Bill Jackson of the Village of Silver Lake was a teen-ager when he signed up for the U.S. Navy as World War II raged.
He was eager to get out of Michigan and be a part of the war effort.
And it was 68 years ago this month, that Jackson found himself on “the longest boat ride of my life.”
He and his shipmates who had survived a Japanese kamikaze attack were being towed home aboard their vessel, the USS Leutze.
In January of 1945, the Leutze had enjoyed some success, sinking a Japanese patrol vessel and a small suicide boat loaded with explosives.
USS Leutze saw some action at Iwo Jima but then she was needed for Operation Iceberg, the battle for Okinawa.
Of the first wave of attacking aircraft on April 6, the Leutze splashed two and later knocked down a third. Disregarding the danger, the Leutze proceeded alongside to assist the thrice-hit and burning USS Newcomb. The fourth kamikaze hit the ship skidded across the deck and exploded its bomb against Leutze’s port quarter, according to “War History of USS Leutze” by Walter J. Fillmore.
A pharmacist’s mate already on deck rendering aid to an injured shipmate, Jackson found himself in that fourth kamikaze’s path. He was knocked 40 to 50 yards from the deck of the Leutze into the ocean. He was rescued by the crew of another ship in the vicinity.
The kamikaze nearly severed the ship’s fantail and left seven crew members missing, one dead, and 30 wounded.
The crew pumped out the Leutze and eventually she was towed back to Pearl Harbor.
It was slow going for the once proud vessel.
“It was the longest boat ride of my life,” said Jackson.
He was awarded the Purple Heart suffering several broken bones in the kamikaze attack.
Lt. Leon Grabowsy Leutze’s acting commanding officer, received the Navy Cross for his part in aiding Newcomb, and in the fighting of his own ship.
Although few recall the USS Leutze, Jackson cannot forget. His hand is still bent from the injuries he suffered. He has a model of the ship in his living room.
He doesn’t talk about it much.
“But there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about ship and my crewmates,” Jackson said.
Watch a video of Jackson talking about the day the USS Leutze was hit by the kamikaze in the “Featured Video” section of www.villages-news.com