My husband Mark came home from a visit with his family and began telling me about a story written about his uncle, Mack Mileski, and his experiences during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
I was surprised to learn that Uncle Mack had survived not only the war’s first kamikaze attack on a U.S. naval vessel, but a torpedo hit as well!
Spoiler alert: Yes, I know this is a blog focused on the Knapp family, but my father-in-law happens to be married to a Mileski. And I also can’t resist thanking veterans for their service, especially our WWII vets. They don’t call these guys (and gals!) the greatest generation for nothing. These folks are tough!
When I was a newspaper reporter, part of my beat was the Ohio Veterans’ Home (OVH) in Sandusky, Ohio. I have interviewed my fair share of veterans, but I never tired of listening to them talk about their experiences. One of them remarked to me that “…every time a veteran dies, it’s like a book that is lost to history forever.”
That’s why I am so glad people are recording these stories – before they are lost forever.
The article recounts Mack’s experiences as an aviation machinist’s mate 1st class who repaired torpedo bombers and kept them flying off the deck of the carrier USS Santee.
According to the article, Leyte Gulf was the largest naval battle of WWII, involving hundreds of ships. The battle lasted four days and when it was over, the Japanese had lost more than 12,000 sailors, a fleet carrier, 3 light carriers, 3 battleships, 10 cruisers, 11 destroyers and 300 planes. The U.S. Navy suffered 3,000 casualties and lost a light carrier, 2 carrier escorts, 3 destroyers, a destroyer escort and 200 airplanes.
Mack’s quick reflexes allowed him to dive out of harm’s way when an enemy plane strafed the ship and then crashed onto the carrier’s deck. Luckily, Mack lived to recount the experience some 70 years later at age 90 in this article. Mack and his buddies were told that their carrier was the first American ship hit by a Japanese suicide plane in the war.
But the Japanese Navy wasn’t done with the USS Santee yet because just 15 minutes later the Santee was hit by a torpedo. Fortunately, no one was killed and the ship was not seriously damaged thanks to the torpedo hitting a steel beam instead of the more fragile hull.
A special thanks to Don Moore, who has been a reporter, editor and publisher in West Florida for more than 50 years. Moore has written thousands of articles about veterans and their war time experiences, including this one about our very own Uncle Mackie. Don has published these accounts on a blog called War Tales.
Read all of Uncle Mackie’s stirring account of his war time experiences here on Don Moore’s wonderful blog, War Tales. There also are some great photos of Mack when he was in the Navy, so be sure to check it out.
Click here to view the War Tales fan page on Facebook.