By: Judge John L. Kiener
(Editor’s Note: Continued from the 9th day of October 2012. Tom Cole left the USS Melvin [D D 680] on Friday, April 20, 1945. His diary continued until Saturday, May 12, 1945. During the crew of the Melvin’s reunion in San Luis Obispo, California in October 1964, the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, a staff collected and published a log of the ship’s activities during World War II. The material was copyrighted by Edgar A. Hawk. Because Cole’s diary has been used in this series of articles, a couple of references to the reunion material will be used in this account to complete the history of the ship. – J.L. Kiener)
After Tom Cole left the USS Melvin (DD 680) activities in support of the Okinawa continued. The ship continued as a unit of the fast carrier task force. A number of operations were launched against the Japanese mainland. On 10 August 1945 the following significant occurrences were noted:
“The first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima 6 Aug 45 and the second on Nagasaki 9 Aug 45. Paul Hyde recorded in his diary 8 Aug that news had come by radio of a new type weapon being used but none of us aboard had the slightest idea of the enormous destructive force. Kamikazes were still active 9 Aug 45 and that day BORIE (DD 704) was hit while on picket duty for Task Force 38. There were many casualties and the forward part of the ship was heavily damaged.
“The first message offering Japanese acceptance of surrender terms short of depriving the Emperor of his throne was sent via the Swiss government to Washington at 0300 this date. Then late in the afternoon Radio Tokyo broadcast in English a similar message. Hyde: ‘At 2300 the O. O. D. announced over the speaker system that Japan had accepted our terms for peace.’
“As we were leaving the fast carrier forces the following message was received: ‘GOOD LUCK AND PLEASANT VOYAGE (x) YOUR STURDY SUPPORT WILL BE MISSED BY THE BIG BLUE TEAM (x) HALSEY.’” (Admiral William “Bull” Frederick Halsey, Jr. was the Commander of the United States Third Fleet during World War II.)
A follow up note on 02 Sept 45 read: “An uneventful day for us in the far North Pacific but on that date the Japanese signed formal surrender documents aboard the MISSOURI in Tokyo Bay.” The USS Melvin engaged minesweeping operations in the Pacific Theater of operations during the month continuing these duties during October 1945.
Divided into Chapters and titled “THIS IS OUR STORY – 50 YEAR LATER: USS MELVIN (DD 680), the final account is labeled: “Pearl Harbor, and the trips to San Francisco for Overhaul and to San Diego for Mothballing and Decommissioning.” When the Melvin entered port at San Francisco various members of the crew were honorably discharged.
The final dated entry in the Melvin’s “OUR STORY” is 31 May 1946. It states in part: “0915—The crew fell in on the fo’c’sle. 0930 – The ship was decommissioned and turned over to the Commanding Officer of the McDERMUT in ‘Out of Commission in Reserve’ status for care and upkeep.”
RIBBONS & BATTLE STARS
A total of six “Ribbons” and 10 “Battle Stars” were earned by the USS Melvin for naval actions in World War II. The list compiled by Bill Robie reads as follows: Ribbons – 1. American Campaign; 2. Asiatic Pacific Campaign with two silver stars; 3. Victory WW II; 4. Navy Occupation Service with Asia clasp; 5. Philippine Liberation with one bronze star and 6. Philippine Presidential Unit Citation with gold frame.
The 10 Battle Stars are: 1. Marianas, 10 June – 27 August 1944; 2. Tinian, 24 June – 1 August 1944; 3. Western Carolines, 31 August – 14 October 1944; 4. Leyte, 19 October – 16 December 1944; 5. Luzon, 12 December 1944 – 22 January 1945; 6. Iwo Jima, 15 February – 16 March 1945; 7. Okinawa, 17 March – 30 June 1945; 8. Third Fleet Operations, 10 July – 15 August 1945; 9. Kurile Islands, 1 February – 11 August 1945, and 10. Minesweeping, 23 June 1945 – 2 March 1946.
The ship’s “Battle Record” included sinking of the Japanese Battleship Fuso, assisting in the sinking of a Japanese destroyer, shooting down five Japanese aircraft, sinking one Japanese merchantman, one Japanese fishing craft and destroying 344 Japanese mines. The USS Melvin rescued 19 American airmen and took three Japanese prisoners.
The USS Melvin was recommissioned on 26 February 1951 and sailed on 1 June for Newport, Rhode Island to join the Atlantic Fleet’s DesRon 24 and bolster the 2nd and 6th Fleets so that they could spare destroyers for the United Nations effort in South Korea. For 2½ years, she cruised off the East Coast of the United States and in the Caribbean Sea, deploying to the Mediterranean Sea from 22 April to 8 October 1952 and 22 April to 6 June 1953.
On 13 January 1954, the USS Melvin was again decommissioned and joined the Reserve Fleet at Charleston, South Carolina. She remained berthed there until 1960, when she was
reassigned to the Philadelphia Group, Atlantic Reserve Fleet. USS Melvin was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 December 1974. She was sold on 14 August 1975 and broken up for scrap.
ROSTER OF ENLISTED MEN
The Roster of Enlisted Men with the “Rating” and “Date Aboard” notations includes “Thomas Martin Cole, TM 3/c USNR 24 Nov 43.” The rating TM was that of “Torpedoman.” The term “3/c” means third class.
Cole received a “UNITED STATES NAVY RATING DESCRIPTION” for TORPEDOMAN’S MATE, Third Class. The rating description was issued to sailors “…mainly to help you get a job in civilian life which will make the best use of your naval training and experience. Don’t hesitate to show it to any employer or prospective employer.”
The seven page booklet provided: “Torpedoman’s mates are petty officers who make ready and fire torpedoes and depth charges. They maintain and repair torpedoes, torpedo parts, control mechanisms, and torpedo firing equipment…”
Referring to related CIVILIAN OCCUPATIONS, the booklet states: “With brief on-the-job training, a TORPEDOMAN’S MATE, Third Class, can qualify for such jobs as AUTOMATIC HONING MACHINE OPERATOR or LAPPING MACHINE OPERATOR… With additional training… such jobs as ELECTRICIAN’S HELPER, PHOTOPHONE ASSEMBLER, RADIO REPAIRMAN, or PICK-UP ASSEMBLER.” Continuing, the booklet said with considerable additional training, the torpedoman’s mate “should be able to qualify for jobs as BENCH MACHINIST, MILLWRIGHT, MAINTENANCE MECHANIC, AUTOMOBILE MECHANIC or BLAZER in machine shops, mills, factories, and automobile garages.”
Tom Cole, now a Jonesborough resident, furthered his education and became a well-respected Wildlife Resources Officer in East Tennessee.
REUNION IN NORTH CAROLINA
A USS Melvin reunion held in Wilmington, North Carolina produced the following story written by Clifton Daniel:
From the windows of the Hilton through the curtain of rain that fell Friday, the men of the destroyer USS Melvin could see the Battleship North Carolina across the Cape Fear River.
The crew of the Melvin, gathered in Wilmington this weekend for a reunion, was the only destroyer crew credited with single-handedly sinking a Japanese battleship during World War II.
It was during the battle of Surigao Strait in the South Pacific that the Melvin and two other destroyers attacked the Japanese battleship Fuso. The Melvin was the last of the three in the attack formation.
Torpedoes from the first two ships missed the target because their commanders misjudged the Japanese battleship’s speed and its distance from them, said Henry Rosypal, president of the Merciless Melvin Club.
The Melvin‘s captain, Barry K. Atkins, judged the speed and distance correctly and ordered nine torpedoes fired. Enough hit their mark.
“We hit her pretty near midships,” Rosypal said. “She broke in half near the water line.”
The Melvin may have saved the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga from a similar fate, some months later in the battle for the island of Iwo Jima.
The Saratoga had been hit by five kamikazes and was on fire. A second wave of suicide planes was on the way to finish her off. The Melvin moved into position between the Saratoga and oncoming planes and shot every one out of the sky.
But perhaps the most startling of the Melvin’s accomplishments is that through 20 months of combat, including two major invasions, not a single member of her crew was killed in action – although destroyers were much less heavily armored than battleships. A destroyer’s armor was five-eighths of an inch thick, compared with 16 inches for a battleship. Because of their light armor, the destroyers were nicknamed “tin cans,” Rosypal said.
The Melvin‘s crew is bonded by more than their good fortune in battle. They also share a deep respect for each other and their former commander, Atkins.
“The men were all like brothers…family,” Royspal said. “You could rely on them for anything. And we had a first class skipper.”
“These fellows are so close that when they pass through a state where another crew member is living, they stop off and see him,” said Irene Watkins, who with her husband Ed, played host for the reunion.
The original crew numbered 110 (number in Daniel’s story – Cole inserted the number 309 indicating a more inclusive list of crew members). Watkins, who lives in Wilmington, served as the ship’s baker.”
COMMANDER BARRY K. ATKINS
In reference to “skipper” Barry Kennedy Atkins, a partial biography of his accomplishments includes his record, first as a motor torpedo boat (PT) commander, and then as the Commander of the 2100-ton destroyer USS Melvin. He was born August 2, 1911 in Annapolis, Maryland, virtually in the shadows of the U.S. Naval Academy. His father was a Navy Captain, Arthur K. Atkins, who also saw service in WW II as the Inspector of Machinery at Hartford, Conn. Barry followed in his father’s footsteps and entered the Naval Academy, graduating in 1932.
Commander Atkins’ first assignment as an Ensign took him to the decks of the Battleship USS Tennessee in the Pacific. After a year on the “Big T,” he was transferred to the USS New Mexico. In June 1935, Atkins was a First Lieutenant on the destroyer USS Mahan. He then served aboard several destroyers and saw combat action when the War in the Pacific began. In 1942 he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander and was assigned to lead PT Boat Squadron Eight. He was awarded the Silver Star for action in the Battle of Bismark Sea and landings at Salamaua, Lae and Finschaven. In 1943 Atkins returned to Miami, Florida where he was placed in charge of PT Shakedown Training.
After attending naval training schools at San Diego and Pearl Harbor, he was given command of the USS Melvin (DD 680) on October 10, 1944. Action aboard the Melvin has been detailed by Cole. Commander Atkins received the Navy Cross for the ship’s sinking of the Japanese battleship Fuso. He later received the Bronze star for the ship’s determined efforts in fighting off kamikaze attacks during the Pacific campaign.
Commander Atkins left the USS Melvin to take command of the new destroyer USS Holder. Later he had assignments to the United Nations Military Staff Committee, Carrier Groups in the Atlantic, and U.S. Naval Forces in the Mediterranean as well as Amphibious Operations in the Far East. Atkins was Commander of the Naval Station at Annapolis, Maryland and Chief of Staff to the Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy. He attained the rank of Rear Admiral before retiring in 1959.
Admiral Atkins died on November 15, 2005 at age 94. He was interred at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors on January 30, 2006. There has been pressure from crewmen of the Melvin to have a ship named after Atkins; the only official response has been that, as one prominent and highly-decorated officer among many, he is eligible for the honor but not guaranteed it.
End of Series