The Bat­tle of the Philip­pines at Leyte Gulf

Serve Daily - - LIBERTY SHALL BE MAINTAINED - Writ­ten by Robert Gent as told by Wes­ley D. Roper

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)

Pro­vided by Janice Roper

Vet­eran Wes­ley Duane Roper at about age 19 upon en­ter­ing the Air Force.

Pro­vided by Janice Roper

Wes­ley Duane Roper, still a hero for serv­ing our coun­try. May he and all oth­ers who serve be re­mem­bered.

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