Recently I was reviewing pictures from several WWII albums shared by families of former crew members of the USS Leon APA 48. (My dad, Joe McDevitt, was also a member of the crew.) One of those albums was the Lusk family album which contains some outstanding amateur photographs. Dr. William W. Lusk was the ship’s Battalion Beach Doctor and director of the beach first aid station.
Pictures from the Lusk collection may be found in three earlier blog posts: June 6, June 21, and June 22, 2017.
I was studying two very similar pictures from that collection, trying to understand what I was looking at and its significance. Suddenly I was thunderstruck. I realized—literally in a single moment— what I was seeing and why it was important. It was a two-picture sequence of photographs.
I had studied these two pictures numerous times. Why were two virtually identical pictures taken and saved for so long? How to explain the minor differences between them? What would I see if we tried cleaning them up—scratches, folds, spots, five decades of fading—and enlarged them?
Then in a moment it had come to me…maybe because I had seen similar pictures in previous research or maybe because I remembered reading descriptions and listening to oral histories of sailors who experienced this very event.
I was pretty excited. I thought, “Gotcha.” I may have said it aloud.
The (enhanced) photos are displayed below in the correct order. (Click on each to enlarge it.)
The pictures show a transport division anchored offshore of an amphibious assault site. It was probably taken at one of Leon’s five assaults (Saipan, Angaur, Leyte, Lingayen Gulf, Okinawa). The ships’ proximity to shore suggests they are in the inner transport area, a zone close to the beaches reserved for unloading once it was safe to move inshore.
I had noticed what looks like a large explosion among the ships in the far background of the second picture…but what to make of it?
The answer is in the first picture. If you enlarge that picture, note the black spot in the sky. That is a dive bomber (or a kamikaze) diving on the ships. The first visual evidence of an air attack was always described as “black dots that start falling out of the sky.” This was an air attack.
My guess is that Dr. Lusk was on the beach—possibly even holding his camera—when he first heard the sound of a diving aircraft. They all knew and dreaded that sound. His first picture caught the attacker diving on the ships; his second picture caught the explosion.
I have researched this incident hoping to find an account of the attack and to identify the struck ship. We know that it was not Leon. We do know that Dr. Lusk witnessed the attack on a sister ship and understood the death and destruction out on the water. He probably never explained these pictures to anyone, but he remembered.
If you can help to identify the circumstances of this attack, e.g., location, date, etc., and the ship’s identity, please contact us!
Credits: Lusk Family Collection