Veterans Voice: Ernest Lyle Klindt

Ernest Lyle Klindt of Bethany (MO) joined the United States Navy during World War ll. He took basic training at Great Lakes Training Center, near Chicago. He left basic as a Fireman 2nd Class. 

His basic class went by train to Oakland, (CA) and boarded the USS General R.L. Howze Troop Transport. They landed at Manus Island, Admiralty Islands, Papua, New Guinea.

Now a Seaman 1st Class, Ernest was assigned to the USS Chenango. Ernest was assigned to damage control. The Chenango was one of 4 Sangamon Class, ships named for U.S. Rivers. They were both fuel transports and “baby” aircraft carriers. They four were confiscated civilian ships, refitted for warfare. They carried P-40 aircraft. The crew referred to the ships as “floating targets riding on explosives”.

The Chenango was part of the invasion of Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, Gilbert, Marshall, and Marianas Islands. They provided air support and refueled ships. They joined in the invasion of Morotai Island, Philippines, and Okinawa.

Planes from the Chenango were involved in neutralization bombing of enemy airfields in Halmahera in support of the Morotai invasion, considered a “stepping stone” to the Philippines.  They also were assigned to “soften up” enemy positions on Leyte. 

During the Battle of Leyte three Japanese bombers targeted the Chenango and  its sister ship, the Sangemon. During the battle, anti-aircraft fire from the Sangamon struck a P40 on the Chenango. Shrapnel struck several crew members, all of whom were awarded Purple Hearts. All Japanese bombers were shot down, with one pilot captured. He revealed that his assignment was to sink the Chenango. 

The Battle of Leyte was the largest naval battle of WW2. The Navy strategy was  three-pronged, with Admiral Halsey charged with holding his 3rd Fleet off of San Bernardino Strait. However, planes spotted the Japanese Northern Force some distance away. Admiral Halsey ordered his 3rd Fleet toward them for engagement. He failed to notify the 7th Fleet or receive permission from Admiral Nimitz. As a result, the 7th Fleet was taken totally by surprise by Japanese ships, losing a number of ships destroyed, and many damaged.

Halsey was ordered to return to his original position, but the Japanese had escaped by the time he returned. This event became known as “Halsey’s Blunder”.

Next the Chenango was sent to Guadalcanal. Ernest reports that they encountered many flying fish landing on the deck, they had to be swept off. 

The invasion of Okinawa began on April 1st, and lasted 82 days. It involved the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific. Four divisions of the U.S. 10th Army, plus 2 divisions of Marines fought the ground battle. Japanese resistance was intense since they realized that capture of Okinawa would set up the invasion of their homeland. The Japanese lost 100,000 men killed or captured in the battle.

The Chenango provided air support for the attack on the southern tip of the island. Their mission was to neutralize the kamikaze base in Sakishima Gunto, south of Okinawa. 

On April 9th, one of the Chenango’s own planes crash-landed on the deck, starting a raging fire around strike-armed planes. The fire was extensive and approached areas full of ammo and full fuel tanks. Ernest described it as a “madhouse”. Water was sprayed on the fuel tanks to keep them cool as 5” rockets were shooting across the deck. Only 2 lives were lost, a pilot and a deck crewman. However, the deck was so heavily damaged that the remainder of their planes could not land and had to land on other carriers in the area. Amazingly, the deck was repaired overnight and was back in use the following day.

During the first 8 weeks at Okinawa, the Japanese launched 7 major kamikaze attacks, involving 1500 planes. Most were shot down, but the U.S. Navy received more casualties at Okinawa than any other WW2 battle.

The Chenango earned the nickname “The Lucky Lady” because it took less damage than any other ship in its classification. It remained in action until June 11, then joined the 3rd Fleet in preparation for the invasion of Japan. Fortunately, the two atomic bombs ended the war. Sailors did not know what an “A” Bomb was, but realized  it must be something terrible.

The Chenango’s next mission was to Nagasaki Harbor to evacuate newly-freed POW’s. Many were transported to the USS Haven, a hospital ship. The Chenango transported a total of 1900 POW’s and 1500 civilian slave laborers. The POW’s reported horrible treatment by their Japanese captors. The Chenango also participated in bombing Japanese harbors to destroy floating mines.

The crew of the Chenango was allowed to tour Nagasaki which Ernest described as a “moonscape” with brown, scorched earth. Later the crew was issued Japanese yen and went souvenir shopping at shops which were already reopening. 

In December of ’45, the Chenango sailed first to San Diego, then down through the Panama Canal in route to Boston Harbor. Along the way they encountered the captured German ship the Prinz Eugen which had fought alongside the Bismarck. The ship was being towed to Bikini Atoll for nuclear testing.

When Ernest and a friend arrived in Kansas City, they were met by the friend’s wife and her friend Ruby Flynn, who later became Ernest’ wife. They were married for 65 years and had two children on their farm near Bethany.

Ernest earned a number of ribbon for the various campaigns. His most memorable events were the fire on board the ship, and the terrible devastation of Nagasaki. His greatest wish was for world peace.

 

This story adapted on research by Jane Smith’s book, WWll Heroes of Harrison County.

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