James Joseph Ward, WWII

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James Ward enlisted in the United States Navy in April of 1942. He was first stationed in Samoa at US Naval Station Tutuila in Pago Pago Harbor. Our family has very little information on his time in Samoa other than a few photos. We are hoping his service records from the National Archives will shed a little more light on his role here during the war.

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Pago Pago Harbor, 1942-44, mountain in back is Rainmaker, Photo taken by James J Ward
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Samoa, 1942-43, Photo taken by James J Ward

On 15 Nov 1944, he was received aboard the newly commissioned USS St. Mary’s.

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James J Ward and friend, California, 1944
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USS St. Mary’s, S-Division, 1944-45. James Ward is 3rd from the left in the back row.

In January 1945, James Ward sailed with the USS St. Mary’s to the South West Pacific crossing the International Date Line on 14 Jan and the Equator on 20 Jan. They would have a few stops in New Guinea to deliver cargo and troops before reaching the Leyte Gulf. In the Philippines, the sailors and troops aboard the St. Mary’s would train with the 77th Infantry Division for “Operation Iceberg,” the Battle of Okinawa.

Realm of the Golden Dragon Let it be known to all Sailormen, Mermaids, Sea Serpents, Crabs, Lobsters, Dolphins and all other living things of the sea that on this 14th day of January 1945 there appeared within our Royal Domain of the International Date Line the U.S.S. St. Mary’s westward bound on a Mission of War against the Japanese Empire. On Board Was One James Joseph Ward who, having been found worthy to be numbered as one of our Dragons, has been duly initiated into the Solemn Mysteries of The Golden Dragon. Given under our hand and seal this 15th day of January 1945, Court of the Grand Dragon.

On 21 Mar 1945, the St. Mary’s as a part of Transport Squadron 17 and Task Force 51.1, left the Leyte Gulf for the Kerama Islands, Okinawa. Five days later, the first troops are landed from the St. Mary’s onto Kerama Retto. Kamikaze attacks on ships were not uncommon but the frequency of the attacks and success rate varied. One particular incident involving the USS St. Mary’s on 2 April 1945 killed 141 men within minutes, including several high ranking officers on the USS Dickerson and USS Henrico.

2 Apr 1945 -Kerama Islands, Transport Squadron 17 attacked by Kamikaze

The evening of 2 Apr 1945, Transport Squadron 17 was retiring for the night after being anchored at Kerama Retto during that day. The ships were traveling in a three-column formation 1000 yards apart. Each column comprised 5 ships (6 in the center column) with approximately 600 yards between them. Two converted WWI-era destroyers, the Dickerson (APD-21) and the Herbert (APD-22) screened the formation on the port and starboard sides respectively. The St. Mary’s was the second ship in the center column after the flagship USS Chilton. At 18:38, the ship formation was attacked without warning by 9-15 Japanese suicide bombers. At 18:38: USS Chilton (APA-28), the lead ship in the center column, was struck first from the starboard quarter.

At 18:40, the USS Henrico (APA-45) the lead ship in the port column, was hit by a bomber crashing into the port wing of the bridge. 49 men were killed and 125 were wounded. The Henrico drifted out of formation, passing the ships on the port column while the USS Harry F Bauer (DM-26) came to her assistance, extinguishing fires and rescuing survivors.

At the same time, another Japanese bomber came under fire and crashed near the St. Mary’s on the starboard side. The St. Mary’s was unable to fire on the plane due to the proximity of other ships.

18:42: Another bomber, under attack, crashed off the port bow of the USS Telfair (APA-210) the second ship in the starboard column killing one man and wounding 16.

18:43: One minute later, another Japanese plane crashed into the mainmast of the USS Goodhue (APA-107),the lead ship in the starboard column. 24 men died and 119 were wounded.

About 18:42-43, the final bomber crashed into the bridge of the USS Dickerson (APD-21) in the port side screen of the formation, causing significant damage and fires. 54 men died and 23 were wounded. The Dickerson was towed to Kerama Retto and, after all salvagable material had been extracted, towed back out to sea and sunk on 4 April 1945.

Below is a diagram of the kamikaze attacks that night, the orange crashes represent bombers that hit ships, yellow are the planes that were shot down. I plotted these based on the information in the WWII diaries from the ships involved. There are a few bomber crashes I have not yet plotted due to conflicting or confusing reports.

One hundred and forty-one men died during the kamikaze attacks that night and 283 were wounded. The very next day, Transport Squadron 17 was attacked once again but no damage or casualties occurred. I am still working on filling out details for the events below.

13 Apr 1945 – Hagushi Bay, Yomitan, Okinawa

  • St. Mary’s shifts positions to Hagushi Bay

16-19 Apr 1945 – Iejima, Okinawa (Ie Shima)

  • The island of Ie Shima is captured. My grandfather fought here.

19 Apr 1945 – Southern Coast of Okinawa 

  • St. Mary’s participates in a diversionary landing on Okinawa’s southern coast and afterwards returns to Hagushi Bay

26 Apr 1945

  • USS St. Mary’s leaves the kamikaze area

1 May 1945 – Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands

  • USS St. Mary’s spends three weeks at Ulithi while the ship is cleaned and repaired.

24 May 1945 – Guam

  • After exchanging landing boats, USS St. Mary’s returned to the Philippines.

This photo was taken in Manila between June 13-17, 1945. USS St. Mary’s was in Subic Bay in June 1945 and was anchored in Manila bay from the 13th-17th. The man in the back is my grandfather James Joseph Ward, SK1c. Joseph Emanuel Proscokil, SK1c is the man on the left. He was born 11 Nov 1911 in Omaha, Nebraska and died 16 May 1999. His father Joseph was born in Bohemia in the (modern day) western Czech Republic. His mother Anna Mateju (not sure of this spelling) was born in Nebraska. He was in the US Navy from 18 May 1943 to 10 Nov 1945. He had a wife named Frances (1914-2008). I am not sure who the other man on the right is but I will update when I find out.

31 May-26 Jun 1945 – Subic Bay

  • The St. Mary’s spends three weeks in Subic Bay with several days in Manila where the sailors get to take leave.

July 1945 – San Pedro Bay, Leyte, Philippines

  • Trains with 81st Infantry in preparation for the invasion of Japan.

20 Jul-27 Jul 1945 – Samar, Philippines

  • “Aboard the USS Yancey (AKA-93) sailing from San Pedro Bay, Leyte, Philippines to Samar Island, Philippines
    James J Ward 626 37 83, SK1c V-6
    From USS St. Mary’s (APA-126) for temporary duty in connection with obtaining stores.”

29 Jul 1945 Iloilo Bay, Philippines

  • USS Yancey (AKA-93)
    James J Ward 6263783, SK1c V-6
    Transfers back to USS St. Mary’s (APA-126) for duty
  • Training for full-scale invasion of Japan

2 Sep 1945 – Tokyo Bay

  • Surrender of Japan

4 Sep 1945 – Yokohama, Japan

  • USS St. Mary’s transports occupation troops to Yokohama

1 Oct 1945 – Returns to California, USA

  • Operation “Magic Carpet,” USS St. Mary’s transports troops from Okinawa to CaliforniaJames J Ward approved for leave
    USN Recruiting Station Naval Armory Chicago, 31, Illinois Par. 7(f), BuPers C/L 28-45, 45-153, NBD 15 Feb 1945

The following is a custom Google Map showing the timeline of documented locations for the USS St. Mary’s from Nov 1944 through 1945. Click through and all of the locations are marked with a date with some detail and arranged by layer.

Here are some links to first-person stories from men that were on the USS St. Mary’s:

John Callahan hit the beach at Okinawa in the first wave

Rudy Ricci cut USS St. Mary’s anchor chain and saved ship during WW II, by Don Moore

WW II shipmates aboard USS St. Mary’s meet in Punta Gorda after 65 years

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USS St Mary’s, Yokohama, Japan, Sep 1945, image is public domain
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USS St. Mary’s about 1946, image is public domain

Reference Notes

“U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949,” James J Ward, 6263783, USS St. Mary’s (APA-126), 15 Nov 1944, 31 Dec 1944, 31 Jan 1945, 31 Mar 1945, 1 Jul 1945, 1 Oct 1945; digital images, Fold3.com, citing: Record Group 24, “Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, 1798 – 2007,” Catalog ID: 594 996, Roll 32862_252704, Muster Rolls of U.S. Navy Ships, Stations, and Other Naval Activities, 01/01/1939-01/01/1949, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

“U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949,” James J Ward, 6263783, USS Yancey, AKA-93, 22 Jul 1945, 29 Jul 1945; digital images, Fold3.com, citing Record Group 24, “Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, 1798 – 2007,” Catalog ID: 594 996, Roll 32863_25551, Muster Rolls of U.S. Navy Ships, Stations, and Other Naval Activities, 01/01/1939-01/01/1949, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

“1920 United States Federal Census,”Joseph R Proskocil family, 2757 13th St, Omaha Ward 5, Douglas, Nebraska; digital images, Archive.org (http://www.archive.org); Citing:Roll: T625_988; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 48; Image: 843, 14th Population Census of the United States, 1920, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.

“U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949,” James J Ward, 6263783, USS St. Mary’s (APA-126), 15 Nov 1944, 31 Dec 1944, 31 Jan 1945, 31 Mar 1945, 1 Jul 1945, 1 Oct 1945; digital images, Fold3.com, citing: Record Group 24, “Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, 1798 – 2007,” Catalog ID: 594 996, Roll 32862_252704, Muster Rolls of U.S. Navy Ships, Stations, and Other Naval Activities, 01/01/1939-01/01/1949, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

“World War II War Diaries, 1941-1945,” Online archives, Fold3.com (https://www.fold3.com/); Citing: Record Group 38, “World War II War Diaries, Other Operational Records and Histories, compiled ca. 01/01/1942 – ca. 06/01/1946, documenting the period ca. 09/01/1939 – ca. 05/30/1946,” Roll: 4697018, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.

USS St. Mary’s, Rep of opers in the invasion of Okinawa Jima, Ryukyu Islands, 3/26/45 – 4/26/45, micro serial no.132530. Digital images, Fold3.com (https://www.fold3.com/image/251/296093363 : 2016); Citing: Reel A1750.

USS Chilton (APA-38), Rep of ops in the invasion & occupation of the Okinawa Gunto, Ryukyu Is, 3/26/45 – 4/30/45, micro serial no. 123536. Digital images, Fold3.com (https://www.fold3.com/image/251/296071246 :2016); Citing: Reel A1624, serial no. 019.

USS Chilton (APA-38),War Diary 4/1-4/30/1945, micro serial no.121475. Digital images, Fold3.com (https://www.fold3.com/image/251/295864867 :2016), Citing: Reel A1597, serial no. 020.

USS Henrico (APA-45), Rep of ops in the Kerama Retto, Ryukyu Is, 4/1-14/45, including enemy suicide crash dive on 4/2/45, micro serial no. 117389. Digital images, Fold3.com (https://www.fold3.com/image/251/295852852 : 2016); Citing: serial no. 004, Reel A1537.

USS Goodhue (APA-127), Rep of AA act South of the Kerama Retto, Ryukyu Is on 4/2/45, micro serial no. 117025. Digital images, Fold3.com (https://www.fold3.com/image/251/295862622 :2016); Citing: serial no. 004, Reel A1533.

US Goodhue (APA-127), Rep of ops in the invasion of Kerama Retto, Ryukyu Is, 3/26/45 – 4/4/45, including enemy suicide crash dive on 4/2/45, Micro Serial no. 116045. Digital images, Fold3.com (https://www.fold3.com/image/251/295408048 :2016); Citing: serial no. 001, Reel A1522.

USS LaGrange (APA-124), War Diary 4/1-4/30/1945, micro serial no. 121004. Online archives, Fold3.com (https://www.fold3.com/image/251/295839910 : 2016). Citing: Reel A1589.

USS LaGrange (APA-124), Form Rep of AA act east of the Kerama Retto, Ryukyu Is on 4/2/45, micro serial no.118764. Online archives, Fold3.com (https://www.fold3.com/image/251/295798065: 2016). Citing: Reel A1558.

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