2004-10-26 / Front Page
Local veterans recall WWII battle of Leyte
60th anniversary of
at Brookdale last week
BY KAREN E. BOWES
MIDDLETOWN — The Battle of Leyte was WWII’s largest naval battle, incorporating 288 vessels, 200,000 sailors, 100,000 square miles and two childhood friends from New Jersey.
“Leyte Gulf means many things to me,” said Paul Frisco, of Middletown. “It was more than just a three-day battle.”
Frisco, a sailor aboard the destroyer USS Cushing during the 1944 battle, spoke at Brookdale Community College on Oct. 21, the 60th anniversary of the battle.
“They say Japan didn’t have much of a navy and air force,” Frisco said. “But what they did have they threw at the American forces. We were under attack constantly. Several aircraft carriers were sunk.”
Leyte Gulf is located just south of the Philippines and Samar, east of the island of Leyte.
Frisco, along with fellow veteran and lifelong friend Doug Foulks, of Keansburg, both offered first-hand perspectives on the Pacific battle.
Foulks, a sailor aboard a landing craft inventory ship (LCI), a small vessel used to transport soldiers onto beaches for battle, was a radio operator anchored on the outer fringe of the battle.
“The LCI’s were built in Perth Amboy, near the Victory Bridge,” Foulks said.
“Unfortunately, I had to go all the way to Portland, Oregon, to get mine. … They were the smallest commissioned ship in the Navy. At the end of the war they gave them away like jeeps. ... We were in the harbor of Leyte Gulf. We really didn’t know a battle was going on. We could see flashes in the sky. We were warned there was a possibility of an attack. After the battle was over, we started hearing things. We’re lucky we didn’t get hit.”
The anniversary event, a part of the Center for World War II Studies and Conflict Resolution’s ongoing lecture series, featured history professor David Ulbrich of Ball State University, located in Indiana. The professor spoke on the historic significance of the battle.
“No matter how you measure it, it stands as the largest naval battle in modern history,” said Ulbrich to the audience of roughly 40 people, veterans and students alike.
Encompassed within the battle were aircraft’s, surface ships, submarines and amphibious assault vessels, according to Ulbrich. Two of the vessels were Australian and 64 were Japanese.
“More bullets were fired than any other battle up 'til that point,” the professor said.
There was also a new weapon to contend with, uniquely Japanese in design: the kamikaze.
“The kamikaze pilots were barely trained,” said Frisco. “They had just enough training for a one-way trip, just enough fuel for a one-way trip.”
Looking over old photos, Foulks was reminded of how young the members of his crew were at the time of the battle.
“The oldest guy on my ship was 31,” said Foulks. “He was the captain. He had never seen water before in his life.”
Frisco described the feelings he still associates with walking away from the battle unscathed.
“We aboard the Cushing, we were having fits, if you will,” said the veteran. “When you’re young, you don’t care. You just want to fight. …We could taste it. That’s what we have to live with all these years later.”
Frisco ended his comments by relaying one of his favorite stories from the war.
“Two months after the battle was fought Leyte Gulf became anchorage for the U.S. Navy. My ship was anchored among thousands of others, the harbor was cluttered with ships of all size and description. One day a group of my shipmates were ... pointing to something in the middle of the harbor. There was a one-man yellow life raft with one man rowing towards our ship. I said, I know who that is, you just watch. He’s coming over here. That paddler was my good friend, Doug Foulks.”
The WWII lecture series continues on Nov. 8 with a talk led by Holocaust survivors. For more information call (732) 224-2315.