By Jennifer Martin - email
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Harold McDonald was just 17 years-old when he joined the navy in 1943. He remembers how he got his assignment aboard the USS Portland.
"They lined us up against the bulkhead. So I ended up in the magazine room, down there underneath passing up 40 pounds of powder until we got to Tarawa. And we did the bombardment there. All the bombardment going on... The marines had to go ashore in the LST's and boats and landing craft. And I didn't know what was going on until we had a lull and I went up topside saw all the many bodies floating in the water. They didn't make it because the boats, they had misjudged the tide and the ships couldn't get in the close enough."
The Portland would go on to protect aircraft carriers during strikes on several Pacific islands and New Guinea... and eventually took part in the bombardment and landings at Pelilu.
"What we did primarily was we bombarded and we gave support, so I was not close. I could see where we were blowing things up."
The Portland moved next to the Philippines.
"This plane knew we were in that harbor. He was flying above us, throwing bombs down and ammunition all over the deck. And we were trying to get the ammo below the deck as fast as we could. So what we ended having to do was throw all the ammunition into the water and get out of there.
Then we got in the battle of Sirigao Straights, which was a surface engagement with more tonnage than had ever been sunk before. What happened on that one in the Philippines, we had just unloaded everything at Leyte, we had our supplies, troops, everything up there. The Japanese wanted to come in and bombard all of our supplies. But we had spotted them coming up and our PT boats started them hitting them before they got out there. We sent a destroyer escort. So we were able to sink battle wagon, help in that.
We did sink one of the cruisers. I was looking at it. You're looking at a ship and all of a sudden it was not there, it was gone. And the Japanese sailors would not allow you to pick them up because their philosophy was to die in battle. If you didn't die in battle, you were not a good soldier."
McDonald would also see the Japanese willingness to die for their cause when he faced kamikaze pilots bearing down on the Portland and USS Columbus.
"I was on the bridge and he just missed our bridge, because he was going to hit us. I thought it was all over but he decided to hit the other one, which he did. Killed the admiral. Killed all the people on the bridge on that one. We went to Okinawa Easter Sunday and stayed there through all that. That's when the Japanese started throwing at us everything they could. They got over 3000 kamikaze pilots on Okinawa that came at that time."
He was still in Okinawa when the war ended. After he returned to the states, McDonald went to University of Arkansas on the GI Bill. He joined the Air Force and retired as a captain.
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