January 21, 1945
Forever Remembered
USS Ticonderoga CV-14
    
EN MARE EN CAELESTIS (ON SEA IN AIR)   
"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 with. 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 fuel. 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 promptly contained. 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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"Without their sacrifices we wouldn't have the "way of life" and the freedoms that we are blessed with."
- Vern Higman



- Flight Deck Damage -

   After her battles with planes and fire, Ticonderoga remained able to launch and land aircraft



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Superstructure damage after Kamikaze attacks - 21 January 1945
Super structure damage after Kamikaze
attacks - 21 January 1945