The Battle of the Philippines at Leyte Gulf
On the 25th of October, 1944, we were awakened early by the call to battle stations. The Japanese Navy were sending out planes to attack our fleet which had come to intercept their advances. All our planes had been sent out to attack them and they were on the way back for fuel and munitions. I had gone up to the flight deck to see what was going on. The sun was shining, the sea was calm, it seemed so peaceful, and quiet. As I was standing there, suddenly people started running and the battle station alarm sounded again as someone had spotted a Japanese plane coming in with our own planes. I started for my battle station. It was down by the mess hall below the hanger deck, and I was half way down the stairway when suddenly there was a great explosion. All the lights went out and there was total darkness. Then I saw above me on the flight deck fire and smoke. Below me on the hanger deck there was fire and smoke also, so I just stood still. In a few minutes the smoke cleared and I went down past the door to the hanger deck and tried to get to my battle station.
When I got into the mess hall area an officer told me to grab the fire hose and direct the water up through the hole in the ceiling to keep the fire from coming down through the hole. I was kneeling down and shooting the water up through the hole when suddenly there was another great explosion. Again everything was black and I found myself over against the bulkhead or wall. I had been down in a mine shaft one time and experienced total darkness just like this was. I stood up, not knowing which way to go, when I felt someone brush past me in the darkness. I turned and followed in the same direction. Suddenly the emergency lights came on and I found myself in the passage way to the mess hall. There were other people there also, and I could see a big steel door that had been blown off a storage area, lying on the deck on top of a sailor. Someone said, “Help me lift this off him,” but when I reached down to grab it, I couldn’t close my fingers on the door. I noticed that my hand was hanging loosely and there was a big cut across my wrist that had cut the tendons. Then I noticed that my shirt was hanging open and there was a hole in my chest. I wasn’t bleeding which was strange and I didn’t feel anything. An officer there told me to go into the Officers Mess hall and lie down on the floor and someone
would come and check me out. When I got into the Mess Hall I found the water fountain had broken and deck was covered with about two inches of cold water. I gladly lay down and it felt so cool and peaceful. As I lay there I thought, “This will all be over soon and then I’ll be taken care of.”
Suddenly there was another big explosion and all the lights went out again. I just lay there as there was nothing I could do. Then the emergency lights came on again. I could feel that I was getting stiff and it was getting harder to move. Suddenly there was another great explosion and again all the lights went out. I could hear people saying the Captain has ordered abandon ship. I got up even though I was stiff and went out into the passage way where there were other people moving toward a ladder to the upper deck. I didn’t know if I could climb the ladder or not but I was going to try.
When it got to be my turn I climbed with one arm but there was a bar bent across the opening and I could only get part way out. Someone down below grabbed my feet and gave me a lift up. I rolled out of the way and started crawling toward the outside exit. I didn’t stand up, as there were bullets from the planes that were on fire, zinging around the hanger deck. I finally got out side and it was so peaceful out there it was unbelievable. An officer told me to blow up my life jacket and get into the water. So I blew up my Mae West Life Jacket that was like a flat inner tube, and move to slide down the rope into water. As I went down the rope I found I was still high above the water so I just let go and dropped.
We were taught that when a ship goes down it will create a whirlpool so you have to get away from the ship or be dragged down by it. I tried to swim but found I couldn’t make any progress. I noticed that the ship was moving away from me so I didn’t have to swim. All the time I was in the water there was explosion after explosion and after every explosion, the water all around was sprayed with flying chunks of steel and bits of the ship. Many of those who escaped into the water were hit by this flying shrapnel. I later found out that the fire cause by the Japanese Kamikaze plane had gone down the elevator shaft, and other than the original explosion all the following explosions were our own bombs and torpedoes exploding, until it blew a hole in the bottom and side of the ship. Later I found out it was only 32 minutes from the time the Kamikaze hit until the ship went under. The ship gradually tipped on its side, with men still dropping off it. Then suddenly the bow came out of the water, sticking straight up into the air, and gradually it slipped down into the water still exploding as it disappeared.
I found that my life vest had a leak, as I was floating lower in the water, so I had to blow it up every so often. Some men, who were on a life raft, straddling the sides as it had no bottom, paddled over to me and helped me on it. I lay on my arm that was cut, to keep the sea water out of the wound. I kept singing the favorite song of my sweetheart and I, when we danced at high school, “you’d be so nice to come home to,” over and over again. I was shaking so badly and so hard that probably no one could understand what I was saying. There was so much debris in the water, bombs, and torpedoes that the rescue boats were careful about coming to rescue us so we were in the water quite a while. Some reported seeing the fins of sharks, but I never noticed any.
We were finally picked up by the boats of a destroyer escort and taken to a destroyer. We were given first aid treatment and the most serious wounded given immediate attention as best they could. We were put in the bunks of the crew, and I asked someone to get me another life jacket. All night long there was the sound and shaking as the guns fired at other Japanese planes trying to hit the ship. Our ship was the first casualty of the Kamikaze plane attacks but there were several other ships hit and sunk that day. It was the Japanese final attempt to win the war by such drastic measures. Their pilots believed they were going to eternal, everlasting glory in the name of their emperor. This day was the turning point and the beginning of the downfall of the Japanese Empire. If they had persisted in their attack on our fleet which was inferior, in number, to the Japanese fleet the outcome would have been different according to written reports.
The Destroyer that had me and many others went out to a converted landing craft that was made into a first aid ship because the Hospital Ship was way out in the ocean to avoid the Kamikaze Planes. On the first aid ship we received medical assistance and food. After several days we arrived at the Hospital ship and were lifted aboard. This day was the first day that I had felt sick. When I was settled in a bed, here came a cute nurse with my food tray and she fed me and I ate all of it. It took several days to get my turn in surgery because there where so many more badly wounded than I was. The shrapnel in me must have been white hot and seared itself as it went in, so I hadn’t bled very much at all. The hospital ship took us to a hospital in New Guinea where we received more attention and surgery. They took about 100 pieces of shrapnel out of me but the deeper pieces they left in thinking it would do more harm to cut them out than to leave them in.
Eventually we were sent home on the troop transport Luraline, a converted liner. I spent my recuperating days in the hospital at San Leandro, California. I was there when the war ended spending my time on the beach sunning, eating, playing table tennis to get the movement in my wrist back as they didn’t sew up the tendons but put my arm in a cast and let them grow back together. I believe I have been truly blessed and watched over. I want to thank all those who helped me recuperate from my experiences, my wife and my family for helping me be here today.
There is a Veterans Memorial Room at the Peteetneet Academy, and on the wall in the north East corner is a memorial of the USS ST LO written by Paul Hjorth of Springville, He tells of Gordon Mendenhall of Payson who was killed that day, and Junior Anderson of Spanish Fork who survived the sinking of the USS ST LO. One person who knew Gordon said he came out, then went back for some reason and never came out again. Gordon and I were the only ones from Payson on the ship. Thank you for listening to my story today, Thank you all!
(Serve Daily would like to thank all the men and women that protect and uphold the Constitution of the United States of America. May we maintain our Freedom by showing Responsibility and having true Liberty)
Veteran Wesley Duane Roper at about age 19 upon entering the Air Force.
Wesley Duane Roper, still a hero for serving our country. May he and all others who serve be remembered.