Woodbury County

Robert F. Croxwell



“I was born 7 January 1927, on a farm south of Cushing. I grew up around Correctionville, and graduated from Correctionville. A few days after my 17th birthday, I went to Sioux City to enlist in the Navy. I chose the Navy mostly because of all the posters – Join the Navy and See the World. Too, most of my friends were joining the service of their choice. AND it looked like a lot of fun to a 17-year- old farm kid who thought he was smarter than everybody. It didn’t take long to find out differently.

Sometime in February 1944, I went to Des Moines for a physical and was sworn in at that time. Three days after graduation, 15 May, I boarded a train in Sioux City and was off to Farragut, Idaho. What fun it was riding in the mountains! I never tired of it. We arrived into camp two days later about midnight. The first thing we had to do was line up for shots in both arms. We were up early the next morning for chow. After that we were issued our clothes and other gear we needed. After we were settled in, we went to the grinder to try our luck at marching. A couple of weeks later, we started to catch on. Every morning we were up at 6:00 a.m., March or calisthenics for an hour, then chow and more school. The day ended about 10:00 p.m. when all lights were out. The next day was the same.

After two months, we were whipped into pretty good shape. I’m sure they kept us busy so we wouldn’t get homesick. I believe the hardest thing I had to learn was to wash my own clothes and to roll everything according to Navy tradition.

In July, we went home on a two-week leave. It didn’t take me long to find out how good that home cooking was. Everyone treated me royally.

Time flew by quickly. I was soon, back on the train to Idaho. Soon after arriving in Idaho, we took off to Seattle, Washington. Here we were put on an older ship for training. Now we were really sailors! Our stay here was about a month; then, off we went to Portland, Oregon, to get on the new ship waiting for us. It was the USS Ozark LSV-2. It was as big as a cruiser with the #2 deck empty to haul amphibious jeeps and tanks. It had a big ramp on the stern so we could load and unload these vehicles in the bay at the site of the invasion. The Ozark was armed with two 5” turrets, six 40mm and 20mm guns.

After a trial cruise, we took off for San Francisco to load our empty ship with food and other supplies. Then, on to Los Angeles and San Diego to finish loading more equipment, ammo, and Marines.

28 October 1944, we headed out to the South Pacific with a stop at Pearl Harbor and ended up in New Guinea. On the way crossed the equator. As Navy tradition goes, there was one big initiation. Even now I have memories of that day and some are not so good.

From New Guinea, we went to the Solomon Islands and joined a group of other ships for practice with our guns and the debarking of our troops, duwks, and alligators, and getting them back on again. Until New Years, we kept on training and practicing amphibious landings.

New Year’s Day found us heading for Lingayen Gulf in the Philippine Islands to take part in the assault landing of Luzon. Two days before we got there, we saw our first real action on 7 January 1945, which happened to be my 18th birthday. Several Jap planes flew over, dropping bombs. Our fighter planes were right behind them. The next morning was the same only on a larger scale. Early in the morning on 9 January found us sailing into Luzon. We could
see the battleships and cruisers bombarding the beach and hills where our troops were to land. About 7:30, we started to unload the duwks (amphibious jeeps), alligators (amphibious tanks), and troops out in the bay and sent them to shore. Thus far, everything went smoothly. But then all hell broke loose. Jap planes started to come in, dropping torpedoes and bombs only this time, there were suicide planes smashing into a number of ships. With the dogfights between the planes and all our 200 ships firing at the planes, I was like a kid watching a 4th of July party. We picked up some casualties that afternoon and got out of there without getting a scratch.

We headed for Leyte where a big land-and-sea battle was fought a few months before. From Leyte, we sailed to the Caroline Islands and then on to Guam. At Guam, we loaded a detachment of Marines plus extra doctors and corpsman. Then off to Saipan where we loaded more supplies and equipment. Here, finally we received our Christmas mail.

Now we found, we were going to Iwo Jima to be a casualty ship. We joined transport squadron #15 and had several more days of practice. This being complete, we started out for Iwo Jima getting there the morning of 19 February 1945. This tiny island was the scene of the bloodiest battle in the Pacific thus far. After unloading the troops and their equipment, we prepared to board the casualties. For the next several days, we took on about 500 wounded men from the battlefield – legs and arms were missing, some were blind, and all other kinds of injuries. Everyone pitched in carrying stretchers, feeding the patients and doing anything we could to make them comfortable. I even helped with some surgeries and helped with the corpse. I will tell you this, it was the most gruesome trip that I’ll never forget. While this was going on, we moved closer to the beach. We were close enough to watch the fighting on the island through binoculars.

Another great memory was getting to watch the famous raising of our flag on Mt. Suribachi.

Our task being fulfilled here in Iwo Jima, we were off to Saipan where we unloaded the wounded. On our way, several burial ceremonies were performed at sea.

During this time I was asked to steer the ship. At this was considered a privileged position, I said, ‘Yes’, right away. Over the next few weeks I was promoted to be a qualified helmsman, a sailor who could steer the ship in all types of situations.

Now we were off to Ulithi in the company of an aircraft carrier. Our stay was short; then off to the Philippines.
At Leyte, our skipper was designated as Commander of Transport Division Thirteen. Because of this, we knew we were ready for another invasion. We proceeded to load supplies, duwks, etc., of the 24th Corps U.S. Army.

The 27th day of March found us leaving Leyte for an amphibious operation against the Japanese on the Island of Okinawa. We not only ran into stormy, heavy seas; but many mines were sighted and blown up. Too, a Jap sub was seen and sunk.

In 1945, Easter morning found us making our attack on Okinawa. This was our third invasion since 9 January. As usual before dawn, we could see the big shells being lobbed toward the beach from the battleships and cruisers. The reason we could see this so plainly was because the big ships had to be 20 miles away from the island to hit the target. The big shells would glow in the dark.

A little later was when all hell broke loose. We had just started to unload our troops and their cargo when wave after wave of Jap planes came over dropping bombs and torpedoes and smashing their planes into U.S. ships. The next day, April Fool’s Day, was fortunate for us; one of these planes hit the water right behind our ship. Several ships around us were hit. This went on for about seven days before we got out of there.

This put an end to the Japanese Air Force; the Japanese recalled what was left of their navy and they were intercepted at sea. Except for some submarines, this was good-bye Jap navy. After another nasty and unpleasant trip, we headed for Good Old Guam. We stayed there for about two weeks fixing, painting, and cleaning. I almost forgot, we had about 20 Japanese POWs to unload. Best of all, we got caught up on mail from home.

Now it was time to raise the big hook to take off for Noumea, New Caledonia. This was about a ten-day trip on ocean water that was smooth as glass. There, we saw pods of whales diving and spouting in the water. Our ship was there long enough to load more troops and their equipment; they were taken back to Saipan.

Our ship was unloaded again; then we were order to Pearl Harbor for major repairs. This took about 30 days. It was nice getting some rest.

Leaving Hawaii with a load of fresh young men and supplies, we went back out to sea. After a brief stop at Eniwetok, we joined a convoy of 40 ships headed for Okinawa. The convoy was slow enough without typhoons backing us up every day. It was very hot and the ocean was so rough that men could not go topside. The ship arrived at Okinawa allright, unloaded, and back to Guam we went.

While in Guam, peace was offered to Japan; immediately, we started to refuel and re-supply. The USS Ozark was selected to help evacuate our prisoners of war from Japan. We took extra doctors and medicine with us. On 15 August 1945, President Truman announced that the Japanese had accepted the terms of surrender. A few days later, we joined with the Third Fleet headed for Tokyo. Boy, were we proud to be in a convoy with the big battleships, an aircraft carrier and cruisers. The next few days found us taking around 1000 Marines off these big ships, one by one, with a breeches buoy while under way. This was the first time in history that this had been done in such a large scale. We were all the time moving closer to the Land of the Rising Sun and soon one evening we were dropping anchor in the shadow of Japan’s famous peak, Mt. Fujiyama. It was with great pleasure to see that the sun could SET on the Land of the Rising Sun.

30 August found us sailing into Tokyo Bay where we unloaded the 1000 marines in Tokyo with the Mighty Ozark anchored beside the USS Missouri when the Peace Agreement was signed.

The next several days, we loaded U.S. POWs and moved to Yokohama to pick up more of them. What a pitiful sight, they were nothing but skin and bones with potbellies. How they must have suffered! This is another memory that will always stay in my mind.

After taking 1100 of these men, we headed back to Guam. We started to unload and before getting done, our orders changed and we loaded them back on ship to head for the good old USA.

When we pulled into San Francisco, we all received a hero’s welcome. Everybody thought we would get a chance to go home, but, no, in a couple of days, we were steaming to the Philippines. Because we didn’t have to steer a zig-zag course, it didn’t take long to get to Manila. Again, we loaded men that were more than ready to go home. Off we went to San Francisco for the very last time.

From here, we went south down around Mexico to the Panama Canal. It was fun passing through the canal for it was my turn at the helm. We ended up in New Orleans in time to celebrate Mardi Gras in 1946. We were here long enough to know our way around.

We moved to Galveston and Houston, Texas area for more repairs before the Mighty Ozark would be moth balled. Since September 1944, before it was parked in Orange, Texas, we had traveled 100,000 miles.

18 May 1946, I was honorably discharged in St. Louis. I had received the Asiatic medal with two stars, Philippine Liberation medal with one star, as well as, the American and Victory medals.

I went home to Correctionville for a long vacation and to get reacquainted with my family. As college didn’t interest me, I worked on farms, in packing plants, driving trucks, and ended with managing a cooperation farm by Holstein. After thirty years on the farm, I retired into Holstein.

My parents are Harold and Mary (Hadan) Croxell. Siblings are Geraldine, Ruth, and Beverly.

In 1951, I married Joan Kuhken of Cushing. We have two sons, Michael and Mark.

I have belonged to the American Legion Post #624 in Cushing for 55 years.

We had our first Ozark reunion in Reno, Nevada, 50 years after the war. My, how a bunch of salty old sailors mellowed and changed looks. It was great to see some of these old buddies again. The reunions are getting smaller and the one in San Antonio, Texas, in 2003, could be the last one.
It was a privilege to serve my country; I feel fortunate to be here to talk about it.

Submitted by Robert Croxell