Okinawa was the bad battle as far as John Wrublevski was concerned. He served as a 3rd Class fitter aboard a liberty ship converted to a mother ship for 150 mine cutters, not minesweepers, named the USS Mona Island (ARG-9).
“Our biggest problem at Okinawa was suicide planes. Every Japanese plane in the air was a kamikaze. We shot down 99 percent of ’em,” he said.
“I had just finished dinner, and I was topside in a gun turret when all of a sudden these tracers (bullets) came flying through the air by the thousands. Then a Japanese flying bomb came in low and hit one of our hospital ships and killed all the doctors aboard,” Wrublevski recalled.
It was his responsibility to keep the 600-foot-long liberty ship operational. It was a job he knew well. He did the same thing at a steel mill before he was drafted in 1943 at 22 despite being married with two young children.
Wrublevski said there were three rings of defense to protect the fleet against kamikazes at Okinawa. Most of the suicide planes would be shot down before they reached the Mona Island. Enemy pilots weren’t after a liberty ship anyway; it was the aircraft carriers they wanted to sink.
“This one night I was on a 50-foot launch with nine other guys going over to another ship to pick up the mail. All of a sudden this suicide plane came in on the water looking for something to hit,” he said. “We were cautioned never to shoot at kamikazes at night, and if we were lucky, they would fly over.”
To help disguise the fleet — which consisted of more than 1,200 ships at Okinawa — they made smoke, which made them harder for the enemy to find.
“I could hear these gunners on the ship we were headed for talking about shooting the low-flying suicide plane down with their guns. Some jerk opened fire on the kamikaze,” he said. “The suicide ship was carrying two 500-pound bombs. One of them hit the bridge dead center and exploded. The other bomb hit the galley where they were sorting the mail but failed to explode.”
Wrublevski and the crew of the launch went aboard the badly damaged ship and helped extinguish the fires and take care of the wounded. Then they returned to the Mona Island with the mail.
“One thing I remember about our ship was they told us we had a shipload of Navy rejects. I can tell you the men aboard the Mona Island were the best shots you ever saw. They always had their guns loaded, and they never missed nothing,” he said proudly.
The other thing Wrublevski vividly remembers about Okinawa after more than 60 years was the typhoon that hit the island shortly after the end of the war on Oct. 9, 1945.
“There were 1,200 ships in Okinawa Harbor just before the storm hit,” he said. “All the big stuff went to sea but most of the ships, like ours, remained in port.
“When the typhoon, with 220 mph winds, was over, it had put 453 ships on the beach, some a half-mile or better. We ended up on a reef.
“For six hours our lieutenant and several of us were on the bow trying to keep the ship’s bow anchor set. The lieutenant would tell us when to let out the anchor chain and when to bring it in,” Wrublevski said.
It made little difference because the Mona Island not only lost her bow anchor but her stern anchor and the anchor buoy she was moored to. They were so far up on a reef the crew of the ship had to wait for a moon tide and employed the services of a 120-foot-long seagoing tug to pull them off the shoal.
After the liberty ship was floated free of the reef, the tug towed her to Guam, a 10-day voyage, to receive temporary repairs. Then she sailed for San Diego with 600 Marines, sailors and Army personnel aboard.
“My mother was a very religious person. She had four sons in the war and she promised God if they came back from the war she would build a chapel,” he fondly remembered. “We all survived the war, and she built a completely furnished 20 by 20 Eastern Orthodox Chapel in Franklin, N.J.
“She told me that one day it would be a fully operational church. A short while later a pastor came to see us. He wanted to rent the chapel. We told him we’d give him the chapel for a buck,” Wrublevski said.
“He took it over and in 10 years spent $380,000 enlarging it by 70 feet. Currently they’re spending another $1 million and adding another 70 feet to the church.
“You want to talk about my mother and faith, she lived to be 95. She said it would be a fully operational church and you know it is.”
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, June 26, 2006 and is republished with permission.
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John P. Wrublevski, Jr.
Jan. 1, 1921 – Aug. 24, 2011
John P. Wrublevski Jr., 90, of North Port, Fla. formerly of South Plainfield, N.J. died Aug. 24, 2011.
Services and inurnment will be later. Farley Funeral Home, Venice Chapel is in charge of arrangements.
Survivors include his sons Philip of Pittstown, N.J. and John, III of Sun City, Ariz.; daughter Ann Marie Gaskins of Venice; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Preceded in death by his wife Ann and daughter Sally Ann Thrasher, Mr. Wrublevski is also survived by his brother and sister-in-law Frank and Mamie Wrublevski of South Plainfield, N.J. sister Anne Caputo of Pasadena, Calif., and many nieces and nephews.
Mr. Wrublevski was a member of Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Fort Myers, where he sang in the choir, and he was active with the FISH Program and Meals on Wheels.
In lieu of flowers, please make memorial contributions in John’s memory to any of these organizations. He will be greatly missed by all who knew and loved him.
To send condolences, please visit http://www.farleyfuneralhome.com.
Published in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Sarasota, Fla. on Sept. 4 and Sept. 5, 2011