Joe Parry of Port Charlotte, Fla. was a radioman aboard an ammunition ship involved in three of the primary battles in the Pacific Theatre of Operation during World War II—Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the Philippines.
He sailed aboard the converted liberty ship, USS Wrangell (AE-12), into the Pacific after negotiating the Panama Canal and headed for Pearl Harbor in 1944. Loaded with ammunition of all weights and calibers, all it took was a single spark to blast the ship and its crew into eternity. Parry was lucky he didn’t suffer a scratch during the war.
On Dec. 21, 1944 the “Wrangell” sailed into Pearl Harbor. On Christmas Eve she pulled anchor and off to Eniwetok Island she went. Parry’s first engagement in the war zone was Iwo Jima. The battle began Feb. 19, 1945. It last 36 days killing 6,800 Americans and wounding 12,000 more. The Japanese lost almost all of their 20,00-plus Marines and Navy personnel defending the eight-square-miles.
“While we were at Iwo Jima we transferred our ammunition into LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks) and they took it into the beach,” Parry recalled more than 75 years later. “We were off the beach a ways in front of the battleships and cruisers that were further out at sea. They were firing their 16-inch shells over us. One of the shells from one of their big guns dropped with 100 yards of our ship. The skipper moved our ship further out to sea.”
The thing Parry remembers most about the Battle of Iwo Jima were the flag raisings.
“I was on the bridge of our ammunition ship with the radio when the flags went up. I had a large pair of binoculars with me that I could watch all the action on the beach,” he said. “I was one of the few aboard our ship who saw the first (American) flag go up on Surabachi about 10:15 a.m.”
This was the flag many of the American Marines on the beach recall. They remember the first flag because the ships just off shore sounded their whistles or blew their horns to let the “Leathernecks” fighting the battle know the U.S. had captured the highest hill on the island from the enemy on the fourth day of the battle.
“When they put the second flag up, about 2:30 p.m. that same afternoon, nobody aboard our ship believed me that it was the second flag. I saw it go up through my binoculars. I kept telling them it was the second flag, but they told me I was full of bull.”
This was the larger American flag A.P. photographer Joe Rosenthal immortalized. It’s the one that appeared in many newspapers across the USA a few days later. It’s the flag raising cast in bronze at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington, D.C.
Most Marines who fought and died on that tiny island in the Pacific a lifetime ago knew nothing about the second flag raising. It was an afterthought. It had no significance as far as they were concerned. Ironically, most Americans back home knew nothing about the first flag raising and wouldn’t find out until the Iwo Jima Memorial was dedicated at Arlington by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1954.
Parry and the Wrangell arrived back at Ulithi Island from Iwo Jima before the fighting stopped on Iwo. The crew and their ship spent the next five months supplying the American fighting on Iwo, Okinawa and the Japanese main islands. During this period they transferred over 10,000 tons of ammunition from their ship to battleships, cruisers and destroyers while moving along on route at sea.
He recalled the harrowing experience of being at sea and moving 16-inch projectiles for battleships and cans of powder from the Wrangell to the USS Iowa when the powder cans caught fire and the deck of the battleship was ablaze.
“They put me down in the hole loading ammo for transfer to other ships at sea. I was loading 16-inch projectiles and powered cans when all of a sudden a big flame flashed across the deck of our ship.
“I went up the ladder in the hole to see what was happening topside. When I got up there I could see the cans blowing up on the deck of the battleship. That’s what the fire was all about.
“By this time our captain decided to get away from the burning battleship as fast as possible. Nobody on our ship was injured in the fire and explosion, but I don’t know how many were killed aboard the Iowa,” Parry said.
At some point he ended up in the Philippines and took part in the landing at Leyte where Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur waited ashore and told the beleaguered Philippines by radio: “I have returned,” Parry said he never saw Mac Arthur while he was there.
“But I did see the carrier USS Randolph get hit by an American P-38 fighter plane during an attack by Japanese kamikaze fighters,” he said. “The Randolph was a jinxed ship. We were sitting there in the harbor at Luzon when the P-38 flew over and crashed into the carrier’s deck damaging it badly.”
Parry also had another close call that involved a Japanese midget sub and the torpedoing of an American civilian transport ship. It may have happened in Okinawa, he can’t recall.
“One of our ships was coming in the harbor and she was being followed by a Japanese two-man sub, but they didn’t know it,” he explained. “The American ship was in the process of transferring ammunition from their ship to our ship when the Jap sub fired it’s torpedo. It hit the civilian freighter and fire and smoke started billowing from it.
“All the rest of our ships in the harbor were moved further away in case the civilian freighter blew up. We had to stay tied up to the smoking supply ship. I was sent to the crows nest and spent the next 24 hours up there watching the freighter burn expecting to be blown up any moment. I was up there praying like hell our ship didn’t blow up,” Parry said.
“When the war ended we were off the coast of Japan. We went back to Honolulu and on to the States. Our captain was in a rush to get home and didn’t want to waste time stopping for food supplies. So on the way home we ate cake and bread with little black maggots in the stuff we ate,” he said casually in retrospect.
“We almost got to the Panama Canal and were off the coast of Panama when our ship was hit by a typhoon. It came within two or three degrees of capsizing our ship,” he said.
“We sailed into the Brooklyn Navy Yard, our ship was do for repairs so we got liberty. I spent New Years 1946 drinking with a buddy at the Latin Quarters in Times Square,” Parry recalled.
He was discharged from the Navy in May ’46 at Great Lakes Receiving Depot where he took basic training two years earlier. He went to work for Mansfield Tire & Rubber Co. in Mansfield, Ohio where he worked for 33 1/2 years until he retired in 1976. He and his wife, Patricia, moved to Florida in 1977. They have been married 66 years and have two children: James and Marsha.
Name: Joe Parry
D.O.B: 7 Nov. 1925
Hometown: Mansfield, Ohio
Currently: Port Chalotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 1943
Rank: Radioman 1/C
Unit: USS Wrangell (AE-12)
Commendations: World War II Victory Meal
Battles/Campaigns: Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Philippines
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, May 22, 2017 and is republished with permission.
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