We stand on the backs of their sacrifice. Their history is our tradition, as long as there are Americans to remember...
My name is Theodore Curby. My friends call me Ted. I was raised in Maypearl and graduated high school there, where my dad was the town doctor. While attending Trinity University in Waxahachie, I lived on Farley Street with my brother, Loyd Curby.
After graduation, I went on to attend Baylor Medical School. Then I joined the Navy, and my wife and newborn son moved with me to San Diego, California, where I did my intern work at the U.S. Navy hospital.
In December of 1944, I was assigned as the ship’s doctor aboard the USS Daly, a Fletcher class destroyer, DD-519. After loading ammo, we sailed west from San Diego toward Hawaii.
Although only two years old, this tin can already had a distinguished record as she had been in the thick of major surface action with Japanese ships during the Battle of Surigao Strait.
I liked being on a Navy destroyer and thought things were going great. I loved being at sea, and at times I would get up high above the bridge and watch the bow plunge down into the water and then as it came back up, with the water running off the fo’c’sle.
We sailed on west to Pearl Harbor, and then after a brief stay, it was on to Saipan. The ship’s company was a great bunch of guys. Most of them had been onboard for the ship’s first tour of duty, and they were experienced and battle-tested.
We did lots of practice for General Quarters rehearsing what we were supposed to do. My assignment as the ship’s doctor was to stay in the wardroom and wait for casualties. It didn’t seem like very much for me to lock myself inside a steel room and count bandages while most everyone else was on deck manning a gun.
On February 16, 1945, we arrived off of Iwo Jima along with other destroyers screening our aircraft carriers. It wasn’t too long before we heard that familiar order over the loudspeakers, “General Quarters, General Quarters, all hands man your battle stations. This is not a drill.”
The battleships and cruisers began a massive three-day bombardment of the island, the likes of which I could have never imagined. I stood out on deck and watched in awe as the Battleship Texas fired salvo after salvo into Mount Suribachi.
On Wednesday, the 21st, about fifty planes appeared overhead, and it turned out that they were Kamikazes. Our guns were putting up a tremendous amount of fire; the sound was deafening. But five Kamikazes smashed into the Carrier Saratoga, wrecking her flight deck.
In the same attack, the USS Bismark Sea, CVE-95, a small escort carrier that we were escorting came under attack from a swarm of Japanese planes just after she had recovered her aircraft from a strike on the island.
One Kamikaze was splashed, but another one crashed into the Bismark Sea abeam of the after elevator. There was tremendous explosion and fire. A little later a second plane crashed into her forward of the elevator well, killing all of the fire-fighting party.
Soon the flames raged out of control and the ordnance aboard her began to explode. There were three horrific explosions and fireballs, and she began to sink. The Japanese planes stayed in the area strafing the men in the water that had just abandoned the blazing ship... Animals!
I remember that we began moving along at a pretty good clip, steaming toward the Bismark Sea to pick up survivors. Darkness was settling in, and our Captain ordered that the searchlight be turned on the sea so that we could see any men in the water.
Reality had set in, and I realized that we were not on any leisure cruise; this was life-and-death combat at sea. I had just witnessed the destruction of an aircraft carrier and the death of hundreds of our sailors.
We could see lights afloat and hear men in the water. The only men that got saved that night were those that had their GI watertight flashlights and whistles attached to their lifejackets.
After searching for many hours, we only pulled eleven men from the sea, but there were five other destroyers searching as well. Later we heard that over 300 men had been lost on that one ship.
On the 23rd we got to witness the flag raised on top of Mount Suribachi. There were cheers on deck and throughout the ship, especially from those 11 fellows that we had rescued. I also heard many of our other ships blow their horns and whistles.
We left the area on the 7th of March and steamed for San Pedro Bay at Letye in the Philippines. There, we replenished the ship and had a little R and R. Some of the boys down in the engine room even rigged up an ice cream machine, using ingredients that they had confiscated. They made ice cream every night, and it was great... I would do anything in the world for the guys on this ship.
A few days later, we joined a task force that was preparing for the invasion of Okinawa and sailed north toward Japan. When we arrived, I went topside and saw one of the most memorable sights that I had ever seen. We were at anchor and as far as the eye could see there were warships all over the place. I’m guessing there must have been five hundred ships of all types.
On Easter Sunday, the 1st of April, it was D-Day on “Okie.” We began lobbing five-inch shells from about 400 yards offshore to support our ground troops during the invasion landing. We spend many days bombarding the beach and other parts of the island, and even at night we stayed at General Quarters most of the time... I got so tired of being cooped up in that wardroom.
I remember that the ship’s fitters took a torch to the bolts on our searchlight. They cut it loose and dropped it overboard into the Deep Six. The Captain said that we needed that platform for a better use, and a 20-millimeter gun was put in its place. They also installed brackets along the rails on the main deck and put up thirty and fifty caliber machine guns. Captain says we are going to need everything we could get.
Then came radar picket duty. This was about 100 miles north of Okinawa so our radar could pick up Japanese planes heading south for our fleet. That extra hundred miles of advance notice gave the fellows back on Okie more time to get prepared for air attacks, but we didn’t have anything north of us except for the enemy.
We didn’t have much warning when the Japanese were coming — and come they did, you could be sure of that. They would normally come around dinnertime, and when they did, the sky was covered with planes.
On the 28th of April we were assigned to the forward radar position, known as “roger peter five.” We had been losing “roger peters” at a rate of one a day due to the avalanche of Kamikazes attacking our destroyers en-masse. They usually came in groups of 20 to 30.
On this day about 30 “Kazes” attacked us in the late afternoon. Our five-inch guns and twin 40mm guns opened up first, and then as they got closer, our smaller guns joined in. Our ship was putting up a terrific fight; the guns were pounding away at every part of the ship, and the vibrations came up through my legs and shook my whole body.
I slipped outside to see what I could do to help. There were spent shell casings bouncing and clattering all about and rolling all over the deck and gun tubs. The sound and smell of all this was just mind-numbing. The men were shouting and working furiously. Planes swarmed all around us like angry hornets as I stood at the rail next to the 40mm guns at frame 32 on the port side.
The first two planes were shot down without much trouble. The third Kaze got within 200 yards before we shot off a wing and splashed it. I was shouting encouragement and pointing at more incoming planes when I heard Gunnery Officer Martin Jablon shout, “Doc, get your butt back into the wardroom where you belong!”
I yelled back, “Jablon, I don’t want to miss this by being indoors, cause it is probably something I’ll never see again.”
I didn’t move. “I’m not leaving! I’m not leaving!” Jablon and I both kept shouting to the ammo feeders and gun crews, encouraging them to work faster, load faster! “Left! Left! Left! Get him! Get him!”… I had never felt more alive than this moment.
At this moment another plane attacked from starboard. It was on fire and coming down almost vertical as it dove toward us. All guns trained on it and fired relentlessly. All the tracers flying upward formed a swirling arm of fire that reached out to that Kaze.
I could see pieces of it begin to fall away. It didn’t seem possible that anything could make it through all those tracers and explosions.
Just as it lost a wing, it came on through and hit the upper rigging amidships. Its wing slashed into the superstructure and hit a gun crew just above me. There wasn’t time to move.
The plane’s fuselage flew on by within feet of me, missing the ship. For a split second, we were OK... But in an instant, the 500-bomb on it exploded on contact with the sea, just 100 feet in front of me.
It was a Saturday, and I was 25 years old.
I served with a ship’s company of heroes. Remember us, for we were sailors once and young.