Even before Watertender 1/C LeRoy Zeedyk of Venice sailed into the Southwest Pacific during World War II aboard amphibious landing ship, LST-169, as a member of Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur’s Allied task force he survived the “West Lock Disaster” at Pearl Harbor that killed and wounded scores of servicemen shortly before the invasion of Saipan.
It was just after 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 21, 1944 when the initial explosion ripped an LST apart and sent a fireball into the sky seen, felt, and heard for miles. West Lock was the mooring facilities at Pearl where amphibious ships loaded men and equipment on their way to war.
The explosion caused a chain reaction among other LSTs moored close by. Wooden buildings on shore were flattened by the blast and fires broke out aboard ships and on land from the volatile goods stored in them.
Some 167 personnel were killed in the accident and another 396 injured. Initially the Navy thought the explosion might have been caused by a midget Japanese subs or possibly an earthquake. An inquiry revealed a mortar round aboard an LST accidentally exploded igniting other ships and surrounding buildings.
“I was on liberty that Sunday afternoon,” Zeedyk recalled. “My ship was the first one to get loose and go out to sea. Forty-five other ships followed LST-169 to open waters.”
At the time the Navy did its best to keep the tragedy under wraps. When it happened the general public never found out from media sources what caused the blast. Years after the war the extent of the damage at West Lock and the number of people killed and wounded were finally made public by the federal government.
“Right after the explosion we took a bunch of Marines to Saipan. Since it was my first trip to the war zone it was a little scary. We arrived off the coast of Saipan in the morning and started taking them ashore. We got hung up on a coral reef. At that point we unloaded the Marines and their equipment right there. It was shallow enough water they waded ashore,” the 95-year-old Coast Guardsman remembered 75 years later.
“We were very lucky on our LST. No one was ever killed on the ship while I was on it.
“After Saipan LST-169 returned to the shipyard for repairs in California. After we went to Pearl Harbor loaded up our ship and took it back to Saipan. We also ran a lot of trips to the New Guinea area with men and supplies.
“On one of those trips we loaded 2,000 pound bombs aboard our LST in the Russell Islands and headed to sea. We got into some rough water and a dozen of bombs broke loose and were rolling around on deck.
“We were also carrying 150 mail bags on board. They are what saved us and the ship during the storm. We took the mail bags and threw them between the rolling bombs which stopped them from moving around. It worked,” Zeedyk said.
After that we sailed to the Dutch West Indies and loaded up a bunch of U.S. Army Engineers and took them back to Saipan to complete the building of a runway. Then we took them to Guam where they built another runway.
“We ended up at Leyte five days before Mac Arthur arrived. We never saw him, but we got there before he did. We took a group of Army troops ashore at Leyte in the Philippines. By the time we landed the Japanese had pulled back from the beach.
“While our LST was on the beach a buddy of mine saw an enemy plane cross the full moon. The Army had piles and piles of equipment stacked up on the beach. All kinds of gasoline and boxes of bullets were piled up on the sand,” Zeedyk recalled.
“The Navy told us to put our lights out because an enemy plane coming in. The Army didn’t put their lights out on the beach because they said they had too much work to do. Two minutes later the enemy plane flew over and dropped a single bomb right in the middle of the stuff on the beach that exploded.”
A short time later LST-169 was ordered to sea in a hurry, but she was stuck on the beach and had trouble getting off. It was Zeedyk’s job to empty the ballast tanks in an attempt to float her off the shore. It didn’t work. Then the skipper tried to pull the LST off the beach by using its anchor. The ship backed over one an anchor cables and bent one of the LST’s propeller shafts.
Because LST-169 could only run on one engine its top seed was 5 mph which meant it would have to limp back to the shipyard for repairs at a snail’s pace. In the meantime the landing craft was anchored in the harbor and used as a firing platform to protect other Allied ships from Japanese aerial attack.
Eventually Zeedyk’s LST made it all the way back to a southern California shipyard for a complete overhaul.
“I transferred off the ship when we got back to Long Beach, Calif. I think it was in July of 1945, less than a month before the Japanese surrendered,” he said. “Right after the war we were transferred to the Long Beach Fire Department. We were involved in one big fire that burned the docks one night.”
Zeedyk took a slow-moving train to St. Louis, Mo. where he was discharged from the Coast Guard on March 9, 1946.
He returned home to Danforth, Ill. and his parent’s 340-acre farm he left four years earlier. For the next 11 years he worked as a farmer until the property was broken up and sold. By then he was married with a couple of children. Zeedyk got another job. He drove tanker trucks for the next 22 years.
He and his wife, Lorraine, retired in 1984 and moved to Florida from Illinois. They have two adult children: Joyce and Stanley who live up north and out west.
Name: LeRoy Zeedyk
D.O.B: 28 Nov. 1921
D.O.D.: 21 April 2017
Hometown: Dansford, Ill.
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: September 1942
Discharged: 9 March 1946
Rank: Watertender 1/C
Unit: Landing Ship Tank (LST)-169
Commendations: World War II Victory Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Saipan, Guadalcanal, Philippines
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, June 12, 2017 and is republished with permission.
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LeRoy Charles Zeedyk, 95, of Venice, Florida, formerly of, Kankakee, IL passed away on April 21, 2017. He was born in Danforth, Illinois on November 28, 1921, the son of Charlie and Minnie Zeedyk. He served in the US Coast Guard on an LST ship during WWII. He was honored by the Coast Guard Auxiliary as an Honorary Admiral. He was a member of the American Legion, the VFW, and the LST Assoc. In the latter part of his life, he repaired bicycles and was known as “The Bike Man”. He is survived by his wife of 68 yeras, Lorraine Zeedyk; children, Joyce and Leo Flynn of Bordentown, NJ, and Stan Zeedyk of Littleton, CO; three grandchildren and spouses, and eight great grandchildren. Services will be private. In lieu of flowers the family requests donations to: Tidewell Hospice, 5955 Rand Blvd., Sarasota, FL 34238.