A 1944 Letter Home

Dear Marie:

My name is Joe Ross. Just a quick introduction. Now to come to the point, I'm off the destroyer Robinson, and I stood my watches with your Larry [Boutang]. Boy, what a racket that man has; does nothing but sleep and what little time he is up, he orders his men around with a whip, and he's always beefing about the food, and yet he eats like a veteran.

Upon arriving in Manus Harbor in the Admiralty Islands from Leyte, I got word that I was being transferred to the States. Larry asked me if I wouldn't drop you a few lines and give you the inside dope. I'm now sitting on the night deck of a 'baby' aircraft carrier bound for the States.

Well, here it is. Starting April 16th, the day we pulled out for Pearl Harbor - on the 17th we contacted an enemy sub and bombed it with depth charges - results are unknown. We pulled into Pearl Harbor on the 21st. The weather was hot but the Islands are very disappointing - including Honolulu. We stayed there for five weeks, always on maneuvers or sub patrol.

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May 28th we pulled out for the Marshall Islands with a convoy. We had a good trip and arrived at Eniwetok, June 8th. Then started for Saipan on the 11th. On the night of the 14th we sank a Jap sub a little way out from Saipan.

On the morning of the 15th we bombarded the island of Saipan. Troops (marines) landed and had a bad time getting a foothold. I saw some of our marines in barges blown to bits while trying to land, and saw many dead Japs floating in the water - for many miles away we could smell the dead bodies. The flies were as big as horse flies and the ship was full of them.

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We had many close calls, but always managed to come out without a scratch. On July 21st we went to Guam. It was invaded. We only stayed there a short time and went back to Saipan. On July 24th we bombarded Tinian and it was invaded - and again we had some close calls, but not much trouble from the air.

The Japs certainly had plenty of guns on the beach. We would patrol within a half mile of the coast with the Japs firing at us, we, in turn, firing back. We made a good name for our ship. We destroyed many Jap pillboxes, fortifications and tanks. We were highly praised by the boys on the beach for the support and accuracy of our fire.

On August 1st we pulled out with an evacuation ship loaded with wounded and headed for New Caledonia. On August 5th we crossed the Equator and I think Larry told you what happened that day. We arrived in New Caledonia on the 9th and stayed there until the 22nd to complete repairs.

On the22nd we left for the New Hebrides Islands and arrived at Espiritu Santo, N.H. on the 23rd. We took on ammunition and provisions, and headed for Florida Island in the Solomons. Arrived at Florida Island the 26th. All the islands consist of is jungle and natives. There we re-joined part of the fleet. We maneuvered with the fleet for about 10 days.

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On September 6th we pulled out for the Palau Islands. The following day we came close to Truk, but no attack. We arrived at Palau on the 12th. We proceeded to shell Peleliu for three days. The 15th was D-Day and again we shelled it. The boys landed and found the going tough, even though we plastered the place with shells. These islands are nothing but mountains, hills and jungles, and the going is hard. We helped take three islands in the Palau group, making 5 islands so far that we participated in, and we had our hands full again at Palau.

On September 29th we left for the Admiralty Islands, arriving there October 1st. After minor repairs we took on ammunition, food, and fuel.

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On the 12th we left for Leyte Island, arriving there on the 17th of October. We were the first destroyer to enter Leyte Gulf. We followed the minesweepers in. We made it OK. The sweepers picked up better than 600 mines.

The following day the Ross, our sister ship, followed our path and was hit by 2 mines, killing many and disabling the ship, and then the Jap planes strafed it killing more.

It was just plain Hell. We didn't get much rest. It seemed every time we would sit down to eat or lie down to get a little rest the loud-speaker system would start to scream - "Air contact! Air Contact! All hands man your battle stations!". Sirens would start to screech, buzzers were turned on. You could see sailors running for their battle station and no doubt cursing the Japs for not letting us get a reasonable rest - but we did the same to them.

Then came the morning of October 25th. The Jap fleet came out to get us and almost did - but we out-foxed them. We made a torpedo run on a Jap battleship at 4:00 in the morning and scored 2 hits.

In the meantime, the Japs were firing on us - barely missing us. The ship behind (about 500 feet) took 12 hits, killing 172 sailors and leaving the ship dead in the water. We had God's protection or we would have never made it. But that was the only ship hit in Surigao Strait.

In the fury of the battle, we came very near running into an island, and again I think it was God's hand that saved us.- We were doing 35 knots. The results were good as you know. The Japs lost 3 battleships, 4 cruisers, and 7 destroyers.

The first three weeks at Leyte we had 66 air raids, and many times we were extremely fortunate to come out without a scratch. Oh yes, one thing more. After the battle was over, we tried to pick up Jap survivors. We managed to get one - many others committed hara-kiri with knives right before us.

Well, Marie, this is just a brief sketch of what actually happened. It would take a book to cover everything. . If I should get to go to Cleveland for school, I may call you and give you more dope. If not, I guess you will have to wait for Larry to tell you the rest. I hope you can read this letter. I'm very much excited about coming back to the States and I'm very careless with my writing. I hope you will excuse me.

Your loving friend,
Joe Ross

Editor's Note: Marie Boutang, the recipient of this letter, was the wife of Larry Boutang - a Robbie shipmate of Joe Ross, its author. Marie and Larry's daughter, Jeanne Boutang Croud, kindly made this letter available for Web posting. The letter bore no date, but was likely written about 7 December 1944.

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