Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dad's World War II Service

I have always had a lot of respect for my Dad and feel compelled to honor him here. One big reason I respected him was because he was a veteran of World War II.
He was a Marine, enlisting in 1943 at the ripe old age of 27 or 28 I think , and because he had been a NY State Trooper for 7 years prior to his voluntary enlistment, they made him a Master-at-Arms aboard the light cruiser the USS Vicksburg (CL-86). For those of you unfamiliar with Navy lingo, a Master-at-Arms acts as a policeman aboard-ship. He keeps the peace, provides ship-board security, investigates crimes among the crew, locks up trouble-makers in "the brig" (a small jail or cage aboard ship) and just about anything else a policeman would do in civilian life.
Dad's battlestation was to be part of a Oerlikon 20 mm autocannon anti-aircraft team on the Vicksburg. Dad was tall (6'4") and strong so his job was to change out the barrel of the cannon periodically when it got hot. They spent a lot of time shooting at Japanese aircraft - especially Kamikazes, the suicide planes.
The Japanese were so dedicated to their Emporer that they would load a plane with explosives and turn it into a human-guided missile. They had thousands of Kamikaze planes of many makes and models. Some of the pilots were teenage boys who barely knew how to fly, and others were experienced pilots just doing their job. Dad said they were everyone's worse nightmare and they were very difficult to shoot down.
Kamikazes sank many of our ships and killed thousands of our guys.
Here is my Dad's Veteran Record from Charlene Cole, the Sandy Creek Historian.
Thanks for sending this to me, Charlene!
It's hard to read so I have transcribed it here:

Born: 1915, Syracuse, NY

Graduated: Vocational Tech 1933

Parents: Henry and Mary Ann Kappesser

Spouse: Ruth Ashby married February 12, 1948

Dates of Service: (1943-1945)

Military Branch: Marines (served on the light cruiser Vicksburg, in the Pacific, participating in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Rank: Cpl.

Medals / Awards: Qualified for Military Police and Expert Rifleman

Date of Death / Buried: May 14, 2005 (Sandy Pond) and is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Sandy Creek NY.

Oral History: Kappesser first came to Sandy Pond in 1932 and has lived there with his family since 1952. After serving in the CCC in Pennsylvania, Kappesser joined the New York State Troopers and served in Troop D until 1961, when he retired as 1st Sergeant of Troop D, Oneida. He was employed by Flickinger’s and Lee Schoeller Paper before joining Blount Lumber Company in Lacona as a salesman in the north country. He served as Town Justice in Sandy Creek for 25 years, from 1967-1992. He was a member of the Police Benevolent Association of former New York State Troopers.

Children: Edward, Stephen, Peter, and Amy.

Here is some information about the ship USS Vicksburg that Dad fought on during World War II.

USS Vicksburg (CL-86), a Cleveland-class light cruiser, was the third ship of the United States Navy named after the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

USS Vicksburg Details of Foward Section August 1944

Vicksburg was first laid down as Cheyenne on 26 October 1942 at Newport News, Virginia, by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, but, exactly one month later, was renamed Vicksburg. The light cruiser was launched on 14 December 1943; sponsored by Miss Muriel Hamilton, the daughter of Mayor J. C. Hamilton, of Vicksburg, Mississippi; and commissioned at the Norfolk Navy Yard on 12 June 1944, with Captain William C. Vose in command. Vicksburg received two battle stars for her World War II service.

Starboard Side View off Norfolk Jul 16 1944 .jpg

Service History

World War II

The ship was fitted out for sea at Norfolk, Virginia into July, and conducted the preliminary phases of her shakedown in Chesapeake Bay prior to sailing for the British West Indies on 7 August. The light cruiser, then operating out of Trinidad, completed her shakedown training in the Gulf of Paria from 12-30 August, conducted shore bombardment exercises off Culebra, Puerto Rico, on 1 September, and on the following day, sailed for Hampton Roads in company with Broome and Simpson.

USS Vicksburg in Dazzle Camouflage

Returning to Hampton Roads soon thereafter, Vicksburg then conducted radar spotting practice at YAG-13 and at a battle raft on 9 September, and fired a drone practice off Cape May on 10 September. She underwent a post-shakedown overhaul at the Boston Navy Yard from 11-24 September, ran standardization trials off Rockland, Maine, and then took part in naval radiation laboratory tests in the vicinity of Deer Island in Boston Harbor. After availability at Boston, Vicksburg operated in Narragansett Bay, Block Island Sound, and Long Island Sound, serving as a pre-commissioning training vessel for crews of large combatant warships from 5-15 December.
Vicksburg returned to the Norfolk Navy Yard on 17 December, and remained there until she ran her post-repair trials in the Chesapeake Bay on the last two days of 1944. The warship departed Hampton Roads on 1 January 1945, and rendezvoused with Rodman and Emmons at the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay to form Task Group (TG) 21.12. Vicksburg and her escorts arrived at Cristobal, Canal Zone, four days later, transited the Panama Canal that afternoon, and moored at NOB Balboa, Panama, where TG 21.12 was dissolved.
Vicksburg got underway for the Hawaiian Islands on 6 January 1945, and arrived at Pearl Harbor on 17 January. The light cruiser then conducted exercises off Oahu, including aircraft tracking, firing at drones, fighter direction, radar calibration, and long and short range battle practices, through the end of January.
Vicksburg departed Pearl Harbor at 0800 on 5 February, and arrived at Saipan, in the Marianas, on 13 February. There, she was fueled from Enoree and prepared for the ship's upcoming operation, and her baptism of fire, the bombardment of Iwo Jima.

Alongside USS Harrison, DD-573, May 16, 1945

[edit] Iwo Jima
The following day, Vicksburg left Saipan and joined other units of TG 52.19 at sea. On 15 February, the light cruiser became part of Task Unit (TU) 54.9.2, movement group "Baker", consisting of herself, Nevada and Idaho, Chester and Pensacola, and several destroyers. That force soon split into two fire support units. Vicksburg joined Chester and Pensacola, and took station at 0651 to commence bombarding the shore. At 0709, Vicksburg catapult-launched the first of her plane sorties and commenced fire. Directed by the ship's spotter in a OS2U Kingfisher, the light cruiser's 6 inch guns opened up from a range of 12,000 yards, shelling enemy installations on the northern end of the island of Iwo Jima.
Squalls cut down the visibility for the spotting aircraft, but occasionally, the aircrew managed to glimpse the target area. At 0808, Vicksburg completed the first phase of her bombardment mission and recovered her plane to refuel it. At 0947, the light cruiser commenced the second phase of her assigned mission. Still hampered by bad weather over the target, the spotters doggedly remained airborne and directed gunfire as well as they could through the spotty cloud cover. By afternoon, however, visibility had increased markedly, allowing the ship to assess her gunfire as landing "on target," in the third phase.

Vicksburg had launched her Kingfisher at 1249, piloted by Lieutenant J. B. Nabors, Jr. At 1414, listeners on the radio circuit heard Nabors report that his aircraft was being fired upon by Japanese anti-aircraft guns. Shortly thereafter, a A6M Zero attacked the slower, more vulnerable Kingfisher. The ensuing air battle did not last long, however, and ended happily for the American side, when another Kingfisher, from Pensacola, bagged the Zero, enabling Vicksburg's plane to resume her air spotting activities unhindered by enemy interference in the air.
One-half hour later, Vicksburg completed Phase III of her gunfire assignment and recovered the Kingfisher. Shortly before 1600, the light cruiser again launched one of her brood of float planes, and, at 1618, commenced Phase IV from a range of 10,000 yards. After completing the firing at 1727 and subsequently recovering her aircraft, Vicksburg and her consorts were joined by the other fire support ships in retiring for the night at 14 knots.

Vicksburg remained off Iwo Jima, providing gunfire support for the landings, into March and headed for Ulithi on 5 March to replenish and provision before putting to sea again on 14 March in TG 58.1, part of the 5th Fleet's fast carrier striking arm, which was then undertaking air strikes to neutralize Japanese air power as the Allies prepared to invade Okinawa.

Vicksburg's first brush with the Japanese while engaged in that screening duty came on 18 March, 100 miles east of the Japanese home island of Kyūshū. A Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" made a torpedo attack on the cruiser, dropping her "fish" while the ship was in the middle of a tight emergency turn. The torpedo churned by the bow, some 35 yards ahead of the ship, and proceeded parallel to the cruiser's port side. Within 20 minutes, another enemy plane closed, dropped flares, and departed, hurried along on its way by antiaircraft fire from the ships of TG 58.1.

I remember Dad telling us the story about this torpedo missing his ship.

Soon thereafter, Vicksburg, already at general quarters, opened fire with her 40 mm Bofors battery. The plane came in through the formation, and Vicksburg's Bofors guns began blasting the plane after it had already been set ablaze by fire from other ships. Moments later, it splashed.
At 0600, a Yokosuka P1Y "Frances" closed the formation and approached one of the carriers in the group from astern. It soon executed a wingover and dived on the carrier through a curtain of flak. The enemy never reached his destination, however, for the heavy wall of gunfire, probably from the carrier herself, knocked the "Frances" into the water.

Photo #: 80-G-490021- A Japanese "Kamikaze" aircraft crashing near USS Vicksburg (CL-86) after it was shot down attempting to hit the ship off Okinawa, 14 May 1945. Several aircraft carriers are in the background. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Slightly less than two hours later, a Yokosuka D4Y "Judy" bored in for a surprise attack and passed over Vicksburg. The light cruiser's battery blasted away at the intruder and scored three definite hits before 5 inch gunfire (probably from either Harrison or Miami blasted the enemy from the sky.

Meanwhile, the carriers' planes battered Japanese targets ashore on the Japanese home islands. The cruisers and destroyers in the screen had no rest, for the Japanese came back again on the next day. At 0715, a Japanese plane dived toward Wasp and scored one bomb hit. Vicksburg soon opened fire on the enemy plane. As it turned, either to make another attack or to escape the American fighters from the combat air patrol, the Japanese plane was rocked by a proximity burst from one of Vicksburg's shells. The blast knocked off a wing and set the plane afire. It then spun into the sea, a confirmed "kill."

While she was supporting strikes against Japanese targets to weaken the enemy's ability to defend against the impending invasion of the Ryukyus, Vicksburg destroyed eight Japanese planes. In addition, one of the ship's Kingfishers rescued a Marine aviator from the waters off the Japanese home islands.

A load of powder being transfered to the USS Vicksburg from USS Shasta (AE-6). I have often wondered if one of those guys is my Dad...

[edit] Okinawa
Later detached from service with TG 58.1, Vicksburg shifted to a position off Okinawa for shore bombardment and close support duties. Highlighting the operation for the light cruiser was firing nearly 2,300 rounds of 6 inch and 5 inch projectiles in a six-hour time span, supporting an Army advance up the southern part of the island. Some of her targets were only a few hundred yards ahead of the advancing troops, a situation that required accurate shooting. Vicksburg's guns blasted Japanese gun positions, caves, and strong-points during the ship's long hours of firing and loading ammunition on the veritable "front lines."

Japanese "Kamikaze" aircraft burning after it was hit by gunfire while attempting to crash into USS Vicksburg (CL-86) off Okinawa, 14 May 1945. Photographed from Vicksburg's forward superstructure, with the ship's foremast yardarm in the foreground. Note weather reporting instrument on the yardarm, and the antenna for an SK-1 air search radar partially visible at right. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

After leaving the Ryukyus late in the Okinawa campaign, Vicksburg supported a minesweeping operation in the China Sea until 24 June, when she sailed for the Philippine Islands.
Vicksburg remained in Philippine waters through the Japanese capitulation on 15 August 1945. Five days later, on 20 August, the light cruiser departed San Pedro Bay, Leyte, as part of TU 30.3.7, in company with Moale, Rowe, and Lowry. While the ships proceeded toward a point off the Japanese home islands, where they would rendezvous with a fast carrier striking force, Lowry sighted and exploded a drifting mine.

Vicksburg joined TG 38.2 on 24 August, part of Vice Admiral John McCain's task force, and was replenished and provisioned at sea. TG 38.2 covered the approaches to Tokyo Bay prior to, and during, the formal Japanese surrender on 2 September 1945. Three days later, Vicksburg entered Tokyo Bay.

[edit] Post-War
There, Rear Admiral I. J. Wiltse, Commander, Cruiser Division 10, shifted his flag to Vicksburg, and on 20 September, the light cruiser departed Tokyo Bay as part of a 3rd Fleet task group under the command of Rear Admiral John F. Shafroth and proceeded to Okinawa, where she anchored at Buckner Bay, on 23 September. There, 2,200 passengers came on board for transportation back to the United States.

Five days after arrival in Pearl Harbor on 4 October, Vicksburg led the sortie of the 3rd Fleet for the United States.

On 15 October, the Fleet passed in review in San Francisco Bay, California. Vicksburg remained in that port until 26 October, when she got underway to shift to Monterey Bay, California, to take part in Navy Day observances there on 27 October. The ship reached Long Beach, California on 31 October, but shifted to Portland, Oregon, on 6 November to participate in Armistice Day services before returning to Long Beach on 16 November. Monterrey Bay California on Navy Day, October 27, 1945

Placed in the Terminal Island Naval Shipyard in San Francisco Bay on 17 January 1946 for availability, Vicksburg emerged from the overhaul and modernization as perhaps the most modern ship of her class. On 20 May 1946, Vicksburg became the flagship for Vice Admiral Frederick C. Sherman, Commander, 3rd Fleet, who shifted his flag from Iowa on that date. Two days later, the ship moved to San Diego, where she moored at the Naval Air Station (NAS). She remained there into September, when she became the temporary flagship of Vice Admiral A. E. Montgomery.
Vicksburg was ultimately decommissioned on 30 June 1947 at San Francisco, California. She remained "mothballed" until struck from the Navy list on 1 October 1962. Sold to the National Metal and Steel Corporation, Terminal Island, California, on 25 August 1964, she was then scrapped.

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