Al Trombi of Englewood, Fla. just returned from the first-ever Kamikaze Survivors Reunion held in Everett, Wash., last week. It was the trip of a lifetime for him.
Trombi served aboard the destroyer USS Wren in the 82-day battle for Okinawa during the closing months of World War II. Okinawa was the high water mark for the Japanese suicide planes. Some 3,500 kamikazes sank or damaged 232 Allied ships during this single battle. The goal of the enemy’s deadly pilots: to prevent the pending invasion of mainland Japan.
The reunion was the brainchild of Bill Sholin, a diver aboard the Wren. He wrote a book, “The Sacrificial Lambs,” about the plight of the destroyers that formed a defensive barrier around the fleet attacking Okinawa. Their job: to try to stop the kamikaze attacks from reaching the capital ships in the fleet.
The book led to the soiree in Everett a few days ago. In attendance at the convention were 407 survivors representing 80 ships, and their wives. It was a gathering for anyone who served in the Pacific Theater whose ship was hit or attacked by kamikazes.
“It was wonderful. It was like we wiped away 60 years of waiting to bond with our buddies from long ago,” an enthusiastic Trombi said Wednesday morning. “We told our stories, we cried and we hugged one another.”
L.J. Adams’s story is the one that seemed to affect Trombi the most. Adams was a kid from Pasadena, Texas, and a 40 mm anti-aircraft gunner on the Wren at Okinawa.
Trombi served as a machinist mate 2nd class. His battle station was below deck in the engine room. As he raced for a hatch to go below, a Japanese twin-engine Betty bomber was aimed right at the side of the ship where he was headed.
Adams was topside on his 40 mm, firing away at the enemy bomber as it loomed larger and larger in his gun sights. Both Adams and Trombi realized they were within seconds of eternity.
As the Betty got closer to the Wren, the young Texas sailor kept watching his tracer rounds hit the oncoming plane that seemed indestructible. At the last second, he began to pray.
“‘I promised the Lord if he would let me live, I would become a minister,'” Trombi said Adams told the group. ‘Finally, 150 yards or so, about eight seconds from our ship, the Betty exploded. I survived the war. When I got out of the Navy, I forgot all about my promise to the Lord. I went in the gas business in Texas.
“‘Fifteen years later I began feeling guilty because I had not lived up to my promise to the Lord. I quit the gas business and went into the ministry. I’ve been a minister for more than 40 years,'” Trombi said Adams told them.
In addition to Adams and Sholin, Trombi also re-established friendships with Cal Pfifer and Capt. John Powers, who served aboard the Wren. They were all at the Kamikaze Survivors Reunion.
For a guy who hadn’t laid eyes on a single crew member of his old destroyer in 57 years until a year ago, Trombi is a happy old salt. The reunion meant the world to him.
“Now I feel like nothing is missing in my life anymore,” he said with tears in his eyes. “I’ll never forget them.”
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Friday, May 31, 2002 and is republished with permission.
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