By Sgt. Jack Ruge, YANK Staff Artist

ABOARD THE USS TENNESSEE OFF IWO JIMA—Big T was one of the wagons at Pearl Harbor that Sunday morning. She was the only one of them that didn’t touch bottom, although she was badly damaged and suffered heavily in personnel losses. At the time, some people asked if it was worth the expense to refit these old ships, but much of the Pacific fighting to date has fallen to the “graveyard fleet” since it was raised from the muck.

uss tennesseeDuring the Leyte fighting, the Japanese task force that steamed up through the Surigao to disaster, throwing out star shells like the opening of a Hollywood delicatessen, was met by units of the graveyard fleet. The old chromos laid down one of the heaviest concentrations of gunfire in naval history and lowered some lofty Jap hopes in less time than it takes you to listen to an installment of “John’s Other Wife.” The Tennessee fired 13 salvos of 14-inch shells and racked up hits with 12 of them.

The morning the Iwo operation began, Big T moved slowly up the coast of the island and passed to seaward of a cruiser as she opened fire with her 6-inch guns. The time was 0803. The firing, joined by Bit T and her sister ships, continued all morning.

Down in the chief’s mess they were talking it up, and the men below decks wanted word from the men whose stations were topside. When they came in to pour themselves a cup of mud, still wearing their bulky kapok life jackets and helmets, you heard the same story several times, but nobody seemed to mind.

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The main battery plot where firing problems are solved and the main batteries fired

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Talking with the main battery plot from a gun turret.

Then the PA whistled and everyone stopped talking. It was the chaplain with a communique on Adm. Marc Mitscher’s strike on Tokyo. Some guys stopped their coffee cups on the way to their mouths, others simply chewed more slowly. The chaplain continued reading:  “Paragraph three states that at this moment units of Adm. Spruance’s Fifth Fleet are bombarding Iwo Jima.”

Between the chaplain’s “Iwo” and “Jima” a salvo from the USS Tennessee shook the ship and blotted out his words. He repeated them when it was quiet again.

Two LCIs near us were hit and Big T stood by to take care of their wounded. There wasn’t time to remove their dead. The wounded were brought to the after-battle dressing station, which is normally the mess deck, just outside the chief’s mess hall. The litters were placed in two rows on the steel deck, and the corpsmen worked fast but quietly. There were two kinds of overhead lights—red and white—and the patients’ faces were covered with a blue cosmetic that had been smeared on to protect them from flash burns. A fresh crimson stained the white of many bandages. The clash of color made the whole thing seem a little unreal, like the set of a Technicolor movie. There were no cries or moans from the patients it was almost as if, at a sign from a director, they would douse their smokes and begin to act.

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A medic gives aid to a man hit by Japanese shrapnel on the deck of the USS Tennessee

Landing operations started at 0839. The first wave was due to hit the beach at exactly 0900. It did.

A gunner from one of the 40-mm buckets was seated on the deck of Big T as the landing operations went off. He rested his back against the steel with his life jacket for a cushion. His helmet was slightly back on his head, and he was studying a small overseas edition of Time. I looked over his helmet and found he was reading about the Battle of the Bulge.

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