Dominic C. Maurone was born in Philadelphia, PA on November 11, 1924, he graduated from high school in June 1942. He was drafted and volunteered in the Navy Reserves in September, 1943. He did his bootcamp training at Great Lakes, Illinois. He spent three years in the Navy during the Second World War. He was discharged in June of 1946. Post Navy he worked 40 years for Honeywell, Inc., retiring in 1986 and now lives in Englewood, Florida.
After I passed my draft physical I asked for the navy. I was placed on inactive duty in the Navy Reserves until called to active duty on 2 October 1943. After going through boot camp at Great Lakes, I boarded a troop ship at Norfolk, Virginia, along with some marines, soldiers, and other sailors who were going to the receiving station at Pearl Harbor.
We arrived at Pearl Harbor in late December 1943. I spent two weeks in a receiving barracks before I was assigned to LCI(G) 440. It was the early part of January 1944 when I boarded the ship as a seaman second class. The ship was originally built as a landing craft for landing infantry on beaches. However, it was converted to a gunboat (G) for close range support for our troops. The ship was 157 feet long and twenty-four feet at the beam. It was manned by fifty-seven crewmen and four officers. The armament consisted of three 40-mm antiaircraft guns, two 20–mm guns, and eight .50-caliber machine guns that were fastened on the well deck. We also had forty-two rocket launchers, each holding twelve 4.5-inch rockets. There were an additional five single rocket launchers that were mounted to hinge over the side, outside of the ramp deck. There were a total of 504 high-explosive rockets that we could launch at the beach in a matter of seconds. However, they were never launched all at once, but in banks. It was said that we had the fire power of a class 2200 destroyer.
Most of the crew was fairly new, with only a few experienced sailors on board. All of our officers were of the “Ninety-Day Wonder” type. The highest-ranking officer was our commander, who was a lieutenant (j.g.). His name was C. J. Keyes; we referred to him as “Eighty-Eight Keys,” because of the eighty-eight keys on a piano. Of course, we never called him that to his face. Our gunnery and executive officer was Lt. (j.g.) Vyron Grace. Our engineering officer was J. Simons, but the crew had very few dealings with him. I don’t even remember what he looks like.
Lt. Grace was a completely different personality than Lt. Keyes, our skipper. He was not people oriented. He was slightly wounded during the Marshall Islands campaign. (He was hit on the thumb on one of his hands.) With just a skeleton crew after the Marshall Islands campaign he had us scraping paint off decks and bulkheads and painting while he was sunbathing on the gun deck and nursing his sore thumb as we headed back to Pearl Harbor.
When he became skipper after Keyes was transferred it was entirely different aboard ship. He did not like the cursing and swearing the crew used in conversation. More than once he stepped out of the officers’ mess, which was right next to the kitchen where we would line up for our meals, and warn us about our cursing and the action he would take if it continued. But all and all, I guess he did his job pretty well.
Our most experienced crew members numbered about eight or ten. There was a boatswain’s mate first class, a couple of machinists mates, a radioman, and a signalman. The rest of us were all seaman first class and seaman second class.
While in Hawaii, our ship and other LCIs went out on maneuvers and practiced for future landings by firing on the island of Maui. Like I said, most of us were inexperienced and had never been in combat before. My battle station was “first loader” on a 40-mm gun on the port side of the gun deck. This was my first encounter with this gun. After a short period of practicing–going to general quarters, damage control, and support drills for beach landing–we were on our way to help win the war.
Our destination was the Marshall Islands. One day out from the Marshalls, general quarters was sounded. There was a Jap plane flying over the convoy. It looked like an observation plane, and the whole convoy opened fire on it, but not one shell hit it. General quarters was secured and all I could think was, “We must have spent a million dollars worth of ammo firing at that plane and no one hit it.”
On D-Day, 31 January 1944, we led the first wave of marines onto the beaches at Roi-Namur (part of Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands), firing our rockets at the island along with Group-Eight, which consisted of eight other LCIs. After the rockets were launched, we turned broadside to the atoll and continued to fire at the beach with our guns. We were so close to the beach we could actually see Jap snipers in the trees. In all of our beachhead encounters, the 440 and other LCI(G)s would go in ahead of the first wave of troops.
That afternoon, we made a run on Arno Atoll and Majuro Atoll. On 1 February, we hit our main objective, which was Kwajalein, the main Japanese naval air base in the Marshall Islands. In total, we were involved in twenty-six [of the thirty] beachhead landings in the Marshalls. Many of those islands had very few or no Japanese on them.
The landings at Enewetak, another large atoll, took place on 19 February. On the twenty-second, we made our last run, which was also the last island to be taken in that campaign, and that is one day that has never left my mind. We were making our run and had just finished our last salvo of rockets. We turned to starboard, facing Parry Island. We started firing on the island when our 40-mm gun, the one I was on, jammed. As “first loader,” it was my responsibility to go under the gun and remove the shell that was causing the jam. The gun crew consisted of four people, two who guided the direction and firing of the gun, a “first loader” who would load the gun (there were four shells to each clip), and a “second loader” who removed the clips from the magazine and handed them to the first loader.
While I was under the gun I heard a loud hissing sound. At first I thought it was more rockets going off, but then I noticed that the second loader was laying on the deck. When I looked over at him he was bleeding and had a large gash in his back. He was dead. We were under attack and I could no longer hear any of our guns firing. The ship appeared to have lost power and was adrift.
To this day I don’t know what made me go to the rear of the gun deck and slide down the ladder to the fantail, while the rest of the crew on the forward gun deck went down the ladder to the well deck. We were being hit by 5-inch shells, the first one hitting on the front starboard side of the gun deck, destroying one of the 40-mm guns and damaging the conning tower. Lt. (j.g.) Grace was wounded on the thumb. It also put the radio room and steering compartment out of business. The second shell hit the ladder going down to the well deck, killing all the men from my gun.
While we were drifting out of control, I could hear bullets being fired from snipers on the beach hitting the winch on the fantail. Up to that point I had been too occupied to be scared. Then one of the crewmen was able to switch the ship over to manual control, which was a big steering wheel turned by hand. It was his battle station to begin with. After we were hit and out of control, he came up through the hatch, which opened to the fantail. He was wearing a headset under his helmet, and when he saw that we weren’t sinking he went back below and switched the ship over to manual steering and was guided by the people in the conning tower.
The marines had secured a beachhead by then, and we were able to restart our engines and pull away from the island. Our pharmacist’s mate was one of the eight crewmen killed during the action and we were without any medical personnel on board. Those of us who were not wounded started treating the wounded as best we could, giving morphine to those who were in pain. There were thirty-five men, including one officer, who were wounded, well over half the crew.
We pulled alongside of the USS Solace, a hospital ship, so they could treat our wounded. We later buried our dead at sea from the decks of the Battleship Pennsylvania. I can still see the canvas bags sliding from under the American flags and splashing into the water. Those eight were the only deaths we suffered during the entire war.
Going back to our ship was the only time in my navy career that I became seasick. I’m sure it was due to both the sight of those eight crewmen being buried at sea and the choppy water hitting the LCM as it took us back to our ship.
We had some minor repairs done on the ship, then headed back to Pearl Harbor. On the way back, it was told to us by our captain that the shells that hit us and two other LCIs were from our own destroyers. We arrived back at Pearl sometime in March 1944, and the ship went into dry dock for further repairs.
We picked up replacements to fill the void left by our dead, and the wounded who didn’t return to the ship. While at Pearl, I was promoted to seaman first class and was made first loader on the 40-mm gun that was on the bow of the ship. After a few weeks, the ship was repaired. We had a full crew and were on our way again on 18 April 1944, and headed southwest.
In May 1944, we gathered in the Marshall Islands in preparation for the invasion of the Mariana Islands. We were in a convoy that consisted of Tractor Group-Four. Our flag ship was the USS Black, DD 666. We had sixteen LSTs, carrying the First Provisional Marine Brigade, which was a unit of the famous Carlson’s Raiders. Our Group-eight consisted of nine LCIs, 365, 366, 439, 440, 442, 474, 475, 437, and 450. On 10 May, we were underway.
We participated on the initial assault on Saipan Island on 15 June, and stayed in the area until 5 July. After participating in the landings we went along with TG-4 as an aircraft screen. We were attacked by five Jap torpedo planes, some of which launched their torpedoes at the USS Black. One of the planes was shot down and crashed about five hundred yards off our starboard beam. For the next few weeks we patrolled between Saipan and Guam.
We left Saipan on 5 July 1944, and headed for Enewetak, where we picked up supplies–ammo, water, mail–and reloaded our rocket crates. We then joined a convoy and were on our way for the invasion of Guam.
On 21 July 1944, we got into position with the rest of Group-eight to attack Agat Beach. We headed towards the island at five knots. At 0820 we fired our test rockets to see how close to the beach they would hit. Then we moved in closer and fired salvo after salvo until our rocket crates were empty, which put us within a hundred yards of the beach. We then turned broadside to the beach and commenced firing with our 40-mm and 20-mm guns, and our .50-caliber water-cooled machine guns. That continued until our troops established a beachhead, at which time we pulled away from the island. We were then ordered, along with other LCIs in Group-Eight, to patrol the boat lanes between Bangi Point and Neye Island. Division-15 commander, aboard LCI 365, then ordered us to line up parallel to each other, 120 feet apart. While we were in this formation the 365 got caught in a crossfire between the Jap guns south of Bangi Point and from the north at Palagi Rock and Neye Island. The 365 received nine hits on both port and starboard sides, killing seven and wounding fifteen. The 365 was out of action and the 439 became our flagship, and for the next couple of days we continued to patrolled the boat lanes.
Two days after the 365 was hit a small unit of marines in their amphibious vehicles entered the water off of Agat Beach and headed north through the boat lanes in front of the LCIs. They turned into a small beach in the area between Neye Island and Palagi Rock, the same area where the Japs hit the 365. A burst of machine gun and mortar fire destroyed their vehicles and all the marines were killed. We were then given orders by the commander to go in and draw their fire. This was so our planes could see where the firing was coming from and destroy the site. This was definitely a suicide mission.
The division commander, now aboard the 439, ordered the single file method for strafing the area between Neye Island and Palagi Rock. There were seven LCIs on this mission, and we were perfect targets for the Japs. As we proceeded in at slow speed, we saw the 439 get hit with mortar fire. She suffered two killed and thirteen injured. As the 366 reached its point of fire, it was also hit, with five killed and thirteen wounded, including the commanding officer. We, on the 440, were next in line. Our commander, Lt. Keyes, saw where the Jap mortar shells were falling and turned to starboard and out of their range. Our planes were then able to see where the mortar fire was coming from and destroyed the site.
With the commanding officer of the 366 wounded, our executive officer, Lt. (j.g.) Grace, reported aboard the 366 to temporary duty as commanding officer. After the invasion of Guam, commander Keyes was transferred, and Vyron Grace returned to the 440 and became our new commander. I was then promoted to electrician’s mate third class, and was the only electricians mate on the ship. We then returned to Pearl Harbor for repairs and supplies. After a short stay we were on our way for the next invasion–the Philippines.
We arrived in the Philippines, and made the initial assault on the island of Leyte from 20 October to 24 October 1944. We remained in the bay between Leyte and Samar as the Japanese air force went all out with kamikazes. They came in day after day, and from our battle stations we watched as they dove at our big ships, and many of them were hit. Two that I remember being hit were the Suwannee and the Santee, both escort carriers.
After Leyte, we went north for the invasion of Luzon. We set sail in convoy for Lingayen Gulf, which is on the western side of Luzon. We led the first wave of troops in to establish a beachhead on 9 January 1945, and remained in the area until 5 March.
On 25 March 1945, we provided close fire support for underwater demolition teams that went into Kerama Retto, a small island near Okinawa, in preparation for the landings. We got pretty close to the island and the frogmen went over the side to do their work (search for and clear any underwater obstacles that might hinder the landings). It was then that we gave close-in fire support to them until they were safely back aboard. On 29 and 30 March 1945, we repeated the same thing on Okinawa. Then along with the rest of the LCIs in Group-eight, we led the first waves of troops on to the beaches.
On 15 May 1945, while checking the generator in the engine room, I started seeing white spots before my eyes. I went to our commander, Vyron Grace, about my not being able to see correctly. He had our pharmacists mate, Clyde Craig, take me to a ship that had a doctor aboard. The ship was the USS Gosper, APA-170. I had an eye infection and needed treatment. The next day, with all my gear, I went aboard the USSMercy, a hospital ship heading for Saipan. From Saipan, I took a hospital plane to the naval hospital at Pearl Harbor where I was diagnosed with corneal retinitis. I spent about two months in the hospital there before being sent to another hospital in San Francisco. From San Francisco, I boarded a train for another naval hospital in Norfolk, Virginia. It was during this train ride that we heard about the first atomic bomb dropped on Japan. By the time I arrived at the hospital in Norfolk the second bomb had been dropped and the war was over.