He served aboard USS Harding at Normandy and Okinawa in WW II

Gunners Mate Mike Stata of Venice Isles mobile home park in Venice, Fla. is pictured when he graduated from boot camp at 19 in 1943. Photo provided

Mike Stata was a “hot shell man” on a 5-inch gun aboard the destroyer USS Harding 1500 yards off Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 during the Normandy Invasion. He also served aboard the Harding off Okinawa on April 16, 1945 when his ship was hit by a kamikaze and 22 sailors aboard the destroyer were killed.

“It was my job to drop the hot shells from the Number 1 main gun down a chute into the ship as they came out of the forward gun mount,” the 84-year-old Venice, Fla.  resident explained. “I wore asbestos gloves that covered my hands and arms and went all the way up to my neck.

“We sailed out of Weymouth, England the day before the invasion. The Harding was one of the destroyers leading the invasion force. We sailed 2,000 yards in front of the USS Ancon, the command ship,” he said.

“When we arrived off the coast of France at 7 a.m. the water was very rough. It was a cloudy, damp and cold morning,” Stata recalled. “We were told to go closer to shore and fire on designated targets. We got so close to the beach I thought pretty soon we were gonna shake hands with the enemy.”

The Harding’s Action Report of the engagement at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 notes in part:

“1050: Opened fire on a (German) pill box.

“1143: Received four men aboard from PA-76 which was in sinking condition and it sank five minutes later.

“1413: Opened fire on Vierville Church and demolished same after 40 rounds.

“2027: Lying off Point Et Raz De La Perce

“2320: Intermittent AA fire from ships in landing area. No enemy planes observed.”

The following day the Harding was sent to support the Rangers who were in the process of capturing Pointe du Hoc. This was the 100-foot high point that towered over the invasion beach. Allied commanders thought the point bristled with German heavy artillery capable of sinking part of the invasion fleet.

The big guns had been pulled from the cliff, to protect them from Allied bombers, and hidden in a grove of trees inland. Even so, enemy resistance was substantial at the cliff. It was the Harding’s job to destroy the German defenses.

The ship: She was the Bristol Class destroyer (DD-625) that Stata served aboard during World War II. Photo provided

“When we went in, fighting aboard the ship got pretty intense. The Rangers told us later, ‘If it hadn’t been for your destroyer we wouldn’t have made it up the cliff.’ The Germans were machine-gunning the Rangers as they climbed the ladders to the top,” Stata said.

“What happened to us was we were firing at enemy targets on the beach and our captain wanted to get a little closer so he could do a better job,” he said. “That worked fine until we ran aground and got stuck. There we were near the base of the point aground like a sitting duck.”

The crew of the Harding knew if they didn’t extract themselves quickly enemy artillery would sink them. A diver was sent over the side to check for damage and discovered both their propellers were damaged.

“It wasn’t long after that we were able to back off into deeper water. All of a sudden a huge enemy shell hit right where we had been,” Stata said. They escaped.

By then the crew of the Harding had spent 86 continuous hours at their battle stations. After that they returned to England for repairs and reassignment.

“We went back to Normandy and the harbor at Cherbourg. The Harding and another destroyer were to accompany a group of minesweepers into the harbor to clear it of German mines,” he said. “At the end of the harbor was a German battery of high velocity guns. Our captain wanted to duke it out with these big guns with our 5-inchers.”

When the admiral commanding the invasion fleet saw that the Harding was about to become a fatality because of the enemy shore battery he ordered the destroyers to make smoke and get out. A short while later the German gun emplacement was bombed by American heavy bomber to no avail. It took the infantry to finally take out the big German gun emplacement.

The Harding was also involved in the invasion of Southern France.

“We were on anti-submarine patrol off the coast in the second invasion of France. One night we’re out there and saw this big ball of fire hit the water out a ways from us. We sent a whale boat out to investigate. A German bomber had been shot down by Allied night fighters,” Strata recalled.

Special memento: He holds the base of a 5-inch shell engraved, “From the USS Harding, DD-625-6 June 1944, Omaha Beach, Normandy, R. Stata GM3rdC.”

“While they were out searching for survivors our skipper picked up some little dots on the radar that were in the water moving fast toward us. He turned a searchlight on and discovered four German E-boats (like our PT-Boats) were coming after us. Our first 5-inch salvo hit one of them and it exploded into tiny pieces. The second E-boat was hit by our destroyer, it cut the E-boat in half and we picked up the survivors. The other two boats escaped,” he said.

Following the Normandy Invasion the Harding returned to the States, was converted to a minesweeper and sent to the Pacific just in time for the Battle of Okinawa.

On April 16, 1945 hundreds of kamikaze suicide planes were sent against the Allied fleet of 1,200 ships that ringed the 60-mile long island a few hundred miles off the Japanese main islands.

“It was 9 a.m. when a kamikaze attacked the Harding off the port bow. The plane was on fire as it came at us,” Stata said. “The nose of the Japanese fighter hit us at the water line and exploded our forward magazines aboard ship. I was in the forward gun mount serving as a trainer on the gun when 22 guys were killed right underneath my feet.

“We were going at full speed when the kamikaze hit and knocked a gaping hole in the side of our ship that caused the bow to almost submerge. When I stepped out of the gun mount with my buddy the captain was yelling from the bridge, ‘Don’t jump!’ If we had gone over the side we’d have both been killed,” he said.

What’s left: Stata holds a couple of aluminum pieces of the Japanese suicide fighter plane that crashed into the side of the Harding killing 22 sailors off Okinawa. Sun photo by Don Moore

“Our ship was dead in the water but we managed to keep the Harding upright,” Stata said. “Since our engine room was still operating we backed her all the way to a staging island off the southern tip of Okinawa.”

For the men of the USS Harding World War II was over. They would spend the next several months on the atoll waiting for their destroyer to be made sea worthy. Then the crew sailed their battered ship back to Norfolk, Va. where the destroyer was decommissioned shortly after war’s end.

Stata would become a lineman for a power company outside Chicago, a position he held until his retirement. In 1989 he and his wife, Dorothy, moved to Venice Isles when they came south. They will celebrate their 62nd wedding anniversary this month.


Stata’s File

Name: Mike Stata
D.O.B: 1923
Hometown: ##
Current: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: February 13, 1943
Discharged: 1948
Rank: GM 3rd Class
Unit: USS Harding
Commendations: The European Theater Ribbon with two battle stars, The Pacific Theater Ribbon with one battle star, Good Conduct Ribbon, American Theater Ribbon and the World War II Victory Medal.
Battles/Campaigns: Omaha Beach, Okinawa


This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, May 17, 2010 and is republished with permission.

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Comments

  1. My uncle also served on the USS Harding and he was one of those killed when the Kamikaze hit the ship. His name was John “Sonny” Gorges.

  2. My Uncle Edward (Eddy) Orazine who passed away at the age of 89 in Cambridge MA on May 16th,was a member of the USS Harding crew. Last year I was planning a trip to Normandy and talked to him about his service during the D-Day invasion. He told me how the ship travelled close to shore on Pill Boxes and about going aground while travelling close to shore in support of the Rangers at Pointe du Hoc. He said that the ship was so close that they could see the Rangers climbing the cliffs. He also said that after the ship got loose that the crew speculated that it would take at least a week to go back to England to get the bent propeller and bent shaft repaired and to get back to Normandy. However, he said to their surprise it only took two days for repairs and I believe he said the ship was back in action within three days. He also told me about the battle of Okinawa. He said that shortly before the kamikaze struck the Harding he had been loaned to another Destroyer that needed an electrician.

  3. My Grandfather, Edward May was also aboard the Harding at D Day, Southern France and Okinawa. When the ship was hit by the Kamakazi he was in the holding room of gun no. 2. He was knocked out, but survived. He passed away in 1993. If anyone knew him or knows more stories about the events of these battles I would love to hear from you. Unfortunatly I don’t think he had remained in contact with many of his war buddies, and I don’t know any of their names. My email address is maydiggs922@aol.com
    Thanks,
    Chris

  4. My uncle Melvin “Mel” Everling also served aboard the USS Harding during the Battle of Okinawa. We have asked him many times to re-tell us about the day his ship was attacked by the kamikaze suicide pilot. The main thing I remember about his story was that he said, he had not moved 5 minutes earlier from where he was stationed, he would probably been killed or injured. However, he states that he was still close enough to the kamikaze suicide plane that the could see the “whites of the pilot eyes.” As of this date, we are lucky enough to still have Uncle Mel with us. He is quite a character!! My email address is: TiaAngel@aol.com

    Tina

    • That’s a great story. Even better if you get him to retell it to do it in front of a video camera. His story should be filed in with the Veterans’ History Project at the Library of Congress. Go to the Library of Congress website and follow their guidelines for entry. If you don’t do that, at least try to get a DVD made of him talking about his shipboard experiences for future generations.

      • Thanks for the information, Don. I will forward your reply his to daughter. I would do it, but I live 1000 miles away! I also saw a website (could be this one, but I don’t think so) where they are looking for the names of the men to be listed as serving on the USS Harding. I am going to send the article on Mike Stata to Uncle Mel to see if he remembers him. I am going to also try and contact Mr. Stata and see if he remembers Uncle Mel. (If there was any crew members to remember anyone, it would *definitely* be my Uncle Mel!!)

    • My Uncle Bud (Eugene) ONeil (NYC) served on the Harding and he told me about D Day, the E-boat incident, conversion to a minesweeper and the kamikaze attack among other stories. He was a torpedo man and helped pass the shells when they blew up the church. He passed away years ago and is buried in Swansea MA.

  5. My Father George Simms was on the USS Harding at D Day, Southern France and was taken off the ship due to injury 3 days before it was hit and the 22 men were killed. He is still living and will turn 95 on Christmas Day 2016. I am sure he would love to share stories. I was online today and found this site. I am trying to get a photo of the USS Harding crew repaired. It is a large photo and has torn. I wanted to see if there is a copy somewhere that I can order. If not I will take it to a photo store to see if they had fix it.
    I have one funny quick story to share. My Dad said they use to take turns on the ship washing the whites by putting it in a bag and towing it behind the ship in the ocean. My Dad forgot the bag and the salt water ruined the clothes. Alot of people’s whites had holes in them. He said some of the men were pretty sore about it when he returned the laundry. He also kept in touch for many years with a man named Jack Singer here in IL who was also on the USS Harding. he also attended a reunion in Florida one year with my lovely mother Ruth who has since passed in 2011.

    If anyone wants to contact me, please feel free to email me at julie.savoia@comed.com. I would enjoy sharing stories and photos.

  6. My father, Herbert E. Mayr, enlisted in the Navy one week after Pearl Harbor and was also on the USS Harding for most of the war including the DDay Invasion missions. He was relieved of duty when the USS Harding went to port in England from Pointe du Hoc for repairs. Fortunately he was not on the ship in the South Pacific when it was hit by the kamikaze. He returned to Texas to marry our mother Marjorie and raise 12 children together, with 32 grandchildren, 36 great grandchildren and 3 great great grandchildren. He passed away in 1986 but we just celebrated our mother’s 88th birthday this week.

    Olliemayr@yahoo.com

  7. Here’s an update on my Uncle Melvin “Mel” Everling, who proudly served on the USS Harding. He turned 90 a couple of months ago. His daughter told me he went to the Honor Flight. (I hope I remembered that correctly.). He still drives, goes to the YMCA to work out everyday. He goes with my younger brother to turkey shoots and does pretty darn good, usually winning. He’s still chasing the women!! He lives on his own in a senior apartment building. His hearing isn’t worth a darn. He still tells his good ole’ Navy off-color jokes and remarks. Yeah, he can be pretty embarrassing, but at his age he can do what he wants and we are use to it. He resides on the south side of Indianapolis. If you need anything or have questions, my email address is: TiaAngel@aol.com. Thanks for your service!

    Tina Everling

    • My uncle Bud Oniell from NYC served on the Harding. I remember his stories of the Southern France invasion, D Day. Okinawa etc.

      • And his stories when he went on leave were just as interesting!!!! OMG!! He is such a character!!!!!! Lol

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