Kamikaze
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Eugene M. Brick
Gunner's Mate Third Class

 
Sinking of USS Drexler DD-741
by Gene Brick
Two Japanese kamikaze planes crashed into the destroyer Drexler (DD-741) during the morning of May 28, 1945. The ship sank 49 seconds after the second aircraft hit with 158 men killed and 51 men wounded.
Gene Brick managed to escape from the sinking ship. He formed the Drexler Survivors Reunion Association in 1985 and coordinated annual reunions for many years.

I went aboard USS Drexler DD-741 during the evening of March 12, 1945, while the ship was in Purvis Bay, Florida Islands, a part of the Solomon Islands group. At my request I was transferred from the USS SC (Submarine Chaser) 1266, which I had been aboard for 14 months.

On the morning of May 28, 1945, we were called to battle stations after a hurried trip to Picket Station #15 northwest of Okinawa. We were on station with USS Lowry DD-770, LCS (Landing Craft Support) 55, LCS 56, and LCS 114.

I was the Trainer in Mount #2, one of the twin 5-inch enclosed gun mounts in the forward part of the destroyer. Shortly after General Quarters was sounded and I got to my battle station, I was told to "match up," which meant to put Mount #2 in automatic train in order to put us under control of the main director, located on top of the bridge. While we were under control of the director, I had nothing to do but follow the target by looking through the trainer gunsight and wait for further orders from our mount captain, Weldon Ingram.

Through the gunsight, I could see the first kamikaze plane that hit the destroyer, coming at us about 15-20 feet above the water on our starboard beam. All of our guns were firing at it, and I could see the tracer bullets ricocheting off the front part of the kamikaze, which later was identified officially as a twin-engine attack bomber with the Allied code name of Frances [1].

Our 5-inch projectiles could not catch up with it. As I remember, our proximity-activated bursts were strung out behind the suicide plane like a string of black pearls. The kamikaze kept coming, and we kept firing until the gun mount reached the limit of train to starboard.

A split second after that I could not see it any longer. It crashed with a thunderous bang, which knocked out all of our electricity. I sat there a little bit, and Ingram told me to put the train drive into "local" control. This meant that I had manual control of the movement of the gun mount to move either right or left and to match up with his pointer that was attached to his gunsight in front of him.

I started to turn the mount to the left as fast as I could. It was not long before my arms started to give out because there was no electric-hydraulic power, plus the fact that the ship was starting to list to starboard, resulting in more weight to move, with only me supplying the power.

While I was going through this procedure, I heard a plane go right over the top of us, and it sounded very close. I had the manual drive in low gear, which meant that it was not moving very fast. All of a sudden another explosion happened somewhere on the ship, and it felt like someone had hit the bottom of my seat with a sledgehammer.

I could no longer train the mount, and it seemed to me that we were in big trouble, so I thought I had better put my life jacket on. Ingram told me to "get the hell out of here, she's sinking!"

I stood up and grabbed my kapok life jacket, which I had been sitting on for several weeks, because being short-waisted like I am, I needed the elevation to comfortably look through the gunsight. It was compressed into more of a vest than a fluffy piece of flotation equipment.

Well, we had to go with what we had, and I left the mount through the starboard "hot-shell" hatch, right behind Ingram. When I landed on the O-1 deck after leaving the gun mount, the ship was listing to starboard at an angle steep enough to make it difficult to get over or through the rail lines.

I got through them and slid down the bulkhead to the main deck and went through the same thing getting over or through the main deck rail lines. I slid down the side of the ship, which was about on a 45 degree angle. I slid fast enough that when the stabilizer strip that runs along the side of the ship came up and became visible, I went over it on my behind. It felt like I just about broke everything I had in that area.

I went into the thick oil and started swimming like mad to get away from any suction that might occur if I got caught too close to the ship. Behind me, I could hear the noise from loose gears and machinery probably being torn from the decks, rattling and rumbling around, making such a horrible noise that I stopped and turned around to look.

I was probably 75-100 feet from the Drexler and could see about 30-40 feet of her bow standing straight up in the air. Then I watched her disappear fast.

All around me there were shipmates, a few injured but still able to swim out of the oil, some of which was on fire a short distance away. I swam a short distance and got clear of the worst of the oil. It did not seem that we were in the water very long, maybe less than a half-hour. One of the LCSs came along and fished us out of the water. We sure made a mess out of that LCS, but they took care of our needs without complaint.

I will never forget that day. I have counted my blessings every day since that happened. Over the years, I have thought about the horrible waste of lives and that it took less than three minutes to do it from the time the first plane crashed into us.

It bothered me that all those lives may be forgotten if someone did not do something about trying to get together what was left of the survivors, reach as many as possible of the families of our men killed in action, and pay honor to the ones who did not make it that morning. I feel that the part that I played in laying the foundation to get started in doing this was the least I could do.

After I got the Drexler Survivors Reunion Association rolling, everyone pitched in and helped make the group what it is today. We have such a strong common bond that ties us all together, which is different than 99% of all other ships in the Navy. It is my earnest hope and prayer that the men who died that day will never be forgotten. As long as one person remembers that event, our work has not been in vain.

Note

1. After Gene Brick wrote this story, the article Who Sank the Destroyer Drexler? concluded that the destroyer was hit by two twin-engine Army Type 2 Toryu Fighters (Nicks) in the 45th Shinbu Special Attack Squadron led by First Lieutenant Hajime Fujii.

Source

Gene Brick's story about the sinking of Drexler comes from pp. 137-8 of the following book:

Brown, Charles D., comp. 2007. Historical Review: U.S.S. Drexler DD-741. 4th ed. Privately published.

Minor editing has been done to the originally published article.