Voices from the Pacific War Voices from the Pacific War

Oral Histories

Ray Tirey: USS LCS-54

Mr. Tirey was born in 1926, in Tulia, Texas. In 1943, about six months after he graduated from high school, he enlisted in the United States Navy. Having never seen the ocean while growing up in Texas, the navy was a natural choice for him. Before going to the Pacific theater of war, Mr. Tirey was sent to England to serve on a British LCF (Landing Craft Flak), with an all-American crew and participated in the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944, providing gunfire support for Allied troops on Omaha Beach. Not long after the successful landings on the coast of France, Mr. Tirey was returned to the U.S. and reassigned to a newly constructed LCS (Landing Craft Support). After his discharge from the navy at the end of World War II, he went to college. He spent his working years as a teacher and coach at various high schools and colleges before going to work for the United States Air Force. He retired from Travis Air Force Base in California in 1985, and now lives in Fairfield, California.

After the invasion of Europe, I was sent back to the United States and given thirty days leave. That was in August 1944. When my leave was up I went to Long Island, New York, and turned in my leave orders at eight o’clock that morning. I was then told to get my sea bag ready because I was being sent to the West Coast at one o’clock that afternoon. So at one o’clock, I found myself on a troop train heading for San Diego.
In San Diego I went to Camp Elliott, and from Camp Elliott I was assigned to LCS-54 as a replacement. The “S” stood for Gunfire Support. We had rockets, a 40-mm gun on the bow, 20-mm guns, and .50-caliber machine guns. The designers of the LCS(L) combined all of the advantages of a ship that could go into the shallowest water with a variety of guns of different calibers. With both guns and rockets, the LCSs were a menace to shore, air, and surface targets.
The ship had recently been built in Oregon, and had completed its shakedown cruise before arriving in San Diego. I was replacing a quartermaster who had become ill, and was on board for only about four or five days when we took off for Hawaii. This was in November 1944. We spent quite a bit of time on maneuvers in Hawaii, then went to Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands. From there, we went to Saipan, and then on to Iwo Jima for the invasion of that island.
We had six officers on board. Our captain was a Lt. James Synan. Our Executive Officer was Nagil Rafferty. He was also our navigator, although most of the navigation was done by me and the other quartermasters. Lt. Melvin Fleer was our engineering officer, and he was the only one with combat experience. He had about twelve or thirteen battle stars and was a “mustang”--came up through the ranks from enlisted man. He was a real nice guy--very quiet and unassuming, but when it came time to call the shots everybody paid attention to him, including the captain.

Our gunnery officer was Lt. (j.g.) “Bus” Blackman. He was from Oklahoma, and had been a football player in college. Ensign--later Lt. (j.g.)--Anderson was in charge of the deck force, and Lt. Siri was our supply officer.
We had a real fine crew. We didn’t have any trouble makers, and everybody got along well. Out of a crew of about seventy-five, approximately thirty-two states were represented, whereas on the ship I was on for the Normandy landings, most of the crew was from the East Coast, and the living was rough; and the morale was very low. We had very little living space. We had to sleep in hammocks, the food was bad, the galley stove would blow up about every other day, and we didn’t have shower facilities. So LCS-54 was luxury. We had showers, better food, and better living conditions.
Anyway, we headed to Iwo Jima and went in to clear the beaches before the marines landed. This was on 19 February, my nineteenth birthday. We carried rocket launchers and could fire 120 rockets at once. They had a range of about 1,000 yards, so we went to about 1,000 yards off the beach and fired our rockets. We went in in rows with other LCSs, and as we fired off all of our rockets each LCS would peel off and go back out to reload, then go back in until about 900 yards off the beach and fire again. Meanwhile, the larger ships--the battleships, cruisers, and destroyers--were firing over us. Our first rocket rounds were to clear the beach. In some of the earlier invasions in the Pacific the Japanese had buried drums of gasoline that were rigged so that when the invading troops landed the gasoline would ignite, so we were trying to rid the landing beaches of things like that as well as enemy troops. We did that twice, then provided gun fire support with our guns. Later that afternoon, we fired rockets into the base of Mt. Suribachi. What a way to celebrate my nineteenth birthday!

Our ship was off Iwo for about a week-and-a-half. During the early morning of 22 February, there was an ammo dump on fire on the beach and LCS-54 and LCS-53 were sent in to fight it. The ships were beached and eight men were put ashore. They pumped water directly from the ocean onto the fire, and there was ammunition exploding while they were doing it. And while they were fighting the fire a Japanese plane came over and dropped a bomb. It didn’t hit us, but it was in our area. I stayed on the ship, but the eight men who fought the fire received Bronze Stars. In the midst of all this they pulled out two marines who had been wounded.
For the next three or four days we were on call for wherever we were needed, but mostly we were in the vicinity of Mt. Suribachi to provide gun fire support. During this period, on 24 February, we noticed an American flag flying atop Mt. Suribachi and everyone on the ship started cheering. Little did we know at the time that we had a ringside seat at an event that would become famous worldwide.
Shortly after that, we were sent over to the other side of the island from where the landings took place. We had on board some marine “spotters.” We went in close to the beach and could actually see the Americans and Japanese fighting. The marine spotters were calling in artillery fire in support of the marines on the front lines. Occasionally, the Japanese would flip a mortar round out in our direction, but they never hit us. We did that for about two days.
The marines were still fighting down at the far end of Iwo when we left the area and went to Tinian. We didn’t go ashore on Tinian; we just refueled and took on supplies. From there we took off for Okinawa and arrived there Easter morning, 1945.

The marines landed on the Naha side of the island. On the south side LCS-54 participated in a mock landing, which was planned to divert Japanese forces from the Naha area. We did everything but unload troops. During this operation I had the pleasure of seeing my first kamikaze. It came over us and dove at one of the larger ships, a cargo ship, and fortunately it missed. That was the one nice thing about being on a small ship. The kamikazes liked to go after the larger ones most of the time.
That first night, we went into what is now called Buckner Bay and patrolled all night long. The next morning, six mine sweepers came in to sweep where we had been patrolling, and two of the mine sweepers hit mines and blew up. God must have been looking after us.
After that, we went around to the Naha side of the island to the transport area. We were there when a kamikaze came in and every ship in the area opened up on him. He came in high, then rolled over and dove right into the USS Indianapolis. Where it hit, a big smoke ring came up.
It was about then that we started making up part of the picket lines. Most of the time we were out on picket duty there would usually be four LCSs and either a destroyer or destroyer escort on each picket station. We did that over about a forty five day period. We would go out for about a week or ten days at a time, then some other ships would come out and relieve us.
At one time we had two kamikazes coming in at us at the same time, one from the port side and one from the starboard side. At the time, I was steering the ship. I looked out at the one coming from the portside and it looked like it was getting bigger and bigger. Then I would look at the one coming in on the starboard side, and it looked like it was getting bigger and bigger. But we did shoot them both down before they had a chance to hit us.

We never got hit while on the picket line, but we had some close calls. Once was on a Sunday, and we had just finished lunch. It was raining and miserable that day. I was sitting on an ammunition chest in one of the gun tubs with another guy. We were wearing our ponchos and I said, “Well, at least one thing nice about this weather is we don’t have to worry about any air raids today.” I had no sooner gotten those words out of my mouth when we got hit by one of the biggest raids we ever had while on picket duty.
The one that almost got us came straight down. All of our guns were pointing straight up at him, and they all ran out of ammunition at about the same time. In order to reload those guns we had to lower them, and by then a wing tip from the kamikaze hit our fantail, but the plane itself hit the water and exploded and knocked out our steering gear. That was the only time in my life where I tried to move and my feet felt as if they were welded to the deck. I couldn’t move, I was so frightened.
We had a pharmacist’s mate first class on board—“Doc” Cecil Roberts. He always wore his helmet with the Red Cross cocked over on the side of his head and his first aid kit slung over his shoulder. He was on the bridge, getting ready to go into the pilot house when the kamikaze started heading down at us. He was yelling, “Somebody shoot that son-of-a-bitch! Can’t you see him?” He was practically crying.
After that we went back to the transport area where they had some LSDs--Landing Ship Docks--to get a temporary repair to our steering gear. After these temporary repairs, we continued with our picket duties and ran into some more hostilities, but didn’t have any more close calls.

Just before we left the Okinawa area, we went over to Kerama Retto, a small group of islands near Okinawa. We were moored in the harbor there, and next to us was a seaplane tender. I was on signal watch up on the bridge, and it was really quiet when I heard, VROOM! A kamikaze had come in, banked just enough to miss our radar antenna, and went into the side of this seaplane tender. Just as he hit, a small boat was coming in with some men on board. The kamikaze clipped that boat on the way into the side of the seaplane tender. There was a hole where the fuselage and engine went in, and on either side of the hole was an imprint of the wings.
I can’t verify the following, but I was told that there were men in the chow line aboard the seaplane tender when the bomb from the plane exploded and about 120 men were killed. I’m sure some of the men in the small boat were also killed. But one of the most fantastic things I ever saw was when a sailor on the bridge of the seaplane tender dove off that bridge and into the water in an effort to save some of the men who were in that small boat. He survived the dive, and I saw him come up and try to pull survivors from the water.
In late June 1945, we left Kerama Retto and headed for the Philippines. We were in Leyte Gulf--the Tacloban area--and went into dry dock again to get a better repair on our steering gear, then started maneuvers for the next invasion, which was going to be Japan. We were doing that when the war ended. What a celebration that was!