Family and friends gather on the destroyer Laffey to honor those in 1945 attack near Okinawa

Veterans of the destroyer Laffey heard excerpts from “The Ship That Would Not Die,” which was written by Rear Adm. F. Julian Becton, the commanding officer during a 1945 attack on the ship. Paul Zoeller/Staff

To those who served on the destroyer Laffey, the ship was home and the other crew members were family, says Sonny Walker, a member of the U.S.S. Laffey Association.

Saturday marked the 71st anniversary of a massive, three-hour attack by Japanese aircraft near Okinawa. The crew on that day in 1945 fought back valiantly, saving the heavily damaged Laffey, which later became known as “the ship that would not die.”

Veterans of the Laffey and their family members gathered on the ship’s fantail at Patriots Point for a ceremony to honor the 32 sailors who were killed and the 71 injured during that World War II attack. Walker said the ship was attacked by 22 Japanese aircraft, and was hit by four bombs and 5 kamikaze aircraft.

The Laffey was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation and earned five battle stars for service during World War II. It also was awarded two battle stars for service during the Korean War.

The ship was decommissioned in 1975 and became part of the fleet at Patriots Point in 1981.

Walker, who served on the Laffey from 1960 to 1963, said there weren’t any World War II veterans at the ceremony this year. “They’re getting few and far between and it’s hard to travel these days,” he said.

But some family members of those aboard during the attack were there.

Walt Laskowski attended the ceremony in honor of his uncle Frank Laskowski, who served aboard the ship during the attack.

Frank Laskowski died in January, Walt Laskowski said.

He always was proud to have served and often wore a Laffey hat and T-shirt, Laskowski said. He also was very patriotic, regularly changing the flag on the pole outside his home so it wasn’t faded and didn’t have any tears in it.

And he often encouraged friends and family members to read books or watch DVDs about the Laffey, Laskowski said, but he didn’t talk about the attack in great detail. “You had to draw the stories out of him,” Laskowski said.

Many men aboard during the attack prefer to discuss the horrific events of that day only among each other, he said. “It was personal to them.”

Marcy Dioniso, Frank Laskowski’s niece, said Saturday marked the first time she was aboard the Laffey. She had heard stories from her uncle, “but being on the ship, it was surreal,” she said.

Walker said about 25 members from his association gather twice each year to do a service project on the Laffey. Next week, they will paint a portion of the outside of the ship, he said.

Smaller groups of four or five members also do service projects several times each year, he said.

Many people who served aboard the destroyer have a connection and a commitment to it, he said. “We’re family.”

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.