Right out of high school Clyde Leininger, who lives in Alligator Mobile Home Park south of Punta Gorda, Fla. joined the Naval Aviation Cadet Program to become a pilot. Before he got his wings the program was canceled in October 1944 because the Navy had too many pilots.
Leininger was given a quick fire control training course and sent to sea aboard APA-144, USS Clinton, as a petty officer in charge of the ship’s five-inch stern gun and its two 40 millimeter anti-aircraft guns that were also automatically controlled.
“It was a big let down going from flying torpedo bombers to standing in a circular steel box as a gun control officer on the back end of an APA ,” the 85-year-old former sailor recalled. “In February 1945 I boarded the ship in Astoria, Wash. and sailed it to Long Beach, Calif with a skeleton crew.
“My girlfriend Marjorie came out there and we got married in the courthouse at Long Beach on April 4, 1945. I was 19 and had to have my father’s permission to get married. She was 21 and was of age,” he said. “We sailed to war aboard the Clinton on April 8. Two weeks later we reached Hawaii and a few days after that we were in the war zone.
“On May 27 we landed our first troops on Okinawa, 795 Marines from the 22nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division,” Leininger said proudly as he sat on the front porch of his mobile home telling his story 65 years later. “We returned from Okinawa with wounded servicemen and took them to a hospital at Saipan.
“We returned with a boat full of ground forces from the 7th Bomber Command on July 2, 1945. On the trip back we transported 1,037 Okinawan and Korean prisoners of war to Pearl Harbor. The injured enemy combatants were dropped off at Saipan,” Leininger said.
“Our big ships were firing at the Japanese on Okinawa with their 16-inch guns. They were firing right over us. We could see their shells heading for shore.
“We were about a mile or two off shore. We used our landing craft to bring troops ashore.”
“What about the kamikazes at Okinawa?’ he was asked.
“The kamikazes would come at us from out of the sun. There were there all the time, but their favorite time to attack us was sunrise and sunset. Six or eight kamikazes would fly over at a time. “We did a lot of shooting at them, but I don’t think we did a lot of hitting.
“One just missed us and hit the destroyer, USS Dexter, right beside us. It sank and a number of their sailors were killed. We picked up many of their survivors,” he said.
“The first Atomic Bomb was dropped on Japan on my birthday, Aug. 6, 1945. I was 20,” Leininger recalled. “We were still at Okinawa and we got the word the next day. We were told they dropped an experimental bomb on the Japanese that did a lot of damage. A few days later, after we dropped a second bomb they surrendered.
“After the war was over we took a battalion of the 43rd Infantry division to Yokohama, Japan. Each of our boat divisions got to go ashore at Yokohama for two hours,” he said. “Yokohama was clean as a pin. As we walked down the street in Yokohama the Japanese tried to avoid us, but they were pleasant.”
They were the first Americans they had seen since the war began. The sailors aboard the USS Clinton spent the next six months moving Chinese troops and civilians up and down the coast of China as the battered country slipped further and further into Communism with the advent of Chairman Mao.
“After taking a load of Americans back to San Francisco, we sailed our ship through the Panama Canal, up the East Coast to Norfolk, Va. where she was decommissioned and put in mothballs. In 2000 the USS Clinton was towed to Puerto Rico and turned into an artificial fishing reef,” the old salt said in disgust.
“Being a farm kid, World War II was the biggest thing that ever happened to me. I was a green farm kid who got to see the world in the Navy,” he said with pride. “When I got out of the service I took the G.I. Bill and attended the University of Louisville.”
He went into the livestock business in Chicago.
“At one time I was the youngest licensed livestock buyer in the Chicago Stock Yards. That was quite an honor,” Leininger said. “From 1958 until 1982 I operated my own meat packing plant. We had 130 employees and 42 meat delivery trucks on the road.”
He also put his Naval aviation experience to good use after the war. Leininger flew around the country in his corporate Cessna 310, twin-engine plane buying cattle and selling beef.
Leininger and Marjorie, the girl he married 66 years ago, have four children, two girls and two boys: Janet Kay, Bobbie-Jo, Greg Allen, and Gary Lynn; 13 grand children and 20 great-grandchildren.
The couple began wintering in Florida a dozen years ago. This year they moved to Punta Gorda for good.
Name: Clyde Roderick Leininger
D.O.B: 6 August 1925
Hometown: Columbia City, Ind.
Current: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 12 May 1944
Discharged: May 1946
Rank: Petty Officer 2nd Class
Unit: APA-144 USS Clinton
Commendations: World War II Victory Medal, American Theater Ribbon, Asiatic-Pacific Ribbon with one Battle star
This story was first printed in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Friday, April 8, 2011. It is republished with permission.