By the time Ken Rivers of Port Charlotte, Fla. was 20 he had taken part in seven major engagements in the Pacific in World War II aboard the destroyer USS Mansfield (DD-728), participated in the first naval battle of the war in Tokyo Bay and attended the Surrender Ceremony on Sept. 2, 1945 when the Japanese officially called it quits.
What the 84-year-old former sailor remembers best about the 2 1/2 years he served in the Navy during the war was the part he played in the sweep of Tokyo Bay by nine American destroyers in the middle of a typhoon on July 21 and 22, 1945. He was at the wheel of the Mansfield as she sailed into the bay that first night along with eight other Sumner Class destroyers that comprised Destroyer Squadron 61, part of Adm. “Bull” Halsey’s Third Fleet.
“All the hatches on the wheelhouse were closed. You couldn’t see anything,” Rivers recalled 65 years after the engagement. “We were told by voice tube what course to steer at what speed the ship was to run.
“We went into Tokyo Bay for shore bombardment about midnight. If we ran into anything while we were in the bay we were told to take it out. It just so happened we found a Jap convoy in the bay. All nine of our destroyers in the squadron fired two steel fish at the enemy convoy,” he recalled.
“I know we sank one ship and at least another enemy ship was badly damaged. The other ships in the convoy limped away,” Rivers said. “After that we turned our destroyers around and got out of Tokyo Bay in a hurry.
“Tokyo Rose came on the radio. She knew the names of all nine destroyers taking part in the raid. She said none of our destroyers would survive the attack and we wouldn’t make it out of the bay alive. She was wrong,” he said with a smile.
The shadow box on the wall of his home that contained River’s World War II military awards shows six battle stars on one ribbon. This means he took part in six major battles during the war.
The Mansfield joined the fleet in the Pacific about the time of the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea. She saw action not only in the Philippines — Luzon and Leyte, but also Iwo Jima, Okinawa and others engagements.
Rivers was a 2nd Class Seaman when he first went aboard. His battle station to begin with was in the forward ammunition locker supplying one of the ship’s five-inch main guns with canisters of gun powder.
“It was scary down there in the powder magazine. If our ship was hit badly I don’t think we would have gotten out alive. We had to climb two or three ladders to reach the main deck,” he said.
On River’s 18th birthday he and the Mansfield were in the Pacific in the thick of the fighting. He learned his older brothers, Charles, who served on the carrier USS Randolph, was in port.
“I asked our captain if I could go over to the Randolph to see my brother on my birthday. He agreed and off I went,” he recalled. Before I could get aboard the Randolph it was hit by three Jap Kamikazes.
“My brother wasn’t hurt because he was serving in the ship’s engine-room when the planes hit. When I got aboard the Randolph the Jap planes were still smoldering,” Rivers recalled. “Charles and I spent the whole day together. We had a great time.
“In the late afternoon I asked the Marine at the quarter deck to get me a ride back to my ship. He said he couldn’t do that immediately, but suggested I get a little sack time,” Rivers said. “Two hours later when I woke up and asked him about my ride back to the Mansfield the Marine still told me he couldn’t do anything immediately.
“I told him he’d better hurry up because my ship was about to pass the Randolph on its way back to sea. The carrier radioed the destroyer and she stopped dead in the water and waited for me,” Rivers said.
“I was taken back to my ship in the admiral’s barge. When I arrived in the fancy boat a number of my shipmates were standing along the railing watching until they realized it was just me. Then they walked away,” he said.
The Mansfield and Rivers took part in the invasion of Iwo Jima and immediately afterwards the Okinawa Invasion.
“The Kamikazes were going after our carriers particularly at Okinawa. We had 24 destroyers circling four of our carriers, a battle ship and a cruiser at Okinawa,” he said. We had a 50-mile picket circle protecting our big ships.
“We were to radio into the fleet if the Japs were coming their way. Good sized groups of enemy planes would fly over from time-to-time,” he said.
Rivers and the Mansfield spent the entire 82-day battle bombarding specific positions during the battle for Okinawa. Coordinates would be called into the ship and a few minutes later the destroyer would open up on the enemy position with its five-inch guns.
After the attack on the Japanese convoy in Tokyo Bay and the VJ-Day Surrender on Sept. 2, 1945, he sailed back to California aboard the Mansfield.
“A number of the older members of the crew were discharged and got to go home, but the captain told me forget it. I was going to sail to China with him,” Rivers said. “I spent the next few months carrying Marines around China.”
It was 1946 when 1st Class Seaman Ken Rivers reached Boston aboard the Destroyer Escort USS Willett. He was discharged from the Navy after more than two years of war duty at sea.
The first dozen years after World War II, Rivers became an iron worker until the firm closed its doors. Then he joined the Melrose, Mass. Police Department, a suburb of Boston, where he worked for 35 years until he retired.
He and his late wife, Elizabeth, moved to Port Charlotte in 1990 She died several months ago after 64 years of marriage. Rivers has one grown step-daughter, Gloria, who lives near Boston.
Name: Kenneth Stuart Rivers
D.O.B: 13 March 1927
Hometown: Everett, Mass.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 26 April 1944
Discharged: June 1946
Rank: Seaman 1st Class
Unit: USS Mansfield DD-728
Commendations: World War II Victory Medal, Pacific Theatre Medal with 6 Stars, African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Philippine Liberation Medal with 1 Star
Battles/Campaigns: Battle of Philippine Sea, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Leyte, Luzon
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, March 5, 2012 and is republished with permission.
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