Early Life

Becoming a Sailor

Kamikaze Attacks

Shipboard Duty

Okinawa

Aerial Attack

Defending the Ship

Postwar

Memorable Moments

Reflections

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John Nicholas was born in Marysville, Michigan in December 1924. He grew up in Marysville with his half brother and cousin, George Hamaty, and graduated from high school there in 1943. Nicholas had two brothers and two sisters in addition to his half brother. Nicholas was the second oldest of the siblings. His dad had a grocery store in Marysville. He opened the store after working at the Morton Salt Company. It had been hard work at the salt company before he decided to open the store. Life in the Depression was good for Nicholas. His father helped people who could not afford food. As a result, he eventually had to close the store because families did not pay him. After working for the city for six months, he opened another store. The family lived well and ate well. Nicholas was home listening to the radio when he heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was in the eleventh grade at the time. After graduating from high school, he decided to join the Navy.

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John Nicholas went into the service in September 1943. His half brother George was already in the Navy. Nicholas went to the training facility in Farragut, Idaho. It was a new Navy training camp on a lake. They could swim and participate in boating. It was a nice experience. After boot camp, he was put in the commissary department. It was a grocery store for the officers. After awhile, he tired of the assignment and signed up for sea duty. He was transferred to Seattle and given the option of being on a minesweeper or a fuel tender. He selected the minesweeper. He had volunteered for the service because he felt everyone had to go in the service. He considered the Army with his Boy Scout experience, but he chose the Navy because he liked being close to water. Going to boot camp was his first experience away from home. It was intimidating at first but he settled into it. He served from 1943 to 1946. Nicholas was injured while on duty, but he did not want the Purple Heart. He learned rafting and waterborne survival in boot camp. He was to learn that the Japanese shot survivors of ships they sunk. Only one of 23 men in his graduation class did not survive the war. His drill instructor helped the men if they helped him. Nicholas once laughed at one of his fellow trainees and was punished by having to run around a golf course with a rifle over his head. After training, Nicholas got his only liberty of the war. He felt it would be a long time before he would return home again. Nicholas was assigned to the minesweeper USS Gayety [Annotator’s Note: USS Gayety (AM-239)].

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John Nicholas experienced Japanese suicide attacks on his ship [Annotator's Note: the USS Gayety (AM-239)]. A wooden minesweeper was destroyed by a kamikaze attack near Okinawa. The kamikaze pilots were not well trained. Nicholas reported aboard the Gayety in Seattle. It was a new ship. The crew size was 93 on the ship. The ship was less than 200 foot long. It was rough sailing and the crew got sick during the first voyage. The ship was designed to sweep mines from the sea. Near Okinawa, they recovered and destroyed 11 mines. The Gayety was also targeted by Japanese suicide airplanes. Additionally, the Japanese dropped one bomb that was a near miss. It fell off the fantail but five American sailors were killed by shrapnel. Nicholas got hit by a piece of shrapnel during that attack. During mine sweeping runs, a long cable with an explosive device would be towed behind the ship. When the explosive device came in contact with a securing cable or chain holding a mine in place, it would explode, releasing the mine to float to the surface. At that point, the ship's gunners would fire on the mine to detonate it. Nicholas was a Gunner's Mate 2nd Class onboard the Gayety. He assigned rifles to the men who would shoot at the mines. Mines were also fired on by the ship's 20 and 40 millimeter guns as well as machine guns. The mines had to be destroyed before the ship left the scene. The Gayety drew nine feet of water so it could sweep mines with its towed cable. The mines were deeper than the Gayety's draft because their target was deeper draft vessels. The ship encountered nine suicide planes during the Okinawa operation. In addition, the Gayety was attacked by a Baka bomb [Annotator's Note: the Yokosuka MXY-7 was a manned suicide rocket plane with explosives in the nose] but it was destroyed before it could hit the ship.

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John Nicholas was a Seaman 2nd Class deck hand when he went aboard the Gayety [Annotator's Note: USS Gayety (AM-239)]. He soon requested to be in the gunnery department. He advanced to Gunner's Mate 2nd Class. He was offered a Gunner's Mate 1st Class rating if he would sign up after his tour but he wanted to go home. He missed milk and ice cream even though there was a good cook on his ship. That was what he wanted when he returned home. Living conditions were good on the ship. The ship was clean, and the food was good. Nicholas rigged a hammock under one of the 40mm gun mounts. He was always ready to man the guns when needed. The captain of the ship was able to avoid bad weather and with full speed of 18 knots he could steer clear of suicide planes. The crew and the officers got along well. The captain did not hold his rank over the men. The Gayety operated with other minesweepers to demolish the mines. Nicholas had his watch and action stations near his 20mm gun. He could also catch the hot shells from the three inch gun and toss them overboard. Part of the ship's duty would eventually take it to Japan to run minesweeper paths where the potential home island invasion would be targeted. The did not find any mines. This was when the A bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Days later another bomb was dropped on Hiroshima [Annotator's Note: the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on 9 August 1945]. Soon afterward, the Japanese surrendered. The veterans thanked God for whoever designed that bomb.

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During their return to the United States, John Nicholas and the crew of the Gayety [Annotator's Note: USS Gayety (AM-239)] were told to unload the ammunition off the ship. There was no liberty in Hawaii while they were in transit home. Nicholas went into Pearl Harbor but did not see any of the ships that were damaged during the attack in 1941. While in the waters around Okinawa, Nicholas did go ashore. The captain had no adversity to them getting souvenirs. Nicholas found two Japanese rifles with bayonets and a Japanese flag. While in the China Sea, Nicholas saw a body with a parachute attached to it. He got the parachute and kept it for his future bride. He still has the parachute. The body was not recognizable as to nationality. It was too decomposed. When Nicholas went ashore on Okinawa, he could smell the decomposition of human flesh as well as burnt flesh from bodies burned in caves. Although Nicholas never saw the Japanese face to face, he did work on the ship off Okinawa sweeping for mines. The crew was told to shoot anything that they saw floating in the water for concern that it would be a suicide swimmer. No swimmers or suicide boats were spotted. This was followed by minesweeping duty off northern Japan.

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John Nicholas first experienced an aerial attack on his ship [Annotator's Note: the USS Gayety (AM-239)] a few months after they arrived off Okinawa. The captain called for American air support and P-38 fighters [Annotator's Note: Lockheed P-38 fighter aircraft] shot down the enemy aircraft fairly quickly. The P-38 fighters saved the Gayety. When the kamikaze attacks occurred, there were other ships close to the Gayety. There was always a watch on the bow when the ship was sweeping mines. That activity was never done at night. There was no means to detect the mines. The ship would deploy the floatation devices off each side of the ship and multiple mines could be cut at the same time. Eleven mines were destroyed by the ship. The ship was attacked by nine aircraft. All of these enemy aircraft were kamikazes or the Baka bombs [Annotator's Note: the Yokosuka MXY-7 was a manned suicide rocket plane with explosives in the nose]. A Japanese bomber dropped a bomb that was a near miss off the fantail. The crew lost five members due to the near miss. Nicholas had responsibility for depth charges if there was a suspected submarine nearby. One of his best buddies was killed by the shrapnel from the near miss off the stern by the enemy bomber. Nicholas' buddy was buried on Okinawa.

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John Nicholas's ship, the USS Gayety (AM-239), participated in submarine chasing in the Pacific. He set the depth charges for the depth of explosion in anticipation of where the submarines would be submerged. There were two sets of racks holding five depth charges each on the ship. The depth charges rested in the rack until they were rolled off the ship. The charges would roll off the aft end of the ship. One action saw the charges set so shallow that the fantail of the ship was moved in the water. That incident was a little too close. Not too many depth charge runs were made by the Gayety so the racks basically stayed full of charges. The charges looked like 55 gallon drums. The potential of enemy attack made the men scared. This was mainly due to kamikaze planes. On occasion, some men would even jump overboard when a kamikaze neared the ship. It made a man's life flash in front of him when he comes close to death. Nicholas thinks that his gun and others may have hit the Baka bomb [Annotator's Note: the Yokosuka MXY-7 was a manned suicide rocket plane with explosives in the nose] to destroy it before it hit the ship. Seeing the Baka bomb for the first time was unsettling for the crewmen. It was rocket propelled and made a wide circle before heading toward the Gayety. Before the first kamikaze attack, the crewmen had no idea of how intense the experience would be.

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After Okinawa, John Nicholas and the USS Gayety [Annotator's Note: USS Gayety (AM-239)] were sent to sweep for mines in Ominato Bay off the coast of northern Japan. The ship could see people ashore and the people ashore could see the ship. No one fired at the other. Even though it was unsettling, there was never gunfire so things were not as bad as they could have been. This was the time that both atomic bombs were dropped. A few days later, the Japanese surrendered. The ship was told to head to the United States. Ammunition was dropped overboard. Transit was through the Panama Canal. The ship was decommissioned in Orange, Texas. That was where Nicholas was given the opportunity to reenlist with a promotion but he refused. He wanted to bring his new .45 caliber automatic pistol home but was warned that if caught he would not be discharged. He left the weapon behind but has had second thoughts about that. He still has an interest in guns and belongs to a gun club. While the was en route back to the United States, a great majority of ammunition was discarded overboard. The officers on the Gayety were good leaders. Upon reaching Orange, Texas, the crew left the ship and afterward, it was decommissioned. Nicholas was put on a train for Detroit, Michigan and then to Marysville. His father had started another grocery store. He kept that grocery store until his death. Nicholas took a course on meat cutting using GI Bill government assistance funding. He had a good career in cutting meat for 20 years. He was offered a job with a gas company as a division assistant manager. He knew nothing about the business, but, with his personality, he got along well. He was manager of two different divisions at the time of his retirement. He was with the gas company for 20 years. Nicholas was discharged in Orange, Texas. He did not want to stay in the Navy because he did not want the uncertainty of not knowing where the next billeting would be. He does not regret not reenlisting. His life has been very good.

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John Nicholas lost touch with his half brother, George Hamaty, for three years during the war. While Nicholas was on the Gayety [Annotator's Note: USS Gayety (AM-239)] in the China Sea he used semaphore and signal lights from his ship to another, and he found him. [Annotator's Note: During this discussion, Nicholas becomes emotional when remembering the enjoyment of the reunion with his half brother]. Nicholas had no issues with transitioning back to civilian life. He never had eye to eye contact with the enemy and that may have been why the transition was not bad. The closest incident was the Baka bomb [Annotator's Note: the Yokosuka MXY-7 was a manned suicide rocket plane with explosives in the nose] incident. There were no nightmares experienced by Nicholas after the war. The most memorable experience for Nicholas was when his buddy was killed on the fantail of the by the near miss bombing by the Japanese bomber. His friend had begged Nicholas to let him sit by the depth charge racks. It turned out to be an unfortunate request since a piece of shrapnel went through his helmet and killed him.

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John Nicholas fought in World War 2 because the guys before him had signed up so he had to do so also. He had to fight for our country. Those who lost their lives were the heroes. Nicholas was thankful that he had no eye to eye contact with the enemy. He had no serious problems and easily adapted back to civilian life. The 20 years he spent in meat cutting and the 20 years he spent in the gas company were rewarding to Nicholas. Nicholas was always interested in woodwork and he learned how to carve wooden ducks. He also taught others how to carve ducks for 20 years in a night class. He would have from 16 to 33 students in his class at a time. He is proud of that accomplishment, and he enjoyed it. His service in World War 2 does not mean a lot to him other than fighting for his country. He is thankful that he returned home in one piece. He knows of nothing in his service to be overly proud of, but he is happy he never had nightmares. That is despite the fact that he saw some of his buddies immediately after they had been killed. World War 2 led to the freedoms we have today in the United States. Otherwise, the country might have been under Axis control. The country is far more technologically advanced than it was in 1941. It is important to teach children today about World War 2, so it is necessary to have institutions like The National WWII Museum. Nicholas would stress not to join the Army but join the Navy instead.

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