When Homer Hart thinks about the South Pacific, he’s not thinking of a movie or a Broadway production. He’s thinking of war — in particular the island-hopping Pacific war in which he participated during World War II.
Hart served as a Navy Corpsman aboard the USS President Jackson (APA-18). The APA designation marked the ship as an attack transport, one of “The Unholy Four” that included sister ships USS President Adams (APA-19), USS President Hays (APA-20) and USS Crescent City (APA-21).
“They couldn’t sink us,” said Hart, now 89 and living in St. Bernards Village at Jonesboro. “They,” of course, were the Japanese.
The ship was hit a few times, once when “they dropped a bomb on us in Bougainville,” the island in the South Pacific, he said. The bomb hit the ship’s king post and landed on the deck — but the 500-pounder was a dud, and it didn’t explode. Crew members were no doubt sweating as they dumped it overboard, praying that it would not go off while they were handling it.
On another occasion, a Japanese suicide plane was bearing down on the Jackson near Luzon when the Crescent City opened fire. The kamikaze veered toward the Cresent City instead, doing some damage, the World War II veteran related.
Hart told The Jonesboro Sun (http://is.gd/6L5YvT) the crew of the Jackson spent a lot of time practicing landings so the young Marines would be familiar with how to climb down the rope ladders into the wooden Higgins boats, the landing craft that were made in New Orleans and used extensively in the Pacific during the war.
The crew also practiced shooting the five-incher on the aft deck and the twin 40s that were scattered throughout. Brave pilots pulled target sleeves for the shipboard gunners to target. Hart said none of the Allied planes were hit in those exercises — they used very long cables to tow the targets.
Iwo Jima was the first of the five landings in which Hart participated aboard the Jackson. As a pharmacist’s mate, Hart also served as a hospital corpsman, but he was kind of in charge of getting the necessary medical supplies aboard for the next invasion.
“We had six physicians and 28 corpsmen aboard the ship,” Hart said. “I was responsible for the medical supplies.
“He also was responsible for helping to treat the wounded Marines brought aboard during and after the battles.
During one landing, Hart and some other corpsmen were put ashore and set up treatment centers on the beach. He also participated in the landing on Saipan. Hart said the Jackson was then sent back to the Marshall Islands, where they were resupplied for the invasion of Guam.
He said the invasions involved attack transports, battleships, cruisers and many other vessels in support. He recalled the evenings when the ships of the flotilla would fire their big guns onto the islands before the daylight landings took place.
“It was beautiful in a strange sort of way,” Hart said.
He treated a lot of badly wounded Marines and believes that his efforts and those of others in the medical corps saved many lives. But not everyone survived, and Hart said he is still troubled by memories of the burials at sea.
“Those guys were young — 18, 19 — and to think that some mother’s son was being dumped in the sea,” he said with a sad look on his face. “That splash, I can hear it today.”