Family HIstory

USS Gilligan DE 508

  • July 11, 2013

A few weeks ago we had a gathering for dinner. During the conversation that evening the discussion turned to patriotism and how each of us defined or felt about it.

Given the recent and continuing disclosures surrounding the efforts of whistleblower Edward Snowden in exposing the extent to which government agencies like the NSA (No Such Agency), the CIA, and the FBI using programs such as PRISM and Boundless Informant have had unrestricted access to everyone’s emails and phone calls since these programs were initiated. So, given these facts, was Mr. Snowden a traitor or a patriot? You can post your own comments regarding the issue here or at the page on Facebook.

In any event we wanted to pass on some little known family history about our own patriot, a member of the “Greatest Generation” who saved the world from fascism, Ensign Paul Babij who served as First Lieutenant aboard the Destroyer Escort USS Gilligan (DE 508) [see photo] during 1944 and 1945.

USS Gilligan DE 508

The Gilligan had survived the infamous Typhoon Cobra, the same cyclone that devastated Admiral “Bull” Halsey’s fleet on December 17th, 1944. Dad remarked on a few occasions (he almost never discussed the war or his part in it) that the Halsey’s Typhoon episode was one of the scariiest experiences he ever went through. He recalled standing watch on the bridge during the height of the storm.

Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) during such a storm was (and still is) to disperse the ships one nautical mile (2000 yards) apart in order to avoid colllisions. The ship had a RADAR antenna installed on the mast, sixty feet above the main deck. From the bridge Ensign Paul Babij could view the dispersal pattern of the task force on the RADAR scope installed there. When the ship crested a wave, the image on the scope displayed the complete task force dispersal pattern. When the ship plunged into the trough, the scope went blank. That meant the height of waves during the storm were taller than the position of the RADAR sensor, which was 60 feet above the main deck!

From Wikipedia we get the following information:

“The Gilligan was ordered to escort troopships bound for Lingayen Gulf, arriving in time for D-Day, 9 January 1945. Although in constant danger from enemy air attacks, the destroyer escort supported the assault, screening for Attack Group “Able” of VADM Wilkinson’s Task Force 79, and made smoke.

“Gilligan came under kamikaze attack 12 January. A sailor under fire from the attacking plane leaped from his post onto the main battery director and threw it off target, a mistake which prevented the 5-inch guns from getting off more than 1 round although it was able to fire an additional 13 rounds thirty minutes later at a second plane that dived into the USS Suesens (DE-342). The kamikaze crashed directly into the muzzles of Gilligan’s No. 2 40 mm gun, killing 12 men (10 missing in action, 1 killed in action, and 1 who died of his injuries shortly after the attack) and wounding 13, and started raging fires. The impact of the attack had almost completely blown the Gilligan’s forecastle off. Outstanding damage control kept the ship seaworthy; she put in at Leyte 17 January for repairs, subsequently reaching Pearl Harbor 21 February for overhaul.”

USS Gilligan

USS Gilligan

As First Lieutenant, Dad’s normal battle station was forward near the impact area of the kamikaze attack. As fortune would have it, shortly before the suicide plane, a twin engine “Betty” bomber, began it’s run, Dad was called aft to man another station.

Years later in the early eighties I was working at a local bookstore in LA, when I happened to see a book entitled “The Kamikazes” by Edwin P. Hoyt [see photo] now long out of print. Browsing through the pages, I flipped to the index in the back and searched for “Gilligan”. There it was!

The Kamikazes
Excitedly I paged through the chapters until I found the following passage that described the attack on the Gilligan.

On January 12 the 30th Fighter Group launched its biggest mass raid. They represented the Tamitake, Hitari, Shohana, and Otari squadrons. Every man that day was a true volunteer. Colonel Isagiyo Harada saw the first plane off but it had to return to the field.

Captain Koko Shinfugi flew the next plane, a bomber, and remarkably he had an air crewman, Corporal Tomifuku Uta who had insisted on coming along. He could at least man a machine gun as they streaked toward the enemy.

The first Kamikaze came in just as early light broke over the mountains and was lost to view (probably the one that turned back). But the second was picked up by the radar operator of the destroyer escort Gilligan located in the outer (destroyer) screen. It was the Betty bomber piloted by Captain Shinfugi with Corporal Uta at the guns. Here is an account, sent back to Manila by an unknown radio operator in the Japanese Army camp above the invasion beachhead:

“Just as dawn appeared, a Kamikaze plane – a large plane – came roaring in overhead down over the mountains. A deafening roar reverberated as it passed over. Then, dimly, a large enemy warship became visible, and the plane dived into it, I thought. Then came a thunderous noise, and a great cylinder of fire rose up. One part of the surface of the sea was concealed by the fire which spread out. In the camp, all the officers and men stood up together and shouted “Banzai”! Please tell the men of that unit (the 30th Fighter Group), Thank You.”

I sent a copy of the book to Dad, who read it cover to cover. When I asked him what he thought of it, he said the book was fairly accurate as to the sequence of events and the principal Allied commanders like Admirals Halsey, Wilkinson, and Barbey. But like many veterans who have experienced the horrors of seeing fellow shipmates and soldiers perish in battle, he did not dwell on his close brush with death, except to say “I was scared to death”.

After WWII, the Gilligan was used as a training vessel until decommissioned in 1959 and moved to the mothball fleet in Port Astoria, Washington. The ship was sold for scrapping on 20 November 1973.

© Kazkar Babiy ™ MMXIII.

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