USS BISMARCK SEA (CVE-95 & VC-86) - 2008 Survivors Reunion at the Plaza Hotel, Las Vegas NV
I arrived in fabulous Las Vegas at the Plaza Hotel on 6
September 2008 for business not related to the 2008 USS Bismarck Sea Survivors Reunion.
Howsoever, inside the Plaza Hotel I was walking
through the conference area and I noticed a small sign that
stated: "USS BISMARCK SEA CVE-95 MEETING." There was a large painting of the USS BISMARCK SEA aircraft carrier
under attack with a kamakazi crashing into the ship's flight deck.
I have always been interested in ships, historical matters and veteran affairs
and so I entered the conference room. There, I had the honor and privilage to meet several surviving crew members of the BISMARCK SEA.
I met survivor Rudy Moraga, who was this years host of the 2008 BISMARCK SEA reunion. His family was present.
Moraga explained that he expected more survivors and that there were fewer survivors in attendence this year. Moraga
introduced me to other BISMARCK SEA survivors who told me their veterans stories of survival and about the attack.
The USS BISMARCK SEA was the 41st Casablanca class escort carrier. On the evening of 21 February 1945,
the BISMARCK SEA was attacked and sunk by Japanese kamakazi at Iwo Jima.
At the time of the attack, the USS SARATOGA had been hit during earlier raids and the BISMARCK SEA was preparing to take SARATOGA'S
aircraft. After the BISMARCK SEA landed her own planes, she picked up three additional planes. To make room for these planes, the
BISMARCK SEA had to put three planes in her hanger deck which were not degassed. Then, at about sunset, a Japanese raid of
6 to 8 planes appeared.
The BISMARCK SEA splashed one of the planes under fire. A few seconds later, another plane was seen. The destroyer in the
screen and other vesssels did not open fire because the word was that there were friendly planes. Because of the half light, they
could not be clearly distinguished from enemy planes. This kamakazi plane hit the carrier on her starboard side aft.
USS BISMARCK SEA (CVE-95 & VC-86) - 2008 Survivors Reunion at the Plaza Hotel, Las vegas NV
RUDY MORAGA - This years host of the 2008 USS BISMARCK SEA reunion.
Moraga told me his story and recalls his experince during the attack and sinking of the USS BISMARK SEA:
"At the time, I was inside my Battle Station, 20 mm. Magazine Room,
directly 15 feet above the (first) Jap kamikaze hit. I was blown off my feet and bounced
off the Bulkhead and landed near large hole on the Deck directly above the fire in the
Hanger Deck. I received multiple wounds".
Moraga further described
that he was passing ammunition out of the 20 mm. ammunition
room when the first suicide kamikaze hit the starboard side of the ship near the after elevator
15 feet below him. Then, another kamikaze hit the flight deck. When abandon ship was heard,
Moraga worked his way all the way forward to the flight deck and jumped into the water from the
forward starboard flight deck. He remembered weather conditions as high winds, tail end of a
typhone, and the water was cold. He remembered the BISMARCK SEA at one point rolling on top
Moraga described that the Japanese planes were shooting at survivors in the
water. He recalled 4 destroyers circled to retrieve survivors and he was in the water 3 or
4 hours before the USS PATTERSON (DD283) retreived him.
I met and interviewed survivor Mario Mendes and his wife.
Mendes was a Electrician Stryker, Fireman, First Class, and was
located midships starboard side outside Damage Control, or the Combat Information Center (CIC), during the attack.
Mendes explained to me that these ships were often referred to as "Kaiser's Coffins."
Mendes explained that several aircraft were stored below deck that were not degassed. This was because the USS SARATOGA was also
under attack and the SARATOGA planes were in the air and running out of gas. The planes could not land on the SARRATOGA. So the
BISMARCK SEA flight deck was cleared for these aircraft to land, BISMARCK SEA aircraft were stored below deck before they could be degassed.
Survivors ROBERT HILLMAN and MARIO MENDEZ.
Following the kamakazi attack, these aircraft blew up in the
hanger deck and killed the fire crew that were putting out the fire on the hanger deck. There were also torpedos in the fire
in the hanger deck.
When Mendes heard Abandon Ship, he made his way to the bow
where he grabbed a line to climb down to the water. He laughed at remembering the life line that he grabbed. The line was only about
4 feet in length and he did not realize this until he got to the end of the line. Hanging there, he had no choice but to let go of
the line and drop the freeboard length of the ship into the water.
Mendes described the water as cold and the waves being 6 or more feet and that his life belt was leaking. He was in the
water approximately 4 hours. Mendes explained that he was picked up by the USS PATTERSON. Mendes added that the PATTERSON
method of picking up survivors was that the ship appeared to sit at a distance and wait for the sea to carry
survivors toward the ship.
Survivor ROBERT HILLMAN
I also met and interviewed survivor Robert Hillman and his wife. Hillman was a gunner of a torpedo plane and he remembered that he had landed
and had time to change his clothes when General Quarters sounded. Hillman described that he was below deck during the attack.
When he heard over the bullhorn "Abandon Ship", he grabbed his flight jacket, 38 firearm and Mae West and jumped off the ship.
Hillman said that it was dusk at the time of the attack. The water was cold and the seas were high. He was in the water
for a couple of hours before being rescued.
The BISMARCK SEA sank with the loss of 318 men from her crew of 923 sailors. The USS EDMONDS directed the three destroyers
and three destroyer escorts rescue operations saving in all 605 officers and men. Certain crew members of the EDMONDS went over
the side bringing the wounded and exhausted carrier men aboard. The EDMONDS saved 378 men of the carrier's crew, including
Commanding Officer John L Pratt, from rough seas, darkness, and continuing air attacks. The survivors were then transferred to the
transports USS DICKENS and USS HIGHLANDS and were able to see the American flag finally raised on Mount Suribachi.
The USS BISMARCK SEA received three battle stars for her World War II operations.
I was invited to attended the 8 October 2008 USS BISMARCK SEA Survivors Reunion Banquet at the Plaza Hotel.
Rudy Moraga (Plane Pusher - Seaman 2nd Class)
William Wilkinson (Aviation Radio Man)
David Forrester (Assistant Landing Signal Officer)
Robert F. Hillman (Torpedo Aerial Gunner, Aviation Ordinanceman 3rd Class)
George Weber (Fighter Pilot)
Mario Mendes (Fireman 1st Class - Electrician Stryker)
Richard E. Miller (Pharmasist Mate)
Steve Marusich (Aviation Machinist Mate 2nd Class)
Herb Wall (Assistant Cox'n)
John Papadakis (TBM Pilot)
Nick Poma - crew member picked up survivors LAWRENCE C. TAYLOR (DE 415)
There is no greater honor for me than memorializing and preserving, for all, events like these, with their invaluable
personal stories of duty and courage describing what they lived through, what they witnessed and survived. In every case, what is
clear to me is that these surviors can recall their events and describe in every detail what they saw and what happened to them, as though
it happened yesterday. Time, it seems, and with all of the years that have passed since then, has not erased, or otherwise erroded, in any way, the
events they experinced, witnessed and survived, for all of us.
Those USS BISMARCK SEA survivors and their famlies who were present for the 2008 reunion. What struck me the most was seeing those
survivors' families and hearing the stories they told me for themselves and for those not present. It was abudently clear to me that
these are all people who will never forget.
-- Derek Conant
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