SERVICE & ACRIFICE
William Peterson, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran now living in Hideaway, spent many holidays away from his family and friends aboard his ship, which churned mile after mile through the South Pacific during World War II.
Seaman First Class Peterson served on the LST 786, which was commissioned in August, 1944 in New Orleans.
His recollections of the harrowing days of World War II are clear as a bell. It’s as if he can almost recite each day’s activities.
“There were some very scary days out there,’’ he said. “And there were some days that all you could do was watch the ocean.’’
“I was sent to boot camp in New York, and after that they sent me to Ocean City (N.J.),’’ he said. “We worked as part of the beach patrol.’’
His duties were just as the job described. He walked the beach, keeping watch for possible enemy activity along the shore.
In 1943, he received orders to report to New Orleans, where the LST 786 (Landing Ship, Tank) was waiting for him and his crewmates.
Patterson said this LST was manufactured in Pittsburgh and traveled down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.
First stop was Mobile, Ala., then on to San Diego, where more than 700 tons of ammunition was loaded. This literally weighed heavy on the minds of the crew as they sailed for Pearl Harbor.
“That’s a lot of firepower to be carrying across the open ocean like that,’’ he said, adding, “Especially unescorted. That was kind of scary.’’
The LST made its way up and down and around the Pacific Theater, hauling troops, supplies, ammunition and even Japanese prisoners to places such as Guam, Saipan and Eniwetok Atoll in the northern Pacific to the Philippines in the south Pacific.
“One of the worst times was when we were loading a bunch of steel at Pearl Harbor,’’ Patterson remembered. “This big storm blew in and our ship kept dipping.
“I guess I just didn’t have enough sense to be worried at the time.’’
On May 8, 1945 – the day Germany surrendered to the Allies in Europe -- Patterson’s ship berthed at Hagushi Harbor, Okinawa. The Japanese, however, stubbornly refused to give up the fight.
Over the course of the next 11 days, that terrifying weapon known as the “kamikaze’’ came screaming out of the skies, targeting Allied ships. There were nearly two dozen such suicide raids during that period on Patterson’s ship, with four coming in one long day.
“They ( t h e Japanese planes) were flying so close it seemed as though I could reach out and hit ’em with a stick,’’ he said.
Even after the kamikaze raids stopped, danger still lurked beneath. Setting sail for Saipan on May 20 as part of a convoy of 24 ships with five escorts, the convoy came under attack from Japanese submarines on May 23.
Two torpedoes passed through the convoy without damage, but two days later a mine was spotted. One of the escorts sank the mine and the convoy proceeded to Saipan.
Just another day in the life of a crewman on the LST 786.
“The Navy hated to convoy with us because our ships were so slow compared to theirs,’’ he recalled.
At the end of
786 was under air attack again and as
August arrived, a typhoon roared across the Philippines with the ship passing within 60 miles of the center.
Finally, after undergoing a six-hour submarine attack on Aug. 4, the 786 was able to get underway for Subic Bay. From there, it was on to the Far East again to Manchuria in China to pick up some 1,000 Japanese prisoners and deliver them to Okinawa.
“That was kind of spooky,’’ Patterson said about the unloading of the prisoners. “A lot of (the Japanese citizens) were still aggravated with us about the war and they would try to come on the ship and cause trouble.’’
Patterson’s time at war came to an end with orders for the 786 to report to San Francisco in January, 1946. It was a trip that changed his life for the better.
“That’s where I met (wife) Lucille,’’ he said. “We’ve been married 66 years and she’s sure a lot better than I deserved.’’
After his discharge, they moved back to Arlington and went about building their life together.
“The holidays certainly meant a lot more to me when I got out of the service,’’ Patterson said.
Just as they have for all the brave souls who serve so the rest of us can enjoy time with our families.