Former Cass superintendent saw results of atomic bomb
Richard Dale, of Mill Creek, can tell you firsthand about the horror of nuclear war. As a young Navy sailor in WWII, Dale served on a ship that sailed into Nagasaki harbor, the city destroyed by World War II's second atomic bomb strike on August 9, 1945.
During the war, the Japanese port city of Nagasaki was of great strategic importance because of its industrial activity, which included production of ordinance, ships, military equipment, and other war materials.
Six days after the city was destroyed, the Japanese surrendered.
Dale was drafted and entered the service in January 1944. He attended seven weeks of Navy boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois, where physical fitness and attention to detail were the main focus of training.
"The main thing they taught you was to do what they told you and to do it exactly right," he said. "They told us about folding our mattress covers - that's not important later on - but what you're learning to do is do what you're told and do it right and it might save your life. Of course, we had real intense physical training."
The young man from St. Albans didn't have a preference of fighting against the Germans or the Japanese.
"Well, I don't think I ever thought of it that way," he said. "We really didn't think very much about either one of them."
Dale was assigned as a signalman and attended follow-on training at Champaign, Illinois.
"We learned all different phases of signaling," he said. "One of the most efficient signals is the flag hoist. When you're out on a ship, they can take a whole column of ships and turn them in a column movement or a flank movement - all by flipping down a flag."
Dale learned how to signal by hoisting flags on a line, with handheld semaphore flags and by flashing searchlights with Morse code.
Dale's instructors told him that signalman was a dangerous job.
"Some of them said the average lifespan of a signalman in battle is about 10 minutes, because we have to be topside" he said. "Of course, the officers were too, but there's really no safe place."
In April, 1945, Signalman Third Class Dale reported to a brand new Landing Ship Medium (LSM), LSM 439, at a shipyard in Philadelphia. LSMs, amphibious cargo ships about 200-feet long, were not named like larger ships - just given numbers.
After a month of testing LSM 439 - what the Navy calls a "shakedown" - in Little Creek, Virginia, and loading in Rhode Island, Dale and his 57 crewmates began a sea voyage in their little ship that would take them halfway around the world.
LSM 439 and other small ships passed through the Panama Canal in late May 1945. Dale said the scenery passing through the canal was incredible but the heat absolutely miserable.ﾠ
On its voyage across the Pacific, LSM 439 transited Hawaii, Eniwetok, the Marshall Islands and Saipan, but Dale and his crewmates never stepped off the ship until it reached Guam, in the Mariana Islands.
"Of course, there wasn't anything to do, Dale said. "One time they let us go ashore at one of the places and drink some beer. But it was warm."
While LSM 439 was dry-docked at Guam for routine repairs, the Japanese surrendered - four-and-a-half years after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.
Dale would be one of the first servicemen to witness the devastation wrought by the powerful atomic bombs.
Rather than transporting infantry to Japanese beaches to fight fanatical imperial troops, Dale's ship transported occupation troops to the ruined city of Nagasaki.
LSM 439 was ordered to transport Marine occupation troops to Nagasaki in September 1945 and entered Nasgasaki harbor on September 24, 1944.
"All there was was damage," Dale said. "It was just devastated - leveled. Where there had been a tree, there was just a stump."
The young sailor saw no standing buildings as far as he could see.
"It was just devastating," he said. "I just remember thinking - 'it's no wonder they gave up.' I've never seen anything like that before or since."
In October 1945, LSM 439 was assigned to transport troops and cargo from Okinawa to Yokosuka, Japan.
The war might have been over but there was plenty of adventure in store for the young sailor from West Virginia. On October 9-11, the little ship passed through the center of a typhoon just north of Okinawa.
"They sent us out about mid-day," he said. "Every ship that was seaworthy was sent out, so they wouldn't get blown ashore. We went out and rode it out. We went out that afternoon and all night and all the next day and the next night."
Dale pointed outside the window, across the valley from his Mill Creek home.
"It was just like being at the bottom of that hill and looking up," he said. "The LSM - they must have been flexible - because when you hit one of those waves they would just shake. The whole mast would just shake and vibrate and carry on. Of course, I was a signalman, so I just held onto that search light.
"I wasn't scared very much then, but I would be now - I'd be scared to death."
Dale loaded onto a large transport ship in early 1946 for the voyage home.
"I spent all day getting to that other ship, and that evening, our's come up and docked right alongside of it.
"It took 14 days to get across and I don't remember a cloud in the sky.
"We went under the Golden Gate Bridge. They'd put up a big sign, up on the hillside that said, 'Welcome Home Boys.' It felt pretty good."
The former sailor lives a peaceful life with his wife, Verna, at their mountaintop hideaway near Mill Creek, but has strong connections to Pocahontas County. He is the former superintendent of both Cass and Watoga parks, and is the father of Jerry Dale, former three-term county sheriff.ﾠ
Dale's full video interview and associated documents and photos will be submitted to the Library of Congress Veterans History Project for inclusion in a permanent collection.
Anyone who knows a wartime veteran interested in participating in the Veterans History Project, please call Geoff Hamill at 304-799-4973.