WWII (1943-46)

“Kamikaze Warfare – Wounded on the Flying Bridge; First Aid in the Aft Head”

Memory from: Seaman 2nd class James P. Takitch

Setting the Scene

Seaman 2nd class James P. Takitch, in a series of interviews with curator Timothy C. Rizzuto and KIDD historian Fred G. Benton, Jr., gives a vivid account of his experiences during and immediately after the kamikaze attack of April 11, 1945. As you will see, the terror and the grief that he experienced were as fresh to him some forty-five to fifty years after the fact as the day of the attack itself.

The Recollection

Jim Takitch: We were at Okinawa on the 11th of April. And at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, we were subject to a kamikaze hit by a Japanese Zero that carried a 500-pound bomb that came in from our starboard side and hit us above the waterline just beyond the bridge area. The airplane that hit us carried with it a 500-pound bomb that didn’t explode on contact, that proceeded through the ship and, once it exited the port side of the ship, it exploded and the blast blew the port side of the ship in the bridge area inward. [The ship] went to what they call General Quarters. At that time, we always [had] four airplanes hovering out around our area; our own airplanes. From what I can remember, our airplanes shot four of the seven planes down. The USS BLACK was … starboard side of us approximately 1,500 yards away. I think there was one off to the left of us. There was a destroyer following us. We were in the company of four ships at all times…. He came in. The [guy] who finally hit us was involved in a dogfight with one of their own planes out way beyond the ship to our right. He broke off and got down close to the water and it seemed as though that airplane was going to plow into that ship off to our starboard. However, he went up over and then he got in between that ship and our ship and there was firing done, but not too much, because we were firing at one another.

Well, as the plane came in on the starboard side, I was on the port lookout station, up on the bridge, overhead on the bridge deck. The airplane, as it approached, was machine-gunning and I was on the lookout area. And the last thing I’d done was took a look around the radar control tower [the Mk-37 gun director] and I looked around to see where the plane was. And there he was, right there. So it looked like as though this plane was coming directly at me and nobody else aboard the ship. So everybody that was out on the deck and saw the thing felt the same way. Last thing I done was threw my arm up over my eyes and a machine gun bullet had come up underneath my left jawbone past my throat. And, of course, I had my left arm over my eyes. And the bullet, then, hit me in the cheek, in the jawbone, lodged into my left upper bicep. This is all I can remember from that time, ’cause then I was down on that deck right there. Now, when I was down, they tell meóI don’t know how many people were on the bridgeóbut they tell me that the two [sailors] on top of me were dead. When I came to, this explosion [had] ruptured all the steam lines and the sirens, the whistles, the fog horn, everything … I thought I heard blowing, … which they did blow. I was already down on the deck before the bomb had exploded. So, after the bomb exploded and I came to, I was bleeding very badly through the sleeve of my foul weather jacket which I had on and I was holding my left wrist with my right hand and the blood poured out.

And some sailor or sailors who knew something about persons being hurt … had first aid training and so forth, … they come up and with their knife or knives, they cut the jacket away from me and took the belt out of my trousers and applied a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. After they had gotten me up on my feet, then it was a big decision as to how to get me down the bulkhead ladder which takes you down to the bridge deck level. And at that time, a Lieutenant Kenny, who was a very tall manóhe was 6′ 7″ or 6′ 9″ócome up the bulkhead ladder and stood shoulder-high about the height of the railing and I sat on his shoulders and he then lowered me down. And from the bridge, then, I walked in the company with the sailors down to the main deck level and then down beyond to amidships. I know they took me … straight back to the, … they called it the Head. They took me to a first aid station that was set up, one of the first aid stations. They laid me there. When I came in and off to my left, … I remember a battery of mirrors and … under the mirrors had to be the washbasins. And at the time, I didn’t know that I was damaged; hurt about the face. And in the mirrors, I could see the damage that I had to my front teeth and my face. … I lost bone material and I had two teeth knocked out besides. … I carried a piece of shrapnel under my cheekbone here for 35 years. And I theorized that a piece of that metal from the bomb or the plane or part of the ship come up through a couple of the decks … and it was red hot and came through this deck, me lying face down, and hit me in the nose here, slid under there, cauterized itselfóthat’s why it stayed there for so many years without harming anything. And then, they brought me in and over the deck of the After Head … they had mattresses.

And this is where they laid me down on a mattress, sort of propped me up in a propped-up position, … in a sitting position, with my knees sort of drawn up underneath me. I wasn’t unconscious or anything like that. I was able to walk. I had damage, quite a bit, to my left arm, and I didn’t know that I had shrapnel in my left knee at the time until I had my knee drawn up for quite a while and I went to straighten it out and then I found out…. But this is where I stayed the rest of the day of April 11th. This is where, … I don’t know how many people were here. I know there were quite a few. They put on my arm a wire basket which would shoulder up against the shoulder and then secured to the wrist somehow to keep the bones separated; to keep the fragments from rubbing one to the other. I stayed there until the next day when they transferred me to an oiler … by a stretcher basket, by rope, from one ship to another, from the ship to the oiler USS SARANAC (AO-74). And then, from the SARANAC, I stayed there for a while and then they put meóI think it was a five or six-day tripóand then I went aboard the USS BOUNTIFUL (AH-9), which was a hospital ship where they had surgery on me. And then, after a certain amount of time on the USS BOUNTIFUL, they took the whole compliment of the hurt people who were on the ship to Guam and they left everybody off the ship and put them in hospitals.

Tim Rizzuto: Were you aware of the air attacks in the afternoon when you were in the After Crew’s Head?
Jim Takitch: Yes. The reason I was aware of ’emóI could hear the guns. I could hear the 5-inchers. I could hear the 40s and, of course, the 20s. There was a squawk box. They would let you know what was going on.
Tim Rizzuto: It must have been a pretty unnerving experience back then.
Jim Takitch: The next day, I think it was around 6:00 in the afternoonóis when they transferred us over.
Tim Rizzuto: Over to the SARANAC. But you actually hear the burial details going on back in there [from inside the Aft Head]. Did they page? Was there ever a time when they paged all the missing people over the P.A. system trying to…. Two guys were missing and I wondered ifó
Jim Takitch: I couldn’t. I don’t even want to try to attempt, … I couldn’t remember that.

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