Thursday, December 6, 2012
By Patricia T. Geiger
First published in the October 2012 edition # 82 of Alligator Alley the official publication of the USS -LSMR Association, WW II Amphibious Force.
In life, our paths take us in many directions. It is so fitting that I have spent my entire adult life just 60 miles north of the last United States soil that my uncle Fireman First Class, James Tallery, Jr. trod upon in 1944 before shipping out to defend our country in the Pacific Theater. Depending on the source, it is safe to say that approximately 1,000 WW II veterans, those we call “America's Greatest Generation,” are dying every day. I was very fortunate to be able to locate surviving shipmates of the LSM(R) 195, my uncle's shipmates, and to record this personal history. My only regret is that my mother, his only sibling died one year ago, and we couldn't share this journey.
The loss of a son and only brother killed in battle during WWII is not the topic of light discussion. In fact, it is rarely discussed and when memories are shared they are in bits and pieces and end abruptly when emotion overcomes the speaker. That was how I knew of my uncle, Fireman 1st Class James Tallary, Jr. USNR. LSM (R)195.
I remembered during the Viet Nam War Era trying to make sense of war and talking to my grandfather about my uncle when a friend of mine was killed. My grandfather recounted this incident to me once and only once. My grandparents first got word that their son was missing in action. My grandfather said that he walked from one end of the city of Pittsburgh to the other praying and meditating. He said that my uncle was such a great swimmer that he just knew that he would be found, and if he wasn't so badly injured, would survive. Shortly thereafter, they received word that their only son had been killed in the Battle of Okinawa. I now know that he was never missing in action.
As a little girl, I tagged along with my grandmother, Carmel Tallery, and her sister Mary Barbles (whose son was also in the Navy and also killed during WWII) to maintain the graves of these two cousins buried side by side in Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Memorial Day was always special and the most work to dig in the rocky soil and plant spring flowers. There were always red geraniums, white petunias, and bluebells. These graves stood out amid the crisp flags put there by the local American Legion or VFW. Around the time I was learning to read, I panicked and informed my grandmother that they had misspelled Uncle Jimmy's name. The name on the gravestone was Tallary which was not correct; it was supposed to be Tallery. We needed to fix this right away. She smiled and told me that when he enlisted an error was made in the spelling of his name and all of his military records and correspondence were spelled Tallary including the gravestone. That must have satisfied me because it remained in my subconscious until a little over a year ago.
In March of 2011 my son, James Tallery Geiger, (named after his great-grandfather and great uncle) was in Washington, DC at the WWII Memorial. He called upset and puzzled because there was no record of his uncle at the memorial. My mother, who was sitting at the kitchen table, calmly said, “Tell him to spell the name Tallary.”
That distant memory of a child at a cemetery came flooding back, and my son was relieved to be able to find information about his great uncle. He admonished me for never having the spelling corrected and gave me the name of a contact to correct this error.
My mother died a few months after that event, and I had a lot of spare time on my hands. I was sitting at the computer and typed in Fireman 1st Class James Tallary, Jr.
This following popped up from the website USS LSMR 188-199. The Webmaster is Bill Barthel.
• • •
Fireman1c James Tallary, Jr.
Mr. and Mrs. James Tallery
7616 Tioga St.
My Dear Mr. and Mrs. Tallery,
It is with heartfelt sorrow and sense of loss that I, as Commanding officer of the USS LSM(R) 195, write to you concerning your son, who died of wounds received in action as a result of the sinking of this vessel off Okinawa.
Your son was stationed on the port side and stayed at his gun through the whole attack. The initial explosion occurred close to him and he was blown from his gun. He had displayed more courage than any other man in my crew. James was found in the water and assisted to a raft by a shipmate. On the life raft, first aid was administered and your son made comfortable as possible. A short while later the raft was discovered by a searching destroyer and all men rescued. A Navy doctor and many assistants stood a constant vigil over your son and the other wounded men throughout the night and I can assure you that the finest medical attention that the Navy can give was rendered, but burns sustained were too severe and James passed away the following afternoon. James endeared himself to all the men on the life raft that night by asking for his rosary and prayer book which he carried in his pocket at all times. We all knew that he was a fine Christian lad and are quite sure that God was with him as well as ourselves through those dark hours.
I was immediately attracted by his pleasing personality and cheerful attitude. Throughout every experience and occasion he held the respect and confidence of shipmates and officers alike. His moral courage, devotion to duty, and intelligent attitude made him a fine man of whom all of were proud as you must be. Though it is impossible for us to give you any recompenses or consolation for your great loss, I can only say that all of us remaining, share your deep feeling and will always hold the memory of your son and his great sacrifice in our hearts.
All of your son's personal effects were lost in the sinking with the exception of the above mentioned rosary and prayer book, which will be delivered to you by one of his shipmates.
W. E. WOODSON
14 June 1945
• • •
I stared at the screen in awe. Here was the story that I had heard in bits and pieces all of my life. I will not have the spelling corrected from Tallary to Tallery because all of the military records and history are connected to the misspelled name.
I emailed Bill Barthel, and in a letter to me he states that, “After I found out about the sacrifices of the crews of the LSM(R) 188-199 made during WWII, I decided to start a website as a memorial to them. The website was also intended to provide the next computer literate generation with specific information (when available) about their loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.”
If it were not for this website: https://sites.google.com/site/ usslsmr188199/home maintained by Bill Barthel, which also led me to D.K. Miller, I would not know about the LCI USS LSM LSMR organization, the September 10, 2012 reunion in Charleston, Alligator Alley, nor the Japanese attack on May 3, 1945 on Picket Station 10 and the valiant efforts of the LSMR's. One day of “surfing the net” led me to phenomenal discoveries and the validation of facts that were orally passed on to me sporadically throughout a lifetime.
That battle, according to the reports of W. E. Woodson, Commanding Officer of the LSMR 195 who “survived the sinking and reported on 5 May 1945: Two planes were observed approaching, the closest identified as NICK. This plane was taken under fire by the 5"/38 and both 40MM guns as he circled and approached from the starboard. The other plane started an attack run on our port side coming in at a very low altitude and maneuvering violently to confuse our two port 20MM gunners who had taken him under fire. This plane was strafing on its way in and hit the port side ripping the main deck all the way into midships. The explosion and depth of damage indicated that this plane carried a bomb. The rockets that were loaded in the launchers topside began exploding in every direction as the fire spread from one broken rocket motor to another causing a great deal of shrapnel and fragments to be in the air at all times. These rockets were propelled only short distances with numerous hits about the deck causing fires. The plane or bomb had also penetrated the forward assembly room causing assembled rockets to be propelled throughout the ship and the area surrounding it.”
(From Woodson, William E. CO USS LSM(R) 195, Casualty Notification Report to Chief Naval Personnel (Pers-8249-hc) 7 June 1945 as stated in htpp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS LSM(R) -195.)
F1c James Tallary, Jr. was stationed as a 20 MM gunner on the port side of the ship. As the suicide run started in his sector, he stayed at his gun firing at the plane until it actually crashed within 15 feet of him. He was a great inspiration to his gun crew and shipmates by his example. He remained at his gun until he was blown from the ship by the violent initial explosion. F1c Tallary was found in the water, critically burned, and dragged to a life raft where first aid was administered. His wounds were too severe and he died aboard the USS Crescent City (APA-21) on May 4, 1945.
Bill later sent me a copy of a June 14, 1945 communication that recommended James Tallary Jr. for a Silver Star.
It states in part:
During the late afternoon of 3 May 1945 the U.S.S. LSM(R) 195 was subjected to a heavy air attack and action while acting as a patrol ship in company with the U.S.S. AARON WARD as OTC, U.S.S. LITTLE, U.S.S. LCS 14, 25, and 84. The U.S.S. LSM(R) 195 was tactical guide for the LCS'S near Okinawa Jima in Radar Picket Station #10.
The U.S.S. LSM (R) 195 was column guide with the LCS's astern patrolling approximately seven miles for the destroyers when at 1815 Item the OTC notified us of approaching bogeys. The first wave of planes attacked only the destroyers and both were hit by suicide planes. The U.S.S. LSM (R) 195 immediately directed the ships with her to proceed at best possible speed to render assistance inasmuch as both ships appeared to be badly damaged.
While proceeding at fleet speed, the starboard engine of the U.S.S. LSM(R) 195 broke down and had to be secured causing her to fall behind approximately 1000 yards.
Two planes approached and started an attack run.
Within ten to fifteen minutes, the action and sinking of the ship had taken place. Out of the complement of 80 men, 50 were uninjured and along with the wounded were picked up by the BACHE (BO470) approximately 3 hours later.
Tallary, James Jr., F1c., 251 57 20, U.S. Naval Reserve, was stationed as a 20MM gunner on the port side of the ship during this engagement.
As the suicide run started in his sector, he stayed at his gun firing at the plane until it actually crashed within 16 feet of him. He was a great inspiration to his gun crew and shipmates by his inspiring example. He remained at his gun until he was blown from the ship by the violent initial explosion.
Tallary died the next day of wounds he had received by staying at his gun until the last in a valiant effort to save his ship and shipmates.
In view of the above individual outstanding participation of subject named man, it is recommend that the Silver Star Medal, or other suitable award, be awarded posthumously to Tallary, James Jr., 251 57 20 F1c. U.S. Naval Reserve.
After reading all of this information, I e-mailed Bill Barthel and DK Miller and told them my story and asked if there were any surviving members of the LSMR 195. Both responded and put me in contact with individuals.
I was able to talk to the daughter and widow of the commanding officer W.E. Woodson. Mrs. Julia Woodson was a wealth of information as well as her daughter, Laurie White.
From them I found out that the LSMR 195 was commissioned from Charleston, SC. Mrs. Woodson sent me information about the ceremony when the ships were launched and told me all about the sailors stationed in Charleston before they left for battle and how young her husband was to be in command of that ship. I think he was only about 24 years old and they had just been married in September of 1944. She told me that the crew arrived in mid October of 1944 and stayed at the Citadel for their barracks.
The ironic part of finding out this information is that I received my masters degree from the Citadel in 1980.
Their daughter put me it touch with other shipmates. I had the honor of speaking to one of them by phone right after the reunion his name is John Francis. This shipmate was with my uncle from boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois, to amphibious training in Little Creek, Virginia, to gun training at Dam Neck, Virginia, to pick up their ship in Charleston, South Carolina, with him hanging onto the life raft where my uncle was placed, and on the rescue ship until my uncle's death. Most importantly to me, was the image of Mr. Francis hanging onto that life raft until they were rescued. My uncle acknowledged John's presence, and John gave him words of encouragement planning for what they would do when they returned to the states. They were in the water for about 7 hours before they were rescued. Frank Pizur was also rescued by the Destroyer Bache. From reading Lt. Woodson's communication, I assume that the Bache picked up my uncle and Mr. Francis. My uncle died the next day.
John Francis and I had a phone conversation which lasted over two hours and I learned personal anecdotes about my uncle. It was obvious that they were close friends.
When the men left Virginia for Charleston to pick up their ship, they thought that they would be on an LSM. They were never notified that it would be an LSM(R). The flotilla of 12 LSMR ships left Charleston together and sailed through the Panama Canal and arrived in San Diego on Christmas Eve of 1945 where John Francis and my uncle attended midnight mass. The also went into Mexico and Hawaii.
I am so appreciative of this information. My family knew that my uncle was stationed in Charleston, but never knew that he and the crew picked up their ship here, in Charleston, near where I have lived all of my adult life and where my grandparents and mother loved to visit for many, many years. My mother and grandmother eventually moved here in 1995. They always felt a connection to my uncle here.
For 41 years I have said an Eternal Rest every time I crossed the Cooper River (now the Ravenel) Bridge entering and leaving Charleston. Little did I know!
The prize bit of information was given by DK Miller. He told me about the reunion and gave me the name of a survivor of the LSMR 195, Frank Pizur. I wrote to Frank and he called me a few days after receiving my letter. We had a lengthy conversation about my uncle, the circumstances of his death, the kamikaze plane and he said that he would send me some information in the mail.
A few weeks later a huge package was delivered with the book “Brave Ship, Brave Men,” by Arnold Lott with all passages dealing with the 195 marked. The picture taken of the crew of the LSM(R) 195 at the dock of the Charleston Naval shipyard, the famous article which appeared in Life Magazine on April 16,1945, other pictures and much more. No one in my family ever saw that crew picture because all of my uncle's belongings went down with the l95.
The best part was that we made plans to meet at the September 10, 2012, reunion in Charleston. All during this time I read all I could about the Battle of Okinawa and the LSM(R)'s.
September 10, 2012, finally arrived. I was quite emotional about going to this reunion. I wanted information. These were men who shared a story. Would they want to remember this sad time when fellow shipmates didn't make it?
As we pulled up to the Sheraton, I saw a group of attendees disembarking from the Sheraton Van. A wave of emotion overcame me briefly as I thought of something my grandmother said on the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor: “The last time I saw my son he was a young man. I wonder what he would look like today.”
I looked at these distinguished graying men representing “America's Greatest Generation” and thought, “He would look like this, Nanny.”
Finally Wednesday came and I met Frank Pizur. He came all the way from Chicago just to meet me and give me more information. What an outstanding gesture.
He carried a picture of the LSM(R) Fleet firing 1.020 five inch rockets a minute off Okinawa which he had colored and had laminated for me.
When we first entered the hospitality room he said to me I want you to remember that your Uncle Jimmy is part of more than the LSM(R)195. He is a part of the Armed Forces, the U. S. Navy and a part of all ships.
As the evening went on, Frank told me about the battle of May 3, 1945. He told me how the Kamikaze plane approached the 195 in a falling leaf maneuver. He showed me exactly where my uncle was stationed as he continued shooting at the plane. Frank was a signalman, and he drew a diagram of where he was standing just above my uncle when the Kamikaze plan hit the LSM(R) 195, right below where my uncle was stationed at the gun turret. Frank had no time to think. As he leapt overboard, he had a feeling of enormous emotion. He thought, “This day I shall be with my father in heaven.”
He was knocked unconscious. When he regained consciousness he realized that he was in the churn and the ship's screw was just inches from his nose. He described the fire from the sinking ship.
He told me that he often wondered, “Why was I saved?”
After a lifetime of discernment he said he feels that he lived in order to protect the civil rights of all fallen soldiers, so that they shall not have died in vain, including my uncle James Tallery, Jr. Frank feels that it is his duty to defend the Constitution of the United States and the Commandments of God. He said that he was living my grief. Frank said, “I feel that life is full of man's inhumanity to man and I believe in the preciousness of the individual…life is full of opposing forces, the good and the bad.”
Later that evening, we met John Mackay who had designed a model of the 192. With the help of John and a picture of his LSM(R) 192 model I clearly relived that battle of May 3, 1945. I later met John's brother Ron MacKay and realized that he is the individual who compiled some of the information about the service history of the LSM (R)'s that I had been reading the internet from the Wikipedia article.
The final day of the reunion, as we were preparing to leave, I met William Pontow who talked to us about the book he had written, “The Pride and Perils of a Young Amphibian: A Story of Survival---World War II---Pacific.” This book is a result of 12 years of research and is a scholarly work. He, too, was a wealth of information.
He explained to me that on the ship, the crew had two jobs. John Francis and Frank Pizur gave me more details about what my uncle did. My uncle was a motor mechanic or machinist mate. He worked on the engines. I have read accounts of how difficult it was to be below deck.
Both Frank (signalman) and John (was a coxswain or third class rate of boatswain's mate) were above deck. William Pontow explained to me that the 20mm guns were located in a gun turret. There were three men in the turret. The gunner, which was what my uncle did, the loader who put the magazines in, and the man on the horn who was in phone contact with the bridge. If the man on the horn got the call flash red, control yellow the gunner was to shoot. From Frank's diagram, I know exactly where my uncle was. I believe that both men in the turret with him were also killed.
From the first hand accounts, we know that my uncle remained at the gun shooting the whole time until he was blown into the water. Frank was sure until we talked that he was blown apart. He was comforted to know that his body was recovered intact although very badly burned about the face and hands. My grandmother was told that he died saying the rosary. John said that he offered his rosary to my uncle, but his hands were so badly injured that he couldn't hold onto it. There was a broken rosary in the cedar chest with a prayer book, the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart plus some other Pacific Theatre medals, copies of death notices (his body was returned to the U.S. for burial in February of 1949) which appeared in the newspapers, and a flag.
The original letter notifying my grandparents of their son's death was at the very bottom.
As a child, I would ask my grandmother what was in the cedar chest, she would simply say memories.
John said that I should contact my congressman because there were other medals and decorations that my uncle was entitled to. I will do that for John.
• • •
My entire original family is now deceased; all that is left now are my memories, my husband, and my son who carries the name of his great-grandfather and great uncle who I now know was a true American hero. I have learned the entire story. I have learned things about WWII that I should have been taught in school, but we never got to WWII. How sad for an entire generation.
This reunion, this organization, and these valiant men are a story of bravery against all odds. We should all remember. It is my hope that those in my generation and future generations will join organizations like the USS LCI National Association and the USS LSM LSMR Joint Association and go to reunions as long as they are able to keep this history alive.
It is also my desire that all veterans of all wars will record their own personal stories. As difficult as it is, these stories must be told and recorded for posterity. I am so fortunate to have attended this reunion and met these brave men.
On this Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, let us all think about those famous words of Abraham Lincoln from the Gettysburg Address:
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”
Pat Geiger is a Georgetown resident, and is owner of Teacher’s Heaven in Georgetown.