In the fall of 1943, Roy Louis Peters was working at the Bank Ranch, northwest of Lewistown. He received a III-C classification, a deferment because he worked on a farm. Considering it unpatriotic, he joined the U.S. Navy with a friend.
In 2012, Peters began compiling some memories of his time in the Navy. He completed a 10-page booklet which he gave to his family. Peters died in September 2016, and these accounts are taken from that book he left for his family.
We went to boot camp Feb. 2, 1944 at the U.S. Naval Training Station at the foot of the Coeur d'Alene Mountains at Farragut, Idaho... In gym workout there at Farragut a mean kid from Detroit became my opponent every time in boxing face-offs and he literally knocked the poop out of me every single time. One evening over the public address system a call came, "Peters Seaman Second-Class lay down to the gym now." I did as directed and I could not believe who was there. It was Tony Zale who became two-time middleweight boxing champion of the world. Zale was born and raised in Gary, Ind., and therefore given the nickname, "Man of Steel."
Zale told me he was going to try to help me. I put on the gloves and we had three or four evening workouts. When the next boxing face-off came, I was a lot better and the bully from Detroit never knocked me around again. I sure surprised him.
Peters was part of LSM 96, a landing ship that could carry tanks and other crafts. After making it to the Philippines, the crew headed for Okinawa. It was in the Philippines they saw their first Japanese bombing.
The 96 was ordered to Guam with plenty of time to get there so we cruised by the Mariana Islands. Some of these islands were on fire. The big push was for Okinawa and since there was time we stopped nearly every day, opened the bow doors, let the ramp down and we all went skinny dipping. The man on the conning tower with a 30-06 watched for sharks. When the first several shots were fired I never saw a bunch of sailors swim so fast for the ramp. That ended skinny dipping for that day.
Now we are at Guam, a large island with a large plateau for the air base and landing strip. We had time to kill and what a sight we saw. Every morning hundreds of bombers, B29s and B24s formed up ahead for the Japanese mainland. The afternoon count never matched the morning count. Some planes came in with one dead prop, some with two dead. We lost a lot of planes and airmen on these missions.
...March 25, six days before April 1, which was D-Day for landing, the Navy demolition crew had blown a channel through the coral reef surrounding the atoll and marked the channel with buoys which should have made for a safe trip through the reef. But the commanding officer, Capt. L.T. Plumer, missed the channel that very important morning. We ended atop the reef. The captain kept running the engines forward and backward until he had nothing left for screws (impellers) but stubs. The bow ramp was in six to eight feet of water (the end of the ramp should be on dry land). There was nothing for us to do but get all the radar gear on the island. The first piece to come off was an amtrack gun tower. The driver didn't know how to drive it. It fell sideways off the ramp and ended up in eight feet of water on its side. So the next best thing was to break out the life rafts (six of them), load the gear on them and head for land, probably 150 to 200 yards away. This was daylight, March 25, 1945. We went back and forth from the ship to the coral atoll. We did this all day and into the night. We finally finished on a moonlit night. We were sitting ducks for the patrolling Jap planes.
The next day a tug boat came and pulled us off the reef. It towed us 20 miles or so to a repair ship where all impellers were replaced by an underwater crew.
The 96 was then made into a fire-fighting unit. More handy billys (electronic underwater pumps) and submersible pumps were added to the ship.
The kamikaze planes started coming in. The first fire our crew was responsible to attend was on the LST 599. It had a landing craft tank piggy back on it. The Jap suicide pilot came straight through it and down into the bowels of the LST. We got tied up to the starboard side of the LST and were getting our gear aboard. One of the men on the LST was running around in a circle screaming and acting crazy. Somebody grabbed him. He was saying over and over that a goddamn Jap was crawling out of the bombed hold. I kicked the Jap back down into the fire. He was screaming as he went.
We were all kind of pale-faced as were were definitely in Japanese territory. There was no resistance from our little atoll but another atoll about a mile to our right was catching hell. A large transport was unloading LCMs and LVPs. When they got to a certain point from the atoll its was "BANG!" The Japs had mortars set and knocked them out of existence. After about three tries, the whole outfit blacked. In short order a string of Navy planes from a carrier came in strafing. When Marine landing boats came in the second time, there was not a Jap left on that atoll. We had been sitting ducks on the coral reef with no cover.
Our captain who ended up with a Bronze Star volunteered us for most everything. Our new assignment was to haul ammunition to the Men of War which included battle wagons, cruisers and destroyers.
The upside to this period of time was that we had a ring-side view of the most inspiring time of the war as these men of war were shelling the hell out of Okinawa which was blazing from one end to the other. Morning and evening the suicide planes were coming after everybody. A fair estimate would be that 2,000 to 2,500 planes with Japanese kamikaze pilots came daily. Most of the amphibian ships had smoke generators. They were a gasoline-fired unit that squired machine motor oil on the red hot parts of the machine. This really put out a screen of smoke that filled the whole harbors. Therefore, the kamikazes had a hard time finding a target. But it was also not pleasant air for us.
...Our next fire fighting job was PH 44, an armed hospital ship (not white cross but navy gray).
...We tied up to the Pinkney and began the longest and toughest job I had to do. The Pinkney was an armed hospital ship which had been hit by a low-flying kamikaze. Sixteen sailors had been killed in the initial explosion but all others were safely evacuated. We hooked up all the fire hose, got all the gas operated pumps going being sure we had battery lanterns as the Pinkney was all dark and it was dark when we boarded her. First, we had to get the fire knocked down. Then we spent hours stumbling over dead bodies, looking for survivors. A large ship may be eight decks in all. By mid-morning the second day, we called the job done.
We got back aboard Ol' 96. The cooks were fixing chow on our open deck. There were three sailors wrapped in gauze with only their eyes and mouths showing. They were trying to help each other. I'd run into burnt human flesh before but it is still the most terrible smell a human can imagine.
These three were the only known survivors of an inner turret explosion. They were on a cruiser with 8-inch guns. They had loaded the projectile. When they put the powder or bag in, they didn't get the breach locked; no doubt a spark was left in the barrel and the explosion occurred. The burns to the flesh are almost always fatal.
Talk about having bad luck. After these three sailors had suffered the turret explosion, they were transferred to an armed hospital ship which was abandoned by the captain and crew when it got hit. I don't know how the captain kept from getting hung as a captain is supposed to be the last to leave a ship after all the crew is off. I never heard if these guys got healed up and lived.
Two more typhoons hit the area and Peters survived. After the weather came more war.
Meanwhile, the suicide planes kept coming in. For some protection, every ship had a smoke generator which they used to "hide" all ships in this anchorage from air attack. This was not very healthy for us and made it more difficult to navigate, but it may have saved a few ships.
One night after a hard day of hauling ammo, we were heading to our assigned anchorage. Most hands were sleeping on this moonlit night. A Jap plane could see us perfectly and it dropped a bomb 50 to 100 feet off our fantail. That bomb raised the back end of our ship out of the water. The general quarters buzzer went off but the Jap plane got away. There was not a shot fired from our ship. After checking for damage, it was discovered that fuel was coming into aft crew quarters and into the aft steering compartment.
We headed for a landing-ship dock. This LSD was submerged and let a ship, large or small, drive in the open end and then raised up making it a dry dock. It could pick Ol' 96 right out of the water and fix the damage.
We were only 100 to 200 yards from a mountainous beach. That evening from a bullhorn the beach we heard, "Hello boys on the LMS 96 being repaired by LSD. You all would like to go home to your loved ones but this will not happen. An imperial Japanese kamikaze will blow you all to bits at daylight. This is Tokyo Rose. Sleep well. Bye."