Navy Coxswain Bob Hale, all of 18 years old, didn’t know it at the time, but he was headed into the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War. His job as a Coxswain was, as he put it, “a boat driver.” I submit that he was much more than just a “boat driver.” He and his crew’s job were to take 26 Marines ashore at Iwo Jima from APA (Attack Transport) #154 U.S.S. Lowndes aboard his LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel). After a “few trips to shore, they would begin bringing back the dead and wounded.” The Lowndes received and treated 365 wounded from the Iwo beach.
He remembers a “boom with hooks would be lowered over the side of the ship to his boat with four rings to slip over the stretchers and lift the dead and wounded on board.” They could lift a man per minute off the boats this way. They could also “carry a Jeep and five men” on their boat. The Iwo Jima operation was scheduled to last three days, but wound up taking thirty-six. Bob and his crew were there for the first eight days of the battle involving the Lowndes. Hail said they were “constantly under enemy fire and could see the shells splashing in the water around them from the entrenched Japanese on the island.” Getting in the boat was tricky said Bob. “The Marines had to climb down the netting from the side of the Lowndes while he tried to keep his LCVP steady.” Out of 26 LCVP’s, 8 were lost at Iwo.
Bob was born on March 5, 1927. He joined the Navy on May 24, 1944 and spent his basic training at the Naval Station in San Diego. He was then assigned to an LCVP as the Coxswain and did his training off of the U.S.S. Lowndes. He recalls the ship having to be “degaussed” (demagnetized) in Oregon so as not to attract enemy mines. By 1943, cruisers and battleships were well protected by the use of demagnetizing vessels. In October 1944, the U.S.S. Lowndes got underway from California to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Once there, they began “practicing amphibious landings on several islands.” Bob also remembers the beaches were “not pretty at all, but were covered with oil.”
In January 1945, the Lowndes left Pearl Harbor en route to Eniwetok Atoll, Marshall Islands. In February 1945, they headed for Saipan to make final preparations for the Iwo Jima invasion. Two to three hours before arriving at Iwo, flares and rockets could clearly be seen on the island. It was hard for the LCVP’s to land on the beaches at first because of heavy enemy fire, as well as damaged landing craft, amphibious vehicles and land equipment. After numerous trips back and forth to the beach head, Bob remembers that the Lowndes would “take off at 4:00 p.m. every night and head back out to sea to avoid being fired on by the Japanese on Iwo. If (the LCVP) didn’t make it back to the ship by 4:00, you would be stuck on the beach overnight until the ship returned the next morning.” He said the Japanese “would fly planes over at night and their tracers were thicker than stars.” They would “use a signal man to steer our LCVP back to the ship via a lantern if it was still dark or flags if it was daylight.”
Bob recalled seeing “the U.S. flag on top of Mount Suribachi and it inspired all the men.” He left Iwo on February 19th to head back to Saipan with the wounded, but the hospitals were full and they were rerouted to Guam. They then were sent from Saipan to land troops from the 2nd Marine Division on Okinawa. The U.S.S. Lowndes won two battle stars.
Bob recalls that he was “out to sea when the men heard that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died.” He was discharged in November 1946, received his “back pay and mustering out pay and went home to Albuquerque.” He worked for a while at Kirkland AFB as a carpenter. He then went into the banking business for many years at various locations. He met his future wife, Joyce Lea, at one of his stops. They married in 1959 and have two daughters, Shelley and Stasey. Joyce died May 10, 2016. Bob now resides at Southaven Assisted Living in Lubbock and beamed with pride when he said that “one daughter visits me in the morning and one visits me in the afternoon.” Bob passed away on February 28, 2017.
Thank you for your service, Bob.
Larry A. Williams
Veterans Liaison Co-Chair
Texas South Plains Honor Flight Board