to Okinawa they got word that President Roosevelt [Annotator's Note: President Franklin D. Roosevelt died on 12 April 1945] had died. They completed refuelling and took on ammunition and headed to their station off Okinawa. On station they went on full alert an hour before sunrise and man their battle stations, but nothing ever happened. This was a daily occurence.1 morning [Annotator's Note: the morning of 15 April 1945] when Delewski was going to breakfast it started. Most of the firing that Delewski did was under the direction of the fire control officer. The ship would try to come in broadside so they could utilize all 6 guns. The 1st hit occured just forward of gun mount number 3. They got the fires under control and reported they they were ready to resume firing. At that time Delewski was instructed to go into local control and pick his own targets.The 1st kamikaze hit just forward of gun mount number 3 on the port side. The plane went under the torpedo tubes on the upper deck. The wing of the plane hit the back of gun mount number 3. The fire from the hit spread 2 decks. Immediately they went into fire control mode. It did not take long to get the fire under control.During this event there was a hang fire in the right-hand gun in Delewski's gun mount. He took the rawhide maul that was kept on the bulkhead and hit the block with it. This pushed the block into position and the round fired.

Annotation

When Delewski resumed firing he had to sit in a different position to fire his gun. The fire had warped the area where he was normally able to sit.After picking out a target and shooting it down, Delewski instructed his men to train on 145 degrees. As the gun swung around a kamikaze slammed into the Laffey. Delewski was flung some 12 to 15 feet into the air from the explosion.He woke up on a top of a bunch of depth charges. He immediately went back to his gun.Delewski received a letter from Burt Remsen [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] who was 1 of his loaders. He thanked Delewski for helping to save his life after the direct hit. Delewski helped put out a fire near Remsen that was threatening his life. 6 men were killed right then. A few other people suffered internal injuries and were hospitalized. None of those people lived long after the war.The motor of the Japanese plane that hit the ship pinned Delewski's friend Flint [Annotator's Note: US Navy coxswain Chester Carlton Flint]] up against the door of a ship. Delewski tried to free his friend but there was nothing he could do. Flint died right in front of him. Flint, according to Delewski, passed for white. He was black yet he was light enough to pass for white. In those days blacks were not allowed to serve.After gun mount number 3 was knocked out of action, Delewski reported to the bridge. He was told to take over gun mount number 2 because Walker, the gun captain of gun mount number 2, had been wounded. This gun mount was still under fire control. Delewski just supervised the men in the gun mount. They weren't his crew but they all knew what they were doing. He had his head out of the top hatch of the gun mount and saw a shell from 1 of the guns slam right into the nose of an oncoming enemy plane.

Annotation

The Laffey was in a rough state. She had been hit a number of times from a number of direction. Everything from the engine room aft was flooded. The kamikazes rigged naval gun shells like a bomb. A few of the shells that landed went all the way from the top deck to the bottom of the ship and punctured holes that caused flooding. As they tried to pump the water out of the ship it just kept filling back up. 2 tugs saved the Laffey by pulling up next to and holding her then dragging her onto a beach so it did not sink. The next day an underwater welder came and put temporary patches on the hull ship which allowed the crew to pump all of the water out of her.There had been all types of fires and explosions throughout the whole ordeal.When it was all over, Delewski sat down on the port side of the ship. They had finally been brought some sandwiches and as Delewski was eating he looked down and saw a finger. That's just the way it was.Delewski had experienced men in his gun crew. Calvin Wesley Clore [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] was his pointer and Jim LePointe [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] was his setter. Both of these men had experience and had served in the North Atlantic in the Armed Guard. They both had a ship sunk from underneath them. Now they were on the Laffey and were serving admirably.Delewski had learned in gunnery school to always have a cook on your gun crew. That way when coffee is being served you will be the first to get it.Delewski was not relieved from gun mount number 2 until Walker, the gun captain of mount 2, had returned from having his wounds treated. After being relieved, Delewski helped out with pulling hoses and working pumps. He also took care of getting 40-millimeter ammunition out of the way. Some of that ammunition had cooked off [Annotator's Note: when live ammunition gets so hot that it detonates] and blew holes in the deck of the ship.The attack on the Laffey lasted about an hour. There were roughly 40 planes in the air but only 21 or 22 of them dove on the Laffey.Delewski shows the interviewer a diagram of the attack on the vessel. The Laffey was credited with downing 9 enemy planes.At some point the Laffey took a bomb hit that jammed her rudder. She could only steam in a circle but she was still able to move. The rudder was eventually freed but the entire trip back to the United States steering had to be done by hand from the fantail.

Annotation

The Laffey escorted a ship named the Dashing Wave [Annotator's Note: SS Dashing Wave] all the way back to the States [Annotator's Note: Laffey left the SS Dashing Wave in Pearl Harbor and picked up the battleship USS Wisconsin, BB-64, and escorted her to the United States]. After returning to the United States the Laffey steamed up to Seattle for repairs.The Laffey had lost 32 men killed and 71 wounded. The men who were killed were sent to Okinawa where there was a cemetery. Most of those eventually got back to the United States and were buried.In Seattle the Laffey was opened up for tours. One of Delewski's friends from the ship, Bob Karr, met his wife giving tours of the ship in Seattle.Thousands of people ended up going to see the Laffey. Americans were getting the sense that the war in the Pacific was coming to a conclusion but the Laffey reminded them that the war was far from over.In Seattle the crew of the Laffey was moved off of the ship and into a barracks. Some men went home on leave while others went into the Navy hospital. Delewski went to the hospital for treatment for his nerves in Seattle. To this day Delewski is still jumpy. When he was first married his wife and him did not have an alarm clock. His wife would crouch next to the bed to wake him up. Another example of his jumpiness was when he was coaching high school football. During a game a player from the other team was returning a kick off and ran up behind Delewski. He turned and hit the kid knocking him to the ground. That also happened a couple of times on the practice field.Delewski attended the first reunion which was held in Norfolk, Virginia. He was impressed by the men's kids being very quiet and respectful. It meant a lot to him to see that the kids understood what that meant to the men to be together again.At the reunion Delewski spent some time with Paul Smith, the gunnery officer. Smith was originally assigned to the Laffey. When Burns [Annotator's Note: Harry Burns] came aboard Smith was reassigned to the O'Brien [Annotator's Note: US Navy destroyer USS O'Brien, DD-725] to take over as gunnery officer there. When Burns was transferred back to Annapolis [Annotator's Note: to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland] Smith returned to the Laffey.

Annotation

Delewski still hears from different people from the Laffey. After the war he took advantage of the G.I. Bill and got his education. While still in college Delewski got a job teaching Americanization to GI [Annotator's Note: military nickname for a soldier] brides [Annotator's Note: also referred to as war brides]. There were people from all over the world who had to learn some basics to get their citizenship.After graduating from college Delewski decided to get his elementary certification. He disliked that because he had to know an elementary curriculum and it was not very challenging. It also annoyed him that everything was multiple choice and true false. Where he had come from testing was much more challenging. To him this was a joke.Delewski taught a wide range of classes after the war including Americanization and standard evening high school classes. He taught almost every level of education.He played 2 years of football in school because he went to school continuously and was able to finish in 3 years and graduated in 1949.Delewski's first teaching job was in a 1-room school house. It was a big jump coming from a high school to a school where grades 1 through 6 are in the same room. He had to chop his own wood, maintain his own fires, and clean his own outhouses.Delewski wants people to remember that the story of the Laffey is the story of a ship. The Laffey was not only around for World War II, but it was a part of Korea and Vietnam and the Cold War.

Annotation

Interviewer asks Delewski if his experience on the Laffey changed him. On the day that all of this happened [Annotator's Note: 15 April 1945] Delewski made a promise to God that if he survived he would do something worthwhile with his life and help people out. For 25 years he taught special education classes.Serving on the Laffey helped him grow up. He realized that he should not take so many things for granted.Another person in the room in addition to Delewski and the interviewer states that people need to be taught patriotism today and that the ideals of veterans should be treasured and remembered.Delewski recalls that it took 29 people from top to bottom to fire the guns. The gun crew was set up with the bridge. The bridge would see a plane or pick a plane. The plane's speed and direction as well as the ship's speed and direction would be entered into the fire director which would send its calculation to the fuze setters and gun crews. Fighting the ship took the whole crew.Delewski also wants people to know that this is the Laffey's story and he is proud to be a part of it.The other visitor in the room aside from Delewski and the interviewer, relates the story of another veteran of the Laffey named Glenn Ratter [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] who was in the magazine and just kept passing 5-inch shell up to the guns. He knew that if they stopped passing the shells up that they would die.

All oral histories featured on this site are available to license. The videos will be delivered via mail as Hi Definition video on DVD/DVDs or via file transfer. You will be purchasing the oral history in its entirety but will be free to use only specific clips. Please contact the Museum at digitalcollections@nationalww2museum.org if you are interested in licensing this content. Please allow up to two weeks for file delivery or delivery of the DVD to your postal address. See more information at http://ww2online.org/faqs.