From the personal collection of Gilbert J. Raynor and the U.S.S. KITKUN BAY Association
(EDITORS NOTE: Following is the third of three articles on the historic escort carrier victory over the Japanese fleet off Samar, obtained by United Press correspondent Richard W. Johnston, the only correspondent to board the "jeeps" after the battle).
ABOARD AN ESCORT CARRIER FLAGSHIP IN THE WESTERN PACIFIC, Nov. 3 (UP)(Delayed)- The Battle of Samar didn't end when the Japanese fleet - battered by bombs and torpedoes, raked by strafers, and harassed by the five-inch fire from the destroyers and the tiny escort carriers themselves - finally turned and staggered north in half-speed flight.
The baby flattop pilots had flown air support missions and patrols for months. Now they had tasted real game and besides they had seen one of their ships go down under Japanese shellfire. They flew for vengeance all the rest of the day of Oct. 25.
Cmdr. Richard Fowler from one of the attacked carriers, sank a heavy Jap cruiser early in the morning, and then - unsatisfied - flew south to assemble a squadron on the decks of another ship. He took it north after the crippled Nips about noon and personally chose a Jap battleship as his own prey. Fowler screamed down and put three 500-pounders on the limping battle wagon.
Some of the fliers from the sunk carrier and others from those under fire landed at Tacloban airstrip on Leyte. They gassed up, reloaded, and set out in pursuit. Lt. Tommy Lupo of New Orleans overtook the Japs near the entrance of San Bernardino Strait. He put his bombs on a cruiser, as did Ensign Paul Bennett of Milner, North Dakota.
In the late afternoon the fliers from the fast carriers joined their little brothers in the destruction of Japanese cripples and the next morning the attacks were resumed as the Nips inched their way through San Bernardino Strait.
From this flagship Rear Admiral C. A. F. (Ziggy) Sprague sent "well dones" to all his gallant men. Admiral Thomas L. (Tommy) Sprague - no relation but an Annapolis classmate - sent congratulations from his own flagship.
But the five survivors of "Ziggy's" gallant six got little respite after the Japs turned away. The enemy ships had hardly reached the horizon before an air alarm sounded and Japanese planes launched an attack. It is possible these Nip aviators had been scheduled to support the surface fleet, but if so they arrived too late.
The tired gunners on the baby flattops returned to their positions and drove off the attackers in all but one instance. A diving Jap broke through the screen over the St. Lo and got a lucky hit on her flight deck - a hit that penetrated and set off her torpedoes and other ammunition.
The St. Lo had come through the surface battle without a single hole, but now - ironically - a flimsy Jap plane had done what armored battlewagons and cruisers couldn't do. The St. Lo went down.
More than 80 per cent of her company was rescued after less than two hours in the water and - in another of the many miracles of that day - approximately 75 per cent of the personnel of the Gambier Bay also survived, though they were 42 hours in the water.
On the sunny bridge which surmounts the tiny island of these converted merchant ships, "Ziggy" Sprague enjoined me to give all the credit to the fliers in the Battle of Samar.
"They were wonderful," the Admiral said, simply.
But there's credit enough to go around. To Sprague himself, to the carrier crews and the destroyers and as well as the dauntless pilots.
They all had a hand in the "Miracle of Samar."