Throwback Thursday: The U.S.S. Terror and the Kamikaze Attack

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’d been finding a lot of old stuff from previous computers that I didn’t know I had. So here we go with a stroll down memory lane.

This is a framed print of the U.S.S. Terror, the only mine-layer of the U.S. Navy Fleet built specifically for laying mines during World War II. The ship was built in Philadelphia and commissioned on July 15, 1942, to serve in the Pacific. She was at both Iwo Jima and Okinawa.


On May 1, 1945, at about 3:45 a.m., the Terror was hit by a Japanese kamikaze plane, which came in through cloud cover and banked so sharply that only one of the ship’s stern guns got fired before she was hit. The kamikaze plane crashed into the ship’s communication platforms, then penetrated the main deck. Both bombs on board the plane exploded. Forty-one U.S. Navy men died, seven were missing and never found, 123 were wounded.

My father, a Navy ensign, was on board the Terror that early morning. The attack took place less than three weeks after his 18th birthday. Just a month earlier, still at age 17, he’d been at the Battle of Okinawa.

By some miracle, he suffered only minor wounds from the kamikaze attack. His best friend, who’d been next to him on deck when the explosion occurred, was decapitated. When the mother of that boy (whose name I never knew) wrote to him after the war and asked how her son had died, my dad struggled with whether or not to tell her the truth. My mom helped him write that very difficult letter.

Like so many of the “Greatest Generation,” he never talked about the war. Never. If my mom hadn’t told me, I would never have known this story, or about how he enlisted at age 17 and the Navy only took him because my grandmother went to the recruiting office with him and signed her permission. But I remember, as a kid, looking at old black and white pictures of that wreckage and not having a clue what they meant.

My dad was a gentle, quiet man with a wickedly playful sense of humor, so it’s hard to imagine what inner strength it took to survive that at such a young age, to come home, to raise a family, and to be a genuinely good man and a genuinely good father.

This picture was provided to him by the U.S. Navy, and contains his insignia ribbons at the bottom. After he died in 2001, it eventually found its way to me and hangs in my living room. One of these days soon, it will go to one of my nieces or my nephew.

What happened to the U.S.S. Terror? After earning four battle stars for service in WWII, she was repaired, used in the Korean War, and finally decommissioned in 1956. The ship was sold for scrap in 1971.

Thanks for traveling with me down memory lane. (I promise Throwback Thursday won’t always be such a sad tale!)

9 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: The U.S.S. Terror and the Kamikaze Attack

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. I served in the Navy aboard the USS Newport News, CA148, 1960-1962. An easier time, except for the Cuban missile crisis.

  2. Thanks Suzanne, this makes me thing of a Clive Cussler story. I love those salvage books of his, where first the history of a ship is told.

  3. thank you for entrusting us with this story… i really can imagine him not wanting to speak about it… the only short stories i got was from a friend of my grandfather ( he died before i was born but he had never spoken about his exerience to anyone)…and from a distant relative wh was in teh camp….and from her i did ore that i wished because in her later year she reverted back to that time…with terror and still such a determination to survive…she was not conscious of in a sense making us life history but she did

  4. What an amazing story! My father and father-in-law never talked about the war either. Those memories must have been so painful.

  5. Thank you for sharing Suzanne. My Dad was on that ship with your Dad at the time of the Kamikaze attack. It must have been horrific. My Dad said very little as well about his time in the Navy. I can’t imagine being on a burning ship filled with explosives. They just did what they had to and didn’t talk about it. They were the greatest generation!