John Schiro sailed into battle aboard the aircraft carrier USS Independence (CVL-22) shortly after she was commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in August 1943 as a member of the engine room’s “Black Gang.” When he left the carrier at war’s end he was the chief machinist-mate in the forward engine-room.
During his nearly two years of service aboard the carrier, he and many of his fellow shipmates on the Independence, took part in some of the major confrontations in the Pacific. From the Battle of Wake Island and Tarawa in October and November ’43, to the Philippines–Manila and Luzon–Formosa, Okinawa, Ryukyus, Kyushu and Tokyo in 1945 they were in the fight.
Before the Second World War was over, Schiro had fought in 37 engagements and wore 11 battle stars on his campaign ribbons. He was a sailor who had seen it all.
In 1939, when he was 20, he signed up for a six-year hitch in the Navy. Initially he went aboard the USS Arkansas, a World War I battleship, that spent the years prior to the Second World War convoying Canadian troops to Iceland and Scotland until the Japanese bombed America’s Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
“I signed up for submarine duty so I could go to the Pacific where the fighting was,” the 93-year-old former Port Charlotte sailor said. “I flunked the physical to get in the submarine service.”
A short while later the Navy thought Schiro was good enough to serve aboard the Independence still under construction in Trenton, N.J. Originally designed as a cruiser, the Navy decided aircraft carriers were needed more in the Pacific and turned her into a light flattop.
He transferred from the Arkansas to the Independence in time for her commissioning. He sailed into war for the first time at the Battle of Wake Island on Oct. 5, 1943.
“At Tarawa, a little more than a month later, we lost 3,000 Marines in a couple of days on this little atoll before we took it away from the Japanese. It was 1 1/2 miles long an a 1/2 mile wide. This was an eyeopener for us,” Schiro said.
The Independence’s aircraft took part in air raids on the Japanese airbases at Marcus, Wake and Rabaul during the campaign to capture the Gilbert Islands.
“On Nov. 20, 1943 a Japanese Betty bomber struck the light carrier with an aerial torpedo that punched a gaping hole 40-feet wide and 20-feet high in her starboard side,” Schiro recalled. “Both the aft engine-room and the boiler-room were flooded.
“Three of the Independence’s four engines were knocked out. The only thing that saved our ship was that our hatches were closed and that kept her seaworthy,” he said. “After getting the carrier on an even keel we headed for Pearl Harbor hundreds of miles away at eight knots.
“When we reached Pearl they didn’t have a dry dock for us. We had to continue on sailing her through the Pacific in waters infested by Japanese submarines. We would have been an easy target for Jap subs, but they didn’t see us,” Schiro said. “An American destroyer accompanied us on our way back to San Francisco. We spent eight months in ‘Frisco while our ship was being repaired.”
It was Sept. 6, 1944 when the Independence sailed back to the war zone in the Pacific. Marines from the 1st Division and the Army’s 81st Division were battling the Japanese at Palau. It was supposed to be a four-day battle, but the Japanese were so well entrenched they dragged it out for more than two months.
The Marines sustained 6,500 casualties and the 81st Division suffered 3,300 killed and wounded at the close of the 73-day battle on the island that was of questionable value to U.S. forces.
Most of the 11,000 Japanese forces who occupied the six square mile island were killed by the time the fighting ended on Nov. 27, 1944.
By then Schiro and the Independence had moved on to the Philippines, Luzon and the Leyte Invasion.
“The Japanese sent two enemy fleets toward the Philippines. One of their fleets was to take the north side of the Philippines and the other the south side,” Schiro said. “Some of our planes attacked the northern fleet. We hit them hard and they turned around and headed back north.”
On Oct. 26, 1944 the Independence took part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in World War II. The 3rd Fleet was under the command of Adm. William “Bull” Halsey. It was a disaster for the Japanese navy that lost some 600 planes and a number of their major ships of the line before disengaging the U.S. Navy.
“It was during this battle Halsey was trying to land planes in the dark on aircraft carriers,” Schiro recalled. “When our planes returned from bombing the Japanese fleet it was dark. We would have lost most of these planes if Halsey hadn’t decided to turn the lights on all four of our carriers so the pilots could see to land. They were told to land on the closest carrier. Because of this action he saved a lot of planes.”
On to the Battle of Okinawa the Independence sailed. She arrived in the area on March 18, 1945, a couple of weeks before the start of the largest amphibious engagement in the Pacific the U.S. was involved in during World War II.
The 82-day battle began on Easter Sunday morning, April 1, 1945. Schiro’s ship was one of the hundreds of major fighting vessels in the fleet that surrounded the 65 mile long island during the battle.
It was the high water mark for attacks by kamikazes at Okinawa. Some 1,400 of these deadly suicide planes attacked the U.S. fleet during the fight. They were so successful the Navy would not disclose how many U.S. ships were sunk or damaged at Okinawa by kamikazes.
At the conclusion of the battle U.S. casualties totaled 62,000 of which 12,500 were killed. Japanese losses were more than 130,000 killed. There were also 10,755 Japanese captured or surrendered during the fighting.
Oddly enough, Schiro recalls the sailors aboard the Independence sustained few if any casualties at Okinawa. In fact, the carrier was a lucky ship after it was hit by the single torpedo earlier in the war. Casualties aboard ship were rare.
Of all the encounters Schiro experienced during the war, “Halsey’s Typhoon,” made the biggest impression on him. Task Force 38, six light aircraft carrier, eight battleships, 15 cruisers and 50 destroyers were 300 miles off Luzon in the Philippine Sea on Dec. 18, 1944 when they were struck by the storm. Three destroyers were lost in the typhoon.
“During the worst of the storm the Independence was listing 39 degrees. You had to hold onto something and at times you were walking on the bulkhead (walls of the ship),” Shiro said.
“Every plane in our hangar deck was destroyed, everyone of them. One of the planes broke loose and started sliding back and forth on the deck crashing into the others that were lashed to the deck. ”
The Independence arrived off the coast of the Japanese main islands on June 2, 1945. This was more than two months before the end of the war. Her Corsair and Wildcat fighter planes spent their time attacking targets of opportunity on the home islands.
“When the Japanese finally surrendered after we dropped the atomic bomb we didn’t trust them. Because we didn’t know what was going to happen when we sailed the fleet into Tokyo Bay for the surrender ceremony, the Independence was stationed 100 miles off Tokyo just in case while the surrender was being signed,” he said.
Schiro’s long list of battles he and his crew-mates aboard the Independence participated in ends with his comments: “War over Wednesday, 15 Aug. 1945. Our position at the time: 156 miles from Tokyo at 0800 (8 a.m.).
“The USS Independence entered the Pacific War and after many long, bloody months of battle with the enemy … the show is over. She, like many other carriers, helped pave the way to a GLORIOUS VICTORY AND WITH THE HELP OF GOD EVERLASTING PEACE. AMEN.”
After the war, Schiro went to work for Proctor & Gamble Manufacturing Co. at a processing plant were he grew up on Staten Island, N.Y. He worked for the company for 39 1/2 years. When he retired in 1983 he was in charge of plant operations.
By the time he moved to Punta Gorda, Fla. in 1993 his wife, Olga, had passed away. He lives down here across the street from Delores, one of his daughters. Deborah, the other daughter still lives on Staten Island, NY.
Name: John Thomas Schiro
D.O.B: 17 Dec. 1919
Hometown: Staten Island, NY
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 9 Oct. 1939
Discharged: 4 Dec 1945
Rank: Chief Machinist Mate
Unit: USS Independence CVL-22
Commendations: American Defense Medal, Philippine Liberation Medal w/2 Bronze stars, American Theater Asiatic-Pacific-African-European Theatre medal w/9 Bronze stars
Battles/Campaigns: Marcus Island, Wake, Rabaul, Tarawa, Palau, Philippines – Leyte, Luzon, Okinawa, Ryukyus, Japan
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, July 22, 2013 and is republished with permission.
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