Korea – 1952


It is referred to as "The Forgotten War" or a "Police Action".   Regardless of what it was called, more than anything, it was indeed a "Strange War", but war nevertheless. This is but one story.

January 1952 found the re-commissioned Laffey bound for Korea. Her new crew, consisted of a majority of "retreads" (reservists)….disgruntled, dejected and delivered back into the ranks of the active fleet.

By February, the Laffey was well oriented in carrier chase plane duties. On constant alert whenever the carriers of Task Force 77 launched or retrieved planes. It was a thankless task at ungodly hours. Filled with constant maneuvering. It was also the start of the so-called "Psychological War". Enemy planes had more sense than to attack such a powerful force as this Task Force, but they would send a single plane, at "critical hours" just close enough to alert our radar. This would trigger a General Quarters alert and disrupted all hands at either meal times or other "recreational" periods. This was a constant routine and there were very few meals that did not go interrupted.

April brought some relief from the chilling winds of the North China Sea and we headed for our tour of duty in the enemy held harbor of Wonsan, North Korea. We didn’t know what to expect, except that we would be "locked" in enemy waters with only one narrow inlet to pass through. We were bracketed between the enemy guns concealed high above us. It was indeed strange that April morning as we steamed slowly through the narrow channel. All hands were at GQ and we were close enough to watch the enemy guns train on us as we made our entrance. We expected all hell to break loose at anytime…. but nothing happened that morning.

It was a large harbor with scattered villages and supply depots at various locations. North Korea had no Navy to speak of so felt secure from surface attack. But as we made our way further into enemy waters, we became increasingly aware of the countless floating mines that were all around us. We had navigational charts of the mine fields, but how dependable were they? Again the war of nerves. Especially at night, steaming through enemy waters wondering if the next floating debris that bumped against the ship was a partially submerged log or a mine. On one occasion, a gunner team took shots at firing at a mine with a .50 caliber MG with little or not effect. Finally, Lt. Charlie Gardner took it out of action with several rounds from an M1 rifle.

We operated with several other DD’s of the task force - the Lowry and the Maddox were two I remembered well. We would search out supply areas and with our 5" guns drop several rounds into the supply depots. On one occasion, I remember the Laffey being close enough to fire on a truck convoy with our 40MM’s. It was as if we were in a carnival shooting gallery. The trucks would start up a slight grade with a heavy load, in single file. We would fire single rounds and knock them out. It seemed as though they had only one purpose, and as a truck would explode, another would simply pull around it and continue on its way. It turned into a regular "Shooting Gallery" for our gunners.

At the far end of the harbor was a large wooden trestle bridge. It was part of the main supply line from communist china. The Laffey would close in and fire severs 5""rounds into it sending lumber up in the air and knocking out a large section at a time. During the course of the night as we patrolled the area, when things were quiet enough, we could hear thousands of hammers pounding throughout the night. When dawn broke, closer inspection would reveal the bridge had been repaired and trucks and trains once more making the supply run. I think it was more discouraging to us than to the North Koreans.

As May 1st approached, we were alerted that this day - being the Communists’ big holiday - we should expect some increased activity. I guess they couldn’t wait! On 28 April at approximately 0800, they decided to start their "celebration". All hell broke loose and during the next three hours, the Laffey was to be credited with the longest ship-to-shore bombardment of the Korean War. The Laffey and the Lowery were bracketed by hundreds of rounds of enemy fire. Here were a lot of near misses, but no direct hits.

It is a recorded fact that the Laffey fired every round of 5" ammunition that was on board that morning – including two dummy rounds used for training. The brass was piled up waist high on the fantail when it was over. During that skirmish, a large piece of shrapnel was retrieved after hitting the bulkhead on the starboard side of the bridge. It was about 8 inches long and approximately 3 inches wide. Ironically, on close examination, one could read the stamping on it. It read "Huntsville Armory, Huntsville, AL". The North Koreans were firing our own captured ammunition back at us.

It was from this action that the Laffey was awarded the Korean Presidential Unit Citation.