“We were anchored at Pearl about 1,000 feet from Battleship Row when the Japs attacked,” the 85-year-old former sailor recalled. “We got underway in 17 minutes, but our path to the open sea was blocked by the battleship West Virginia that had been torpedoed and run up on a shoal to keep from sinking.”
Eventually the Phoenix and two other light cruisers escaped to the open sea, but by then the Japanese sunk almost all of the battleships in the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
“Three days later our ship returned to Pearl to escort three cruise ships full of officers’ wives and prostitutes back to San Francisco. We about wore our binoculars out watching the ladies aboard the cruise ships taking sun baths on deck on their way back to the USA,” the old salt said.
“When we returned to Pearl Harbor we were to escort five troop ships full of Marines to Gen. (Douglas) MacArthur in the Philippines. Unfortunately, the Japanese were winning the war there so we took them on to Melbourne, Australia.
“After that we escorted the USS Langley, our oldest carrier, to Java with a load of P-40 fighter planes aboard ship. The Langley was sunk shortly after we dropped her off and headed for Guadalcanal,” Carpenter said.
It was 1943 when the Phoenix received a respite. She returned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for reconditioning. It was there, during the three months it took to repair the cruiser; he met Jeanne, whom he would marry after the war.
“I wrote her for two years and had her picture on my locker,” he said while smoking his pipe with a contented look on his face.
Before heading back to war in the Pacific the Phoenix provided transportation for Secretary of State Cordell Hull to a conference in Casablanca, North Africa.
“He was frightened of flying,” Carpenter said. “So we took him there and brought him back to the Sates. Then we sailed for the Pacific.”
He and the Phoenix went island hopping with MacArthur. Carpenter and the cruiser took part in 25 battles many of which MacArthur was involved in the Pacific. “MacArthur was on our ship on several occasions. He was rather aloof,” Carpenter said. “I recall one time when he was aboard the USS Nashville, our sister ship, and Tokyo Rose came on the radio and said, ‘Mac we know what ship you’re on and you in for trouble.’
“The general transferred to our ship almost immediately. A short time later Kamikazes attacked the Nashville and killed 117 men. MacArthur was smart enough to get off the Nashville in time,” he said.
“The Phoenix took part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest and last ship-to-ship battle in history,” Carpenter said. “We were in the Battle of the Surigao Straits that began about 3 a.m. and during the next two hours we wiped them out completely. When it was over two Jap battleships, four cruisers and I didn’t know how many enemy destroyers were sunk. We only lost one man in a kamikaze attack during that battle.”
Even though the war was winding down it didn’t get any easier.
“We rescued survivors from an American ship that struck an enemy mine off Borneo. From there we sailed into Leyte Gulf and back around to Manila in the Philippines,” he said. “I just missed being booby trapped when I went ashore in the Philippines for a little R and R and pulled a sticker off a box of Jap beer. After I left it blew up a few minutes later when someone tried to take some beers from the box.
“I was also almost washed overboard when I tried to deliver a message from the engine room to the bridge during a 150 mph typhoon, Carpenter said. “That storm almost got me.”
When the war was over and all the fighting was through, the day after Col. Paul Tibbits dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima from a B-29 bomber named for his mother, Enola Gay, Chief Machinist Mate Carpenter, along with the rest of the crew, stood on the Phoenix’s deck and sipped brandy out of paper cups to celebrate their victory.
He then sailed home and married Jeanne in March 1946 and they lived happily ever after. The Carpenters moved to this area 44 years ago.
Name: Vergus Miles Carpenter
D.O.B: 4 November 1923
Hometown: Oklahoma, Okla.
Current: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: 11 August 1940
Discharged: 15 September 1945
Rank: Chief Petty Officer
Unit: USS Phoenix
Commendations: The ship and its crew received the: Asiatic Pacific Campaign Ribbon with nine battle stars for nine major conflicts. Philippine Liberation Medal with two battle stars, Presidential Unit Citation, Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, American Defense Medal with Fleet Clasp, American Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.
Campaigns/Battles: Pearl Harbor; Guadalcanal; Cape Glo‘Cester; Madang Bombardment; Los Negros Landing; Seeadler Harbor Bombardment; Hollandia Landing; Sawar-Weakde Bombardment; Sarmetoem-Wakde Landing; Biak Island Landing; Aircraft Action off Biak; Noemfoor Island Landing; Cape Sansapor Landing; Moroteai Island Landing; Leyte Landing; Battle of Surigao Straits; Aircraft Action Leyte Gulf; Mindoro Operation; Lingayen San Antonio Nasugbu; Zamboanga Mindanao Landing; Cebu City, Cebu Landing; Corregidor-Mariveles; Tarakan, Dutch Borneo Landing; Brunei Bay, Borneo; Balikpapa, Borneo
This story was first printed in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2010 and is republished with permission.
Click here to view Carpenter’s Collection in the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.
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