Red Toon (Pt. 5): Letters Home

Red Toon went to war in the Pacific as Assistant Boat Group Commander aboard the attack transport USS Leon APA 48. Together he and Boat Group Commander Joe McDevitt would lead their division of 140 sailors and officers through five amphibious assaults…and then they all came home.

The book All Came Home tells the story of Joe McDevitt and the crew of the Leon based on letters Joe wrote home. This blog post is the fifth installment of Red’s story. He wrote the letter below to his wife Norma as he trained with the Navy’s amphibious forces in 1943 prior to reporting for duty aboard the Leon in February 1944.

Amphibious Training Base

Little Creek, Virginia

Dearest,

I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to hear from my family. I received a very nice letter last night though & am much surprised at the way Janice is growing. Do babies usually gain that fast? Did that walk hurt you? We’ve really been SNAFU here this week. The organization here isn’t too good & sometimes ones sense of humor gets some pretty severe jolts.

The first thing I noticed was in our huts. I told you about the three moves. Well after we got all settled they decided to paint the place and simply tore everything to pieces three days in succession. We had quite a time finding our things after. We never know when we muster in the mornings what we’re going to do that day & will have our orders for the day changed two or three times before we start on anything. So far the work hasn’t been too hard but moving has been sort of tiring. We wonder if they are actually trying to teach us something or if they are just giving us busy work.

Our instructor is really a “swell egg” a chief Warrant Bosun, been in the navy for years. He has an enthusiasm for this work that is catching.

His favorite method of teaching is to get us in the boats & get us out on the water & it’s very effective. You can’t believe how some of these boats will toss around! They only draw about a foot of water & when the waves are running 8 ft. high or so we really get a ride. If you can imagine going up & down 8 ft. and going forward at the same time about 8 – 10 M.P.H. you get the idea. These boats will run right up on the beach & need only a few inches of water in order to move. They actually dig their way through sand bars. Be pretty good to run up & down the Sangamon in.

We go out at night and run all over the bay without lights etc. then try to find our way home. The boat I’m running now is 36′ long & is powered by a 250 H.P. Diesel. Lots of power and noise.

Today we’re being examined by the medical board to check for mental and physical fitness for this work. We just finished a very personal questionnaire, wanted to know how old we were when we first practiced masturbation, how old for first sexual intercourse, how old when you quit wetting the bed among others. We’ve been doing a lot of ribbing of each other about this.

Well its about time for my examination so will send this on.

Can your “ailment” be explained in a letter? I’ll destroy the letter.

What about color of eyes and hair? You still haven’t told me.

I told you our daughter had too good a judgment to take any of that old formula & I knew she wouldn’t have to.

                                                                                                  All my love

                                                                                                          Warren

That 36′ landing craft Red was training on was an LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel). Red’s ship, the Leon, would carry 24 LCVPs and two LCMs (Landing Craft Mechanical) which were 50′ landing craft.

A crew of four sailors could carry thirty-six marines/soldiers in an LCVP or more in an LCM (See below; click to enlarge.) Alternatively, the LCM could carry a medium Sherman tank plus soldiers. In either case, these were welcome reinforcements to men tied down on the beaches by enemy machine gun nests.

tarawa-debarkation

LCM loaded with assault troops

loaded-tank-angaur

Leon debarking tank and soldiers at Angaur

 


Advertisements

Introducing Red Toon

February 1944

On February 8, 1944, Lt. (jg) Joseph B. (Joe) McDevitt received a long-awaited set of personnel orders from the US Navy. An untested boat group commander, McDevitt had helped lead a battalion of sailors and junior officers through the Navy’s Introductory  and Advanced Amphibious Training programs at Little Creek VA and Ft. Pierce FL, respectively. By early 1944 there was a big operation brewing in the Pacific. The Navy needed more ships and amphibious forces; they needed them NOW.

McDevitt’s orders were to proceed immediately with 125 sailors and 15 ensigns to the naval shipyard in New York harbor and to report for duty aboard a brand new attack transport, the USS Leon APA 48.

The Navy’s official file photo below was taken on the day Leon was commissioned, February 15, 1944.

USS Leon Commissioning Day

The first two officers on McDevitt’s roster were his assistant boat group commanders, Ensigns Orville W. Terry and Francis W. (Red) Toon. The Navy soon learned that Terry was a gifted navigator, so he was reassigned full-time as Leon’s Assistant Navigator. Thus when Leon put to sea for Pearl Harbor, Joe and Red began working together to finalize preparations for the island hopping campaign ramping up in the Pacific theater.

They had some amazing experiences in the next few years. They trained aboard Leon and qualified as Deck Officer (Joe) and Assistant Deck Officer (Red). They spent countless hours out on the ocean in small boats (LCVPs) with their men. The goal: To prepare them to put the boots on the beaches—any beach, any time. And they shared a small sea cabin from which they wrote leters home to their wives, Kathleen (McDevitt) and Norma (Toon).

Present Day

Now, let’s scroll forward to today. I recently spent five years researching and writing All Came Home, a story about my Dad’s (Joe McDevitt’s) wartime record. One of my priorities when I finished was to continue my (so-far) unsuccessful search for Red Toon’s family. I had found only one small (group picture) of Red Toon to include in All Came Home, but I always sensed that there were more stories and shared experiences there.

In March 2017 my wife Barb and I discovered that Red’s daughter, Betty Toon Collins (and husband, Frank) were living and practicing law in Jackson MS.  After a two-day visit we returned home with copies of pictures, letters, and documents as well as an oral history that Red had recorded for his family. We have labelled these historical treasures the Toon Family Collection.

We needed some time to research these materials and to relate them to our other sources; that work continues today. But we wish to begin today to introduce you to Red Toon through a series of blog posts  based on our findings. We begin with a favorite picture of Red Toon, one of the many young heroes who served aboard the Leon. From his shoulder boards, we believe this picture was taken late in the war after he earned a prmotion to Lt. (jg).

Red Toon 2

Lt. (jg) Red Toon USNR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we tell Red Toon’s stories in future posts, we hope that you will contact us if some of the pictures and/or stories are familiar!

Dr. William Lusk, Battalion Beach Doctor, USS Leon APA 48 (Pt. 2)

The Leon’s beach party first boarded ship while she was anchored at the Norfolk Naval Yard. The date was March 9, 1944.

The picture below is the only one that I have seen of the entire beach party. This picture was provided by my newfound friend, Mr. Printy Arthur. Printy was a crewman who is alive and well today, living in Sylvania OH. He is one of those youngsters in the third row, a corpsman who would serve in five amphibious assaults as part of Dr. William Lusk’s first aid station on the beach.

(Note: If you recognize any of the men in this picture, we would like to hear from you!)

Leon Beach Party Arthur Pic Edited

Beach Party, USS Leon, June 1944

 

Three months later, the crew of the Leon had finished preparations for her first amphibious assault: Saipan. The beach party had participated in all practice landings conducted with Fourth Marine Division. At 0850 on June 15, 1944, they landed on Blue Beach 2 with the first wave and—like everyone else—dug a fox hole to survive the murderous artillery and mortar fire landing on the beaches.

Fourth Marine Division Unit Bogged Down On A Saipan Beach

Fourth Marine Division bogged down on the beach at Saipan

We don’t know much about the beach team’s experiences on D Day at this assault. Mostly the men who were there didn’t talk about it much. However, the family of Dr. Lusk shared with us several photographs of him on Blue Beach 2.  In the picture below, this small town doctor from Central Illinois seems to have resigned himself to his time in hell, writing across the top: SOME FUN.

Saipan Beach Some Fun enhanced

Dr. William W. Lusk, Battalion Beach Doctor, Saipan, June 1944

 

In the second picture we see him standing amidst a group of marines in the shade on the beach. Don’t we wish we knew what was happening that day!

 

Dr. Lusk At Saipan enhanced

While the beach party had its hands full on land, the Leon was being transformed to a hospital ship. We pick up the story from All Came Home:

“As she anchored in the transport area on D + 1 day and began lowering her boats, the crew soon learned that the Japs had attacked in force throughout the night on the beaches. Boats arrived immediately and throughout the day carrying approximately 200 casualties from the beach and from other ships. They came so rapidly and in such numbers that it was impossible to keep records or do anything but treat the most seriously wounded.

The Leon’s Dental Officer did an excellent job supervising the receiving ward set up in the troop officers’ mess. Ambulatory patients were directed to and treated at the forward battle dressing station. Wards for the serious patients were set up in the chief petty officers’ quarters and in the troop officers’ quarters. The ship’s four doctors labored around the clock, perspiring endlessly, wearing only their shorts, conducting surgery on the dinner tables in the troop officers’ wardrooms.”

D + 2 Day

“The Leon’s hands were happy to receive the ship’s beach party back aboard at 1400 on D plus 2 day. The beach crew had been pinned down by mortar fire and sniper fire on the beach since D-Day. After a minimal rest, the beach party doctor and eight corpsmen turned to, making it possible to run two operating rooms simultaneously.

LST (landing ship tank) 275 pulled alongside at 1222 with more casualties, and the medical team fell further behind.”

Six of the wounded aboard ship died from their wounds. But the Leon’s doctors and corpsmen stayed up day and night, and the remaining 300 survived.


The Lusk Family Collection

All Came Home