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

 

 

 

 

Dr. William W. Lusk, Battalion Beach Doctor, USS Leon (Pt. 1)

This past Spring I had the good fortune to locate and meet the Lusk family from the Carlinville, IL, area. Their Dad was Dr. William Lusk. Dr. Lusk was a physician who earned his medical degree in 1936 from Rush Medical School in Chicago. He and his wife, La Verne, looked around the Midwest for a community that needed a doctor… and they ended up in Carlinville. Except for time off while he served in WWII, Dr. Lusk became a proverbial country doctor, practicing in Carlinville until his retirement.

I  was thrilled to learn this story, because I knew of Dr. Lusk as a surgeon and a senior medical staff member aboard the attack transport USS Leon APA 48. According to Navy records, that senior medical team included:

  • Dr. Richard L. Pearse, Lieut. Commander, Sr. Medical Officer
  • Dr. Arnold W. Friedman, Lieut. (jg), Jr. Medical Officer
  • Dr. Gerald S. Almond, Lieut., Dental Officer
  • Dr. William W. Lusk, Lieut., Battalion Bach Doctor.

I had learned that Dr. Lusk was the Battalion Beach Doctor on Blue Beach 2 during the amphibious assault at Saipan, June 15, 1944. He and his eight corpsmen treated wounded Marines, sailors, and soldiers at the beach aid station day and night for two and one-half days under unrelenting mortar and artillery fire. He also triaged on the beach, diagnosing the wounded and prioritizing patient transfers to the Leon for advanced care.

One of the men he probably examined and treated on D day was the Leon’s Boat Group Commander, Lt. (jg) Joe McDevitt, my Dad.

Here’s the great news: the Lusk family shared some fabulous pictures with us, including pictures of Dr. Lusk and those young corpsmen who served during five amphibious assaults in the Pacific. We are touching up those pictures now; we can’t wait to show them to you. But the picture below is the one we always ask for first: a portrait in uniform.

This picture was probably taken after Dr. Lusk completed his medical training program with the Navy and was appointed Lieutenant in the U. S. Navy.

Dr_William_Lusk (002) enhanced

Lt. William W. Lusk, Battalion Beach Doctor, USS Leon

Here’s a hero!


Source: Lusk Family Album

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