Living Like a Nomad

Boot Camp and Ship Assignment

New Guinea, Cape Gloucester and the Admiralties

The Battle of Surigao Strait

Okinawa

Life on a Destroyer and Heading Home

After the War and Occupation Duty

Reflections and Military Medals

Firepower and Improvisation

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Jack Thornhill was born in Alexandria [Annotator's Note: Alexandria, Louisiana] in 1926. In 1932 the family moved to Rayville, Louisiana in Rapides Parish, where they stayed until 1939. Thornhill's parents divorced when he was six years old and, when he was 13, his father married a woman who was only ten years older than Thornhill. Thornhill did not get along with his father's new wife so his father advised him to leave, which he did. He bounced around a bit and ended up staying with a man who had nine daughters. The man paid him 50 cents a day to farm. From there, Thornhill went back to Rayville. In Rayville, Thornhill ran into one of his cousins who lived in McGehee, Arkansas and was a railroad conductor. His cousin moved him to Arkansas to stay with his family. He did not stay there very long. Thornhill joined the Navy in August 1943. Thornhill went to live with his mother who had remarried by that time. His step father did not care for him and kicked him out not long after he arrived. Thornhill went to work for a construction company that was building a levee on the Red River. When it was finished, he decided to join the Navy. Thornhill was working for a grocery store in Alexandria when he heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Thornhill saw the maneuvers going on in Louisiana and knew he did not want to serve like that. That is most likely why he joined the Navy.

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Jack Thornhill was sent to San Diego for boot camp. There were a lot of guys from the Alexandria [Annotator's Note: Alexandria, Louisiana] area in his boot camp class as well as many from California. Boot camp lasted about six weeks. They did a lot of marching and took swimming lessons. That was hard on him because he had never been a strong swimmer. After boot camp, he ended up on a Merchant Marine ship going to Honolulu. During the trip, Thornhill was put into a boxing ring with one of the cooks who was a golden gloves boxer. The cook went to work on Thornhill. They both hit each other with good shots. After the fight, they went to the mess hall and the cook made Thornhill a big steak but he could not eat it because of the shot he had taken to his jaw. Thornhill finally arrived in Honolulu and that is where he went aboard his ship. He was a gun captain on a 40mm. He had taken gunnery training aboard ship. His ship was the USS Daly (DD-519). He had been assigned to that ship because it needed crew members. When he struck for gunner's mate, he was given a written test. The test was easy for him. Thornhill was made a Gunner's Mate 3rd Class at the same time as guys who went to school for it after boot camp. Those guys would not talk to Thornhill and, for that reason, he never attended any of the reunions held after the war. Thornhill was sending an allotment home to his mother to help her out. His step father had died by that time and she needed the money. He also sent home war bonds. Thornhill was glad to get the steady meals he got in the Navy. He had learned discipline at home so the Navy was easy for him.

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[Annotator's Note: Jack Thornhill served in the Navy as a gunner's mate aboard the USS Daly (DD-519) and was a gun captain aboard one of the ship's port side 40mm antiaircraft guns.] They left Honolulu and went to New Guinea. On their first trip they escorted LSTs [Annotator's Note: Landing Ship, Tank] from New Guinea to Cape Gloucester. During the trip they lost their sister ship. While the troops and equipment were offloading on Cape Gloucester they stood off and screened the landing force. During the unloading, Val dive bombers [Annotator's Note: Japanese Aichi D3A Val dive bomber] came in and the sister ship of the Daly sank in 700 fathoms of water. They immediately went to picking up survivors. Once the sinking ship got down to a certain level its depth charges started exploding. The blast nearly lifted the Daly up out of the water and broke the ships keel. They went back to New Guinea and had the keel welded back together. They shot down several planes at Cape Gloucester. During the war they shot down ten airplanes. They also sank a battle wagon [Annotator's Note: a battleship], a cruiser, and a destroyer in the Surigao Strait in the Philippines and conducted many shore bombardments all over the Pacific. While bombarding one beach, the sleeve in the barrel of one of the five inch guns came out of the barrel and they had to saw it off. After that, they went to the Admiralty Islands and worked there for a time. Thornhill was able to make liberty in Sydney, Australia twice. The first time they went to Sydney was in late August 1944, right before the landings at Leyte. There were a lot of good looking women in Sydney. Some of the taxis ran on coal which was strange. They stayed in Sydney about 30 days then went to the Philippines. They usually landed the 1st Cavalry Division during operations. In the Philippines they landed them on Leyte. Thornhill was able to watch the cavalry men driving around in their little tanks with their 37 millimeter guns clearing up the beaches. Where they were anchored, there were a lot of poles where the natives would tie up to fish. Thornhill would watch as the bodies of dead Japanese would float out around them. Nothing smells worse than a dead human body. One night, they were out on submarine patrol when they came across a small sampan. In it was a Navy lieutenant who had been in the Philippines all that time. The man later wrote a book about his experience.

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[Annotator's Note: Jack Thornhill served in the Navy as a gunner's mate aboard the USS Daly (DD-519) and was a gun captain aboard one of the ship's port side 40mm antiaircraft guns.] The next day was when the Japanese headed through the Surigao Strait. Admiral Halsey [Annotator's Note: US Navy Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey] went off on a wild goose chase with his fleet and the carriers. They did have some battle wagons [Annotator's Note: battleships] there that were part of the invasion fleet. When they got word that the Japanese were coming through Surigao Strait they sent out 28 PT boats to intercept them. There were four or five destroyers in Thornhill's squadron and they went past the Japanese while the PT boats were harassing them. The PT boats were like a bunch of hornets. When Thornhill's squadron turned around and headed back, the Japanese thought that they were one of their ships and started signaling. The executive officer aboard Thornhill's ship immediately told the captain that the ships signaling them were the enemy. They opened fire. The cruisers and destroyers were ahead of the battle wagons. They sank the battle wagon with torpedoes and sank the cruiser and destroyer with their five inch guns. The next morning they went out to try to pick up survivors but the enemy sailors would not come aboard so they left them. After they left the strait the battle wagons and cruisers blocked off the channel by crossing the T [Annotator's Note: crossing the T is a naval maneuver where one line of ships successfully crosses the path of an opposing line forming a T which allows all of the guns in the crossing column to be fired while only the forward mounted guns on the other column can be brought to bear]. When they got there, they could see the ships steaming back and forth. Thornhill watched as a cruiser destroyed a Japanese destroyer. Only one of the American ships was hit and that was the destroyer Klaxton [Annotator's Note: USS Klaxton (DD-571)]. To Thornhill, the battle looked like lightening bugs. He was on the 40mm and did not have anything to do because the ship was only firing its five inch guns and torpedoes. He could not see much because it was pitch black out there. Thornhill believes that he was only two blocks away from the Japanese ships. Around the time they left, the suicide planes started hitting. After the battle, they headed back to San Francisco where they went into dry dock. Thornhill was able to go home on leave while the ship was in dry dock. He left Alexandria [Annotator's Note: Alexandria, Louisiana] the day he was supposed to be back. He got lucky and was able to fly back. From California they steamed to Saipan then went from there to Iwo Jima.

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[Annotator's Note: Jack Thornhill served in the Navy as a gunner's mate aboard the USS Daly (DD-519) and was a gun captain aboard one of the ship's port side 40mm antiaircraft guns.] Off of Iwo Jima they rescued the survivors from some sunken carriers. When they went out on patrol they had a number of pocket aircraft carriers [Annotator's Note: Thornhill is referring to escort carriers, or CVEs] and the Saratoga [Annotator's Note: USS Saratoga (CV-3)]. Late in the evening, a torpedo plane came in right over the Daly's fantail and crashed into the jeep carrier and sunk it. The Daly picked up survivors. While they were doing so, the Saratoga was firing at the enemy planes that were attacking it. Thornhill could hear the salvos coming in from the Saratoga's guns. They sounded like a freight train and kicked up huge spouts of water. Later on they were damaged while on picket duty off Okinawa. While they were on picket duty their job was to pick up airplanes on the radar then relay that information back so the fleet could prepare for the attack. To protect the Daly there was a CAP [Annotator's Note: combat air patrol] of about four aircraft. These were either F6Fs [Annotator's Note: Grumman F6F Hellcat fighter aircraft] or F4U Corsairs [Annotator's Note: Vought F4U Corsiar fighter aircraft] and would circle overhead until there was a sighting. Once enemy planes were picked up on radar the covering planes would go out after them. If the bogies [Annotator's Note: naval slang for an unidentified or unfriendly aircraft, usually found by radar] got past them, the covering planes had to try to shoot them down. The pointer on Thornhill's gun was hit in the head by a .50 caliber slug from an American fighter that was chasing the kamikaze that hit the Daly. When the suicide plane hit the ship, the doctor, who was always on Thornhill's gun, had his head blown off. Thornhill grabbed the man's body and pushed it out of the way. Thornhill was trying to help the wounded man down to one of the damage control parties when one of the officers yelled at him to get back on his gun. Thornhill's gun position was right under the bridge on the port side forward. It was a twin mount 40mm. When they returned to Okinawa from picket duty, a Japanese plane came in at them. One of the guys manned one of the 20mm guns on the fantail and shot the plane down. When the plane was heading at them from over the island, the gun in the number two mount was swung out. No one warned Thornhill that the gun was about to be fired and when it went off it blew him flat onto his back and busted his ear drum. He still has problems with his hearing. From there they started escorting two pocket battleships, the Alaska and the Guam [Annotator's Note: the USS Alaska (CB-1) and USS Guam (CB-2) were large cruisers]. A pocket battleship is between a battleship and a cruiser. They escorted them up to the mouth of the Yangtze River searching for coastal shipping. Then they made their way into the Yellow Sea off the China coast. There were not supposed to be any Chinese out there but there were. Since it was not clear if they were the enemy or not they were usually fired on. The war ended the day they returned to Buckner Bay. There were a lot of suicide planes that were hitting the aircraft carriers off Okinawa. Thornhill also saw a number of the Japanese Baka bombs which were guided rockets. The plane that hit the Daly came in from the starboard side. The explosion from the plane killed an officer and ripped the headphones off of Thornhill's head. He was also hit in the stomach by a piece of shrapnel. Thornhill was nervous plenty of times. There were times that Thornhill prayed to be killed because he was so exhausted.

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[Annotator's Note: Jack Thornhill served in the Navy as a gunner's mate aboard the USS Daly (DD-519) and was a gun captain aboard one of the ship's port side 40mm antiaircraft guns.] Serving aboard a destroyer was a never ending job. There were a lot of good guys aboard the ship and some that were not so good. One day, Thornhill's ship crossed the equator seven times. The only way they knew when it was a holiday was when turkey was served. Occasionally they would get a break and could go ashore somewhere for a beer party. Thornhill went through the King Neptune's ceremony the first time he crossed the equator. Some of the officers aboard the ship were good guys but some were not. Their executive officer [Annotator's Note: second in command of the ship] had come up through the ranks and was a very nice guy. When Thornhill first went aboard ship he was put on KP [Annotator's Note: kitchen patrol or kitchen police]. The boatswain's mate would give him a bad time when he could. Thornhill complained to the executive officer and was able to get a transfer out. That is when he struck for O division, or ordnance division, to become a gunner's mate. Thornhill chose to strike for gunner's mate. He had a couple friends who were in the O division. When they left Okinawa after the war they stopped at Midway. They rode out a storm one night with waves so high they looked like mountains. The ship rolled 60 degrees. Bull Halsey [Annotator's Note: US Navy Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey] led his ships into a storm and lost several destroyers. They survived the storm and put in at Pearl [Annotator's Note: Pearl Harbor, Hawaii] where they topped off their fuel tanks then continued on to San Francisco. There, Thornhill was put on a troop train to St. Louis. In St. Louis a ticket agent asked him for his ticket. Thornhill gave it to him and the man put him on a different train which got him home quicker.

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Jack Thornhill was discharged on 15 December 1945 in New Orleans. After being discharged, he went back to Alexandria [Annotator's Note: Alexandria, Louisiana] and worked for a neon sign company. He went to California for a while but his wife decided that she wanted to go home. She went home first then he joined her soon after. Thornhill went back to work for the sign company for a while then, around 1950, went into the trucking business and hauled cattle for 40 years. Thornhill did not like the trucking business but he was able to make good money doing it. Thornhill feels that it is important that people know what they did during the war. Thornhill knows a lot of veterans who exaggerate their stories. His boys wanted to ask him about his service but his wife would tell them not to. He had a hard time at night for a long time. Other than that, the war did not bother him. Thornhill never spoke about the war but he can close his eyes and still see it. The Daly [Annotator's Note: USS Daly (DD-529)] went to Nagasaki, Japan after the war. Thornhill was able to go ashore and saw the destruction. He brought home a Japanese engineering book as a souvenir. There were a lot of Japanese soldiers doing extra detail work for them. They brought a bunch of .31 caliber Japanese rifles and bayonets to the ship and Thornhill brought one home. His kids used to play with them when they were little. From Nagasaki they went to another Japanese base where they rode out a storm. They anchored inside a little spur near the harbor. In the harbor there were trees that were bent over and under them were huge tanker hulls that were being built. Right across from the harbor was an airport where flame thrower tanks were flown in to. They went out and burned the hulls of the tankers.

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Jack Thornhill and the interviewer have just been reminiscing. He can remember things that happened to him when he was two or three years old. Recording this interview is like planting a tree. Thornhill has planted a lot of trees. It is a way of leaving something behind. They stopped at a place named Espiritu Santo. The water there was so clear that they could see the bottom. They were resting up after coming from California. They would throw change in the water and the natives would dive in and get it before it hit the bottom. It was a way for them to entertain themselves. Thornhill was awarded the Silver Star Medal for his actions off Okinawa. The Silver Star is a big deal. He also received the Purple Heart. Thornhill thinks he would do it all over again if he had to. He would have loved to take another ride on that tin can [Annotator's Note: Tin Can is the nickname for destroyers].

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Jack Thornhill went to see the destroyer on exhibit in Baton Rouge [Annotator's Note: the USS Kidd (DD-661)]. Even though it is the same class as the destroyer he served aboard it looks nothing like his. Right after the Admiralty Islands they mounted some .30 caliber machine guns on the sides of the ship. Those were the only guns they had besides the 20mms, 40mms and five inch. They had five 40mm, five - five inch, and three twin 40mm. When they went out on target practice, old A-20s [Annotator's Note: Douglas A-20 Havoc light bomber] would tow sleeves for them to shoot at. One guy cut the line on the sleeve with his first shot and the sleeve dropped off. The 40mm is fed by four round clips. The guns could fire about 120 rounds per minute. The gun would vibrate them very badly. During shore bombardment they would only use the five inch guns. They usually did not get that close to the beach. They were just trying to clear the beach for the troops to land. They escorted a lot of tankers and LSTs [Annotator's Note: Landing Ship, Tank] at first then started escorting cruisers and pocket battleships. In their down time they would have bull sessions. Sometimes they would open the stores so the crew could buy things. Thornhill slept in a top bunk. If they were anchored somewhere they would show movies. They would mount the camera in the five inch gun mount. If they were with other ships they would swap movies. They would also swim but Thornhill only liked to swim at the beach because he did not like his feet being too far from the bottom. They would dig holes in the corral and put an oil drum full of beer then cover it with 100 octane fuel to chill it. They learned to improvise. [Annotator's Note: The interviewer and another person in the room start talking about the interview and how, over the years, Thornhill's stories have lost some of their detail.] Thornhill has a skin condition now that he believes is a result of going into Nagasaki after the atomic bomb was dropped and the long period of time he spent in the Pacific. The two atomic bombs tore big chunks out of Japan. [Annotator's Note: The interviewer and other person in the room talk about Vought F4U Corsair fighter aircraft.] Thornhill made a Corsair out of a .30 caliber bullet then took the butt from a 75 millimeter shell and made an ashtray out of it. He mounted the Corsair on the ashtray. He wishes he would have kept it. [Annotator's Note: the video ends with the interviewer and the other person in the room talking about the battle of Surigao Strait.]

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