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Alex Vraciu scored nine aerial victories during his first tour. His first kill was a Zero at Tarawa while flying with Butch O'Hare. Then he got a Betty at Tarawa followed by three more Bettys during the second Kwajalein raid. During the first Truk raid he shot down four Zeros, one of which was a float plane Zero, bringing the total for his first combat tour to nine. Vraciu was assigned plane number 19 while training as a night fighter. Seven of his first nine were in this aircraft. Vraciu had nine kills with VF6. Then he joined VF16 and on the second Truk raid he shot down two Zeros bringing his total to 12. Vraciu learned that there would be a fleet engagement [Annotators Note: in the Mariana Islands]. While returning to the carrier after an escort mission Vraciu came across a Betty bomber. He raced the other guys in his squadron up to the Betty, got under it, and shot it down. Around the time of the landings on Saipan and Tinian, which Vraciu strafed, they would put 500 pound bombs on their Hellcats and use them as ground attack planes. Vraciu practiced bombing and skip bombing. He would volunteer to do bomb runs. After he missed a small boat with a bomb he started practicing skip bombing. During a strafing mission at Tanapag Harbor on Saipan, made a good hit on the front part of the bow of a cargo ship and sunk it. He got a citation for shooting down the Betty and another for sinking the ship. They started getting closer to the Turkey Shoot. Widhelm knew that something was going to happen. Two American submarines had located the Japanese fleet and got two of the enemy carriers. On one day Vraciu got six planes. The next day the air was dead. Finally a search plane found the Japanese. They were over 300 miles away. The Americans launched the strike anyway. Vraciu flew escort during this mission, now known as the mission beyond darkness.

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Crain was born in northern Louisiana. He grew up on a farm. During the depression everyone in his family had to work in the field. He first remembers being in a field at 6 years old. His family did not need to buy much from the grocery store. The depression did not hit Crain's family as bad as other people because they produced their own food.When the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor it made a lot of people mad. A lot of Crain's friends decided to enlist. He was mad at the Japanese and eventually forced his parents to sign for him on 23 April 1942. He was 15 years old. His parents signed for him as a 17 year old.On 7 December [Annotator's Note: 7 December 1941] Crain and his buddy had gone down to swim in a local creek. When they came back to the house they found out that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. He remembers getting his butt whipped for swimming in the wintertime.When Crain joined the navy he volunteered for the amphibious force. He was eventually trained in Maryland at Solomons Island. There he learned how to operate the Higgins boats [Annotator's Note: Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVPs)]. They learned how to load the boats and practiced landings in the Chesapeake Bay.

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When Crain was in the armada heading towards the beaches [Annotator's Note: during the invasion of Sicily, July 1943], 1 of the parachute sticks [Annotator's Note: term for a plane load of paratroopers] that was flying in for the night invasion crashed in the water. Crain was on the USS Florence Nightingale. The ship circled around and picked up the airmen.Crain's boat landed on Easy Red sector of Omaha beach on D-Day [Annotator's Note: Invasion of Normandy, June 1944]. Crain landed elements of the 29th Infantry Division on Omaha beach. Crain says that it was every bit as bloody as depicted in Saving Private Ryan. Every time they returned to the ship they returned wounded and bodies back to the ship. After the ship was full they unloaded the wounded and the bodies back in England.They then went to the Mediterranean to get ready for the invasion of southern France. The invasion of southern France was rather uneventful in relation to the D-Day landings. On the way back to the ship on the day of the landings a spent artillery shell crashed through the bottom of the boat and almost caused it to sink.After that there was no need for amphibious landings in Europe. Crain and his men went back to the states. They performed a major overhaul and then were sent through the Panama Canal.Once in the Pacific Crain took on troops to invade Okinawa. Late in the evening on 1 April [Annotator's Note: 1 April 1945] a suicide plane [Annotator's Note: kamikaze] hit their ship and put it out of commission.Crain was thrilled to be able to get out of the States and see the world a little bit. Everyone griped and complained about various things but at the end of the day it was a thrill for Crain to see the world.

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Crain was 1 of the seaman in the boat. They were on a transport ship originally. When Crain was on the transport ship he spent most of the time on the bridge. He enjoyed being on the bridge because he was privy to a little bit more information when it came to where the ship was going.From the Normandy invasion on Crain was a coxswain. The LCVPs [Annotator's Note: Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel] were able to carry a small artillery piece or even a jeep. The Normandy invasion was the toughest part of the war with Crain. Never before had he seen so many body parts, bodies, wreckage, and chaos.It was the hardest landing Crain ever had to make. The seas were roughly 8 feet. Only 1 boat and 1 man were lost in Crain's outfit. Crain took men in on the third wave. The waves were situated 6 minutes apart. When Crain was landing he noted that the third wave was able to advance slightly inland because of the foothold that the first 2 waves had established.After Crain brought in his first wave of troops he was instructed to head back to the ship and get more men. After he got more men he was set in to deliver another wave about 2 hours later. Crain was not able to hear much in terms of the fight that was going on in front of them. As a result of the surf he was not able to focus on much else other than making sure the boat was landing straight and delivering the men effectively. A few times Crain saw machine gun fire and was able to pause for a second and realize that a battle was occuring on the beach.

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When Crain got a chance to examine his boat he noticed there were about 50 to 75 marks in the steel where bullets had ricocheted off. Crain remembers seeing artillery shells landing in the water but his boat was unharmed [Annotator's Note: During the invasion of Normandy, June 1944].When Crain was landing the men he could only get the boat so far in because the beach had underwater terraces. Crain brought the boat in as hard as he could and actually slammed into an underwater terrace. It was important to ground the boat in that much surf because if it had opened prematurely the boat would have sunk. Crain wants to make sure that noone believes that any Higgins boat prematurely dropped its ramp. If that ever happened the boat would have immediately sunk.Crain made numerous practice runs before the invasion of Sicily. It got to the point where the actual landing felt like a regular maneuver. Crain was in Sicily for about 8 or 9 days.

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The Germans would use flares at night and drop them over the American convoy. At night this would illuminate the fleet and make them easier to bomb. The fleet that Crain was a part of helped to shoot down some friendly C-47's [Annotator's Note: friendly fire]. They were coming from North Africa and were not supposed to be over the fleet. They were fortunate enough to be in a position to pick up some of the paratroopers from the planes they shot down.Crain would guide the boat next to the downed plane and the 3 men in Crain's boat would help lift the paratroopers out of the sea. Crain earned a medal for pulling those men out of the water. He was awarded the medal about 2 or 3 months after. Crain pulled out about a dozen men out of the water.Crain was in Sicily for about 8 to 10 days. Most of the time when they lifted anchor they had no idea where they were going. Every last piece of mail that was heading home was read by a censor.Southern France was just another day and another maneuver. Crain did not dwell on things when he was that age. As a kid Crain had the mentality that when something was over it was over and there was no sense in talking about it.

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There were a lot of events that did not make a lasting impression on Crain. He cannot recall the troops he brought in for the Southern France landing but it was highly uneventful. As far as Crain can remember there were no air raids on his convoy. There was a heavy preinvasion bombardment that softened up the beach defenses for the men who were landing.The convoy of ships would usually drop their anchor about 10 to 12 miles offshore. This was done so that the ships were a safe distance from any possible artillery fire. After the transports were loaded they would circle around before they headed in at about a distance of 2 miles. As the force would move inland the convoy would make anchor closer to shore in order to make the trips for the boats shorter.Crain left Norfolk Virginia and headed towards the Caribbean. They had to stand off for a day because when they got there it was Christmas morning and the Panama Canal was closed. After the Canal opened they proceeded towards the Pacific. They had originally debarked from New York. From New York he went to Virginia and from there he went to the Caribbean and through the Canal on 26 December 1944. It was a shock going from freezing cold to subtropical temperatures.Crain ended up in the Philippines and during his time there they went on maneuvers. From the Philippines Crain helped participate in the landings on Okinawa. His transport ship was hit by a kamikaze and it killed about 70 men. The islands that Crain landed men on around Okinawa were relatively easy landings. He does not recall taking any fire. The biggest problem for him and the men were the kamikaze planes.

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The air raid sirens that would warn the ships of incoming kamikazes kept the men up day and night. Psychologically it was tough for Crain and the men. The warnings would come almost hourly. He admits that Okinawa was making him tired of the war. He had been at sea for almost 2 and a half years and it was taking its toll. As an 18 year old Crain remembers thinking that he needed to get his rest.Crain remembers seeing a ship in the convoy shoot down a kamikaze at the last possible second. Another kamikaze nicked another boat and left its wing on the deck. The kamikazes would try to get in between the ships so that they could not shoot otherwise the ships would fire on each other. Crain saw the kamikaze that hit his ship before it hit. The guns on Crain's ship were open and could cover 360 degrees. The last thing Crain remembers is someone shouting about an incoming plane and then an explosion. There was a lot of fire to fight. They were struck around 5 or 6 in the afternoon and the flames were not under control until midnight.Crain knew a couple of the people who were killed. Since he was on the bridge most of the time he knew a few of the radio men and quartermasters who were killed by the explosion from the kamikaze.

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After the kamikaze hit the ship it was the end of the war for the crew. She came back to the states on her own power. They transferred a lot of people off of the ship. Crain was actually not on the ship when it came back to the states. Crain was a friend of the points system. He was able to get out of service because of his points. He was checked out by a doctor then sent to Pensacola, Florida and discharged.Crain was able to go home and see his family. Crain was glad to be out of it.Crain believes that the men who operated the Higgins boats [Annotator's note: Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVPs)] should have a greater place in history. The 5000 or so coxswains who helped to deliver the men into Europe had to make sure their cargoes were delivered in order for the invasion to be a success. Crain had standing orders. Go in as far as you can before you drop the ramp. After the last troop had exited the landing craft there were 2 men who hand cranked the ramp back up.

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Crain watched about the first 10 minutes of the movie "Saving Private Ryan." He is normally able to keep his emotions in check. 1 of the things he noticed in the movie was that the sound was too intense. In other words the surf at least from Crain's point of view helped to drown out the sounds of combat.Crain and his men were very respectful of the men who operated and occupied the boat. Crain knew that when he was piloting his boat it was his boat and no one else's.Crain believes that it is very important for people to know what happened during World War 2. He enjoys speaking about his service to kids. He tries to not talk about the blood and guts and the logistics that were involved being in the service. He likes to focus on the adventure of being in the Navy.Crain feels as if the Navy did not change him much however it did open his eyes to what the world was like. When he got out of the Navy he married a girl from Boston. After they got married he said it was not too long after he realized he did not even like the girl.Crain ended up working in an oil field after the war and eventually went on to a pile driving company. He actually helped do some pile driving on the Touro Hospital facility in Uptown New Orleans, Louisiana.

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Crain believes that it is important to have museums such as The World War II Museum [Annotator's Note: The National World War II Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana]. Crain himself has actually been to the museum in New Orleans. He has a brick with his name on it outside of the museum. Crain believes that it is important for todays youth to see museums that commemorate events such as World War 2 because even if a kid does not seem interested it sticks with them.
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