History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Monday, June 9, 2014

Floyd Lange gave last full measure of devotion in WWII

A 1944 photo of the USS Luce, "in camouflage"
You look at a photo of Floyd Lange and you know you could easily engage him in conversation. How wonderful if we could have shared his company through the years. There's no doubt he had the approachable qualities of his sisters.
I covered the Morris Memorial Day program for many years when Joyce Kramer and Lola Michaelson were present. They were honored as Gold Star Sisters. Irene Monroe often did the honoring with help from the Girls Stater. Joyce and Lola were sisters of Floyd Lange. Lola is now deceased. Joyce was present for the 2014 Memorial Day program.
Years from now when I reflect on Memorial Day, I'll instantly remember the sound of Eleanor Killoran playing "It's a Grand Old Flag" on piano. Those programs were held at the old elementary auditorium. That structure has been razed. Today the site is the National Guard Armory.
Floyd is the reason we have a Memorial Day. He and so many of his comrades didn't make it through World War II. He served in the Pacific Theater as did my late father Ralph E. Williams. Both were gunnery specialists.
Floyd came from a lively family that had seven children, Floyd the oldest. It was a nomadic type of farm family. Nomadic they were but they stayed in Stevens County. Lola and Joyce were among five girls in the family. Floyd's face is remindful of the sisters we know. Therefore we just know, as if he were literally with us, that he was winning with his personality. I'm inclined to say he looks like "the Kramer boys" too!
The loss of Floyd in combat makes us realize, lest we need reminding, the utter tragedy of war. In Floyd's case the tragedy seems larger because war's end was so close. So staggered were the Japanese, they were resorting to the last-gasp tactic of kamikaze planes. It was just such a tactic, from the most depraved depths of warmaking, that sank the ship on which Floyd served. He went down with the ship. He was announced as "a Donnelly boy" in the headlines that followed.
The family lived in Chokio when the kids were little. They made a move to the country which required the kids to walk two miles to school. There was a time when the older generation was known to embellish a little about the hardships in getting to and from school. We teased them good-naturedly about it. Ah, but there was no embellishing re. the Lange family. "On the place we had a house, barn and outhouse," Lola wrote for the Stevens County Historical Society book "The '40s: a time for war and a time for peace."
The Lange family pulled up stakes and moved to Donnelly. Floyd completed his education through the eighth grade. He surprised the family one day: he announced he had enlisted in the U.S. Navy. The family wasn't inclined to believe him right away. A friend of Floyd supplied confirmation. I remember my father saying that he too enlisted and chose the Navy. Was there really a preferred branch of the service? Oh, in the Viet Nam War there certainly was: "the National Guard." Ironically it was the National Guard that was called to duty for the Iraq War (or police action or whatever it was).
Floyd's sisters remembered that he was accurate with a gun when hunting. Therefore they saw it as most apt he became a gunner on the USS Luce. He was assigned "S2C." Floyd's birthday was January 29, one day later than mine.
Floyd was 19 years old when the Luce went down and he perished. "Because he was a gunner, he probably manned his post to the end," Lola wrote. She noted that "sometimes it was hard to believe it really happened, since we never saw his body." A memorial service was held.
Ship did lots of work
The Langes could be proud that Floyd served on a vessel of distinction. It dealt out much punishment to the Japanese (or "Japs" or "Nips" as they were called by American patriots of the time). The USS Luce was a Fletcher-class destroyer. It was commissioned on June 21, 1943, Commdr. D.C. Varian in charge. It sailed out of New York on September 5 of 1943. It arrived in Bremerton WA on October 28, then it was on to Pearl Harbor where it would be assigned as plane guard for "Enterprise."
The Luce conducted gunnery training exercises in the Hawaiian Islands until November 24. Then it was on to Adak Island, AK, and from 11/30 of 1943 to 8/8 of 1944, the ship patrolled off Attu Island. They sailed from Attu on February 3-4 of 1944, and participated in the bombardment of Paramushiru in the Kurile Islands. They were attached with Task Force 94 of the Northern Pacific Force. They surprised the enemy. Floyd and his mates destroyed a 2000-ton enemy freighter.
The Luce sailed back to Attu to continue with patrol duties. In June the ship bombarded Matsuwa in the Kurile chain, and pounded Paramushiru a second time. The Luce sailed back to Pearl Harbor on August 31. Then it sortied from Manus in the Admiralty Islands on October 11.
Allied forces assaulted the Leyte Islands on October 20-23. During that engagement, the Luce patrolled outside of the LST (landing ship/tank) areas, providing cover.
The next destination for this most intrepid craft/crew was New Guinea. There it supported the Huon Gulf landing operations. Next was the job of supporting the Lingayen Gulf attack and landings. 
The calendar moves on to the year 1945, the last year of the war, and could the Luce make it through? We're used to happy endings in war movies. The reality is that "war is hell," as General Wm. Sherman once said (at the Ohio State Fair, and actually it was a paraphrase). Or, as the National Guard commander said to the delusional young man in the movie "Taps": "War is just one thing, and that's bad."
The Luce arrived on January 9, 1945, to an operating area for screening LSTs and transports. With Lange's sharp shooting eye employed, it fended off enemy attackers and shot one down on January 11. On that day the Luce departed for San Pedro Bay, engaging in combat en route. The empire of Japan was sliding to its catastrophic fate, but wasn't going to surrender until the Allies unleashed new tech with those two bombs.
Axis powers on their last legs
You might say the Japanese were delusional. Ditto the Nazis. Many of their high-ranking officers did in fact see reality and some were amenable to a peace pact, especially on the German side, as I have read. The Nazi SS was staunch vs. such inclinations. Defeat was never accepted on anything approaching civil terms. Mussolini's body was hung up on meat hooks to be abused. Hitler's inner circle were willing to kill their own family members in suicidal capitulation. What a time in which mankind showed its most base, sin-filled inclinations. Are we really programmed so much differently today? We must be vigilant.
The Luce patrolled San Pedro Bay until January 25, 1945, at which time she departed for the assault on an area of Luzon called "San Antonio/San Felipe." There the ship was unopposed. It sailed on, reaching Mindoro on January 30. There the Luce escorted resupply convoys between Subic Bay and San Pedro Bay. The Luce and its gallant crew were headed for an appointment with fate.
March 24 saw the ship depart Leyte escorting and screening units of "TF51" which landed heavy artillery on Kelse Shima, for support of the main landings on Okinawa. The Luce performed radar picket duty. The ship was now in peril vs. the reeling empire of Japan. On May 4, Japanese suicide planes were intercepted by the combat air patrol in the vicinity of Luce. Two of the kamikaze planes avoided the interceptors. They attacked the Luce from portside. Luce gunners shot down one, but the explosion of the bomb on that plane caused a power failure on the ship. The Luce was unable to bring her guns to bear in time. It was struck in the aft section by the second kamikaze.
The port engine was disabled. Engineering spaces were flooded. The rudder jammed. The grand but exhausted ship took a heavy list to starboard. The order came down to abandon ship. The account reminds me of how the "Sullivan boys" of Waterloo IA perished in the Solomon Islands. "Abandon ship." Moments later the Luce slid beneath the surface in a violent explosion. Going down with the ship were 126 of her 312 officers and crew members.
Floyd Lange had given "the last full measure of devotion." He had contributed to a naval campaign that brought five battle stars for the USS Luce. We feel thankful for such gallant men as Floyd Lange who answered the call. But it's sobering to realize that man's inclination toward conflict can reach such levels. It hardly ended with the end to WWII. Korea followed and then Viet Nam.
A Gold Star Mother who was honored on the 2014 Memorial Day was Vicki Day, mother of David Day, casualty in Iraq. The Iraq conflict had a questionable foundation unlike WWII. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Saddam Hussein was a standard "strongman" of the Middle East, a part of the world we have a hard time understanding. Perhaps he was caricatured by the media. It seemed Iraqi troops couldn't surrender fast enough. That's a night-and-day contrast to the crazed devotion of the Japanese to their cause near the end of WWII.
Let's be frank: We had to dehumanize the enemy. A WWII vet once told me that the Japanese were described by some as "slant-eyed sons of bitches." Such is the intensity or insanity of war.
Ironic term: "divine wind"
"Kamikaze" means "divine wind." This tactic was more successful than conventional attacks vs. Allied warships. At least 47 Allied vessels, from PT boats to escort carriers, were sunk by kamikazes, and about 300 were damaged.
The TV series "McHale's Navy" was about a PT boat crew. A friend tells me that the reason we don't see re-runs anymore is political correctness, as the crew members used those denigrating terms for the Japanese that I have included in this post. I always worry that the old western movies will disappear because of the portrayal of Native Americans (screaming from horseback, "lining up on the hill" etc.).
The movie "PT 109" was about the PT boat of John F. Kennedy. Kennedy said he would only go along with the movie if it was totally historically accurate, and if he could choose the leading actor. He chose Cliff Robertson over Warren Beatty! I remember seeing the movie at our Morris Theater. Us kids were reverential toward the memory of JFK.
About 3,860 kamikaze pilots were killed, and 18.6 per cent of kamikaze attacks managed to hit a ship. Just think of the extent of that: 3,860 pilots giving their own "last full measure." What an epidemic of delusion to think such a commitment was justified. How tragic we in the U.S. had to go to such great lengths to snuff all that out. Floyd Lange is in a grave at Fort Snelling because of this. "Floyd Roland Lange."
We pay homage on Memorial Day, perhaps the most quiet day of the year. Peace. Contemplation. So contrary to the explosive atmosphere of war. Just imagine the Luce's last day. Or, the Sullivans going down. If only Floyd could have returned to join his wonderful farm family and to shoot game, not at an "enemy." Stevens County was where he belonged. If only we could talk to him today, to see those same lively eyes and energetic persona that he shared with his siblings.
"A tradition of death"
The kamikaze planes were laden with explosives, bombs, torpedoes and full fuel tanks. A kamikaze could sustain damage that would disable a conventional attacker, and still achieve its objective.
It's not widely known but the Nazis formed their own group of suicide pilots, called the "Leonidas Squadron." Ah, it must have been named for those warriors of Sparta, Greece. The Nazis ended up reluctant to use the tactic. As for the Japanese, a tradition of death instead of defeat was embedded in their military culture. It was a tradition in Samurai life: "loyalty and honor until death."
What would Floyd Lange say to that kamikaze pilot if he were to encounter him in the afterlife? A Christian would say that forgiveness prevails. The young men of war are only doing what their governments demand of them. Wars are fought between governments, or at least they were through the 20th Century. Today we worry about detached terrorists. It's hard to come up with tactics vs. them. We hope the "solutions" don't hurt more people than the actual perceived menace.
The terrorists "got us" on 9/11. Maybe we should have just acknowledged defeat, albeit temporary, at that time. Maybe we should have taken a deep breath before going into Iraq.
Wouldn't it be a blessing for both Floyd Lange and David Day to still be among us. God bless their memory and their surviving family members. God bless the service organizations and their auxiliaries who ensure each Memorial Day that proper recognition is given. God bless those who decorate veterans graves at our cemeteries.
Life at home disrupted too
The civilian "home front" in WWII was a story in itself. One of the biggest audiences to be attracted for a book event at our Morris Public Library was for an author who wrote about this. I was there and heard him talk a lot about the Brainerd National Guard and what it experienced. Had I known this would be a focus, I would have had my mother Martha accompany me. She was a 1942 graduate of Brainerd High School. She played in the band for the send-off and the somber welcome-back for the troops. The Brainerd Guardsmen were captured in the Philippines.
The late Jack Watzke in the Historical Society book wrote that "the civilian war years were filled with anguish, concern, heartbreak, giving, sacrifice and always support."
Watzke wrote about how General MacArthur had to abandon the Philippines at war's start. I found this very interesting, because Jack said the escape was made by PT boat, but in the WWII documentary currently airing on a cable TV channel, it shows him on a plane. I trust that Watzke's account is accurate. The documentary creators must have been assuming.
"The remaining years of the war were involved with taking and retaking islands, sea areas and land areas, slowly and methodically," Watzke wrote. 
We pray such a burden will never land on our young men and women again. Floyd Lange, RIP.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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