USS Luce Survivor Relates Experiences
(July 13, 1945) – Aboard the destroyer USS Luce, which was sunk on the morning of May 4 when 27 Jap suicide planes attacked during the battle of Okinawa, Machinist’s Mate 3/c John Foti of 15 Duncan Place, who has just completed survivor leave lived a lifetime of nightmares in the one minute and ten seconds it took to sink the ship.
Foti was in the engine room when General Quarters sounded.
He started top side and was just coming out of the engine room hatch when the first suicide plane hit the ship. The explosion knocked him down the ladder but he escaped with only minor bruises.
Getting up, Foti tried to run to side again to man the gun, but he never made it.
“Everything happened so fast,” exclaimed Foti, “the planes were pealing off one after another at about 400 or 450 miles per hour.”
As Foti was running up the port side of the ship where the planes were attacking, the Luce received another hit back aft and was listing to the starboard.
Foti made his way to the starboard to get under cover from shrapnel as well as from the explosions of the ship’s ammunition.
But he no sooner arrived at his supposed haven of safety when the starboard took a direct hit.
Foti was blown down on the deck, face flat. Fourteen other men who were taking cover with him were killed instantly.
“Yes,” said Foti, I saw my buddies blown to bits and it certainly was a horrible mess.”
There wasn’t any time to stop and think then because the ship was listing so badly it was getting impossible to lie on the deck. To avoid falling over, Foti grabbed the rail and made his way toward the bridge. Many men who had gone over starboard were killed when the ship rolled on them.
Starboard and aft were now sinking fast. When Foti arrived at the bridge, another plane came in causing a terrible explosion. This was the third suicide plane to crash the ship in addition to one torpedo.
Badly bruised but with no serious injuries, Foti got up and with no helmet or life jacket climbed hand over hand to the port side where he could abandon ship. The “Skipper” was on the bridge and doing what he could to direct the men to the safest part of the ship.
From where Foti stood waiting to jump form the sinking destroyer, he could see the men already in the water being attacked by sharks and strafed by enemy planes. About this time, friendly aircraft came to the aid of the stricken vessel.
The ship was now at such an angle that Fote was standing on her side. Another explosion occurred and blew a torn life jacket within ten feet of him. Realizing that he had to act against time, he grabbed the jacket and jumped.
“Making a ten foot leap into the air, Foti hit the keel of the ship as she rolled over. Landing on his back, he slid from the slipper keel into the water. The destroyer was still underway and continued going on.
Unable to swim and with only a battered life jacket for security, Foti was now faced with a triple threat: drowning, enemy planes, and sharks.
Our planes were intercepting the Japs, and as a precaution against the sharks Foti rolled over and over in fuel oil til he was completely covered. “It burned my eyes so, I thought they’d pop out,” he remarked.
“A wounded ship-mate of mine held me up and I tried to hold on to him. We stayed in the water over an hour just hanging on to each other like that.”
A small American patrol ship came to the rescue and picked the survivors up. Foti and the men were then taken aboard a hospital ship where they received immediate care.
Foti said, “The Luce was an accurate ship, and until the day of the sinking she never received an enemy scratch even though we saw action in every engagement of the Philippines, the first two raids on the Nip homeland and in numerous attacks on Jap shipping.
Speaking of his experiences the day the destroyer was sunk, Foti said, “It was the most disastrous thing I ever went through. I never want to go through it again. The good Lord was with me but our losses were heavy.
“On a ship that small it’s tough because the men were very close. We knew all about each other’s families and girl friends – it was almost like seeing your own brother die.”
Source: The Nutley Sun
Adapted from the book.
Copyright © 2010 by Anthony Buccino, all rights reserved. Photos and content may not be used for commercial purposes without written permission.