Early Life

Becoming a Sailor and Serving on the USS Mississippi (BB-41)

Shore Bombardments

The Battle of Surigao Strait

Kamikazes

Shuri Castle and War's End

Returning Home

Postwar Life

Reflections

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George Joseph Bertucci was born in July 1925 in New Orleans and was raised there. His mother passed when he was three years old and his father was uneducated. Bertucci had to work to support the family. Bertucci's grandmother raised him as best she could. Times were very difficult for the poor family during the Depression. Bertucci had seven years of school before going into the Navy. Bertucci was with friends when he heard of the Pearl Harbor attack. It hit them hard. Bertucci signed up for a Navy training program he could attend while in school. He signed up for the Navy in January 1942 after stating that his birth year was 1924.

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George Joseph Bertucci went to San Diego, California for basic training. After three weeks, he went aboard the USS Mississippi (BB-41). It had been running convoys to England prior to traversing the Panama Canal and making its way to San Francisco. That was the beginning for Bertucci's sailing career. He was one of 1,400 sailors on the battleship. Training on the ship continued as it made way for the Aleutian Islands. The ship practiced night firing. Bertucci made the error of being too close when a five inch gun was fired. He lost an ear as a result. He decided that he wanted to be on the bridge so he could see everything. He was too small for the location so he became a lookout. He worked his way into the quartermasters. He befriended someone in that group and learned about navigation equipment. The navigator looked to Bertucci to aid him. Bertucci was in navigation for the rest of the war. He focused on steering the ship and was on the ship's bridge most of the time. He got along well with most of the officers. Captain Hunter [Annotator's Note: given name not found] was an elderly man. The captain was a friend of a lieutenant from New Orleans. They would bring Bertucci into their conversations. The Academy officers were good men who knew their business. The "90 Day Wonders" [Annotator's Note: 90 Day Wonders is a derogatory nickname that refers to officers who received their commissions through a three month officer training program] treated the enlisted men like enlisted men. After the training, the ship went to the Aleutians where the Japanese had invaded Kiska. The battleship fired on the enemy at night and eventually drove them out. The Army lost many men through carelessness. Many froze to death. After Kiska, the Mississippi went to Hawaii. There was no overnight liberty. Bertucci did see the destruction in Pearl Harbor. Some of the damaged ships were raised and reconditioned with new equipment. The Mississippi had its old equipment which later proved less effective against enemy aircraft. The ship mainly depended on its big guns.

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George Joseph Bertucci and the USS Mississippi (BB-41) participated in the invasions of the Marshall and Gilbert Islands. During the bombardment of Makin Island, a turret exploded killing many sailors. One quartermaster managed to escape the inferno through a hatch in the back of the turret. On another shore bombardment, Bertucci used the captain's binoculars to view the destruction. The commanding officer and Bertucci conferred on a better ship location to efficiently shell the island. The ship commander ordered Mississippi move nearer the beach by having a minesweeper bring her closer to shore. The battleship then obliterated the Japanese installations. Because of the Mississippi's effectiveness, the ground troops often depended on the "Missy" [Annotator's Note: Bertucci's nickname for his battleship] to do the shore bombardments for them. That often required the crew to stay up all night to destroy enemy emplacements. Other smaller ships did not have the firepower to do the heavy destruction like Missy. On Okinawa, Shuri Castle was smashed by Bertucci's ship. The big guns were very effective for firing on island defenses. When the ground troops advanced into the areas where caves were smashed, they discovered numerous dead Japanese killed by the ship's big guns. As years passed, Bertucci found that he was affected by the idea of how many people had been killed by those large guns. [Annotator's Note: Bertucci shows emotion, momentarily cries and a break in the interview occurs.] Makin and Peleliu defenses were completely smashed. The Mississippi also participated in the battle for the Philippines.

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George Joseph Bertucci and the USS Mississippi (BB-41) participated in the Battle of Surigao Strait. The new and more technically advanced battleships were operating as escorts to Halsey's [Annotator's Note: US Navy Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey] aircraft carriers. By the time of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Japanese air force had been rendered largely ineffective. The Japanese offensive strategy centered on bringing its naval forces to bear against the American invasion fleet of troopships, auxiliaries and hospital ships. They planned to decimate the invasion forces by knocking out their support vessels. The Japanese had two huge battleships. The Americans projected that the enemy planned to use at least one of those massive warships for this effort. The Americans knew they would be outgunned so they set up defensive plans. Halsey and his carriers with the newer battleships were 300 miles away and would be of no use in the fight. Halsey had been decoyed away from the site of the battle. The Mississippi and other old American battleships, along with small aircraft carriers and destroyers, held off the large enemy fleet. The invasion of Leyte continued unabated. Bertucci was positioned near the captain on the bridge. In his position as a quartermaster, he had to remain close to the captain. Consequently, Bertucci had a good vantage point during the action.

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George Joseph Bertucci and the USS Mississippi (BB-41) were first attacked by Japanese suicide aircraft in the Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines. He was in the conning tower below the bridge and saw the attack as it occurred. One of the battleship's guns hit the incoming plane, and it crashed on the opposite side of the ship. The aircraft passed about five feet over Bertucci's head. When the second kamikaze attacked the ship, Bertucci was scheduled to go on watch. He was going to get early chow, but the plane hit the chow line before he got there. There were about 65 wounded sailors from that attack at Okinawa. Another attack by a suicide pilot resulted in damage to the blisters of the ship and required going into a floating dry dock for repairs. Another hit the ship's quarter deck. A friend was killed by a kamikaze attack. Another Japanese plane crashed into a gun crew and killed them all. After the Japanese naval and air forces were decimated, the enemy relied on kamikazes. The destroyer picket ships could battle the incoming flights of hundreds of enemy suicide planes when they were 40 miles out. Cruisers were the next line of defense prior to the battleships and carriers. The main force of kamikazes would be reduced to perhaps 20 or so aircraft by the time it hit the inner circle of major ships. Kamikazes would even crash into small destroyers. One Australian cruiser withstood five attacks in one day. It remained in the battle even though half its crew was gone. Enemy air attacks would continue through multiple days. The Mississippi did not have decent guns to fight off the kamikazes until after a refit at Bremerton.

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George Bertucci and the USS Mississippi (BB-41) participated in the shelling of Shuri Castle during the Battle of Okinawa. The ship was close to Shuri Castle and poured in the firepower for two or three days. The fortifications were completely destroyed even though the concrete walls were 12 feet thick. A Marine lieutenant was aboard the ship as a spotter. He lost it during the battle and had to be replaced. Bertucci still has memories of what happened back then. [Annotator's Note: Bertucci shows emotion.] After Okinawa, Bertucci realized that he could not make it to Japan. He was lucky that the bomb was used and the war ended. He could not have gone to Japan because the kamikazes would have been continuous. The enemy would have fought all the way. The ship heard about the atomic bombs when they were announced over the radio. The captain updated his crew by way of memorandum. He told his crew when the Japanese surrendered. Bertucci went to the bridge and blew the ship's horn. He also shot flares into the air. He discovered that they were landing on the bow of the ship. Men up forward were throwing them overboard.

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George Joseph Bertucci and the USS Mississippi (BB-41) were anchored too far away from the surrender ceremony to be able to witness it. They pulled out of Tokyo Bay and the captain told Bertucci that he was going home. He had enough points to allow him to be discharged quickly. The captain told Bertucci that he meant the Mississippi was going to New Orleans. Bertucci was elated. He was at the ship's wheel when the massive ship crossed the bar to go up the Mississippi River. Bertucci had never seen that part of the river. When the ship was tied up in New Orleans, Bertucci spotted his relatives and was released as the first person off the ship. He reunited with his girlfriend, Carolyn. His family was also there. He had no serious relationships during his time in the military. The reunion was unreal. Bertucci remained in the reserves and put nearly ten years in the Navy and was discharged afterward. He had multiple rating promotions during his service.

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George Joseph Bertucci wanted to improve his education after the military. He received his GED and then went to air conditioning and refrigeration classes at night. Jobs were scarce. He did whatever work he could find during the day. He attended Tulane University engineering courses but changed to business courses. He found employment at a refrigeration supply house. He worked briefly for Higgins Industries, but the boat building business was not very good. He continued his night classes. He worked for Standard Brass for ten years and then went into business for himself. The partnership split up and Bertucci started a store in Houma and Elmwood [Annotator's Note: Louisiana]. He eventually sold the business to his son and it continues to thrive. All of Bertucci's children have done well. Bertucci has multiple residences. He joined the Navy because he liked boats and guns. He was raised with a rifle in his hands. He wanted to be able to shoot, but he did not like the idea of the Army. He scored well on the rifle range as a marksman. Bertucci found it tough to be in the Navy because of his size. He had trouble loading the large shells in the guns. It was loud when the big guns went off. It would move the ship when the main guns fired. When the turret blew, a huge ball of smoke was emitted. [Annotator's Note: On 20 November 1942, the USS Mississippi (BB-41)'s Number 2 main battery turret exploded during the shelling of Makin Island.]

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George Joseph Bertucci felt the war improved him because he furthered his education afterwards. He had ambition to do better than his friends. His marriage to Carolyn was the best thing he did. He did not discuss the war after his return because no one was interested. A cousin ended up on Guadalcanal as an airplane mechanic. The Japanese overwhelmed the American fleet initially at Guadalcanal. The enemy was more experienced at war than the Americans. They were good. Incidents like storms bring back memories. Halsey [Annotator's Note: US Navy Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey] took them into a typhoon when the ships were not properly loaded for ballast. Bertucci was a quartermaster at the time. He read the barometers and wind velocities and provided updates to the captain every 15 minutes. He knew they were headed into a storm. The winds were reading about 160 miles per hour. The seas were beyond estimating because of their extreme height. It could have been 60 or 70 foot seas. The battleship [Annotator's Note: USS Mississippi (BB-41)] was being battered as it plunged through waves instead of going over them. Halsey insisted they hold courses. About 2,000 men were lost during the typhoon. Ships were damaged severely. By the end of the war, Bertucci had reached Quartermaster 2nd Class (QM2c). His captain tried to talk him into staying in the service. He offered him first class rating. Bertucci felt he had nothing to come home to and gave it consideration. He lost contact with everyone at home because he did not write to them. If Carolyn had not been at the dock, he would have re-enlisted.

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