Crew Input

 

Dale I. Bronson, SM2, USNR

As a signalman aboard the USS Stokes (AKA-68), I was on the signal bridge at 0900 on 19 February 1945, when the order came to lower our boats (16 LCVP's and 8 LCM's) into the water alongside. We were to commence the loading of troops and equipment, and to proceed into the staging area preparatory to making the assault on Iwo Jima.

Our ship carried marines of the 3rd Division as well as Seabees and equipment to support their assault on the beach, and more equipment to help support their efforts.

All day we could hear our boat and cargo officers calling out to the landing craft coxswains, "shove off coxswain, you are loaded." As they pulled away, another VP or LCM would pull in to be loaded. This was continued all day and into the night during our stay at Iwo. The only time that would stop would be when there was a report of enemy aircraft approaching, and the sky looked like the Fourth of July with all of the support vessels, as well as us, firing our antiaircraft guns at them. This led to the entry in our service records that we participated in the antiaircraft fire that shot down two Jap bombers.

It was almost unbelievable to see the fire from the 700 or more ships that were in the invasion armada.

To give a clue to the extremity of the landing and the casualties that were suffered, we got a message on Day 2 that the USS Samaritan (AH-10) was taking on casualties and the next day sailed with 1,200 patients.

While we were anchored some 500 yards offshore, we of the ship's company were wondering if we were as vulnerable as we felt when a rocket mortar came over our heads that sounded like the "Wabash Cannonball".

During our stay, we helped with taking aboard and treatment of the less injured men and treated as many as our Medical department could handle.

On 23 February we were thrilled to see our flag being hoisted atop Mount Suribachi.

For an operation that was thought to take several days, it took several weeks and left over 5,000 Marines and Seabees who will never be coming back.

On 7 April 1945, we participated in the same way we did at Iwo, but in a much smaller area in Nagasuka Wan (later renamed Buckner Bay). For a period of some 10 days we unloaded our cargo of soldiers from the 27th Army Division and their support equipment.

The USS Laffey (DD-459) was repaired and refurbished and returned to active duty. Enough credit or accolades cannot be given to the men of the picket duty and to the men of the auxiliaries who remained at their posts, doing their thing to keep supplies and repairs available for the maintenance of the fighting forces.

I am very proud to have been part of the US Navy "Amphibians" during World War II.

Prior to the amphibious forces, I was involved in degaussing equipment installation and testing. This was an installation of electrical cable wound horizontally around a ship, from the keel around the hull in two places. This completely wrapped the ship athwart from just below the main deck, down around the keel and up to the connection below the superstructure to form an unbroken line. These cables, called Mike, Fox and Queen, could be energized as needed to cut the magnetic field of attraction of the many magnetic mines sewn by the Germans in the Atlantic Ocean.

After a number of months doing this work, I was assigned to the US Naval Torpedo Facility on Fort Pond Bay on Eastern Long Island. I did routine signal watches until word was passed that the USS YTTR-9, anchored in the Bay was about to conduct the testing of both fleet and aerial type torpedoes. They would be fired from this barge out for about 10,000 yards to test their individual performance before being sent to their respective branches. Should any fish need corrective adjustments, those adjustments would be made until they ran "straight and true", and then would be sent on their way to the fleet. It was my duty to assist the Range Officer on the radio telephone between the base and torpedo retrievers bringing the fish back to the barge to have any adjustments made, and then on to the Torpedo Shop for shipment.

After this duty station, a signalman was needed at the US Naval Underwater Sound Laboratory in New London, Conn. I would be attached to the USS YP-256, a yard vessel working with the recovery of underwater sound hydrophones that had been dropped into Long Island Sound in patterns to trace the direction of submarines operating in exercises at the time. We would also be in touch with submarines and their positions.

Following this work, I was sent to the US Naval Station at Newport, Rhode Island, where I was assigned to the preconditioning detail of ships company as signalman aboard the USS Stokes (AKA-68). I was shipped down to Charleston, South Carolina with the rest of the ship's complement to put the Stokes in commission on 4 November 1944. From Charleston we went up the Chesapeake Bay for our shakedown cruise, down to Norfolk for some extra outfitting, and then through a hurricane off Cape Hatteras, down through the Panama Canal, and into the Pacific where our adventures that I recounted earlier took place.

Dale I. Bronson
SM2, USNR


Axel H. Anderson, EM2, USNR

Axel says in his letter, "When I was aboard the Stokes I kept a Ships Log of the days we arrived and up anchored for the next port. One of my duties were to shut down the Gyro Compass and start the Gyro when the ship got underway. Another duty was to maintain the Sound Powered phone system controls located in the IC Room..."

He also said that putting the information together brought back memories of the good times aboard the Stokes and the time spent in the service of the U.S. Navy.

Click on "Crew Photos" to view Axel's photos. His ship's logs and ports are below:

Click on image for a larger view, use your back button to return.
USS Stokes Log no. 1 USS Stokes Log no. 2 USS Stokes Port of Calls
Ship's Log No. 1 Ship's Log No. 2 Port of Calls


Francis J. Stingel, S1c, USNR

This memorabilia of S1c Francis J. Stingel, a commissioning crew member of the USS Stokes (AKA-68), was provided by his son, Jim Stingel.

From the time the USS Stokes was commissioned and for several months thereafter, S1c Stingel kept a diary of events.  This diary consist of 21pages (12 pdf double pages) and is very interesting. Click on the image below to read. If you do not have Adobe Reader, it can be downloaded free.


S1c Stingel's Diary


Letter signed by President Truman Pacific Fleet Hd Qtrs Guam March 1945 Awards and Medals Training certificate for S/1c
Letter signed by President Truman Pacific Fleet Hd Qtrs
 Guam dispatch
March 1945
Awards and Medals shooting
down 4 enemy aircraft during Kamikaze raids
Training certificate for
Seaman First Class
Plan of the Day, 18 August 1945 Sacred Order of Golden Dragon Domain of Neptunus Rex Offense Report
Plan of the Day
18 August 1945
Sacred Order
 of the Golden Dragon
Domain of Neptunus Rex Offense Report for
"Wore Hat Not Squared"

Click on "Crew Photos" to view Stingel's photos.

James M. Tietz, BM3, USNR

After boot camp at Great lakes, I was shipped with other sailors to Fort Pierce, Florida to be trained to operate a VP Landing Craft. I was selected to be the Coxswain, and two other sailors were assigned to be my crew. We were at Ft. Pierce for about four weeks and then we were ordered to Charleston, South Carolina to meet our new ship...the USS Stokes AKA-68 that would be commissioned when all crew members were aboard.

After commissioning, and when Lt. Commander G. W. Graber (a former Merchant Marine) took command, we sailed to Norfolk, Virginia for a short "shake-down" cruise, and then sailed around Cape Hatteras off the North Carolina coast where we were rapidly indoctrinated in experiencing sea life. We were caught in a violent hurricane, and a large number of the crew became sea sick and the ship's XO (Executive Officer) was hard pressed for helmsmen.

Fortunately, my body did not respond to sea sickness and I volunteered to be instructed in being a helmsman. After a quick lesson by a Chief, I was a helmsman.

I took the 2300 to 0700 watch and steered the ship during the storm. I do remember vividly when the ship's bow was raised many feet in the air by the waves and when the water disappeared, the ship came down violently and shook to a point where I thought the ship would split in half. We got out of that safely and continued on to Seattle, Washington and went into dry dock.

While underway, Captain Graber had a habit of coming into the wheel room, unnoticed at night, and moving right behind me at the helm and saying, "What's your course sailor" and of course I was shocked, but responded with the compass number. Because of courtesy to the Captain, I immediately had to say, "Captain is on deck" which alerted the officer on duty.

When I got off watch at around 0700, I had to go to the Captain's quarters to wake him. I would open his door, stand three feet from his birth and say, "Good morning, Captain, it is 0700 and all is well." He would respond with a "thank you" and say, "you are dismissed." Doing this many times, I had a feeling that he kind of liked me.

To confirm that feeling, after the Okinawa campaign, the Captain had one of the landing crafts remodeled with a cabin top, brass rails, and stern flag. I was surprised when he choose me to be his coxswain. I had a good relationship with him.

During the Iwo Jima invasion, my crew and I were assigned to deliver Marines on the second wave to hit the beach. Keep in mind that I was a young 18 year old guy that had no idea what to expect in an invasion such as this. As we got closer to the beach, which was approximately a quarter mile from Mt. Suribachi, and with the roar of the Gray Marine engine of my boat, I could not hear any noises. I did notice that small water spouts were popping up and off, close to my port side, thinking they were flying fish, I paid no attention to them. Being unaware of any danger, it turned out that those "flying fish" were bullets from the Mount and I realized it when one hit the armor of the boat. I ducked down as far as possible, while still seeing where we were going.

The design of the landing craft had a water intake at the bottom of the craft for water to cool the engine. There were two filters with an OFF and ON lever, so that when one filter got full of debris, the engineer could, through the lever, open a clean side. When we hit the beach, I had to keep the engine running and in gear, in order to stay at a right angle to the beach.

The water at the beach was very shallow, causing the filters to fill with sand so fast that the engineer could not change them in time, and I was forced to turn the engine OFF and of course we broached.

A Navy Seabee Caterpillar operator saw the problem and hooked a cable to the eye pad on the bow to try and straighten the boat, so we could back off. However, he pulled to hard and tore the port side off. We abandoned our boat and found a LCI nearby to get cover. They contacted the Stokes to pick us up the following day when the beach was secured.

We were also engaged in the Okinawa campaign which was not as eventful. We were then ordered to Japan to provide security to a town (name escapes me). I was one of the four sailors that were acting as Shore Patrol, and noticed that when we went into town we did not see anyone. After two days, one Japanese lady came out of her house and spoke fluent English to us. She said “hello” and we asked her why no one comes out. She said that many were embarrassed and afraid of us. When we told her we were here to protect, she seemed relieved. The next day it seemed normal with people going about their business, unafraid of us, and making their traditional greeting bow.

I got home without a scratch and I believe I grew up fast from those experiences.

That's the end of my story.

Click on "Crew Photo" link to view Tietz's photos.


Robert E. Ellis, BM1, USN, Ret.

The following letter was written and mimeographed by a sailor aboard the USS Stokes and given to other crew members for mailing home. It was the fastest way to bring the "home folks" up to date on the Iwo Jima invasion:

USS STOKES (AKA-68)
Fleet Post Office
San Francisco, Cal.
March 26, 1945

Dearest Friend:

Hope you will excuse a mimeographed letter but it is the only way to tell "the mostest" to all of my friends.

Yes, we were in the IWO JIMA invasion as you may have suspected. As the censor has given us the word, we can now relate more of our experiences to a certain point since we left Pearl Harbor.

Our battle convoy sailed from Pearl Harbor on January 27 for the Far Eastern Pacific. We stopped at two advanced Navy bases, both until recently occupied by the Japs. Being anchored a long way out, most of us never got to set foot on the soils of those islands. By this time we all either knew or had a pretty good idea about when and where we were to strike. For many it was to be the first invasion.

Early in the morning of D-day (February 19) we could see the bursting star shells and the fiery arcs inscribed on the black horizon as the naval guns poured into the target a continuous stream of shells. Just before H-hour it became a terrific and intense bombardment. "This is it!" was the common phrase on the lips of those who were there to take part in a great drama about which, some were not to write home later. As the dawn came, and our landing boats were already in the water carrying Marines and needed supplies to the beach, our target was plainly visible - an island of about 8 square miles, shaped like a ham with an extinct volcanic mountain on the leg end. Suribachi was a mountain of hell being honeycombed with caves and gun emplacements to its very top, about 550 feet up. Tall stories were brought back about these tunnels and caves which possibly made this the most strongly fortified island per square mile in the world. One story is that a cave was found over 800 yards deep with nine separate entrances containing hidden Japs, both dead and alive. The island itself presented a picture of barren wasteland with practically no trees or water but just rocks and caves and a very few plots of green here and there. A large dump of wrecked Jap planes was plainly visible near the middle and toward the crest of the island.

There is no use trying to hide the fact that we are all proud to have taken part in our small way in the capture of Iwo Jima only 750 miles from Tokyo. Our experiences will ever be fresh in our memory especially when we think of those who were left behind while we were spared for yet other invasions to come. We can surely and truthfully say that the Navy "delivered the goods" when it knocked out the Japs' biggest guns with a heavy initial bombardment and then landed the Marines on the rugged beaches of Iwo. They then had the courage and tenacity to take such a natural fortress improved by years of labor and fortification, and right on Tokyo's doorstep, one might say. Surely this all has brought us much nearer to the end of the whole thing and to the time when we will again enjoy the companionship of the friends and loved ones we left behind.

We are happy that according to this morning's news the Associated Press picture of the 28th Marine Regiment raising the Stars and Stripes over Mount Suribachi is to be used as the official symbol for the 7th War Loan. The Marine's truly deserve this recognition.

Best regards and wishes until we meet again.

Bob

Thanks to Robert "Bob" Ellis for providing this letter. His photos can been seen by clicking on the Crew Photo Link.


James "Al" Mentges, SK3, USNR

World War II, James "Al" Mentges
By Latisha Koetting
The Sedalia Democrat, Sedalia, MO
July 29, 2009

James “Al” Mentges Sr., of Sedalia, was shocked to be called to serve in World War II. He was 37 years old, married and a public housing accountant for the federal government in Washington, D.C. He had a daughter and two sons between the ages of 5 and 11.

The Navy told him he would be a range finder.

“I told them I didn’t know nothing about range finding. They said, ‘By God you are going to know all about it by the time we get to the fighting area.’ And I did,” he said.

After high school, Mentges decided to join the Naval Reserves.

“I thought that was being a big shot. You know how a young kid is,” said Mentges. His father came to the United States from Germany when he was 18 and later joined the Navy. “My dad was a great guy and I had to follow him,” he said.

In the Reserves, Mentges trained recruits how to fight the enemy.

After the war broke out, he left South Carolina on the USS Stokes (AKA-68). This attack cargo ship carried military cargo, landing craft and Marines to enemy shores in the Pacific Theater during amphibious assaults.

While being on the high seas didn’t bother Mentges, it did take its toll on the Marines. One Marine was so sick, he asked Mentges what to do. Mentges went down to the cook and asked for a handful of lemons. He brought them to the Marine and told him to eat them. They did the trick.

The men found ways to pass the time while waiting to arrive at their destination. They loved playing cards in the evening. One night, an Italian sailor asked if anyone liked pizza. Mentges didn’t have a clue what pizza was, so the sailor went down to the kitchen, made one and brought it back up. The men ate it while playing. Mentges said it was very good.

When things were calm, he was a storekeeper third class. When general quarters was sounded, every sailor was assigned a battle station to man. Mentges was positioned at the front of the ship out in the open.

“At times it was scary. I guess I would be lying if I said no. With airplanes coming to shoot you down, I guess anybody would be scared,” said Mentges.

Being a range finder was a very important job. Mentges had to calculate the range, bearing and course enemy planes and ships were taking. He then phoned those numbers to the men at the back of the ship who fired the big guns. The gunners would set the coordinates and fire.

Suicide bombers attempted on numerous occasions to dive bomb their ship, but they never were successful.

Mentges said one of the hardest things he witnessed was watching grown men cry, because they feared they would never see their families again. This struck a chord with him, because he was missing his own family.

“It’s just one of those things you know, when you’re a young kid ... you think, oh it’s fun. But it’s not when you go into the war,” he said.

After he got back to the states, he returned to his accounting job. His sons decided to follow in his footsteps and joined the Air Force. His oldest son, Jim Jr., later became a pilot for United Airlines.

One thing Mentges loved about his service was being able to travel the world. He felt bad his wife, Evelyn, missed out on that and decided to surprise her. He took her to numerous places, including the Virgin Islands, Ireland and Hawaii. They were married for 76 years, before she died on Oct. 23, 2005, at the age of 93.

Four years later, he is still going strong at Sylvia G. Thompson Residence Center at 102 years of age.

“I’m no hero. I was just a regular sailor. I’ve had a good life, a good job and it seems like everything fell my way,” he said.

 
USS Stokes crewmember Mentges
Hal Smith/Sedalia Democrat

Thanks to Latisha Koetting of The Sedalia Democrat, Sedalia, MO for providing this article.



Howard Cleland, Lt., USNR

Veterans History Project: Howard Cleland
By Jennifer Martin
WLBT TV-3, Jackson, MS
August 14, 2008

Howard Cleland was an elementary school principal in Missouri when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The attack prompted him to apply for officer training school and join the Navy. He was a lieutenant when he joined the crew of the U.S.S. Humbolt (sic) in the South Atlantic.

"We received emergency orders to report to a task group that had surrounded a German submarine. We sent a boarding party aboard the sub to secure it. The great thing about it: We captured their logs all of their grid maps. And in the next 10 months, the Allies practically wiped out the German navy because of that."

They towed the U-505 sub for a couple of days. Eventually it was brought back to the U.S. where it's now on display at the Museum of Industry and Science in Chicago. Following his success in the Atlantic, Cleland was sent to the Pacific, aboard the U.S.S. Stokes.

"We were involved in the first wave in the landing of Iwo Jima. We arrived there before dawn. I was preparing to go on watch. The island was absolutely being bombarded. It would just seem impossible that anyone could be alive on the island. We'd send the marines that were aboard to the island in the landings. It was a bloody, bloody battle."

Despite heavy casualties, the marines captured Mt. Serabachi (sic) in a matter of days. He still remembers the moment the American flag went up.

"I was on watch on the bridge when they went. A roar went up. You could hear it from the ship and the island itself. I think that event turned the tide, because it was so exciting to see."

From Iwo Jima, the Stokes went on to Okinowa (sic) and the crew was preparing for the Battle of Japan, when the atomic bomb dropped.

After the war ended, Cleland used the GI Bill to get his masters and doctorate. He became principal at two Jackson schools before settling in as president of Belhaven College, where he stayed 17 years until he retired. He is humble about his time in the service.

"I don't feel like a hero. I just was glad I had an opportunity to serve."

Click HERE to view the Veterans History Project: Howard Cleland video by WLBT TV-3, Jackson, MS

Howard Cleland
2008 WLBT TV-3, Jackson, MS
Thanks to Cameron Poole for contacting me with this information about his wife's grandfather.

Carroll John Rudolph, CMM, USNR

I received an e-mail on August 07, 2011 from Roy Rudolph concerning his grandfather's service aboard the USS Stokes AKA-68. His grandfather, Carroll John Rudolph, was one of the Stokes commissioning crew members.

Roy said, "I was happy to stumble on your website regarding the USS Stokes (AKA 68). My grandfather, Carroll John Rudolph, served on board the Stokes as a CMM (Chief Machinist’s Mate) from its original commissioning until Feb 6, 1945 when he was discharged at receiving station in San Francisco. Interestingly enough, he was on board through the Panama Canal and all the way across the Pacific Ocean to the staging area in the Marianas prior to the Iwo Jima campaign. He went all that way to be discharged about one week prior to the launch of the campaign."

He also said his grandfather served in the U. S. Navy for about 8 years during the 1920s, and when World War II begin, he felt compelled to enlist again, although he told his wife that he was called back to duty. His first ship in World War II was in 1942 aboard the USS Thurston (AK-77) which landed at Casablanca, French Morocco in support of Operation Torch. He was subsequently stationed at an advance base near Casablanca prior to his assignment to the USS Stokes (AKA-68).

Sadly, his grandfather passed away in 1969.

Carroll J. Rudolph, CMM, USNR 
Carroll John Rudolph, CMM, USNR

Thanks to Roy Rudolph for providing this information and the photo of his grandfather.