By Jennifer Martin - email
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - "At the time I was drafted, they were desperate for men in all branches of the service so you had a choice of what branch you were into," CD Lancaster remembers. "And I did not like to walk and I couldn't swim but I chose the Navy because I didn't think you could swim 2000 miles anyway."
He was 20 years-old.
"I didn't have sense enough to be afraid."
After training, he went to the Pacific and was assigned to the USS Orestes, a torpedo boat tender.
"I was on less than a week and we were making a trip from Leyte Island in the Phillipines to Tacloban Island which was on the upper end of the Phillipines. On this particular trip, there were a number of ships in there, in this convoy, about 40 ships. And 3 japanese planes flew across that convoy and they were low enough that you could look up and recognize them if you knew them. They were flying across that convoy to pick out the ships they wanted to hit.
One of them hit the ammunition ship on our starboard side and when it blew up and we went by it, you couldn't see a piece of it as big as your shoe. The other one hit the gasoline ship on the starboard side and the same thing happened there. The third one, finally hit it and set it on fire and it flew across the superstructure of the troop ship, set it afire, but it didn't actually hit it."
The ships finally got to Tacloban Island and thought they were safe. They weren't.
"The alarm went off and this Japanese ship came in, hit the water and hit the ship. He was a kamikaze. His bomb was supposed to go off when he hit the ship, but it didn't. We had a crew of about 180 on the ship and 80 of them were killed in the attack. We had to abandon ship.
Well we were in the harbor and being a non swimmer, I wasn't going to leave until I found a life jacket. I found a life jacket, jumped off and these small boats were out there waiting to pick us up.
I had this friend who had been with me all the way since gunnery school to the ship. And I saw him out ahead of me and I call him and he came back and carried me to the boat. And saved my life."
About 3 months later he was assigned to a similar ship, the USS Pontus. They stayed around the Phillipines, testing PT boats with rockets on them. About a year and a half later, they got word they could come home. The trip would not be easy.
"We got caught in a terrific storm. And we got into waves that were 40 feet high. During that process, some depth charges broke loose in the hangar deck and I was one of the lucky one who got to go down there and tie them back up. I was expecting em to blow up every minute."
When he got home, Lancaster married his sweetheart and went back to school. He worked as a teacher, until he retired.
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