Among the hundreds of memoirs in the U.S. Naval Institute Oral History Collection is that of Captain Frank A. Manson, U.S. Navy (Ret.)—and therein is found a firsthand account of "the ship that would not die."
Such became the nickname of the Benson-class destroyer USS Laffey (DD-724), which served with distinction during the Normandy invasion, then later stood her ground against a withering and relentless combined assault from conventional bombers and kamikazes during the Battle of Okinawa. And among those on board the Laffey off Okinawa was Frank Manson.
Manson was commissioned in the Naval Reserve in 1942 and went through the naval training school at Ithaca, New York, before he transferred to the regular Navy on 7 May 1947. He attained the rank of captain before retiring on 1 January 1969.
Ordered to duty afloat in 1944, Manson joined the USS Laffey. On 16 April 1945, the Laffey suffered heavy casualties following the concentrated Japanese aerial attack during the fight for Okinawa. For services in the Laffey, Manson received a letter of commendation, with authorization to wear the commendation ribbon with combat “V,” and was entitled to the ribbon and a facsimile of the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to the Laffey. The citation reads in part:
Letter of commendation: “For meritorious conduct . . . as Communications Officer and Public Relations Officer aboard the USS Laffey after she was damaged in an engagement with Japanese planes while serving as a radar picket ship off Okinawa on April 16, 1945. He displayed outstanding professional ability and initiative in ascertaining and presenting the facts of this complex engagement to the Public Relations Officers and correspondents while his ship was undergoing emergency repairs at Okinawa and again after the ship returned to Seattle . . . .”
Presidential Unit Citation: “For heroism in action . . . during an attack by approximately thirty enemy Japanese planes . . . April 16, 1945. Fighting her guns valiantly against waves of hostile suicide planes plunging toward her from all directions, the USS Laffey sent up relentless barrages of anti-aircraft fire during an extremely heavy and concentrated air attack. Repeatedly finding her targets, she shot eight enemy planes clear of the ship and damaged six more before they crashed on board. Struck by two bombs, crash-dived by suicide planes and frequently strafed, she withstood the devastating blows unflinchingly and, despite severe damage and heavy casualties, continued to fight effectively until the last plane had been driven off . . . . ”
Today, the Laffey lives on as a museum ship—and a National Historic Landmark—at Patriots Point near Charleston, South Carolina. And Frank Manson's memories live on in the U.S. Naval Institute Oral History Collection. To learn more about the Institute's Oral History Program, go to https://www.usni.org/heritage/oral-history-catalog.