By the time Master Chief Herb Schmaeling retired from the U.S. Coast Guard in 1971 he had served in the Navy aboard the aircraft carrier USS Wasp in World War II and during the Korean and Vietnam wars.
He joined the Navy in 1939 for cash. He ended up by seeing the world many times over from the deck of numerous ships.
“We had five children in my family. It was Depression time and my father was having a hard time making ends meet,” the 82-year-old retired Port Charlotte, Fla. sailor said. “I was the oldest kid and I decided after graduation from high school to go in the Navy to help my family with expenses. I got $21 a month as a seaman and most of it I sent home.”
Following graduation from boot camp in Newport, R.l. Schmaeling went to sea aboard the battleship USS New York. His first cruise was to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
When World War II erupted for the U.S. on Dec. 7, 1941, Schmaeling was aboard an old World War I four-stacker destroyer based in Puerto Rico. He was transferred to the USS Intrepid (CV-18) and became part of the ship’s shakedown crew for six months.
When the USS Wasp sailed for the Pacific in 1944 Schmaeling was aboard the “Mighty Stinger,” as she was known in the fleet. The Wasp was part of Task Force 58, Vice Adm. Mark Mitscher’s operation.
Her first fleet action was a raid on Wake Island on May 19th and 20th, 1944 along with the carrier Essex. Planes from the two American carriers stopped Japanese forces from supporting Japanese forces on Saipan.
On June 11 planes from the Wasp attacked Japanese air bases on Saipan and Tinian. They shot down 30 land-based enemy fighters. Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa and his powerful 1st Fleet were determined to defend Saipan.
The Wasp’s planes struck Iwo Jima on June 30, 1944, almost eight months before U.S. Marines made their historic landing on Iwo on Feb. 19, 1945. Before the shootout was over carrier Task Force 58.2 and 68.1 destroyed 75 enemy planes mostly in the air. Then the carriers returned to the Mariana Islands and began their attack on Guam.
By Sept. 15, 1944 the Wasp was part of Adm. John S. McCain’s Task Force 38 during the American attack on the Southern Philippines. By Nov. 16, 1944 Allied forces, which included the Wasp, moved into Layte in their recapture of the Philippines. The Wasp and her sister carriers provided air support for Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Philippines.
The Wasp participated in air raids against Japanese air bases on Luzon in the Philippines on Nov. 5 and 6. Carrier pilots destroyed some 400 enemy aircraft mostly on the ground.
After Luzon, Adm. William “Bull” Halsey took the fleet on a rampage in the South China Sea in early January 1945. After bombing Sakishimas and Ryukyus the Wasp and the admiral’s carrier task force took a short rest in the lagoon at Ulithi.
Within a month the Wasp and other members of the carrier group were off Iwo Jima in mid February to support the Marine’s historic assault on the eight-square mile island in which more than 6,800 U.S. Marines would die during the 36 day battle and 22,000 Japanese would be annihilated.
From March 17 to March 23, 1945 the Wasp and its crew had what has been called the busiest week in history of an American carrier. The Wasp shot down 14 enemy aircraft, destroyed six more planes on the ground, scored two, 500-pound hits on two Japanese carriers, knocked off a big cargo ship with a 1,000-pound bomb, and strafed and probably sank an enemy submarine.
However, the “Mighty Stinger” didn’t escape damage herself. A Japanese plane scored a hit with an armor-piercing 500-pound bomb off the coast of Japan that killed and wounded scores of the Wasp’s sailors.
“It went through the flight deck and exploded in the galley and killed a lot of the cooks and bakers,” Schmaeling said. “It knocked out the Number-4 power generator which I was in charge of.
“It put a 30 to 40 -foot hole in the deck and exploded down below deck causing fire, smoke and death to sailors,” he said. “They had steel plates already on deck. As soon as the bomb hit they covered up the hole with the plates. It didn’t stop our pilots. They were taking off and landing almost right away.
“I found my division chief on the deck. He was dying from the concussion of the Jap bomb,” the old sailor explained.
It was up to Schmaeling, who by this time was a chief electrician’s mate in charge of maintaining part of the ship’s electrical facilities. He took a repair crew of 30 or 40 seamen and got the Number-4 power generator operating.
“My job as the man in charge of the repair party was to rig jumper cables to the generator. We had to go through the bulkheads on the ship like putting in an extension cord with our new power cables,” Schmaeling explained. “We were working in the midst of the confusion down below to get the cables hooked up so they could have power for lights to see and operate equipment.”
The commendation he received a week later aboard the Wasp says it all: “United States Pacific Fleet, 1st Carrier Task Force presents Navy and Marine Corps medals to: Herbert Joseph Schmaeling, chief electrician’s mate U.S. Navy for service as set forth in the following Citation:
“‘For distinguishing himself by heroism while serving in an electrical repair party on board a large aircraft carrier engaged in operations against the enemy on 19 March 1945 in the vicinity of Shikoku Island. Ignoring the dangers to himself he aided in the rescue of several wounded men from the damaged area following an enemy bomb that hit his ship and caused extensive fire and glass damage. Under adverse conditions and intense heat, live steam from ruptured lines and thick black smoke a repair crew under his leadership rigged repair cables which were a vital assistance to rescue repair and hospital crews. His tenacity of purpose, incitive and utter disregard for his own safety were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Navy.
‘Vice Admiral U.S. Navy'”
“I’ve had an interesting and wonderful life,” the old salt said.
This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, May 23, 2004 and is republished with permission.
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