Don Platt remembers May 15, 1941, like it was yesterday. That’s the day he signed up to join the U.S. Navy, shortly after receiving his charter boat captain’s license at 21.
The Englewood, Fla. native, whose grandparents homesteaded in the area in 1894 before Englewood was Englewood, was offered a special deal by the Navy when they found out he was a licensed charter boat captain. Platt never took basic training and was immediately made a mechanic and placed aboard a 65-foot tug boat stationed at the Key West Naval Base.
“During that time (before American got in the war), German submarines were like fleas on a dog’s back all around the coast of Florida,” the 87-year-old local man explained. “Before Pearl Harbor, the German subs would come into Key West harbor with their running lights on.
“They didn’t mess with American ships, but the subs would sink ships of other countries in coastal waters any time they could. They’d sink ships in daylight off Miami Beach,” Platt said.
“After Pearl Harbor, we put a mine field at the entrance to Key West’s harbor. Shortly after the mine field was put in our only destroyer, stationed at Key West, took off after a German submarine and dashed through the mine field. It was blown into three pieces and it immediately sank to the bottom,” he said.
“After the destroyer went down, we stood harbor guard on a 65-foot tug boat with a .50-caliber machine-gun mounted on top of its cabin,” Platt said. “A short time later, a blimp base was established just north of Key West.
“They started patrolling for enemy subs with blimps. When they first sent the blimps out looking for submarines, they had no armament and the German subs would surface and shoot the blimps down. Then they started carrying depth charges and whenever the subs would surface, they would drop their depth charge on them. It was these blimps that broke the back of the German submarines around Key West.”
In 1943, Platt was transferred to the Pacific Fleet and assigned to the light cruiser Astoria as chief mechanic in the number one engine room of the 625-foot ship of war. He was part of Adm. William “Bull” Halsey’s task force. His ship provided protection for CV-3 (USS Saratoga) and CV-5 (USS Yorktown).
In a letter Platt wrote home to his mother, Grace, in July 1945, a month before the Japanese unconditionally surrendered to Allied forces, he was able to tell the folks back home what he had been doing all these months at sea. By then, censorship regulations had been lifted for the fleet.
The Astoria was at Ulithi Atoll in the Western Carolinas chain, preparing for the invasion of the Philippines, he wrote.
“This island lacks hula girls and it’s just not like it’s portrayed in the movies. They did fence off part of the beach for us with chicken wire. They gave us three bottles of warm beer and allowed us to go sit on the beach or swim inside the chicken wire,” Platt wrote.
“The natives outside the chicken wire were selling sake for 50-cents a Coke-bottle-full. They’d stick a Coke-bottle-full of Japanese wine through the fence and we’d stick the money through the chicken wire going the other way.
“One ol’ boy who was a heavy drinker sat down on the beach and consumed a whole bottle of sake in a hurry. After he drank it down he said, ‘There ain’t no kick to this stuff.’ He sat there for about 20 minutes and then got up and wandered into the water. When he got up to his nose, someone grabbed him and brought him back to keep him from drowning.”
Sailing out of Ulithi, Platt and the Astoria headed for the Philippine invasion.
“Our job was to provide protection for the carriers while they provided air cover for the invasion of Luzon and Mindanao. We went through a typhoon off Luzon. We were right in the middle of it for two days and spent most of our time trying to hang on to anything we could find in order to stay on our feet,” he wrote.
“Waves 50 to 60 feet high rolled us around quite a bit. The wind whipped the spray up so bad that you couldn’t see 100 yards in front of the ship. After surviving the typhoon, we got word that a Japanese task force was sailing around in the South China Sea. It was considered a Japanese lake and no American ship had sailed into the China Sea since 1940.
“Our task force sailed into the sea but initially failed to locate the Japs because one of our spotter planes divulged that we were looking for them and the Japanese scattered all over the sea,” he wrote. “Eventually, we sent a record tonnage of enemy ships to the bottom in the South China Sea.
“We also got in on the Iwo Jima invasion. The Astoria shelled the island for two days before the invasion. You would have sworn there wouldn’t have been one ant alive on that island,” Platt wrote.
“The Marines came ashore on Iwo Jima in heavy fog. When they hit the beach, the Japs came out of their holes and began firing at them. Our gunnery (aboard the Astoria) was rated the best in the fleet. So we shelled 50 yards ahead of our own men as they advance on Iwo.
“They opened up radio communication between the artillery spotter on shore and the ship so everyone on board could hear what was going on. We listened to the battle on the radio,” he wrote.
“We stayed at Iwo Jima until they raised the flag atop Suribachi on the fourth day. Then we sailed for the Japanese main islands with the carrier USS Franklin.
“We were right beside the Franklin off Japan when she got hit by two kamikazes. These two Japanese planes were never picked up by our radar and they dove straight down on her. They blew the carrier all to hell.
“We were close enough to see both the Franklin and the carrier USS Bunker Hill get hit and the terrific explosions that followed as black smoke billowed up from these ships. It wasn’t a very pleasant experience,” he wrote.
“We lived at our battle stations for three days. We were very proud of the Astoria’s record. We shot down several kamikazes as they dove on our task force.
“We were the first ship to leave Tokyo Bay for home after the surrender document was signed aboard the USS Missouri. We were also the first American war ship to arrive back in Los Angeles. The city had a big reception planned for us.
“We showed up two days ahead of schedule and had to sail around off the California coast for two days to give Los Angeles officials time to set up the stage for us and get everything ready for the celebration. We steamed into Los Angeles harbor and came running down the gangplank with our sea bags on our shoulders as film crews shot our picture,” Platt wrote.
He took a train back to Florida and reached Jacksonville a week later. Platt was discharged from the Navy on Oct. 2, 1945.
After the war, he went into the surplus equipment business. For the next 53 years, Platt sold military equipment and metal boat parts to businesses located along the coast from New Jersey to Texas.
He has been a resident of Englewood for more than eight decades.
D.O.B: 15 May 1920
D.O.D.: 9 Jan. 2012
Hometown: Sarasota, Fla.
Entered Service: 15 May 1941
Discharged: 2 Oct. 1945
Rank: Mechanic aboard ship
Unit: USS Astoria, light cruiser
Commendations: American Theater Ribbon, Asiatic-Pacific Theater Ribbon with four bronze battle stars, Philippine Liberation Ribbon with one bronze battle star, American Defense Ribbon and Good Conduct Ribbon.
Battles/Campaigns: Phillippies, Iwo Jima, Japan
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2008 and is republished with permission.
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Son of Joshua and Grace (Biorseth) Platt, born May 15, 1920, in Sarasota, Fla. His family moved to Englewood when he was 6. He graduated from Venice/Nokomis High School.
Stationed out of Key West, Fla. he served our country with pride in the United States Navy aboard the U.S.S. Astoria. Honorably Discharged October 2, 1945.
Owner of Platt’s Gov’t Surplus, builder, owner operator of Lemon Bay Marina, now known as Royal Palm. So proud to see his dream and plans for the marina as it is now. He believed in our community and the importance of preservation of its history. The Pioneer Picnic was a favorite event he started to get all the generations together to enjoy fellowship, good food and lasting memories. As a pioneer of Englewood his care and concern was evident as a founding father of Lemon Bay Historical Society and his involvement in many Englewood causes.
Honored as a member of the Secret Society of the Smoked Mullets and his portrait on Dearborn Street were two things that made him most humble and appreciative.
Survived by daughters Tammy (Ken) Birdsong and Midge (Bill) Orren of Englewood; Sister Dorothy Tuynman of Sarasota. Grandchildren Joshua (Gina) Newell, Melissa Meharchand, Rhiannon Meharchand, Ryan Meharchand, Tiffany Platt, Chris Platt and Savannah Platt. Eleven great- grandchildren, several nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.
Preceded in death by his mother and father, brothers, Everett, Robert and Buddy, son Dee Platt, grandson, Bradley J. Platt.
A memorial service in Don’s honor will be held at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012 at Royal Palm Marina. Memorial donations may be made to: Philanthropy Department, Tidewell Hospice, 5955 Rand Blvd., Sarasota, Fla. 34238.
Lemon Bay Funeral Home and Cremation Services is in charge of arrangements. You may express your condolences to the family at lemonbayfh.com
A memorial service in Don’s honor will be held at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012 at Royal Palm Marina.
Memorial donations may be made to: Philanthropy Department, Tidewell Hospice, 5955 Rand Blvd., Sarasota, Fla. 34238.
Lemon Bay Funeral Home and Cremation Services is in charge of arrangements.