Written by Vaughn Brown in 2002. This article, his Action Reports, Deck Logs, and photos were scanned, emailed and submitted by Brown’s friends, Ken and Pat Campbell.
They say that the longest journey begins with the first step. I have wanted to write about my recollections of life aboard the USS LCI(R) 1077 for many years now. So, I am compelled from within to begin.
I must at least give some background. On September 11, 1926, in the little town of Roswell, New Mexico, a Seventh Day Adventist minister announced to his congregation that he had just become the proud father of a son. I was named Vaughn Odene Brown. I have no idea where this name came from, nor how old I was when I found out my first name was Vaughn. For the next 30 years I was known as Odene Brown. When I was 9 months old the family brought my sister, brother and me to Pomona, California, where I grew up.
On December 7, 1941, I was in Los Angeles at a rodeo when newsboys came thru the crowd saying the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. I was 15 years old and had no idea where Pearl Harbor was. I knew there was a Hawaii and Waikiki, but that was about it. My brother, Duane – two years older than me – went off to war as a para-trooper. He made a couple of jumps. The first jump on D-Day, June 6, and the second in Holland. He made it home alive, only to be one of the very last to come down with polio in 1949.
By June of 1944 I had graduated from Pomona High School and went to work. When you turned 18, you were drafted, and you went where they wanted you to go. Instead of waiting for a draft notice, a friend and I joined the Navy in August. My friend was Bob Keckley who also served on an LCI (don’t know the number) For reasons I won’t mention, I was delayed for 2 days and we were not in the same company at boot camp in San Diego. By November I had risen to the rank of Seaman 2nd class and was sent to Shoemaker, California.
In the middle of November, a busload of swabbies left Shoemaker, me included, and were dropped off at Treasure Island in front of this little boat. It had 1077 painted on it, and I was pointed in that direction. The LCI 1077 was built in Bay City, Michigan It had motored down the Mississippi River to the gulf. The only 1077 casualty of the war was when a young man fell overboard and drowned in the Mississippi River. The 1077 proceeded through the Panama Canal to San Diego, then to San Francisco where I met my ship for the first time. I became part of the deck crew and was put right to work. The most memorable job was when someone, the Skipper I suppose, decided to convert a fuel tank into fresh water tank. It had a small opening just big enough for me to get inside. I painted it with red lead paint. I can remember coming out drunk from the fumes. Why I didn’t die right then I will never know.
A day or so later we proceeded to Mare Island to load rockets, for what purpose I had no idea. They were heavy, and one smashed my thumb. I don’t remember having to load rockets any other time, so we must have loaded hundreds of them. The 1077 left San Francisco around 20 November 1944 for a ten-day cruise to Hawaii. By the time we passed Alcatraz and I was already not feeling so good. I never threw up for the 10 days, but certainly thought about it. I was never sick again. Bill Bruce was so sick we had to put a watch on him, so he would not fall or jump overboard. (Bill is dead now, but his wife Rosemary has attended our reunions). The 1077 arrived in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1944. We anchored in the back bay off Ford Island. A few days later we were put into dry dock where we spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve while being converted to a rocket ship. In January the 1077(R) was re-floated and sent to Kahoolawe Island to test fire the rockets. We were ordered to put on our helmets, lifejackets and flash powder and go below deck. I guess they worked. I know they worked later. I will get to that further into my story.
In the middle of January, the 1077(R) left Hawaii in a convoy doing 9 knots and heading for Saipan (wherever that is). We left Saipan in a bigger convoy for an invasion. This was a big secret, so we wouldn’t tell anyone. Who would we tell? We’re in the middle of the ocean and who ever heard of lwo Jima, let alone where it is.
The 1077R left Saipan on 15 February 1945 and arrived, without incident, off shores of lwo Jima at daylight. Our mission was to lay down a barrage on the north end of the island. It was thought to be the Japanese headquarters. We were to prevent them from reinforcing the south end where the main landing was taking place. According to our battle report at 0637 we began firing rockets. I was a loader on the 40mm bow gun crew. We were in close and began to take mortar and ground fire. Several landed just in front of the ship, but 1077 and all our group were safe. We stayed right on our 40mm gun mount while rockets were being fired alongside of us. So much for being trained to go below deck when firing rockets. According to our battle report, we made 20 runs and fired approximately 1175 rockets; 400 rounds of 40mm and 600 rounds of 20mm. I don’t like to confuse my recollections with facts. It seemed like the next day we began salvage duty. But according to the report it was four days later, on 23 February.
“It helps to be 18 years old and a little stupid”
There was so much wreckage on the beach that the LSTs and larger ships could not re-enforce the landings. We were to go in, tie the wreckage to our bow anchor cable, drag it out into deep water, and cut it loose. We began this operation and I was one of those who went ashore. The Marines were just a short way up the beach, and there I was with a helmet, white shirt and boots. I always said it helps to be 18 years old and a little stupid during a war. I will skip some of the details of what I experienced because it serves no purpose. Talk to any Marine who was on Iwo Jima and he will tell you how tough it was. This went on for 3 days. We added fire support at night or made smoke. We left Iwo Jima on 26 February and arrived at Saipan the 2nd of March.
Since this is my recollection, the dates and stories may not be totally accurate. We left Saipan around the 3 rd or 4th of March and arrived in the Philippines around the 10 March 1945. Our day-to-day life was broken up by several shore parties, a lot of trees, children, rain and beer. Not much else stands out.
We left Leyte Gulf in the Philippines for the invasion of Okinawa around the 24th of March. The invasion of Okinawa began for us at 0840 and all rockets were fired by 1040. The landing was not contested. We were very happy about that. For the remainder of the month we added fire power, made smoke and suffered air raids almost every day. Two things stand out: we carried troops from le Shima the day after Ernie Pyle was killed there and I believe we were having continual air raids that day. What I really remember is we were very close to the stern of a large ship. A Japanese plane was shot down and this ship’s quad 40 followed it right down to the water with us in between. We were so close the shells went right over us. I think it was about this time we were credited with shooting down one Jap plane and assisted on two others.
Another incident happened 28 May according to our ship’s log. I remember the clouds were low and a Japanese plane that looked like a seaplane seemed to cruise around, then suddenly flew right into the ship next to us. The pontoons were full of gasoline. The cargo ship was the SS Mary A. Livermore. We did what we could to help. We sent over our corpsman, stretchers, and provided what fire power we could to protect them. She lost 10 sailors dead and 7 wounded. In the meantime, the army was having the fight of their lives. We continued doing whatever we were asked or ordered to do.
SHIPS LOG – 16 JUNE 1945
This narration covers a period of 4 or 5 days. Most are factual. What is rumor I will identify. On June 16 the LCI 1077 and LCI 762 steamed to the south shore of Okinawa and began firing at the shore We began firing on the beach, shooting at sea gulls, and anything that moved. Late in the afternoon a man (Japanese or civilian) came out and just sat in the water. If he had run, we would have shot him, but he just sat there. We did not know what to do, so we radioed headquarters. They thought there was going to be a mass surrender. We were told to stand-by. The next day they sent a p.a. system, a Japanese prisoner (he was a 1932 Olympic shot putter) and a young Okinawan man to the ship. We proceeded to the shore with guns up and encouraged soldiers and civilians to surrender. A few of them swam to the ship; others we marched up the beach and turned them over to the Marines. At times someone would shoot at us and we would pull out for a while, then come back in.
We were having a great deal of success and were accumulating a lot of souvenirs on the beach. We decided to go get them. This part of the story is true, but there is some controversy. We had lost our shore boat. I don’t know where. Larry Roth, a California surfer, and others built a paddle board. The plan was to tie a rope to the board, paddle ashore, and bring guns, swords and whatever back to the ship. (For 50 years I was certain it was Larry on the board, he says it was the Japanese prisoner we called Tojo) I prefer my version. The rest is all true. The board was paddled to the shore. While loading the board with souvenirs the ship drifted sideways. The 1077 backed away from the beach to get straightened out. When the ship started in again, the rope caught on some coral. The board pulled out from shore and almost wound up in the screws. That was the end of our treasure hunt.
Hundreds of Japanese soldiers and civilians surrender to LCI 1077
We were having such success with surrenders that a war correspondent was put on the ship. I have the article by Herb Paul of the Minneapolis Star-Journal. The headline reads, “Paul Sees Okinawa Japs Quit!”
The newspaper article dated Saturday, June 23, 1945 begins… “OKINAWA – I witnessed surrender of hundreds of Japanese soldiers and civilians today. Unprecedented in the Pacific war against Japan, this wholesale surrender may be a forerunner of what may come later and showed some lost fanaticism for dying for the emperor. I had a grandstand seat for this spectacle on the bridge of an LCI commanded by Lt. George N. Armstrong. This LCI won the nickname of Mercy Ship.”
Herb Paul claimed we talked 2,000 soldiers and 5,000 civilians into surrendering. I realize this is just a guess, but we did a great job those few days. We should, at least, have received a unit commendation.
In August we were back in the Philippines. On August 14, we were tied to a large ship watching a movie. As we returned to the ship, we heard that the war was over. This night is one of the most memorable of my navy career.
WAR IS OVER
We broke out the beer, cooled it with CO2 fire extinguishers and joined a thousand ships firing our pistols and pyrotechnics, the greatest display of fireworks I’ve ever seen. What a sight! The remainder of these dates are approximate. In September we went back to Okinawa. What stands out was a severe typhoon. The larger ships put out to sea. We joined a group of small ships in a small harbor, tied ourselves together and rode it out. When it was over there was a lot of wreckage. I don’t remember how, but we acquired a jeep and brought it all the way back to the U.S.A. Once again, the dates are a guess. In October we sailed back to Saipan. From there we towed a ship all the way back to Hawaii. We were at sea for 30 days. We continued to San Diego. Then began the best duty I had in the Navy. I had risen to the high rank of Seaman First class. I was the last one to join the ship so now I was the last one off. Everyone else had enough points to go home or even be discharged. One officer and I stayed on and for the next month until we decommissioned the ship. I drove the jeep every day, showed 2 or 3 movies every night and ate ice cream. What a life! With everything off, they towed her out to the mud flats and I turned in the jeep. Thus, ended my relationship and life on the USS LCI 1077(R).
I went home to Pomona, CA and began a 30-day leave. It was about May by now. I did not have enough points to get out, so I reported to San Pedro, shipped out on the Harland R. Dickson DD-708. We went through the Panama Canal and on to Portland, Maine. Moved to New York, and I finally had enough points to get out. I took a train home, reported to San Pedro and was discharged June 10, 1946, a total of 22 months, thus ending my navy career. I was now 19 years old.
I was married in 1947. I went into business in 1956 as a cement contractor, I retired in 1981 For some 50 years I wondered what happened to my shipmates. One night the phone rang, it was Larry Roth, who I remembered very well. He told me about the LCI National Association. I am now a life member and have made all the reunions to date of writing this memoir. Thanks to all who bring back memories from so long ago, and especially to my wife, Gwen, who didn’t seem to mind going along.
This model of LCI(R) 1077 was built by Brown using…STAINED GLASS! Yes, he had created stained glass windows for churches, decorations for friends and models for many years when he decided to utilize his talent on the 1077.