William McClafferty
William McClafferty

Service Record

1942-1945 • Enlisted • Navy • USS Nelson; USS Laffey (DD 724) • Atlantic; Pacific • Fire Control Third Class

Transcript

Thomas Healy:
All right. Here’s where we’re going to start out. You’re going to just give me your name, where you were — where you’re from, where you were born, about your parents. Basically bring me up to when you went into the service.

William McClafferty:
All right. I was — my name is William McClafferty. I was born in, really up the creek what we call it, up the Brandywine in 1919. Early went to school in Old St. Joe’s on the Brandywine. And then went on, then moved out of there and got over around Colonial Park and Elsmere. I went to grammar school and went to St. Thomas and then over to the Lourdes School and out to Oak Road, went over to Hendersy Conrad. And last year I went to A.I. DuPont. And I got out in 1939 and I went to work as a carpenter at first, a carpenter apprentice. And then I got on the railroad. I was a fireman in about 1940, ’41. I was on the, fireman on the railroad until ’42 when I joined the Navy. And in October of 1942 sent me to boot camp at Rhode Island. And within six months — six weeks I was shipped to New York to put this new ship in commission, U.S.S. Nelson, DD623. Then we had a shakedown cruise and did convoy duty. Then got together, took convoys over to, into the Mediterranean. And the African War was just winding up. So we stopped at Gibraltar, ___, Algiers, get ready for the Invasion of Sicily. We supported the Invasion of Sicily and Palermero and two other engagements in there along Sicily and Italy. Then we come back to the states. And I got German Measles at the time, went and had to go to the hospital. Then my ship, the Nelson, took off and went to South America. Then they were getting ready for the Invasion of Europe after that. So we — I was reassigned. Went to Pier of 98 in New York, reassigned to — the U.S.S. Lafferty was just going to be commissioned. So I was shipped to Boston for the initial crew of the U.S.S. Lafferty. And this was a second ship. This was a 24 — 2,200-ton destroyer, had twin five-inch mounts, three of them, 40 millimeters on starboard and port side had a 40 millimeter ___. So we had a shakedown cruise where we went up back and forth the Atlantic and went to Connecticut for sub training. Then we went to Bermuda. We picked up some PBY crew, about 15 people one day about 40 miles off of Bermuda. Then we went, did some escort duty taking the convoys over to get ready for the Invasion of Europe. So went over there, out there Plymouth and England and Scotland, waited for the invasion. Went to the invasion of France and supported that landing there. And did a lot of bombarding, screening the fleet and all our neighbor merchant ships.

Thomas Healy:
Thomas Healy Excuse me.

William McClafferty:
Then we —

Thomas Healy:
Excuse me, can I interrupt for just a second here?

William McClafferty:
— were called on for —

Thomas Healy:
Just a second. (BRIEF INTERRUPTION FOR DRINK OF WATER)

Thomas Healy:
Okay. We’re going to pick it up, you were on the —

William McClafferty:
___ screening for them.

Thomas Healy:
Were you there before the troops got there at Okinawa?

William McClafferty:
Oh, yeah. They softened them up for a couple days with battleships and cruisers, destroyers. And just pound them, pound them for a few days and then —

Thomas Healy:
How far could you get in? How close could you get into the islands?

William McClafferty:
Well, we were just, were real close, within two or three or four — few hundred yards or more.

Thomas Healy:
Really?

William McClafferty:
Where our five engine guys were very active at five miles or more. So we reported that — we supported that whole landing until they were, you know, they were there. And then we went —

Thomas Healy:
How far did the battleships lay off of Iwo Jima?

William McClafferty:
Well, they would be outside of us or the cruisers. But then we’d have, always have destroyers surrounding those big ships. If you want to pick up for any planes coming in or torpedos from submarines. But you always screened them if you’re in a battle group like that. Then you retire and bring in all your merchant ships and screen them while they get in and give fire support. I forget just when that was over. But we went back to —

Thomas Healy:
Was the New Jersey off of Okin — I mean, off of Iwo Jima? The Battleship New Jersey, do you remember it being there?

William McClafferty:
I can’t tell you right off. It’s in the log I got of everything we did. And it tells you mostly who’s with you. But I did operate with the New Jersey. In fact, I don’t know if you want to get this down, but the captain that we had on our ship made admiral later and was commander of the New Jersey and took the last trip up the Delaware River to mothball. But anyway, we went back to ___, got the battle force together again and got everything together for the landing in Okinawa. We got there, deplaned plus four, three or four off of Catamarana, it’s a little island off of Okinawa. Really looks like a big derby hat, real round and tall. Bombarded that for a couple days and then bombarded, soften up Okinawa for — then the whole fleet come in with it. Then all your merchant, then all your landing craft and they had the Invasion of Okinawa. We supported that for, until D-day plus, oh, I don’t know. Then we were, put us on radar picking duty. 45 miles towards Japan to screen for the planes coming because they were really taking a big toll on our merchant ships there. And there was the landing of Okinawa. The morning of the 16th about 7, 6:00, we picked up a lot of bogeys, almost 200 bogeys heading down from Japan. We had about 29 concentrated on us, and they started their attacks from all points at that Florence. So we had a battle for an hour and 20 minutes. And then we shot down nine. And the cap, our planes covered, we got ___ and they shot down, oh, I don’t know, the rest of them. A few of them crashed close to the border. But six of them hit us, two 500-pound bombs. And we were really beat up. All our guns were out of, were put out of commission but one. Of course, we had one, one, Manson, he was our information officer, he said we wanted to know if the captain is going to abandon ship, and he said, “No, I’ll never abandon ship if, until, if one gunner will fire.” So fortunately it was all over about that time, right after that. We had, they had hit our rudder and we were — our whole battle, we were just going around in circles because we couldn’t go and do anything else. So the captain after that says, he had a talker back on the fantail, Lloyd Hogan. He asked if anybody was back there would go under the ship and see what the damage was underneath. And Hogan said there wasn’t anybody alive back there. So I heard the message, because I was on the bridge. And I told him I’d go back and do it if he’d promise me that he wouldn’t take off when I was underwater. And he promised he wouldn’t. But then I started back and I knew damn well he was going to take off if they come in again. So I had little, few apprehensions. But I got back there and they went and tied a rudder line around me and found out that the left rudder was jammed all the way left. The right rudder was a little bit starboard. The screws that — we had print screws, they seemed to be fine. So I went back to the bridge and reported that to the captain. Went back to my battle station. It was a port director on the bridge. And the destroyer I think it was, they come along side, took quick lines over, start, they sort of pumped us out as much they could. Our whole staff was under water. All, after the, of the fire room and the engine room, it was all down, it was all down. So they pumped us out, gave us a little turn into seagoing tugs, took us into Okinawa. And we got a soft patch put on there, a few other things fixed up. And we retired there to ___, got back to Hawaii and onto the United States. And put it in a dry dock up in Washington. I got the first leave, I was glad to get off and go home on leave. And then ended up in the hospital and, with a bad back in Philadelphia Naval Hospital. So that’s — so they wanted me to go on and get, I got a little better there. They wanted me to go on Monitor but I didn’t feel like it. So I had enough points then, they assured me after that if you have enough points you can get, you can go be discharged. So I went there to the Philadelphia Navy Yard and down to the branch and was discharged in October — or November the 22nd of 1945. So that’s about my story.

Thomas Healy:
Tell me about — now, you went from Europe D-day, which was June of —

William McClafferty:
About the 22nd, 23rd, back to the states.

Thomas Healy:
Of what, ’44?

William McClafferty:
Of ’45. June of — well, wait a minute.

Thomas Healy:
Is it ’44?

William McClafferty:
No, wait, the invasion was June the 6th, ’45.

Thomas Healy:
Okay.

William McClafferty:
So we were there preinvasion, invasion.

Thomas Healy:
And then you moved over to the South Pacific?

William McClafferty:
Yeah, we went over — we was moving from there back to the states, down through the canal, Panama Canal ___ out to the South Pacific.

Thomas Healy:
Now, when you were laying off of Okinawa when all these planes came after you, what was your job? What was your battle station? What was your job?

William McClafferty:
Mine was fire controller. I was a fire controller. My job was, our job was to operation and maintenance of all defensive weapons on the ship. My battle stations were the director, 40-millimeter director on the port side of the bridge. I was right up on the bridge. And the gun mount was right below the bridge along the port side. We had another director about midship, a 40-millimeter director, midship on the port side. We had the same — we had some 20-millimeter back there, too and 20 millimeters on the fantail. So when the planes come in, of course the first one they’d hit was the director, or the Mount 3, the five millimeter — 50 — five-inch mount on the fantail. One of them hit that and two 500 pounds hit close to it. So, and then of course we were, our job was to go out on that pickup duty on three days before we got hit. And we had, we did that duty out there. And all the planes, all the ones were out there before us on Pickup Duty 1 were badly damaged or sunk. So we had ships come along us and the ___ would come along us and then he went back. And they found out we were going there, and he went back and told his captain, oh, that poor son of a bitch was on Pickup 1. Where are we going to come in? They went to pickup on Day 17, and they were all around picking like a ball field. All around, 40 miles out, five miles out and about 40 miles apart to pick up all these planes coming from Japan. So we withstood all that damage and we were, we were still afloat. And a couple other ones, they only took one hit. Saratoga, I think off Okinawa only took one hit, they all sunk. But we were lucky enough to get ___.

Thomas Healy:
How did you get into the water when you went down to check?

William McClafferty:
I went back and this talker on the fantail, he said there was nobody alive back there but him. And he tied a line around me. And we had guards off the front, over where your screws are they had place for a guard back there. So I got down on that guard and I jumped, dove over. And he had a line on me and I went under and went over to like see the crew and the super, super powers and the two rudders. So I made my observation and come back up, then back on the bridge, reported to the captain, went back to my director on a, port director on 40-millimeter, director on that side.

Thomas Healy:
Okay. Now, you’re back to — you were released from active duty back where?

William McClafferty:
Well, right there they took us under tow and they pumped us out enough to get us back to Okinawa where they had the means to do it. They put a soft patch on our side because we had blown out underwater. They put a soft patch on that and they patched a lot of the holes on the fantail and on the decks and all the way along the side, starboard side because they were all pockmarked with scrapnel and bombs and big, big holes. And they got us, you know, undersay, so we could get underway. Good thing we did, because the soft patch come loose. We run into a big storm going back to Hawaii. So that’s when we went into Hawaii and that’s where they put a hard patch on and brought us back to the states.

Thomas Healy:
I’m going to get you some more water here. (BRIEF INTERRUPTION FOR DRINK OF WATER)

Thomas Healy:
So now you get back to the states?

William McClafferty:
Well, we get back to the states and they wanted to put this ship on display. And they put it on dry dock up above Seattle, Washington.

Thomas Healy:
Everett?

William McClafferty:
Everett — yeah, I guess — one of — oh, it’s in that report I have. But in the meantime, we had had really, we had 39 killed and 67 wounded of 103 men and officers on the ship. But we got back to that there and they had let a third of the ship go on the first leave of two weeks. And I was on the first leave, which I was very grateful for. And I got back home about a week. And I must have paralyzed my back for some reason. And I, they sent me to Philadelphia Naval Hospital. And I was in there for a month or two. They sent me out to Swarthmore to a recovery hospital. I was there for a month or two, about over a month. Then I went back, I went back to Philadelphia Naval Hospital. I was hospitalized about six, seven times with the back. I had lumbosacral right. And then my — after I got discharged. So I’m still receiving treatment for, from the Veterans Administration.

Thomas Healy:
What did you do when you got out of the service, work?

William McClafferty:
Well, I went over to the fireman on the railroad, Pennsylvania Railroad when I went into the service. When I got out, I had my — went back to the railroad. I had to take, I had to take an aid for locomotion engineer. I got promoted in 19 — right after that. I didn’t go running until 1949. And I was on the railroad for, as an engineer until 1982. I retired in 1982 with 42 years service counting my time in the Navy.

Thomas Healy:
So you went from steam to diesel?

William McClafferty:
Went to steam. When I went in it was all steam, a few diesels. When I come out, there was a lot of diesels, a couple steams and electric. So I come out, I had five steam engines for a while and then they phased them out. And then after that it was all diesel and electric engines.

Thomas Healy:
Did you have a certain route that you were working on?

William McClafferty:
Well, when I got, seen the Army enough to go through duty on the, firing on the ___ service, New York to Washington, I was on there a few years, about a year or so before I got promoted. Then I started all over again as an engineer on the Exton list for a while. Then I got a regular job running freight from Wilmington and South Philadelphia, then some to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Then I come back and got a regular job on a local freight. And then I spent most of the rest of my time on the actual last running of freight and passenger service in another job, local passenger down to Philadelphia. Then took local freight jobs running the rest of my career on the railroad. Down to Getty Oil and all down that way, Newark, before I retired.

Thomas Healy:
This was all Pennsylvania Railroad?

William McClafferty:
Pennsylvania, and then went to Penn Central, then they called it Penn Central, then Amtrak. And then they, about 1945 when they took over, the government took over I mean after that.

Thomas Healy:
Did you work out of the offices down here at the train station, the old Pennsylvania building?

William McClafferty:
I never worked out of the office, no. I was dead-ended out of there in Wilmington, always had a dead-end someplace. So when I was on fire and passenger jobs, I always worked out of Washington or New York. And if you were to dead-end someone would take you, go out of Wilmington dead-end until you get to the job where you want to bring it back, bring the freight back or bring the passenger job back. But I had retired out of Edgemore yard was where I retired from. We were working jobs out of Edgemore because we were home.

Thomas Healy:
When did you get married? Did you get married during the war or after the war?

William McClafferty:
I got married when I come back from Europe, 1943. My wife had sent me a letter that she had her wedding dress and wanted to get married on my next leave. So we got married in 1943. We’ve been married now for 62 years.

Thomas Healy:
What was it like being under that attack of all those planes at the same time? Were you scared, did you not have time to think about it?

William McClafferty:
Well, you’re very scared when it starts, you’re really, really scared. Then you get so busy doing your job that you lose it. You just, you got to do your job. And then when it’s over again, you’re just scared. And you see all the destruction and you see all the burnt bodies. And it just, you get scared again. And I can remember there was an information officer come around with two bottles of whiskey. And I just took a great big swig of V.O. and it just felt, went right down to my toes and it just kind of calmed you down. So you take everything in and you just wonder how the hell you’re so lucky. And then after you get home and all the years I just never, you never want to talk about it. You just think of all your good buddies gone. So really none of my kids really knew anything about it until lately. But it just gets to me. I just want to, didn’t want to even do anything or, you know, talk about it even over the years.

Thomas Healy:
Do you ever have reunions?

William McClafferty:
Yeah. We had our first reunion after 25 years. And we went down to Norfolk and they had, our ship was reoutfitted and still in service and use it to, it was down on the Potomac River, they were using it to train people, new recruits and this and that. And we all, or a lot of us, it was over 100, over about 100 almost showed up. And we took a ride on the Potomac that day and back there. And then we started having reunions every two or three years after that. And I went to there and New York and New Jersey and back to Washington. And, of course, then when the ship was enshrined and we went down and got it out of mothballs in Charlestown Navy Yard. Most of us got on it and took it over where it’s enshrined now in the Port of Mt. Pleasant off of North Carolina, South Carolina. And they have reunions every year, every couple years. Here and there and all over, west coast. I stopped going to them about five, six years ago, getting so old. But it’s still active, very active. Of course, not many of us old ones left. But I still get newsletters.

Thomas Healy:
Well, they should have a pretty big one this year for the 60th year.

William McClafferty:
Yeah, they’ll have a big one. They’ve got a lot of recruits from the families, so all of them and they’re really active. So yeah, 60 years. So I’ll get letters. I got letters from, already, so I haven’t committed yet. I may take it over from day-to-day now. But probably I will go.

Thomas Healy:
It should be probably right down here, it should probably be in South Carolina, right?

William McClafferty:
I’m not quite sure right now because I don’t — I do have all the stuff. Well, it could be. But they’ve had several down there. And then you got all the people from all over the country, they all want it to come to their state. And I think it seems the last few years, that’s what they tried to do, move it around to really accommodate all the old shipmates that, with the states they come from.

Thomas Healy:
And do they have tours on it down there at South Carolina?

William McClafferty:
Oh, there’s tours down on it, yeah, all the time, it’s ongoing thing. They took a couple hard hits on those hurricanes we had down there. Of course, they had a lot of damage done. But it’s very active and they get crews go down there every — two weeks every year that help out and work on the ship. And it’s still there and it’s still — there’s still, with the Old York crowning, they got a submarine there, merchant ship which was a nuclear merchant ship. So as I say, they got a lot of families, lot of families with three or four generations that are still belong to the U.S.S. Lafferty organization.

Thomas Healy:
You’re just going to look this way and he’s just going to just shoot you quietly. All right.

William McClafferty:
All right.

Thomas Healy:
That didn’t hurt, did it? (INTERVIEW CONCLUDED)

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