ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, TENN. – After hearing that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, Del Garforth, who was only 17 years old, begged his mother’s permission to sign for him to join the Navy.
Garforth’s mother gave in to the request, and not only did he survive the war, but he is still alive today to tell of his experiences during World War II. His stories are ones which Ray McCoy, who works in Workforce Qualifications at AEDC, spent years writing down so he could then share them with other history-enthusiasts.
Details of these events culminated into a book called General Quarters! Memoirs of a World War II veteran aboard the LSM-143. Written and self-published by McCoy, the book recounts Garforth’s time spent as a lead signalman on the LSM-143, or Landing Ship Medium as part of the Pacific Asian Theatre.
“An LSM was the smallest of the ocean-going ships. It didn’t have to be hauled to its destination like a DUKW, manufacturer’s code for a type of military wheeled amphibious landing-craft, or a Higgins boat,” McCoy said. “The LSM-143 was in charge of delivering tanks, various other equipment and Marines to shore. As lead signalman, Del’s post on the conning tower was the highest point, and so he served as the ‘eyes’ of the ship. He was able to witness everything that happened.”
According to McCoy, one of the events detailed in the book is during Garforth’s time in Iwo Jima, when on one overcast February day, his LSM was on the way to shore to deliver tanks when they were bombarded by Japanese kamikaze planes.
“Del describes the planes diving on the group of ships heading to shore, and one plane hit the ship to the left and another barely missed the tower of the LSM-143 before hitting the water and exploding,” he said.
McCoy mentioned this wasn’t the only time in the war that Garforth barely escaped death.
“He also ended up surviving a high level bombing raid.”
Another of his war stories that sticks out to McCoy as being particularly interesting is about “suicide swimmers” used by the Japanese during WWII.
“One night Del heard something and saw swimmers, Japanese he thought were ‘friendlies,’ but just in case Del sounded the General Quarters button that alerts the gunners to get to their station,” he said. “Sure enough they were pushing a raft that exploded when fired upon.”
McCoy, who met Garforth at church, always had an interest in WWII because his dad’s oldest brother served in the Army at 19 years old and was killed in Italy. In addition to Garforth, now a 90-year old resident of McMinnville, McCoy has interviewed other veterans, including two men who knew his late uncle in the Army.
“At first, my book was going to be a collection of stories of these four veterans,” he said. “But Del’s story continued to grow as I talked to him, and eventually I determined I would separate these stories.”
Fortunately enough, McCoy was able to locate the log book of the LSM-143, which enabled him to put Garforth’s stories in chronological order for the book.
“I just feel that these are stories that need to be told,” he said. “A lot of these stories are dying with these veterans.”
Garforth celebrated his 90th birthday on Aug. 21, and McCoy finished the book just in time to release it on his birthday.
For more information about the book, General Quarters!, call 454-7781.