Harold Tyson was a teenage quartermaster 2nd class at the helm of the USS Sheridan (APA-51), an attack transport, in seven major Pacific battles during World War II. He and his ship took part in the Invasion of Tarawa, Kwajalein, Saipan, Guam, Leyte, Philippines and Okinawa, the largest island engagement during the Second World War.
“We were coming into port during a shakedown cruise off the California coast and they had this deck guy at the helm. The captain said, ‘Steer 15 degrees right rudder and stop on that smokestack ashore.’ The ship’s bow was swinging around and he went way past the smokestack. The skipper told the seaman, ‘You’re not worth a damn!’
“I was quartermaster and the captain said to me, ‘Can you steer this ship?’ I said, ‘Yes Sir.’ The captain said, ‘You take the wheel.’ Then he said, ‘I want you to line up on that marker.’ I brought the ship around and lined up on it perfectly.
“When we reached port the captain told the navigator, who I reported to, ‘During general quarters this guy is gonna be on the wheel.’ Every invasion when they made the call to general quarters my battle station was at the ship’s helm.
“I joined the Navy when I was 17-years-old. I had to talk my dad into signing me into the service,” Tyson recalled 70 years later. “After boot camp at the Naval Training Center outside Chicago they sent us to Treasure Island, Calif. I was part of a special sea detail that went aboard the USS Sheridan. Eventually I became a quartermaster and part of the bridge detail that was considered the upper crust aboard ship.
“Our ship was equipped with 26 landing crafts for troops and four crafts that could be used to transport tanks. We went to San Diego, Calif. and picked up a Maine invasion force of 2,000 men and their equipment and headed for Tarawa, but were not told where we were going,” he said. “We formed a flotilla of 40 or 50 ships as we headed for sea. It took us about three weeks to get there.
“When we reached Tarawa we dropped anchor in the bay in the middle of the night. There were battleships behind us that started firing at the enemy held island at 3 a.m. They were firing their 16-inch main guns right over our convoy. Because I was on the bridge their barrage was impressive. The blast from their big guns was coming right toward us. We watched their shells fly over us in the dark.
“We sat there for a day while they bombarded Tarawa and then the next morning we sent our Marines ashore in the first wave in our landing craft. Tarawa was a terrible situation. They dropped some of the Marines off on reefs off shore. When they stepped into the water with their full field packs they sunk over their heads and drowned. We lost a lot of people that way.
“On all seven of the invasions the Sheridan participated in, we acted as a hospital evacuation ship. They brought all these injured young Marines back to our ship for treatment. They were lying out on our deck all shot up waiting their turn in the operating room. It was a traumatic experience for me,” Tyson recalled.
“On our first trip back to Pearl Harbor with a ship full of injured we buried six to 10 young Marines at sea. They sent our APA and another one accompanied by two destroyer escorts, to protect us, back to Pearl.
It was December 1943 and they left Pearl and headed for Kwajalein their next invasion beach. They arrived at the atoll on Jan. 31. Marines from the Sheridan took part in the landing at Roi on Feb. 1, 1944. The attack transport stayed off shore transporting goods and acting as a hospital ship. On Feb. 8 APA-51 sent more Marines ashore at Maui and then sailed back to Pearl Harbor to undergo repairs.
It’s been seven decades since Tyson served aboard the USS Sheridan and what happened during the other island attacks is a bit fuzzy. However, the old salt said although his ship was only at Okinawa for the first week or 10 days of the 82-day battle it was the worst of the seven invasions he participated in.
“Okinawa had the kamikazes, but they weren’t aiming for us. The suicide planes were after the carriers and the battleships,” he said. “They didn’t bother with troop transports, like us. We were lucky because our ship was never hit by enemy fire during the whole war.
“At Okinawa we sent Marines ashore in the first wave. Then we took a boat load of wounded Marines back to Pearl,” he said.
“On the return trip we picked up a boat load of Marines in the Philippines, but we sailed into a typhoon and were forced to drop off the “Leathernecks” on land and head out to sea with the Sheridan to ride out the storm. I’d never seen water that high in my life.
“Some of those swells were over the top of the bridge where I was. Our bow would drop and the sea would rush over the ship. The ship’s propellers came out of the water and screamed as they ran out of control. This went on for two days or more before we made it back to Okinawa in one piece,” Tyson said.
“After the Japs surrendered we took a boat load of Marines right past the Battleship Missouri during the surrender ceremonies in Tokyo Bay. The Marines were part of the occupation forces in Tokyo.”
Tyson and the Sheridan made a trip to China to pick up a Marine contingent stationed near Taku that they delivered to the Philippines. He didn’t make the second trip to China, but headed for the USA.
“After three years of service aboard the Sheridan I had more than enough points to get out of the Navy before Christmas 1945. Problem was, I couldn’t get out until they could find a quartermaster to replace me,” he explained. “A few days before Christmas the Navigator came to me and told me that my replacement had just arrived on board and I had two hours to prepare to leave the ship.”
Two hours later he was packed and ready to take the bus on the first leg of his journey home to Battle Creek, Mich. By the time he reached his parent’s house Christmas had come and gone.
After the war, Tyson went to work as an electrician for Post Cereal Co. in Battle Creek. By the time he retired 38 years later he was the plant’s maintenance superintendent.
Tyson and his wife, Pat, retied to Florida in 1984. The couple have three children: Christine, Debby and Jeff.
Name: Harold Ernest Tyson, Jr.
D.O.B: 8 Oct. 1925
Hometown: Battle Creek, Mich.
Currently: North Port, Fla.
Entered Service: 25 Feb. 1943
Discharged: 18 Jan. 1946
Rank: Quartermaster Second Class
Unit: USS Sheridan
Commendations: American-Asiatic-Pacific-Phillipines w/2 Battle Stars, Victory Medal, Honorable Service USNR discharge buttons and discharge emblems
Battles/Campaigns: Invasion of Tarawa, Kwajalein, Saipan, Guam, Leyte, Philippines and Okinawa
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, April 22, 2013 and is republished with permission.
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