The USS Hocking, an attack transport, was a marked ship while still in port at Hilo, Hawaii, even before it sailed for the war zone in 1944. Stanley Fiorini of Port Charlotte, Fla. was a deckhand on one of its landing craft.
“Tokyo Rose came on the radio we were all listening to one day while our ship was still in port and said, ‘The Hocking will never leave Hilo!’
“Moments later the general quarter’s alarm went off. We had a fire in the number five hole. I was 17 years old and part of the fire crew, so I went down in the hole with five or six other young guys,” Fiorini said.
“We all passed out below in the fire and smoke. I was rescued by a boatswain’s mate,” he said. “I was the only one who survived the fire in the hole.” The Navy said the fire was started by a welder who was working in the hole.
Fiorini doesn’t believe that account of what happened aboard the Hocking that day in Hilo.
“There was no welder down in the hole. We were headed for sea,” the 89-year-old veteran said. Before leaving Hilo, the Hocking took aboard 2,000 Marines from the 5th Marine Division’s 26th and 28th Battalions. These were the Marines who raised the flag atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima a few weeks later. The Hocking and the 5th Marine Division leathernecks took a circuitous route to Iwo picking up scores of ships along the way.
“When we finally got to Iwo Jima, they had been bombarding it for days. We were told there was probably nobody alive on the island,” he said. “On D-Day we got up at 4 a.m. They fed us bacon and eggs cooked to order. It was called ‘The Last Supper’ and for many of the Marines that went ashore that day it was.
“Our landing craft went into Green Beach the first wave at the base of Mount Suribachi with 39 Marines from the 5th Marine Division. We landed at the base of the hill and deposited them on the hottest beach there was,” Fiorini said more than six decades later.
“The beach looked so nice I wanted to go sunbathing until the Japanese opened up on us with everything they had. I jumped off our landing craft and ran down the beach gathering up wounded Marines. I got as many back aboard as I could, including one without an arm. We headed for a hospital ship waiting just off shore.” The traffic jam was so critical at the barges tied up to the hospital ship used as loading docks to off-load the wounded, Fiorini and the crew of his landing craft continued on to the Hocking where five surgeons were waiting for the wounded.
All day long, their craft made trips from the transport to the beach and back again. On one of these voyages they picked up two half-gallon containers of liquid sent down to them from the mothership rather gingerly in a knapsack on a line.
“They told us to be extremely careful with the contents of the two half-gallon jugs because they were filled with nitroglycerin. At 17, I had no idea what nitroglycerin was,” he said.
“They put one of the bottles of nitro on our landing craft and the other jug on a second landing craft. On the way onto shore the other boat was hit by an enemy artillery shell and disintegrated when the nitro exploded.
“When we reached shore I gave the jug of nitroglycerin to a Marine who was waiting for it. I don’t know for sure, but I think the Marine might have been Pvt. Douglas T. Jacobson who received the Medal of Honor for knocking out a pill box with that bottle of nitro.” Jacobson, who lived in this area until he died a few years ago, is the person they named the local state veterans nursing home in honor of. Four days after the Marines first landed on Iwo Jima, members of the 5th Marine Division placed a small American flag on top of Suribachi.
“It was something else when that flag went up. There was all this hooting and hollering from the Marines on the beach and the sailors just off shore,” Fiorini said.
“We thought the war was over.”
It was a long way from being over. The fighting on Iwo went on for another 32 days before almost all 21,000 Japanese soldiers defending the island were killed. An estimated 6,800 American Marines and sailors were also killed taking that 8-square-mile island. It has been estimated that because the allies controlled the island during the pending invasion of Japan, the lives of some 25,000 airmen, flying bombing runs over Tokyo and other Japanese cities, survived because they had an emergency airfield on Iwo to land on some 700 miles off the coast of Japan.
Before the battle was over, Fiorini and the Hocking were on their way to Okinawa, the biggest island battle in the Pacific during World War II. They arrived late because their ship’s engine broke down. However, they made it there before the sun went down on the first day of the battle, Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945.
“Our sister ship, APA-120 got our assignment. We were supposed to take troops into Ie Shima Island where war correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed. By the time we arrived, our sister ship had taken a hit from a kamikaze and several rounds from a cannon on shore and was about ready to sink,” he said. After the initial fighting the first couple of days, things quieted down off Ie Shima and aboard the Hocking for the duration of the 82-day epic battle.
After Okinawa, Adm. “Bull” Halsey, commander of the American fleet, sailed his armada toward the Japanese main island. Halfway there, the huge American fleet ran into what was left of the once mighty Japanese fleet and sent it to the bottom with little trouble one night. Before they reached their preassigned target, a small island off the southernmost Japanese main island, it was announced that the United States had dropped an “A-Bomb” on Hiroshima.
“We had no idea what an ‘A-Bomb’ was, but a few days later when we were told the Japanese had surrendered we started partying aboard ship. We drank torpedo juice and orange juice cocktails,” Fiorini recalled with a smile decades later.
They thought they would immediately head home, but the Hocking was diverted to Korea with a ship full of American soldiers.
After dropping them off, the transport ship headed for China to pick up what was left of Claire Chenault’s “Flying Tiger” pilots and ground crew and a bunch of American POWs who had been held by the Japanese during the war. “The arms of some of the war prisoners were only as big around as a broom stick,” he said. “They wore rotting uniforms and rags wrapped around their feet.”
After pulling into San Francisco Harbor, sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge and heading for a nearby pier, they realized a huge crowd had assembled at dockside waiting for their precious cargo.
“As we were docking, this young lady spotted her husband aboard ship and started screaming. A couple of guys aboard ship grabbed him by the legs and lowered him over the side. At the same time two sailors on the dock had his wife stand on their shoulders and the couple was able to hug each other for the first time in months.
The local paper must have taken a picture of the two of them hugging because a day or so later their picture appeared in newspapers across the country,” Fiorini said. World War II was over. Most of the 16 million men and women who served in the U.S armed forces came marching home to build a bigger and better America.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, November 13, 2006 and is republished with permission.
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Stanley Paul Fiorini Born 17 Apr 1927 – Campbell, Mahoning County, Ohio, USA; died 3 May 2013. No further information available at this time.