World War II veterans recall their experiences at Battle of Okinawa

The USS Laffey’s nickname is “The Ship That Would Not Die.”

As 88-year-old veteran Arnold Goldberger neared the USS Laffey, he slowed his walking. It’d been 70 years since the former Navy electronics technician had seen his old ship, the one he was on while it was being targeted by Japanese kamikaze planes at the Battle of Okinawa.

Goldberger, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area, was one of a number of veterans honored at an event marking the World War II battle at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum on Thursday, the anniversary of the day the Laffey — nicknamed “The Ship That Would Not Die” — was attacked.

“Reliving all of this … it’s not easy,” Goldberger said from the carrier Yorktown following the ceremony.

In three-month-long fight, more than 12,000 from the Allied forces died. Hundreds of Navy ships were damaged and 34 went down, according to Patriots Point, where the Laffey has been on display since 1981

The honored sailors and other veterans included David Thomason, who was on the USS Mannert L. Abele, also bombed in the Okinawa battle. His daughter, Kay Baumbaugh, read a couple of poems that a family member had found in his mother’s Bible about having sons in the military. One of them was Thomason, now 89.

“I wanted to be on the ship,” said Thomason, who became a part of the Navy at 18. He followed two older brothers into the military.

When the Abele fell victim to the Japanese, Thomason was left in the water, amidst oil from the sunken destroyer, swimming in the East China Sea.

“It was a terrible day,” said Thomason, who lives in in the Upstate.

Goldberger was even more eager to be in the Navy.

He took a test to join the service when he was just 15. Afterward he took his case to an admiral after learning he wasn’t old enough to enlist.

“‘He wants to join the Navy. Make it so.’” Goldberger recalled the officer telling his second-in-command.

“Make it so,” he added. “I will never, to my dying day, forget those three words,” said Goldberger, who would go on to serve four years in the Navy.

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“I just didn’t feel comfortable just sitting around doing nothing, just going to high school,” he said.

During Thursday’s ceremony, wreaths were positioned on the side of the chairs with red banners that read “U.S. Ground Forces Battle of Okinawa Campaign.”

Honorees took the wreaths posted near the end of the ship, and dropped them into the water.

One landed upside down, and a rose floated nearby.

“I’m so proud that this country is proud of us,” Thomason said.

“But we’re so proud to fight for our country.”