(The following was published in the Caddott (WI) Sentinel/Cornell Courier on May 21/22, 2004. Permission was granted to reprint it here.)

Adds to Presidential Unit Citation;
Purple Heart awarded
Crosby 60 years later

By JOHN MARDER
Copyright 2004

(Editor's Note: Some readers may find offensive some of the graphic nature of this World War II account.)

The date is May 11, 1945.

The ocean is remarkably silent and tranquil. But no one aboard the USS Robley D. Evans is relaxed knowing the kamikazes would soon aim plane and pilot to sink this destroyer and others like her despite committing suicide in the process.

Destroyers were smaller than battleships although the smaller ships like the Evans were often targets for the kamikazes.

Perhaps the Japanese pilots were young and inexperienced not to be able to recognize a battleship from a destroyer. Perhaps the early warning system of the radar equipped ships meant the destroyers were worthy of attack. Perhaps desperation was involved more than anything.

It was, after all, the final days of World War II when Japan would sacrifice the lives of thousands of pilots and others who must and would die for the emperor.

Less than a month earlier – April 12, 1945 – President Roosevelt had died with Truman becoming president.

Pulitzer Prize winning correspondent Ernie Pyle had been killed by a Japanese machine-gun bullet on the island of Ie Shima April 18, 1945.

A few days earlier of this day – April 30, 1945 – Adolph Hitler had committed suicide.

And May 7 had been the unconditional surrender of all German forces to the Allies.

But the first atomic bomb would not be dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, until August 6, 1945. And the second atomic bomb would not be dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, until August 9, 1945, forcing the surrender of Japan August 14, 1945, with papers signed Sept. 2, 1945.

In what would later be called one of the "most furious air-sea battles of the war" by James Forrestal, secretary of the Navy in making the Presidential Unit Citation, Roy E. Crosby, from Cornell, Wis., was just one of a crew of about 200 who would engage the enemy that day. A few moments later some 100 Japanese planes would plunge at the Evans from all directions.

General Quarters had been sounded at 0151 aboard the Evans with enemy aircraft in the area. Japanese pilots had been dropping metallic foil in the area to confuse the radar.

At 0751 a float plane had been sighted. It was part of the Sakigake Unit or the Kamikaze Special Attack Squadron.

Shocked crew members had watched it pass over the ship from port fantail to starboard bow. Plane after plane would make suicide runs that day trying to crash into the Evans.

But Crosby, a first class machinist aboard the USS Evans DD552, would not die that day unlike 32 of his fellow shipmates. Crosby was at his combat station when a final, five plane suicide attack bombed the ship as the crew desperately tried to keep the Evans from sinking.

And, in one of the most longest delayed awards in U.S. military history by a living veteran, Roy E. Crosby was awarded, March 30, 2004, the Purple Heart medal with certificate for the action and injury Crosby had encountered that fateful May 11 day.

The Purple Heart has come to mean an award of extreme honor that soldiers pray they won't receive. The award is presented to members of the U.S. military who have sustained injuries or have been killed in conflict with an armed enemy.

Crosby's Purple Heart award certificate reads:

The United States of America, to all who shall see these, present greetings. This is to certify that the president of the United States of America has awarded the Purple Heart established by Gen. George Washington at Newburgh, New York, August 7, 1782, to machinist mate, first class, Roy Edward Crosby, United States Navy, for wounds received in action the 11th of May, 1945. Given under my hand in the city of Washington, this 30th day of March, 2004.

Chief of Navy Personnel
J.B. Hinkle,
Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy

It's not the only citation that Crosby has earned. The Evans and the crew have a distinguished record that include:
• Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Rib¬bon with five stars
• Okinawa: Escorted Third Fleet carrier forces and performed radar picket duty
• Presidential Unit Citation
• Philippine Defense Medal
• Philippine Liberation Medal
• Philippine Presidential Unit Citation
• Destroyed 26 enemy planes
• Rescued six downed American aviators

The Presidential Unit Citation awarded to each member of the crew of the Evans is the highest award that can be presented to the crew of a ship in the United States Navy.

James Forrestal, secretary of the Navy, made the following citation at the end of World War II:

For extraordinary heroism in the action as Support Destroyer on Radar Picket Station No. 15 during an attack by approximately 100 enemy Japanese planes, 40 miles northwest of Okinawa Transport Area, May 11, 1945.

Fighting valiantly against waves of hostile suicide planes plunging toward her from all directions, the USS Evans sent up relentless barrages of anti-aircraft fire during one of the most furious air-sea battles of the war.

Repeatedly finding her targets, she destroyed 14 enemy planes, assisted in downing three others and, by her vigilance and superb battle readiness, avoided damage to herself until subjected to a coordinated attack by five Japanese planes. Shooting one down clear of the ship, she was crashed by the other four with devastating effect.

With all engineering spaces flooded and with a fire raging amidships, the gallant officers and men of the Evans fought desperately against almost insurmountable odds and, by their indomitable determination, fortitude and skill, brought the damage under control, enabling their ship to be towed to port and saved.

Her brilliant performance in this action reflects the highest credit upon the Evans and the United States Naval Service.

For the president
James Forrestal
Secretary of the Navy

The Evans had also seen lots of action before May 11.

"At Iwo Jima," Crosby said, "we fired over 1,900 rounds of 5-inch shells a few yards in front of the 4th Marine Division. We moved out and another tin can moved in and they kept this up.

"At Saipan, the Philippines and Palau we rendered logistic support for carrier strike forces including the 3rd Fleet Fast Carrier Task Force."

The missions included supporting slow moving fuel tankers.

But May 11, the mission was being one of 15 "Picket Stations" around Okinawa that would detect enemy planes coming in.

"We were on Station 15, just north of Japan," Crosby said talking about what happened May 11. "The only other station worse was No. 1.

"Out of the 26 planes, we got 23 planes that day. We got shot by 23 and got hit by four suicide planes and three, 500 pound bombs. All four engineering spaces were flooded completely. One bomb moved 15 feet from me."

Crosby was in the aft engine room.

"The first plane hit on the bow," Crosby said, "and it didn't do that much damage when it skipped on the water."

Thirty-two of Crosby's shipmates were killed May 11.

'There were 18 bunks, three high. A guy in the corner and me – we became the only ones left alive. They were all killed. The other man is dead now, too.'

– Roy E. Crosby

"My bunk was on the top of the starboard side," Crosby said remembering his missing shipmates and how lucky he was. "There were 18 bunks, three high. A guy in the corner and me – we became the only ones left alive.

"They were all killed. The other man is dead now, too. I packed all the gear to send home to their folks."

Crosby's battle station was inside the engine room.

"I was stationed above the big condenser," Crosby said. "So, when we were hit, a lot of the concussion went around me."

The others weren't so lucky with limbs broken and shrapnel wounds that caused death with some.

"I must have been on my toes, or something," Crosby said, "because I got mine in my neck. It (metal fragment) broke the vertebrae in my neck. But I didn't know that at the time because there was no blood. That's why I was later told that it was hard to get the Purple Heart without blood.

"To this day, I don't remember how I got out of the engine room. . . . When I came too, I was right beside the torpedo, which was solid steel. When I looked over, there was a guy looking at me and I must have been a hell of a sight. He was whiter than a ghost.

"His name was Pat Macciocca. He said, 'Who are you?' and I told him and he told me who he was. I said, 'We're going to have to get out of here, because that warhead's going to blow.' "

A torpedo warhead with 600 pounds of TNT had been knocked from one of the forward tubes and gone through the deck into the spud locker below. To make matters worse, the locker was full of gasoline from the crashing of Japanese planes with flames now visible throughout the galley.

'He had written that he, with his left leg off, and an army officer, with his right leg off, could tie themselves together and outrun anyone. That's the kind of guy he was. That's the way it was.'

– Roy E. Crosby

"I didn't know if it would blow or not but with a fire burning underneath there is this torpedo, stuck right there," Crosby said. "So we went over to the starboard side, and the first guy I met was a second class machinist.

"He had his life jacket in his hand and was in a world of his own just walking. He just went over the side to swim toward another ship....

"I got just about up to the bridge . . . our executive officer, the finest guy I ever met in the Navy – he had just checked the aft engineering spaces where I was. He (Gilpin) hollered at me: 'The good lord sure looked after you.' But, I could hear this suicide plane coming.

"So, I ran against the bulkhead and the suicide plane hit and dropped the bomb and blew Gilpin over the side and blew his leg off, but I didn't seem him go, but Macciocca did. He saw him, so they went over and got him out of the water. Later, we got a telegram from him while we were still out there.

"He had written that he, with his left leg off, and an army officer, with his right leg off, could tie themselves together and outrun anyone. That's the kind of guy he was. That's the way it was."

Crosby continued with what had happened May 11.

"I went up on the bow and that's when I met that chief who was right beside me in the engine room. . . . and the concussion blew up the four plates and rolled them up and tore them all to hell. Bones were sticking out of legs. . . .

"I was in the repair party. . . . I helped get out the chief engineer and three guys (dead) from the engine room. . . . Everyone in the forward fireroom including the chief were killed. We only got out four guys from the forward engine room. The rest were killed."

Killed in the forward fireroom were Rhesa Boor, Herman Liles, Jewel Myers, Edward Hassell, Bernard Jonikas, John Meyer, Donald Evwin, Edward Amernt, Herbert Doyle and William Shepherd.

"We only got three out of the forward engine room," Crosby said. "The rest were killed. In the engine room where I was, we all got out, but three got killed topside."

Killed in the forward engine room were Hamilton Potter, Johnnie Bourke, Armand Boucher, Arthur Helwagen and Mary Kemp.

There were others who died.

Donald Clippert, a long-time friend of Crosby since boot camp, died in Crosby's arms.

'He had polished boots and the best of clothes. This suicide pilot had a wooden block on his neck where they had his funeral before he left.'

– Roy E. Crosby

And the body of a suicide pilot was also found.

"He had a ripcord and a parachute," Crosby said. "He had polished boots and the best of clothes. This suicide pilot had a wooden block on his neck where they had his funeral before he left."

The Evans never sunk but was put on the beach at Ie Shima, where Pulitzer Prize winning correspondent Ernie Pyle had been killed only a couple of weeks earlier. The Evans was reinforced and made it to Pearl Harbor and then San Francisco where it was scraped because of its poor condition from the battle and the end of the war.

That's just part of the story of why Roy Crosby, who will turn 83 in a few days, was awarded the Purple Heart. But why did it take some 60 years to be recognized for the medal?

The genesis of the Purple Heart medal dates to when Gen. George Washington felt that recognition was needed for soldiers whose significant contributions helped to "forward the cause." First called the Badge of Military Merit in 1782, Washington allowed the award to be presented to any soldier – including enlisted men – whose wartime conduct deserved distinction.

Washington came up with the design for the award, specifying that it should be in the shape of a heart, and colored purple. But only three soldiers were ever awarded the Badge of Military Merit at its first presentation in 1783.

After the Revolutionary War ended the award was abandoned. Speculation exists that later generals may have felt uncomfortable presenting an award that was so linked to the legacy of one of America's forefathers.

President Herbert Hoover revived the award in 1932 and instructed Gen. Douglas MacArthur to re-introduce the Badge of Military Merit. MacArthur made the award retroactive to World War I and, having himself been injured in battle, received the first "new" Purple Heart medal.

Today, the Purple Heart has the bust of George Washington in its center. More than 800,000 Purple Heart medals have been awarded with the qualifications expanded to include injuries to servicemen and women from terrorist attacks, friendly fire and peacekeeping forces.

Crosby thought he had deserved the award for some time, although he had accepted the earlier decisions not to be awarded the Purple Heart.

To be continued. Next week's story includes Crosby's account, as a witness, of the atomic bomb blasts on the Bikini atoll.