"The forward portion of the hangar deck was completely burned out with many bodies of burned crewmen scattered about.
If I had not been spared I would have not been fortunate enough to have been blessed with the
wonderful family that I have. I ask that you all pause this day to join me in a tribute to the thousands
of our people who were issued a "one way ticket" in combat instead of a "round trip ticket."
Without their sacrifices we would not have the "way of life" and the freedoms that we are blessed
I urge you all to appreciate this "way of life" and exercise all measures to preserve it.
Ens. C. Vern Higman VT-80
Our ship was part of a strike force located at the sea east of the island of Formosa in the western
Pacific. I arose at 0230 on the 21st and had breakfast before dawn. Half of our squadron was
scheduled to launch pre-dawn and the other half were scheduled to be launched at noon for a double
air strike against Japanese shipping and installations on Toshien Harbor on Formosa. I was
scheduled to fly in the second group and spent most of my time before noon in the squadron ready
room which was located amid ships immediately below the flight deck.
We received pre-flight briefing to be updated when the first group returned from the early flight. I
was in flight gear prepared for a launch and was briefed again when the first planes landed. The
klaxon sounded shortly after noon with general quarters. Within seconds the ship shuddered with a
large explosion and black smoke started pouring out of the air vents in the overhead. It became
almost impossible to breathe in minutes. Our phone communications told us that the ship had just
been hit by a kamikaze aircraft through the center of the flight deck just forward of the forward five
inch gun mount. It would be later that we would learn that our beloved ship, the "Big T," had been
hit by a second kamikaze plane severely damaging the super structure. We attempted to utilize our
gas masks. However, they did not filter out the thick black smoke. It was so thick that I could just
barely make out a light filament glowing a foot in front of me. We attempted to escape from the
ready room through the outer hatch onto the catwalk but could not escape due to debris and burning
The inner hatch opened onto a steel-grated walk which was open to the hangar deck. The hangar
deck below us was an inferno and fifty caliber ammunition was going off continuously.
We had been informed from the bridge that a crew was attempting to cut through the flight deck to
reach us. We made the decision to make our way aft to freedom and did so by hanging onto the
back of the flight suit of the man in front like a congo line. We burst out into sunlight and fresh air
through a hatch aft of the after five inch gun mount.
The forward portion of the hangar deck was completely burned out with many bodies of burned
crewmen scattered about. We made our way to our bunk room which was a forty-man junior
officers quarters on the fo'c'sle deck and there I found the body of a severely burned stewards-mate
had died in my bunk.
We helped care for some of the wounded who had been brought to the fo'c'sle
deck for care. Our thoughts focused in on our air crewmen who had not been with us during the past
four hours and I discovered that my air crewmen, E. Wendell Stevens, ARM2c and Lowell
Chamberlain, AOM2c had survived and been waiting at our plane on the after end of the flight deck
when the first kamikaze struck the ship.
I realized that I had been scheduled on a watch as flight deck security watch officer prior to this
day's events and so I reported to the fly-1 operations office just off the flight deck. My watch was
scheduled for 1600 to 2000 and my first task was to assemble a watch. This was difficult because
several of those that had been assigned were missing.
Guards were stationed at several places on the flight deck. It was a most hectic situation with gaping
holes in the flight deck that was covered with debris. A station near the five-inch gun mount was
where the deceased members of the ship's crew were placed awaiting transfer to the sick bay.
I soon realized that my problems would mount because the officers who were to relieve me at 2000,
2400, and 0400 were either injured, missing or dead. I was most thankful for the flow of black
coffee we were able to produce in fly-1.
It soon got dark and the ship creaked and groaned all night because the grease had been burned out
of the expansion joints allowing the joints to cry out as the ship plowed through the sea, listing.
Shortly after posting the 2000 watch the petty officer of the watch and I were summoned onto the
flight deck by the whistle of one of our watch ship mates who had stepped into one of the holes in the
flight deck and fortunately was prevented from falling through by the bulky ship mates life jacket that
he was wearing. I had to keep one seaman fortified with coffee for four hours to stand watch over
the bodies near the five-inch gun mount. Several men were pressed into watch standing in as
replacements for ship mates who were missing, wounded, or deceased.
When the second kamikaze hit the super structure of the carrier, it had injured the Captain. We
transferred Captain Dixie Kiefer, who had been seriously wounded from his station on the bridge, to
the sick bay prior to midnight. During the night we had several electrical fires, however all were
The ship steamed at full speed out of the combat area all night. I was relieved of my security watch
officer’s duties at 0800 on January 22, 1945, a tired but thankful Ensign after thirty hectic hours
which began at 0230 on January 21, 1945.
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