My Personal Hero
“There were 500 Army troops and 2,500 tons of vehicles and gasoline
in drums aboard the Kyle V. Johnson as she steamed toward Lingayan
Gulf on 12 January 1945, in a 100-ship convoy about evenly divided
between ships and LSTs. At 0130 the convoy was attacked by six or
more planes, one of which crashed into the starboard side of the
Johnson at number three hatch. The engine plowed through the
hull-plating into a 'tween decks crowded with troops and thence into
the lower hold.”
“Said a survivor: "There was a blinding flash and an explosion so
heavy it blew the steel hatch beams higher than the flying bridge."
The ship dropped out of convoy to fight the fire, extinguished the
flames, and then rejoined the fleet, but with 129 men killed and
Teddy Woitowicz was the only sailor killed on that fateful day. All of the others lost were Regular Army Troops being transported to the battlefield. I still shudder when I imagine the horror they must have felt. The intense heat and the smell of burning flesh must have been beyond belief. I can taste the fire and the choking smoke almost as if I was there. The sound of twisted steel and the screams of the injured would undoubtedly remain in the minds of the survivors throughout their lives. I'm sure that some still relive the visions of that attack even today.
Mom never got over her brother's death. The, “Purple Heart,” hanging in her living room next to his picture does little to ease her pain and loss. However, I noticed a gleam of pride in her eyes when I informed her, just this year, at the age of eighty-five, that Teddy is buried in the American Cemetery in Manila. She had always believed that his body was lost at sea.
At the age of eighteen he gave his life not only for my freedom but for yours. He is, “My Personal Hero,” although we never met. His picture, in uniform, hangs in my bedroom/office. I have told my children and grandchildren his story, with pride. Unknown to us at the time, my brother and I both served in the Navy in the same job capacity as Uncle Teddy.
Come to think of it he's probably my brother Joe's,”Personal Hero,” too.
NOTE: While this story is mine alone to tell, the first two paragraphs are a direct quote from the Offical War Records of the United States Navy.
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