WWII (1943-46)

“Kamikaze Warfare” – The Day Boys Became Men: A Tribute to Chief Machinist Mate Charles David Taylor, USNR

Memory from: Machinist Mate 1st class Al Ionson

Setting the Scene

The Chief Petty Officers (CPOs) were and remain today the backbone of the Navy. They are the men and women who have made careers out of the sea services, spending decades on the waves. They can tear apart a piece of machinery and put it back together again without referring to the manual. Officers respect them; junior enlisted men fear them. Machinist Mate 1st class Al Ionson, gives us a look at one of these iconic figures who served aboard the KIDD and how he earned the respect and admiration of the men who served under him in the midst of the horror of kamikaze warfare.

The Recollection

My first encounter with Chief Taylor was shortly after the KIDD was put in commission. I had only been in the Navy for a short time and had been assigned to work on the deck force as a Seaman, but my ambition was to work below decks in the Engineering Department. I wanted desperately to work on machinery below decks. One day, I approached Chief Taylor and in a soft, shaking voice asked him if I could strike for Fireman and work for him. He looked at me with an intimidating, disgusted look and said in a loud voice, “So you want to be one of my boys, do you?” His look and loud reply had put me off guard. For a moment, I did not know if I should run or answer him. Meekly, in a very soft voice, I replied, “Yes.” As he walked away, I could hear him say, “And in the future, speak up, boy.” This was the beginning of a long relationship with a very private, talented, complicated man of many moods. Chief Taylor never talked much about his past, his family, or how he had received the many burn scars which covered his face and hands. He was a man devoted to duty, hard work, and study of the engineering spaces for which he was responsible. If he saw you sitting around during your off hours, he would say, “Get the engineering book out and study the system. My life and others may depend on you someday.” He had us under constant pressure and, because of this, we all called him “the slave driver.”

This, of course, was done when he was out of hearing range. He had an annoying habit of always calling us “his boys.” “I’ll get my boys right on it,” or “My boys can handle that job.” His use of the term “boys,” after a while, became very irritating. After all, most of us were almost nineteen years old. One day, John Mechalke got up enough nerve to ask him, “When are you going to stop calling us boys?” Chief Taylor put on his intimidating, disgusted look and said, “I’ll stop when you all prove to me that you are men and not boys.” Then in a loud voiceóloud enough to be heard on the bridge and to send most of us scrambling for coveróhe continued, “The way most of you are growing and performing, I may have to call you boys for the rest of the war.” On Wednesday, April 11, 1945, at 13:13, General Quarters was sounded. It had been reported that a large group of Japanese aircraft, estimated at thirty or more, had broken through our combat air cover and was heading for our picket line position and the main fleet. Chief Taylor, John Mechalke, Edward Reinsel, and Andrew Candella went to their General Quarters station in the forward engineroom. About 14:00, the five-inch started to fire, then the 40mm, and then the rapid fire of the 20mm. When you heard the 20mm start up, you knew that things were getting close. As all these guns were firing, there was a tremendous explosion somewhere in the forward part of the ship. All at once, all power was lost to the main engine, the turbo generator, and all the supply pumps. Low pressure alarms from the pumps started to scream, indicating that the pumps were stopping. A small steam line had broken on the lower level of the engineroom, which created a sound which usually indicated that a major rupture of that line could happen at any moment.

If this had happened, all personnel in the engineroom would have been killed. The lights had gone out and the blowers that cooled the engineroom had stopped running, causing the engineroom to heat up to an unbearable degree. This loss of power not only had cut the ship’s ability to maneuver, but quick action by the engineroom personnel was necessary to prevent permanent damage to the main propulsion systems. The guns were now firing nonstop as the Japanese planes concentrated on us, a ship trailing smoke and dead in the water. We were an easy target. With all this going on, fear and confusion were in charge in the engineroom. Chief Taylor had to make a split-second decision: secure the engineroom and order his personnel out, … or take a chance of putting high pressure steam into steam lines that may have been weakened or opened due to the explosion. He knew that if the ship could not maneuver that we might be sunk with a great loss of life. He also knew that if a steam line ruptured in the engineroom, all of the men down there would be killed. He decided to take a chance and open the plant. With a battle lantern in hand, he sprang into action. His calm, clear orders and display of courage moved the engineroom personnel from panic and confusion back into a fighting team. At 14:30, he turned to John Mechalke and said, “Advise the bridge that the boys in the forward engineroom area ready to answer all bells to 250 rpm.” Before Mechalke could respond, Chief Taylor bellowed, “Belay that order; advise the bridge that the “men” in the forward engineroom are ready to answer all bells to 250 rpm.” Chief Taylor’s ability, courage, and expertise which enabled him to restore maneuverability to the ship in such a short time saved many lives and, yes, perhaps the entire ship. Chief Taylor passed away a few years ago [written in September of 1994], but he and that day so long ago remain with me to this day. Many times, as I look at my life, my children, and my wife, all I can think about is that I owe some of this to Chief Charles David Taylor’s presence in No. 1 engineroom on that day.

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