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The Battle of Leyte Gulf- largest naval battle in World War II
Kamikaze hit the USS Suwannee and My grandfather was MIA. Part 1
"The Battle of Leyte Gulf, also called the "Battles for Leyte Gulf", and formerly known as the "Second Battle of the Philippine Sea", is generally considered to be the largest naval battle of World War II and also one of the largest naval battles in history.(Wikipedia)
In the Navy Napoleon became Joe Falany and he was on the USS Suwannee CVE 27 and on the morning of October 25th, 1944 the battle stations bell rang. They were right in the middle of the Leyte Gulf ready to do their duty.
Joe Falany was just the baker. He kept all the officers and everyone else fed. So this is not a big glorious heroic stereotype. And since many people judge the small positions as insignificant they may view a baker as not important. I challenge those who under estimate the cooks and the first mates who made ships run smooth so that we could proceed with winning the battles. Who feeds the men? Who supplies men with something resembling home when they have been away from their mother’s or wife’s kitchen for three years. Who will remind them that they are humans gathering together to a feast to celebrate life? It is the cook and baker that use their medicine when they make food for the soldiers everyday. It is the little things that matter when you are traveling around the world on a boat. Our navy didn’t even have the luxury of Italian or Greek food made by beautiful European women. The ultimate hero is those who are brave in the face of fear and aggression but also those whose intent is to go beyond everything they have ever experienced and do it with pride and honor.
Joe Falany had never traveled before he joined the Navy. He joined up in 1941. When Pearl Harbor happened he was in Georgia at Boot Camp and was standing in line with his duffle bag over his shoulder, waiting to get on the train to go to Technical Training Camp in Mississippi. On Dec. 7th his line shifted and he got on a ship that went to Iceland. And around the world he went for the next three years. In between those long trips they ported in Boston- and he met my grandmother at an officer’s dance.
So on Oct 25th, 1944 the battle bell rang and all men had to report to their battle stations. The kamikaze hit the USS Suwannee and my grandfather was blown off, and was floating semi-conscious in the SouthSea. His flesh was on fire. Since he was in the salt water it must have helped with his burnt skin. He unconsciously put his arm around a medical can that was sealed and thus stayed afloat. He floated out there for who knows how long. A CVE boat came looking for him eventually. They found him and wrapped him up like a mummy. They hung all the burned survivors on a medical ship, upside down because their flesh smelled so bad. If the burned victims didn't twitch their heads or move their bodies they would throw them over the side. The Japanese hit the medical ship too. So my grandfather was burned and hanging upside down and the ship were on fire too. They finally transferred him to another ship that was going to the burn unit on New Guinea. They had to put this long wire together with the other ship and transfer the patients in a metal container. My grandfather jokes that when they found him in the water that he only had his left sock on. "The dam explosion burned off all my clothes except for my left sock!!!" They put him on a medical ship for his burns and the Japanese Kamikazed this ship also.
In New Guinea my grandfather was treated for his physical problems but that did not help his memory. He could not remember anything of the explosion or who he was. He was officially missing in action. My great grandmother was notified. My soon to be grandmother was writing my grandfather faithfully and he returned her letters before the explosion. They were courting each other through letters. So my grandmother also knew he was MIA. The priest would come daily and ask my grandfather if he remembered anything and he didn't for two weeks or so. Then one day the priest came and did not ask my grandfather directly if he remembered anything. Then everything came flooding back. He wrote my grandmother first and when they received the letter in Boston, my great-grandmother called my other great-grandmother about his location and condition.
The Navy made a mistake by putting my grandfather back on the ship and was not sent home after his trauma. He was on his way to Pearl Harbor and a Typhoon hit- the USS Whatever went crazy and so did my grandfather. He fell of the bed, hit his head pretty bad and started punching who ever he could. They arrested him and put him in the "Brink." All the men were pretty upset and started to talk about this incident. The captain finally heard word of the whole situation and when down to talk with my grandfather who was in jail. The captain listened to the whole story and how he got blown off of his last ship. The captain said he had to stay in jail but as soon as they port in Pearl Harbor he would take care of the situation. When they docked the captain escorted my grandfather off the ship and took him personally to the Navy headquarters. He was sent to a MilitaryHospital in Oregon after that. My grandfather called it the "Loony Ben".
Just as a side note for all of those who do not believe in love at first sight here is another couple for the record books. My 16 year old grandmother met my grandfather at a dance. They met for dinner with her family the next day which was Easter, then he went back out to sea. They wrote each other for two years or more, he was MIA. She thought he was dead. He wrote her first to say that he was alive. He returned home they got married and here I am writing down the story of love that seems to be more powerful than the both of them. For they are still alive not wanting to part, when maybe it is time that they should.
The hero has a variety of expressions. My grandfather was not a massive man with a sword to wield. He was an invisible. But when the Kamikaze started his descent he was at his station doing his duty. And after traversing death's threshold again and again, he survived. Not only did he survive but was a iconic figure in my life. A man you would never know was a WWII veteran, thus the invisible ego again. A man so enamored with life he was like a fountain overflowing. I drank from his spring in my childhood. It wasn't just me that benefited from this man but many lost souls were pulled toward this hero. He had some strong medicine. I am not sure if it is his generation or this man specifically but his influence after the war, after extreme suffering that went on his entire life, was overwhelmingly heroic. Ironically I was born on a Marine base on Dec 7th, Pearl Harbor Day. It might be a coincidence, yet I like to think there is another mystery and a connection to this man that I will never understand with my human brain.