Survivor of USS Laffey DD459

Discussion about wrecks and losses as well as historic sites in the Pacific.

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Survivor of USS Laffey DD459

Post by Mwfitz » Sat Dec 07, 2013 2:31 pm

My father, Kenneth Fitzgibbons (b. 2-28-20 d.4-12-13) told an amazing story of a survivor of the USS Laffey, DD 459. The USS Laffey was sunk November 13, 1942 off Guadalcanal in a sea battle described by others as a barroom brawl with the lights shot out. Admiral Daniel Callaghan on the USS San Francisco and Rear Admiral Norman Scott on the USS Atlanta were killed. My father aged 22 and a seaman at the time, had arrived on Tulagi early September 1942, one month after the initial marine landings. After an introductory Japanese Navy bombardment that night, a few days later he was ferried to Guadalcanal. He was initially trained to lay submarine nets, but the nets never arrived. A seaman rotating home turned over his landing craft to my father and after one day's training he was a landing craft driver. The morning after the sea battle called The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal November 12-13, 1942, my father took his landing craft out to pick up survivors. At one point he saw a man waving from Savo Island. He went to the island to pick the man up. The man was naked and covered with oil. My father could only tell from hearing the man he was American. The man had a large laceration on his buttocks. The man told my father he was a carpenter's mate on a destroyer that nearly collided with a Japanese battleship (IJN Hiei) and that his destroyer had fired torpedoes at the battleship but they were too close and the torpedoes had failed to detonate. The survivor also said the battleship could not depress its guns low enough to fire on them when they were so close. The survivor said his destroyer, which could only have been the USS Laffey, began to move away from the battleship when it was hit by gunfire and an explosion. (This is terrifically documented by E. Andrew Wilde in his book on the USS Laffey DD459) The survivor said he was in the carpenter shop in the ship's fantail below decks when an explosion occurred and he said he suddenly found himself in the water, in the pitch black night, miles from land. The survivor being below decks could have only learned the details of the battle from other shipmate survivors after the ship went down. The curious part is the survivor told my father that after being in the water some time the carpenter's mate felt something touch his legs and was terrified it was a shark. However, 'it' started to push him along and continued pushing him for hours till it had pushed him all the way to Savo Island where he remained on the beach. My father picked the man up and took him back to Guadalcanal and never recalled the survivor's name to me. I was always amazed by this story and did some research on the survivors of the USS Laffey (documented by E. Andrew Wilde). There were two carpenter's mates. The list of survivors shows one of the carpenters' mates Raymond Edward Barker, Jr. CM2 258-18-34 survived and was listed as wounded. The other carpenter's mate, Jack Herman Johnson, CM3 268-59-28 was listed as killed in action. The story of these men and this ship USS Laffey DD 459 fills me with admiration and gratitude.

Out of the tragic loss of the USS Laffey one miracle did happen.

If you wish to learn more about the USS Laffey DD 459, its history was detailed by E. Andrew Wilde at ... _wilde.pdf

Michael Fitzgibbons, MD

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