Bob Adams, like Henry Fonda in the hit 1955 Hollywood movie “Mr. Roberts,” was stuck in the backwater of the Korean War aboard an attack transport, the USS Libra, AKA-12. In the movie Fonda served aboard the USS Reluctant,’ a similar ship, going no where during World War II in the Pacific.
Unlike Fonda, Adams doesn’t get transferred to a destroyer. Fonda is killed in the movie during a kamikaze attack on his destroyer off Okinawa. Most of Adams three years, 11 months and 20 days in the Navy he served uneventfully aboard the Libra and then was discharged. It wasn’t until decades afterwards Adam’s connection with the Libra and its crew and his war story blossomed.
“Fifty years after I was discharged I got a letter out of the blue from Bob O’Brian, my best buddy in the Navy,” the 83-year-old local resident explained. “He had been trying to find me for years.”
The two old salts got together about a decade ago at O’Brian’s home near Erie, Pa.
“It wasn’t long after that we organized a reunion for sailors who served on the Libra,” Adams said. “We held our first reunion in 2004 in Branson, Mo. About a dozen of us came to that first gathering. When I last saw my shipmates they were all in their 20s but when I saw them at the reunion they were in their 70s.
“When we got to the reunion in Branson some guys who served on the Libra during World War II also showed up. They found out abut our get-together, I believe, through the VFW Magazine,” he said.
John Gormly, one of the sailors aboard the Libra during World War II, wrote a 41 page story about the adventures of the attack transport during the Second World War. He handed out copies to his fellow sailors at the ship’s first reunion.
“On June 10, 1942, a heavily laden USS Libra left Norfolk, Va. for the Pacific along with 250 Marines who were also aboard the ship,” Gormly wrote. “During her 26 months in the war zone the Libra fought in eight major battles against the Japanese.
“After reaching Wellington, New Zealand we headed by convoy with 10 cargo ships, 4 destroyers and 3 heavy cruisers. Our destination was Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. It would be our first invasion,” he wrote.
“Just after breakfast the Japs attacked us with dive bombers and torpedo planes while we were off the coast at Guadalcanal. The ship made an arc and then there was this terrific blast. The Libra was hit.”
The captain and crew patched up the damage and kept the transport afloat. By the time the attack was over the Libra’s crew got credit for shooting down a couple of Japanese planes.
“On almost every trip to Guadalcanal there was a certainty we would engage Jap aircraft. The PA announced the Tokyo Express, the Japanese fleet, was on its way,” Gormly wrote. It consisted of two battleships, six heavy cruisers and eight destroyers.
“Our ship and the other cargo ships were ordered out of harm’s way.
“The first flashes of gunfire started about 11:30 p.m. It lasted for an hour. Two hours later, around 2:30 a.m. we were told four of our ships had gone to the bottom with six others damaged. The Japs lost five ships and many others were damaged.
“We arrive at Rendova Island about 6 a.m.. Our planes bombed the island so the invasion went pretty smooth. After a beachhead was secured we proceed to unload supplies and equipment.”
Shortly after getting underway they were attacked by 30 Mitsubishi bombers. Their guns opened up on them. One Japanese torpedo plane that was on fire narrowly missed the Libra and its gun crews.
“After the 45-minute battle was over we began toasting our gun crews. We had five confirmed kills and two probables. This brought our total to 10. It was the most Jap planes shot down by any troop ship,” he noted.
The Libra got orders to tow a damaged ship three times its size back to Guadalcanal. Gormly and the other crew members were hardly underway when they came under attack by a squadron of Japanese torpedo bombers.
“I watched the trail of the torpedoes as it approached and thought to myself: ’THIS IS IT!’ But there was no blast. Because our ship had just unloaded and was empty she was running shallow and the torpedo sailed under us,” he said.
“The destroyer guarding us shot the enemy torpedo plane down.
“Our next invasion was Bougainville. On Nov. 1, 1943 we anchored off shore with about 30 other ships. The invasion was on,” Gormly wrote.
“After that our next invasion was Guam. It was a very important island for our Air Force. If I remember correctly the battleships Iowa and Carolina were there along with three heavy cruisers, the aircraft carrier Independence and about eight destroyers.”
After 30 months of fighting in the Pacific the crew of the Libra got word they were headed back to the states.
“We arrived in San Francisco on Aug. 19th and what a great sight to pass beneath the Golden Gate Bridge,” he noted. “Our ship went into dry dock for an overhaul. We got a 30 day leave to go home.
“On Jan. 2, 1945 we sailed for Luzon in the Philippines together with a fleet of 40 ships including aircraft carriers, battleships, cruisers destroyers and cargo ships,” he wrote. “the Japanese learned of our intentions and sent the main part of their fleet from Singapore to destroy the invading Americans.
“The landing on Luzon proceeded with little resistance. We unloaded our supplies as the Japanese retreated into the jungle. Gen. Mac Arthur was going to take the Philippines and he was going to do it in style.
“Following the battle of the Philippine Straights what was left of the Jap fleet retreated to Singapore. That battle broke their spirit.”
The Libra and its crew headed back to Guam and loaded up with supplies once more.
“We were finally told we were headed for Iwo Jima, a grey volcanic island closer to Japan. When we arrived about two miles off the beach carrier planes were bombing the island while battleships and cruisers were shelling the beaches,” Gormly wrote.
“Our troops were taking heavy casualties on shore.
“On March 9, 1945 we departed Iwo Jima with a convoy for Saipan in the Marianas Islands.”
After sailing through a typhoon the Libra was redirected to Manila in the Philippines. It was there they got their fourth skipper of the war, Capt. P.M. Smith took command of the transport ship.
“When the Japanese accepted our surrender terms a great armada assembled in Manila Bay. We were one of the lucky ships chosen because of our time of service in the Pacific. When it was announced we were going to Tokyo everyone cheered.
“We left Manila August 27, 1945. I never saw so many ships in my life. They spread across 50- miles of sea. Not only American ships but Australian, British, New Zealand and French men o’ war. We arrived in Tokyo Bay Sept. 2 about a mile away from the USS Missouri where the surrender ceremony was held.
“With binoculars we could see all those in high command gathering on the fantail under the battleship’s 16-inch guns. It was a moment of history I was fortunate enough to see.
“Now that the war was over we left Aomori, Japan on Nov. 21, 1945 and sailed for Seattle, Wash. After five years and 10 months in the Navy I was discharged in New York.
Bob Adams who served aboard the Libra during the Korean conflict never met John Gormly until they met at the reunion. Adams knew nothing about the ship’s World War II adventures until a lifetime later when they met in Missouri a little over a decade ago.
Like Gormly, Adams returned from his time aboard ship and went back to work for General Motors in Pontiac, Mich. He worked there 32 years until he retired. He and his wife, Geraldine moved to Brook to Bay mobile home park in Englewood ion 1991. They have two children: Tom and Katherine.
Name: Robert Joseph Adams
D.O.B: 3 Feb. 1932
Hometown: Peck, Mich.
Currently: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: 7 April 1952
Discharged: 26 March 56
Rank: 2nd Class Petty Officer
Unit: USS Libra
Commendations: National Defense Service Medal, Navy Occupation Service Medal (Europe)
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Nov. 30, 2015 and is republished with permission.
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