A prolific popular historian specializing in World War II tells the incredible story of the “destroyer with a heart that couldn’t be broken.”
Thrust almost immediately into the war following her February 1944 commissioning, the Laffey played an important supporting role in the Normandy invasion, the assault on the Philippines and the landing at Iwo Jima. As he charts the ship’s service, Wukovits (For Crew and Country: The Inspirational True Story of Bravery and Sacrifice Aboard the USS Samuel B. Roberts, 2013, etc.) describes the vessel’s special features and explains the multipurpose role the destroyer plays at sea. He offers snapshots of a couple dozen of the 325-man crew—the vast majority naval reserves, most of them teenagers—explains the purpose of the constant drills, and charts the crew’s growing confidence under fire. He pauses, though, when the sailors encounter something entirely new and terrifying in naval warfare, something perfectly embodying the ethos of an enemy who’d vowed to “fight until we eat stones.” Desperate to defend their home islands during the war’s final years, Japanese pilots willingly sacrificed their lives in exchange for a direct hit on American ships. All this prepares us for the final third of the narrative, devoted to a scant 80 minutes off the coast of Okinawa. There, while she manned the dangerous, exposed Picket Station No. 1, 22 kamikazes attacked Laffey: six crashed into the ship, another grazed it, and five inflicted bomb hits. Laffey responded, discharging thousands of shells and bullets. With the ship a mangled mess of shredded steel, parts flooded, other parts on fire, the destroyer (if not 32 crewmen) survived, bringing down numerous enemy planes. For outstanding performance, Laffey received a Presidential Unit Citation, and 27 individual medals were showered on the gallant crew.
For WWII buffs, surely, but also for general readers looking to understand the damage inflicted and the terror inspired by the Japanese suicide squadrons.