Meet Five More Sailors From the USS Leon

Thanks to the family of Irwin Goldstein, we now have pictures of five more sailors who served in the Pacific during WWII. As always, if you recognize names or pictures of one or more of the young men below, please contact us!

S1c Irwin Goldstein was a member of the boat group aboard the attack transport USS Leon. Fortunately for all of us, Irwin took lots of pictures of his buddies when they were on leave from April 1944 through January 1946. (Most of his buddies—though not all—were members of Leon’s boat group.) Then Irwin did the most wonderful thing… he put names on the pictures and saved them for us!!

Irwin’s family has shared those pictures with us, and we have confirmed the identities of a group of those sailors as crewmen of the Leon. Here are five more of those handsome young men who served hard duty in the Pacific.

Al Kraft

This is S1c Albert P. Kraft from Amherst NY. The other three members of Al’s boat crew were Frank F. Usefara, Albert T. Kauffman, and Raymond A. McClary. Their supervising officer was Ensign Leon S. Eckman.

Anthony Visconti

Meet S1c Anthony A. Visconti. Anthony’s boat crew also included Gilbert R. Ward, William H. Vieau, and Henry V. Mayer. Commanding officer: Ensign Alton R. Swift.

Ed Baker

Here is S1c Edward Baker from Chicago IL. Ed served with Dorries J. Byars, Edward O. Cathcart, and Emmitt N. Droll. Ensign Paul S. Kemner was their direct superior.

Ernest Johnson, Coxswain

This is Ernest M. Johnson from North Adams MA. He served with J.C. Biesterveld, Harold O. Hausrath, and Gerald E. Dreaver under Ensign Paul S. Kemner.

Farrell Thomas J (2)

The last shipmate is S1c Thomas J. Farrell, address unknown. Ensign Sam Seidel supervised Thomas and his crewmates: John Frederick, Edwin G. Howell, and Raymond J. Manley.

These men trained together with the rest of Leon’s crew to perform the key mission of the amphibious forces: Putting the boots on the beaches… Any beach, any time!

INTRODUCING FRANK TUNNEY, COXSWAIN, USS LEON APA 48

We want to introduce you to Frank Tunney, a veteran of 2 ½ years of WWII in the Pacific. Frank was from Philadelphia, PA. At the age of 16… (Sixteen, mind you!), he dropped out of high school to enlist in 1943. The navy accepted Frank because his father, Stanley Tunney, Philadelphia’s Chief Clerk of the Board of Revision of Taxes, changed his son’s birth certificate to make Frank two years older and eligible for service.

Tunney Pic (2)

S2c Francis R. Tunney

Frank was a big strong young man who fit in right away with all the other volunteers. After completing boot camp, he was assigned to the Navy’s amphibious training program at Little Creek, VA. He completed that program before most of his previous classmates had graduated from high school back in Philly. Here’s Frank’s diploma, which he proudly saved until he died in 1998.

Tunney Graduation Certificate

After Little Creek, Frank was transferred to the advanced amphibious training program at Ft. Pierce, FL. Then, along with one hundred and twenty-four other sailors, he joined the boat group aboard a brand new attack transport, the USS Leon APA 48.

Frank was a Coxswain—a primary boat operator. The boats we’re talking about here were landing craft called LVCPs. They were 36 ft. long, shallow draft boats used to deliver marines, soldiers, and all their gear to the beaches of Japanese strongholds in the Pacific.

When I hear “Coxswain,” I always think of the magnificent painting by James Turnbull entitled Coxswain at the Wheel.

Coxswain at the Wheel James Turnbull

Frank and the Leon eventually participated in five amphibious assaults during the Allies’ island hopping campaign. That might be Frank’s boat at the waterline below as the Leon debarked elements of the Army’s 81st Division against Angaur (Palau Islands) during Operation Stalemate on September 14, 1944. Heck, that might be Frank standing at the bow!

Leon's Crew Disembarking Army Assault Forces at Angaur.JPG

Army 81St Division Debarking Against Angaur, Palau Islands

According to our earliest records, Frank Tunney’s LCVP crew mates included:

Brown, Leonard B.           S1c                                         address unknown

Hossa, Paul J.                     S1c                                         Bronx, NY

Dorney, Andrew W.        MoMM3c (motorman) Smock, PA

If any of these three men is familiar to you, we’d like to hear from you!

Like many veterans of the Pacific, Frank rarely spoke to family and friends about his service after the war. But on the occasion in 1994 of the 50th reunion of the crew of the Leon, he recalled and shared several stories about Leon’s first amphibious assault: Operation Forager, against Saipan in the Marianna Islands, June 15, 1944.

The Leon’s mission was to land the 4th Marine Division’s 23rd Regimental Combat Team on Blue Beach 2 at Saipan. For two days the intensity and accuracy of enemy mortar and artillery fire against the boat approaches and beaches remained devastating to the assault force and the boat crews landing them on the beaches.

The marines lost all four of their battalion commanders and 2000 casualties killed or wounded on D day. Among many others, the navy lost my Dad, Joe McDevitt, the Leon’s Boat Group Commander. His landing craft was struck by mortar fire as he led the first wave to the beach. (But he was one of the lucky ones. He was rescued, treated for multiple shrapnel wounds, and back on duty for the next operation.)

In spite of the hot landing, boats crammed with battle-tested marines kept coming ashore at Saipan. By the end of D day, 20,000, marines were ashore and dug in. By D + 2 day, the entire Fourth Marine Division was ashore, organized, and ready to attack in force.

Back to Frank Tunney… Out on the water, the Leon’s boat group were delivering a steady supply of cargo to the beach: tanks, artillery, bulldozers, ammunition, water, rations, and medicine. Sometime on D + 2 day, they learned that Leon had joined Task Force 52.4 and was heading to sea. The Japanese Imperial Fleet was steaming towards Saipan for its long awaited “major engagement” against the Americans. The lightly armed troop transports were ordered to steam east at top speed and to convoy out in the Central Pacific until the battle—the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot—played out.

One problem: the transports left many of their boat crews back at Saipan.

Some crews were stranded on the beach. They dug deep fox holes and kept their heads down for eight days. They wondered—along with the marines and soldiers—whose planes would be flying overhead next: victorious Zeros and Vals from a Japanese Imperial fleet or returning Hellcats from America’s Pacific fleet?

Other boat crews were stranded eight miles offshore, some loaded with cargo and most with limited fuel and provisions. Frank and his boat crew were one of those out on the water. They were on their own.

Unfortunately we don’t know the details of Frank’s eight days on the water. He never shared the story before the 50th reunion, insisting to his daughter Helene who heard his account at the reunion, “… people don’t care about that stuff.” We know only that he and his three buddies drifted along on the currents for eight long days watching anxiously for the return of the fleet. Would the Leon be among them? Could they hold out?

What a missed story. Eight days out on the Pacific, a large and fearsome place in those days. Four sailors floating around in a 36 ft. boat. If the Japanese navy showed up, they were finished. If the American fleet didn’t return in time, their water and provisions would give out, and they were finished.

I’ve read accounts of experiences like this. Every day is incredibly long and hot. The glare of the sun is impossibly strong. Conversation gets scarcer and scarcer, and men’s spirits fall. The water and food disappears in a hurry. One man is always watching for ships or planes.

Thankfully the Leon returned—none too soon—on June 24, D + 9 day, to finish unloading her cargo. Frank and his buddies rejoined her crew and went back to work. So far as we know, they never talked about that fearful week again. But if you’ve heard this story, we’d like to hear from you!

Frank shared another memorable story at the 50th reunion. We know this because a reporter from the local newspaper attended the reunion that day and quoted Frank’s story in an article. It was a story that I thought I had heard before, at least in part. So I revisited a taped interview from Spring 2012 when I met in Hartford CT with three of Leon’s other boat group sailors. Their names were Bill Janega, Jimmie Hecht, and Glenn Dickinson. Bill Janega had mentioned an incident that day, just a passing comment. But I remembered it when reading Frank Tunney’s recollection eighteen years earlier.

I learned the final piece of this story in April 2017 while meeting with the family of Red Toon in Jackson MS. Lt (jg) Toon was the Second in Command to Leon’s Boat Group Commander, Joe McDevitt. But with McDevitt out of action, Red had become the boat group’s leader.

In a future post, I’m going to try to pull together all the pieces of this story about Red Toon. It is perhaps the most moving account that I’ve heard or read from that war. I’ve come to think of it and will entitle it, Red Toon and the Dog Tags at Blue Beach 2. Watch for it.


Credits

James Turnbull, National History and Heritage Command

Frank Tunney Collection

More Shore Leave: Pearl Harbor

Throughout my research prior to writing All Came Home, I suspected that the sailors in the boat groups assigned to attack transports were extraordinarily close as a unit. I did not understand this until I learned about the training that they all underwent.

Typically, when these sailors completed boot camp they were  assigned to introductory amphibious training at, e.g., Little Creek VA. There they learned how to maintain and operate the landing craft and how to form up and follow their young officers in different formations all across the Chesapeake Bay.

Upon graduation they were assigned to advanced amphibious training at Ft. Pierce FL. There they began practicing amphibious assault landings along Florida beaches. They learned to: embark (or load) the “troops” into the boats, to form up, and then proceed to and “assault” a selected beach.

Artist Robert Benney  portrayed an amphibious training exercise in a magnificent oil painting found at the Naval History and Heritage Command website.

Invasion Tapestry Robert Benney

Invasion Tapestry

After seven months of hard training every day from sunup to sundown, the boat group members (n = 140) would likely be assigned to a brand new attack transport. When they walked up the gangway for the first time to meet their new shipmates, they were already a close-knit unit who would spend much of the war together in small boats out in the open waters of the Pacific.

When they got some shore leave at Pearl Harbor, they went out together and had fun. Here are another group of boat group sailors from the USS Leon enjoying leave at Pearl. (If you recognize a family member here, let us here from you!)

Farrell Thomas J (2)

S1c Thomas J. Farrell

Hamlin Richard Hale Frederick (2)

S1c Richard Hamlin & S1c Frederick Hale

Pete Madaferri (2)

S1c Peter Madafferi Jr.

They put the boots on the beaches at five amphibious assaults in the Pacific war. Well done!


Painting: Robert Benney Collection, Naval History and Heritage Command web site (https://www.history.navy.mil/)

Pictures: Irwin Goldstein Collection