By the time Radioman 3rd Class Chris Genovese and his destroyer, the USS Rodman, reached Okinawa during the closing months of World War II, the ship had taken part in the D-Day invasion, shot down a German JU-88 bomber, 15 Japanese kamikazes, sunk a German submarine during the invasion of Southern France, and escorted President Franklin Roosevelt to the Yalta Conference.
When the Rodman arrived at Okinawa, she had been converted into a minesweeper. Genovese was a radioman aboard the converted destroyer. His battle station was loader on number-four on the five-inch main gun in the stern of the destroyer.
“It was April 6, 1945, and I was on the radar when I spotted 35 Kamikaze planes headed our way,” the 90-year-old Port Charlotte, Fla. resident recalled more than six decades later. “Our destroyer took three hits from the suicide planes that day.
“On the first hit, 17 sailors were killed. The second enemy plane hit the bridge and wiped out the radar and everything up there was gone. The pilot of the third plane was aiming right for where I was standing on deck,” Genovese said.
“I was looking right at him just before I went over the side with my Mae West (inflatable life preserver) on. I was in the water four hours before they picked me up,” he said. “When they rescued me I was shivering like hell and my teeth were chattering. I got a blanket and a bowl of soup, which I put right down.”
The Rodman lost 25 sailors in the three-plane suicide attack. Some of the dead were buried at sea and the rest were laid to rest on Okinawa while the battle was still raging.
The Rodman was put in dry dock and received minor repairs on one of the Pacific islands the Allies captured. Then she sailed for Honolulu on her way home to the United States.
“It took us 26 days to make the trip from Okinawa to Honolulu. We steamed for Hawaii at eight knots. We had no galley and ate sandwiches and C-rations on the return trip,” he said. “We had no radar and the steering was done from the aft part of the destroyer, which was tough.
More repairs were accomplished in Honolulu and the Rodman sailed on to the States. She went through the Panama Canal and on up the East Coast of the United States to Maine.
Genovese and the sailors aboard the USS Rodman had sailed to war in 1943 and made it to Europe just in time for the D-Day Invasion.
“When we sailed across the English Channel on D-Day we were accompanied by 5,000 seagoing ships and 1,300 Allied airplanes flew over that first day,” he explained. “It was unbelievable.
“Our destroyer was firing its five-inch guns at German shore emplacements on Omaha and Utah Beaches. We’d race to shore and shoot our five-inch guns and then race back to sea to get out of range of enemy guns,” Genovese said.
“We shot down a German JU-88 twin-engine bomber off the coast. After it crashed into the water we picked up one of the plane’s tires. It said ‘B.F. Goodrich,’” he said with a smile.
After the Normandy invasion, Genovese and the Rodman sailed south and took part in the Invasion of Southern France.
“Most of the Germans had left southern France, but we did make contact with a German submarine off the coast. We followed the enemy sub for five days and forced it to the surface when it ran out of air,” he said. “When the sub came up they began firing their deck gun at us.
“The Rodman and another destroyer sent the German sub to the bottom with a couple of five-inch rounds. Then we rescued most of the U-boat’s crew. We had them strip and gave them jeans and a T-shirt and fed them. Eventually they ended up in a POW camp in North Africa,” he said.
After the war the captain and several of the crew members attended annual reunions held by the crew of the USS Rodman throughout the country.
“The German skipper was very grateful that we rescued him and his crew. He told us if the situation had been reversed they wouldn’t have rescued us. The German navy took no prisoners,” Genovese said.
Before he and his destroyer went to the Pacific, they returned to the States just in time to help escort President Roosevelt to the Yalta Conference that opened Feb. 4, 1945 in the Crimea. The primary reason for holding the get-together was to have the Allied powers decide how they were going to divide Europe after World War II was concluded.
“Our destroyer was one of seven that accompanied the cruiser USS Quincy which FDR sailed to Yalta on. We left Norfolk and took the president over there where he met with Churchill and Stalin.”
After the war, Genovese returned to his job at E. L. Weigand Co. in Pittsburgh, Pa. The firm manufactured electric heaters and heating elements. For 38 years, Genovese worked for the company as a tool and die maker until he retired in 1979.
He and his wife, Albina, moved to Port Charlotte 30 years ago. They have two daughters, Lorraine and Janet, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Friday, April 15, 2011 and is republished with permission.
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