John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: August, 2016

Kamikaze Attacks

My Texas friend, Phil Brown, was a “plank owner” of LSM 317 being part of the original crew who took delivery of this landing craft from the Pullman Co. shipyard in Illinois. He served on this ship until it returned to Long Beach for decommissioning after hostilities ended. This is his account of Kamikaze attacks he witnessed during the invasion of Leyte.


Our crew stood at attention on 28 July, 1944 as LSM 317 was commissioned. The ensign was raised and the first watches were set. We cast off, left Lake Michigan and sailed though the heart of Chicago via the Chicago River making our way to the Mississippi River. We only navigated the river during day light on a voyage to New Orleans making stops at Memphis, Greenville, Vicksburg and Baton Rouge before reaching New Orleans where the guns were installed. A good thing; professional river pilots navigated on the rivers as none of the five officers had ever been to sea and the skipper, Lt. Warren Ayers, had previously been a professional musician.


That pilot was an old-timer who quit commercial piloting to serve his country. He was really pissed off at his fellow pilots who continued to work on commercial traffic earning big bucks. He frequently flipped them the bird as we passed their tows.


We sailed from New Orleans to Galveston for two or three weeks of intensive training and shakedown.  From Galveston we sailed across the Gulf of Mexico to the Panama Canal where we made a short stop for minor repairs and equipment replacement before transiting to the Pacific side. Next stop, Bora Bora, which appeared after a 19-day cruise. I thought of paradise; it looked just like what I always though a South Seas island should look like and the locals were friendly, trading shell jewelry for canned goods and other ordinary items. From there we headed to New Caledonia, the Admiralty Islands and stops in New Guinea before reaching our ultimate destination…the Philippines.


Kamikaze was not a word that we knew when our first such attack on December 10, 1944. It found us loading supplies to be taken around Leyte to Ormoc on the opposite side of Leyte Gulf. MacArthur planned to circle behind the Japanese who were stubbornly defending the mountains keeping us from punching through to the other side. The Japanese were also using the Ormoc beaches to reinforce and resupply their troops.


We had finished taking on supplies from the Liberty Ship, William S. Ladd, anchored well off shore…As I recall, mostly miscellaneous gear including some artillery shells. We had moved back to the Red Beach area where we grounded 317 to take on infantry that had been pulled out of the lines to be reinserted for the back door attack…About that time General Quarters (GQ) sounded: a squawking klaxon horn followed by the command: “THIS IS NO DRILL; ALL HANDS MAN YOUR BATTLE STATIONS.”


Our rather primitive radar showed three bogeys approaching. Some of the larger ships opened up with what we thought were 5 inch 38s…too high for our 40mm and 20mm guns. Two or three planes were all we saw. They made their way toward the main concentration of ships where one started down in a steep dive right into and through the number two hatch of the William S. Ladd, where we had taken on supplies! The Ladd sank in a few minutes; we were thunder struck; had never seen anything like that and didn’t want to ever see anything like it again!! We’d been so close minutes before!


My GQ station was on top of the conning tower as the Captain’s talker. Several of us discussed what we had just seen and thought it would not happen again…WRONG!!!


On the runs to attack and later resupply Ormoc Beachhead I think we had suicide planes each and every time. We came to refer to the attacks as “crash divers” or “suicide” attacks. Do not remember hearing the term Kamikaze until the invasion of Okinawa.


They were scary and intimidating. On December 11, we were part of a convoy of eight LSMs and four LCIs escorted by six destroyers, supported by four F4U Corsairs. We were ordered to GQ and within minutes several low-flying planes came in front to back attacking our little convoy. They were so low we were unable to lower our field of fire for fear of hitting our own ships. One plane flew so low right over us we could easily see the pilot before he crashed into the destroyer, USS Reid, right behind us. Went in striking the torpedo tubes; blew in half and sank within two minutes. Will never forget what that looked like. Several of us began to pull back to pick up survivors but were ordered to continue our run. Only one LSM was designated to stay to attempt rescues and less than half of Reid’s crew was saved.


We were scared!!! At least I was scared!!! About that time the Corsairs covering our convoy chased off the remaining Japanese aircraft. We reached Ormoc that night but waited until about 3 or 4 am to beach. Out behind us, our escorts were in a serious fire fight with some Japanese destroyers attempting a last ditch resupply of troops and supplies. Everyone was shooting everywhere and I am sure some damage was caused by our own fire…I hate the term, “friendly fire” as it did not seem friendly. Our own radar and early daylight told us we were landing on the same beach only ¾ mile from the enemy. It was difficult getting off the beach and on our way home across Leyte Gulf; more air attacks but no crash dives.


Going on the beach to land supplies and troops was not much fun but the crash divers added a scary element as we felt there was no way to stop them. Granted we were small and insignificant; targets of last resort but on one trip a LSM was hit, the aircraft engine actually went through the ship.


LSM 317 had damage that prevented us from being sent to Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Those were much worse. Okinawa was the real climax of the Kamikaze.


As an ironic twist, after the Japanese surrendered we were ordered to Korea to take the surrender of several of their installations. One turned out to be a rather large Kamikaze base. As I remember the island was off the tip of Korea and named Sasha To. The remaining troops had been ordered to stack their arms, rifles in one stack, side arms in another, machine guns in a third, etc. Troops lined up and their officers delivered the bowing and surrendering.


The best thing about this spot was that we liberated a Japanese motorcycle with a side car. One of our mechanics (MMC) fixed it and we had a great time with it along with a jeep we had liberated before the war ended. When the tires finally blew out on the motorcycle, we used a fire hose to wrap around the wheels and wired it on. We took it down onto the land whenever we beached the LSM, opened the bow doors, lowered the ramp and zoomed off; great fun!!!


I had accumulated enough points for discharge once the ship arrived in Long Beach. I knew LSM 317’s sailing days were over. She was completely worn out and would be sold for scrap. I decided to keep the commissioning ensign and our “lucky” flag, the one we ran up during hot landings. So tattered, it was not much more than a star square but I packed both in mothballs and years later, I mounted and framed the ensign and the flag  in a cases that are still proudly displayed.


Looking back at so much confusion when I left 317, I still regret not taking a pair of good binoculars and the ship’s navigation clock.



The Inmates Control the Asylum

I should have seen this one coming, the changing scene was as obvious as the sun rising and setting. Of course, I knew the old prototypical New York Jewish taxi driver was long gone, just another memory of a lost New York. Never again, an Abe, Shelly or Max; owner-drivers all, steering their monster Checkers through Midtown traffic dodging messengers, pedestrians and Jersey drivers while carrying on a non-stop proclamations on the state of the world, human relations and where and where not to find great food at a good price.


In 1962, American born hackies made up 62% of the drivers. Today it’s 4% and the Taxi and Limousine Commission, (TLC) notes the other 96% come from 167 different countries with the greatest number (wait for it fellow New Yorkers) from Bangladesh (24%) and, Pakistan (10%).


A year ago, in recognition of the obvious unfamiliarity that most of these drivers have with the geography of the city of New York, Comrade Mayor Bill DeBlasio and his Politburo, aka, the City Council, eliminated: “most geography questions from the license exam.” Last month they directed the TLC to end the requirement that the test be taken in English! Their rationale, GPS devices eliminate the need to know where drivers are going and Uber accepts non-English speaking drivers. Seriously, the first rationale is flawed at best and the second, while on paper it may be true, any Uber driver who cannot communicate with the passengers will not be an Uber driver for long.


But once again in the Peoples Republic of NYC, Comrade Mayor Bill DeBlasio and his Politburo rule supreme. Makes one wish for Bloomberg’s Nanny State, even recognizing how tedious it was. At least, law and order and common sense prevailed with Mayor Mike in charge.


In researching this piece, I decided to compare the application process for becoming a taxi driver in NYC with the one in London. The introduction for perspective London taxi drivers begins: “(They) are almost as famous as the black cabs in which they drive, this is mainly due to their in-depth knowledge of London and ability in taking their occupants to their desired destination amid the congestion and the chaos that you often find when travelling through London’s streets.”


“To become an ALL-LONDON taxi driver…you need to master no fewer than 320 basic routes, all of the 25,000 streets… 20,000 landmarks…located within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross. It takes the average person between 2 and 4 years to learn the knowledge.”


The TLC approach in New York City is a bit different. First off, you may only apply on line and you must complete the application in 20 minutes or your session will expire. (We do not have time in the Big Apple for lollygagging: TIME IS MONEY!)


You need a DMV license, a valid credit card to pay the non-refundable fee and, most important, promise that within 90 days of submitting the same, you will:


Take a drug test

Have your fingerprints and photo taken

Complete the education requirements


Lowest common denominator and political correctness rule in our Peoples Republic of NYC…and so it goes.


I do confess I miss those ethnic Jewish drivers who helped define New Yorkers. Fate allowed me to actually ride with an Abe Cohen in his Checker early in the 80s at the end of this era. I hailed him in Hanover Square after a downtown business lunch asking for a drop off in Midtown.


Once in motion, unprompted, Abe began his one-sided conversation, treating me to his opinions while heading north, navigating traffic along the West Side Highway. As we passed a joint advertized as, “The Anvil,” a gay S&M club in the West Village, Abe pointed at the club and exclaimed:


“You know that’s a homo joint? Would you believe I once picked up a fare there who came on to me!”


I asked, “Abe, what did you do?”


Abe, “I had to think quick. I didn’t want to lose the tip so I gave the guy a matchbook and told him to write his phone number and give it back to me so I could call him when I got off.”


Me, “So what happened?”


“I did great; he gave me a $20 tip.”

Choo Choo Coleman R.I.P.

Several Metropolitan daily newspapers reported the death of Clarence (Choo Choo) Coleman on August 16. The New York Times reported his age as either 78 or 80. Their obituary included two quotes by Roger Angell about Choo Choo: “He handles out side curve balls like a man fighting bees.” And a second referring to his speed on the bases: “This is an attribute that is about as essential to catchers as neat handwriting.”


Their obituary included the following story about Choo Choo (who called everyone “Bub.”) “Perhaps the best known anecdote about Coleman is one that, in later years, he said never happened, though Ralph Kiner, the former slugger and broadcaster, assured The New York Times that it had. In 1962, Kiner interviewed Coleman (on his post-game show, Kiner’s Korner) and asked, ‘What’s your wife’s name and what’s she like?’ Coleman replied, ‘Her name is Mrs. Coleman – and she likes me, Bub.”


Choo Choo also had the curious distinction of being the only baseball player I ever encountered when I was young. It happened in the spring of 1966. I left Shea Stadium with my friends, Bill, Jimmy about an hour after a game ended, We had successfully made our way into the private Diamond Club for a couple of beers before we departed for Manhattan. I wrote about it in 2005 as part of a piece called “Shea Stadium Nights:”


Since the baseball game ended early on a Friday night in May, Manhattan beckoned to us. Being city kids, cars weren’t a factor so we climbed the Willets Point-Shea Stadium elevated station to catch the No. 7 train bound for Times Square. As we waited for the train to arrive, we noticed a fellow standing against the station’s wall. Jimmy looked at him several times before deciding to take the chance that he recognized this man. Jimmy walked away from Bill and me to speak to him. Instinctively, we quieted to hear their exchange. Jimmy looked at him and said, “You’re Choo Choo Coleman.”


Coleman looked back at Jimmy and said, “Bub, that’s cool, people don’t usually recognize me.”


We all asked for his autograph. He had been the Mets’ best catcher during 1962 and 1963, their first two seasons. We’d all seen him play at the Polo Grounds. Labeled, “a defensive catcher,” his hitting left much to be desired. Clarence, “Choo Choo” Coleman played in 55 games in 1962 hitting .250 and 106 games in 1963 hitting .178. The following year, he was farmed out to a minor league team and he did not make it back to the Mets until the 1966.


We said good-bye when the train arrived. We talked about how strange it was that a baseball player had no alternative but to take the subway alone.


The next day, the Mets cut Choo Choo. His come-back had only lasted six games before we met him and that subway ride was his last trip home from the Show. Sad, but that’s where a .188 average will take a defensive player.


R.I.P. Choo Choo



One Strange Sunday

To say the least, I was perplexed. At 19, being told that I’d been selected to be the Godfather of the new-born daughter of the youngest son of our next door neighbor; I didn’t get it at all. For Christ’s sake, I’m psychologically divorced from something like this being completely absorbed in my own affairs. I’m in my junior year of college and totally uninterested in anything else. Why in hell would they select me? It made no sense!


Whatever, I had no choice, no input; my points meant nothing. My mother delivered this message in no uncertain terms; she would be the Godmother and, by extension, I, the Godfather.


The baby girl’s parents were the son and daughter-in-law of our next door neighbors, the M family, my mother’s tenants and good friends. Each family lived in one of the two apartments on the upper floor at 1821 Himrod Street, a two-story, four-family railroad flat in Ridgewood, Queens. Granted, Florence M. the grand-dam of their family supported my single-parent mother through thick and thin helping to raise me. In truth she even loaned me the $37.50 I needed to buy my initial season ticket to the New York Football Giants a year earlier in 1962. But how the hell did this translate into this invasion of my world?


Making matters worse, the baby’s baptism was scheduled for the same day that my Giants were at home against the St. Louis Cardinals, November, 24, 1963. Just in my second season, this meant I had to miss my first home game: Damn, damn, damn!


My good friend, Jimmy, was only too glad to relieve me of my ticket. The Giants were flying high just on the cusp of selling out and game day tickets had ceased to exist. Big Blue was still in a tight race to win the NFL East for the third straight year and this was during the time when all home games by league rule were blacked out.


You may have already made the connection that the President of the United States of America, John F. Kennedy, was shot to death in Dallas, Texas on November 22nd, the Friday before the baptism.


What you may not be aware of though, by Saturday morning, all regular programming on radio and television ceased. TV concentrated on news but the traditional AM New York radio stations; WMCA, WNBC, WABC, WOR and WHN switched their programming to somber classical and chamber music. Regular programming didn’t resume until Tuesday morning the day after JFK’s funeral and burial.


This change of format included WNEW, the radio home of the Giants, silencing Marty Glickman, the team’s radio voice. Unbelievably, despite the depth of the terrible grief that befell the nation, Pete Rozelle, Commissioner of the NFL, was so tone deaf that he decided to go forward with all eight games scheduled for that Sunday.

(Joe Foss, Commissioner of the rival AFL, postponed his league’s games. In time, Rozelle, realized his decision was his worst act as commissioner.)


Sunday found me wearing a sports jacket and tie, gathered with my mother, my goddaughter to be, her mom and the families at their Maspeth home waiting the time to ride to Resurrection RC Church for the 3 PM baptism. (Dad was absent serving his country as an MP in Germany having been drafted into our then, peace time Army.)


Still annoyed being there and starving for any news of the game, I separated myself and tuned their TV to WCBS, Channel 2, hoping to catch some update. Instead; oh my God, sitting there alone; I witnessed Jack Ruby step into the picture, gun drawn, and fatally shoot JFK’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, in a Dallas police station. My cry of: “Holy shit,” got everyone’s attention.


The shock of that scene was, in a way, the tipping point for all Americans. Already grieving, we couldn’t absorb any thing else. Numb, that’s what we were, numb. I fulfilled my role at the baptism, we had a reception of sorts back at the house that I don’t remember and left to go home.


Somehow I discovered the Giants lost that day. It didn’t seem to matter.


Today, when I think about all of this, I realize that my goddaughter is now 53 and I do regret that I can’t recall her name.




Baton Rouge

Not to be confused with the city in Louisiana, this is about our personal “red pole” located in Marlow, New Hampshire.


We bought our house in the Granite State in 1984 toward the end of that simpler time prior to the explosion of the internet, cell phones, social media and smart phones that revolutionized our lives.


We depended on a single land-line telephone in this rural setting. Television was primitive; a single TV channel signal out of Vermont to a roof-top antenna that on most days received it accompanied by various amounts of electronic snow.


In 1988, we bought an analog satellite dish and a receiver that allowed us to track about two dozen “C” band and “K” band satellites by entering their coordinates into the receiver. The dish was mounted on a steel pole about 25 yards from the house.


It was so massive; the pole had to be filled with concrete to adequately support the weight and movement of the dish. We must have been able to track at least 500 different stations. Much of the programming featured sex, religion and shop-at-home.


Shop-at-home’s appeal increased in direct proportion to alcohol consumption. My worst was in the early ‘90s. After I ordered a Bill Clinton backwards watch, the sales rep suggested, “For another $10 we’ll send you a second.” I replied, “I’ll take it.”


We did discover some gems like the raw feeds of news programs and every NFL game for free, (the NFL had not yet realized they could make money on this too.)

News feeds were a hoot though. Did you ever give thought to what goes on before a network anchor announces: “…and now we are going to Betty Jones who is standing live outside the court house in East Paduckerville, Kansas to update us on freeing the mole women: “Hello, Betty…”


The reality is that Ole Betty and her crew have been out there for almost an hour set up and ready to go so that the feed can be accessed without any delay. There she stands in front of the camera so the studio can see she is ready while she waits and she waits and she waits. Betty may grab a quick snack or drink, adjust her makeup or do silly facial exercises but she stays on camera ready for the shoot.


Getting local news was a problem. To prevent these dishes from competing with existing television stations the owner had to demonstrate that it was located in an area without service. Since my billing address was Port Washington, NY, I’d be challenged on a regular basis by the satellite service forcing me to defend my right to receive this service. I’d patiently ask them to check our dish’s location electronically. This satisfied them until another investigator noted the billing address. For a while we received the NBC news from our home New York City station but we also received network news from Miami, Philadelphia and Boston.


All programming information was available in a TV guide for satellites that was the size of a medium town’s telephone book.


This ended with the advent of the small dishes. Congress changed the law allowing universal installation. Once the little dishes that we first called “pizza dishes” came into fashion with providers like Dish and Direct TV, the free programming on the old C and K band satellites shrunk to slim then none giving us no choice but to convert to one of those systems.


We had the big dish removed but the concrete-filled steel pole wasn’t going anywhere. Corrosion turned its color into a dull reddish orange and we came to refer to it as our baton rouge.


We did find a new use for our red pole. It became an excellent marker to identify the resting place of our family dogs once we cremated their bodies. As of today, Harry, Bubba, Sasha, Buster, Jumbo and Maggie all rest beneath our baton  rouge their remains secured in wooden and metal boxes that once upon a time contained liters of expensive whiskey like Middleton’s Irish and Johnny Walker Black or Blue.


Not a bad way to go in my opinion and, for the record, I’d prefer a Redbreast Irish 15 year-old box. Oh yeah, if you can find one, please include one of those Clinton backwards watches.