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After the attack...

Those are the things you remember.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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