Collett in Tokyo Bay in 1945
by Don Moore, a Correspondent for
the Charlotte Sun Newspaper,
via our shipmate Lee Waldorf
The USS Collett was the first American ship to
sail into Tokyo Bay just before the Japanese signed the surrender on
Sept. 2, 1945, ending World War II.
There's not much Nick Gassera remembers about
serving as a seaman aboard the destroyer USS Collett, DD-730, during
World War II. But three
images are still vivid in his mind about WWII after more than six
decades - Okinawa, the typhoon, and being aboard the first American
ship to sail into Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered.
For the record, the Collett saw action in other
battles the 83-year-old former sailor, who resides in Port
Charlotte, is fuzzy about. Places
like Luzon, Iwo Jima, Taiwan, and China.
"In 1944 we sailed for the Hawaiian Islands and
Admiral "Bull" Halsey's fleet. Our
destroyer became part of his fleet and took part in the attack on
Okinawa," he said. "We were
part of the picket line that circled the carriers and protected them
from the kamikazes. We shot
down most of the enemy planes before they reached our flat-tops.
"I was a loader on the Collett's second 5-inch gun
in the front of the destroyer. After
a while we were told to stop firing at the enemy and come out on
deck and take a look. Lots of
kamikazes were going down in flames.
It looked like a shooting gallery in the movies," Gassera
"One kamikaze almost hit the Collett.
A twin-engine Japanese Betty
was headed right for our destroyer. One
of our 20 millimeter gunners was doing everything he could to stop
it from reaching us," he said. "Fifty
yards off the ship's port bow the gunner hit the right spot and the
Betty blew up. Fiery debris
hit the side of the destroyer and rained down on us, but the ship
wasn't damaged by the bomber's near hit and no one was injured
aboard the Collett."
In the middle of the mêlée with the Japanese
suicide pilots, their destroyer was on station, when on April 18,
1945, it encountered a Japanese submarine lurking in the depths off
shore. The Collett sent I-56,
the enemy sub, to the bottom with all hands by using depth charges.
"We knew we got the submarine when debris -
bodies, life preservers and other junk floated to the surface.
There were no survivors," he
At the conclusion of the 82-day battle of Okinawa,
Halsey took the fleet and headed for the main islands of Japan.
The Collett traveled with
hundreds of American ships toward the enemy's home islands.
"We were headed toward Japan when we sailed into a
typhoon. It went on for
several days and the fleet lost two destroyers in the storm,"
Gassera said. "I was on watch
on the bridge and 100-foot waves were breaking over top of us.
The wind was terrible, too.
admiral took the fleet into the center of the storm.
When we got to its center the
water was just like a piece of glass.
Halsey sailed the fleet along with the eye of the typhoon
(where things were calm) until it blew itself out," he said.
For several days the fleet sat 50 miles off the
coast of Japan, waiting. They
knew nothing about the atomic bomb or what was happening with the
enemy ashore. Gassera and
thousands of other sailors waited for something to happen.
"Then it came over the speakers aboard ship that
Japan was unconditionally surrendering.
We didn't know at that time
that two bombs had been dropped," he added.
"We were the first American ship to sail into
Tokyo Bay to make sure Japan was really surrendering.
We were concerned about more
attacks from kamikazes because they didn't want to surrender,"
"Our captain told us he had been advised the
Japanese would drape white sheets over the barrels of their shore
batteries located on the hills at the entrance to Tokyo Bay to
indicate they wouldn't fire on us," he said.
"We weren't to shoot at them
if they were covered, but if they weren't we were to fire on the
single uncovered cannon. All
the Japanese guns were covered," he said.
With the assistance of a Japanese harbor pilot,
the Collett sailed slowly and cautiously into heavily mined Tokyo
Bay. In the distance
along the shore they could see what was left of that Japanese
Imperial Navy - battleships, carriers, cruisers and destroyers -
riding peacefully at anchor.
"We sailed around the harbor past the enemy fleet
and back out to the entrance. Admiral
Halsey was waiting aboard the battleship Missouri for us to complete
the inspection tour that took us four or five hours," Gassera said.
"Then the Missouri led the
fleet into the harbor and dropped anchor.
We weren't in the harbor for
the surrender ceremony."
The Collett stayed offshore and waited for the
signing that officially ended World War II.
"About a week later our crew was given liberty and
went ashore in Tokyo. The
Japanese civilians seemed sort of afraid of us, but we had no
problems with them," he said. "I
didn't want anything to do with them because I had been fighting
them all these months. I went
back to the Collett and stayed aboard ship until we sailed."
A couple of weeks later the Collett hoisted its
anchor and headed for Honolulu. After
that the 300-man crew headed for San Diego, Calif.
After a 30 days leave to see his folks and get
acquainted with the USA again, Gassera returned to the Collett,
which was about to sail for China, but he didn't go.
He was injured in a freak
accident aboard ship and spent the next 18 months recovering in a
Navy hospital in San Diego.
After he was discharged Gassera returned to
Elizabeth, N.J., where he went to work as a machinist.
Gassera and his wife, Agnes,
moved to Port Charlotte in 1993. They
have two sons and two daughters, as well as 12 grandchildren and 12
- - -
NOTE: We are grateful that on 6 Oct 2010, Don
Moore (firstname.lastname@example.org) a correspondent of the Charlotte Sun
Newspaper in Port Charlotte, FL granted us permission to copy this
story. Please see Don’s
website www.donmooreswartales.com for other stories.