Reposting the story of my Uncle’s death during WWII for Memorial Day…
The escort carrier, Liscome Bay, arrived at Pearl Harbor in October of 1943. It would take part in the invasion of the Gilbert Islands and the liberation of two other islands: Tarawa and Makin. On board were 914 men. One of them was a 19 year old from Oakland, California. He was my Uncle, Charles Lassalle.
The invasion of the Gilbert Islands began on November 20th. It took seven days of air raids to capture the islands. During the invasion, the Liscome Bay was sent on to aid the capture of Tarawa and Makin Islands. This was one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific theatre as 991 men died on the beaches of Tarawa.
The Liscome Bay was one of five escort carriers used for air support at Tarawa. 3 Battleships, 21 Destroyers, and other vessels were also on hand. They were all under the command of Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill. Hill ordered three of the escort carriers, including the Liscome Bay, to Butaritari Island. There they were placed under the command of Rear Admiral Robert M. Griffin.
Unbeknownst to them all, another vessel was sitting off the shores of Butaritari. It was a Japanese submarine commandeered by Lt. Commander, Sunao Tabata.
November 24th started out a calm day. There was barely a breeze and the waters were still. At 4:30 am, the flight crews began their daily prepartions. 5 minutes later, a slight disturbance–a light– was seen on the water’s surface. Griffin ordered the destroyer, The Hull, to investigate.
The absence of the Hull lead to the demise of the Liscome Bay. The Japanese commander saw his chance as the shifting defenses of the American ships were in disarray. Before they could reposition, someone yelled “Christ, here comes a torpedo!” It was too late. At 5:13 am, the Liscome Bay was hit.
The torpedo tore threw the ship into it’s bomb stowage area and exploded. Oranges flames shot into the air. Then the bombs on board exploded. Debris showered the neighboring ships. Flames engulfed the Liscome Bay and 23 minutes later, it began to sink.
Those who were not killed in the explosion found themselves in another horror. The water gushed with burning oil. They also had to avoid being sucked down along with the sinking ship. Some clung to whatever debris floated by, then swam as far away from the ship as they could. Crew members of surrounding ships risks their lives diving into the water to pull out survivors.
On that ill fated day, rescuers pulled 55 officers and 217 enlisted men to safety. Fireman Second Class, Charles Lassalle, was not one of them.
The family found out soon after that Charles was missing. Newspaper headlines blared the sinking of the Liscome Bay. Jean and Anna had lost their oldest son.
His body was never recovered. Charles was presumed dead on November 24, 1943. You can find his name among the many listed on the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu, HI.
Wikipedia has a photograph of the Liscome Bay and more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Liscome_Bay_%28CVE-56%29
HistoryNet has a detailed history of the Liscome Bay: http://www.historynet.com/uss-liscome-bay-hit-by-a-torpedo-near-makin-atoll-during-world-war-ii.htm
The Navy website has a clipping from a newspaper article showing some of the survivors when they returned home. It is hard to believe anyone survived. http://www.navsource.org/archives/03/0305603.jpg