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Alfred Wilson « North Carolina's WWII ExperienceNorth Carolina's WWII Experience

Alfred Wilson

Hometown: Selma, NC
Branch of Service: Navy, USS Bunker Hill
Location of Service: Pacific

The following is a letter Alfred Wilson wrote to photographer, Anthony Faccone who photographed a kamikaze attack on the USS Bunker Hill near Okinawa:

September 29, 2004

Dear Tony,

Japenese plane crashed into US battleship
First of all: I would like to tell my story about what I know about “The Victory at Sea” picture you took on the USS Bunker Hill CV17 on May 11,1945 near Okinawa. That morning a little before 10:00 a.m., I was getting up after I had been on mid-night watch, as a Radioman, when the ship was hit by two Kamikazes within 30 seconds. I had my “skivies” on, but within a few seconds I was fully dressed as you can see in your picture. My compartment was located near the aft twin five-inch gunmounts on the superstructure. My compartment was between the flight deck and the hanger deck. Also, my compartment was between where the two Kamikaze planes hit the ship. One plane hit at the aft elevator and the other plane near the mid-ship superstructure. One Jap pilot had a watch around his neck and the other one had a Tokyo University ring on, so I was told. Smoke was coming into the compartment because someone had left the hatch door open. We had to get out of the compartment fast. My locker was right next to the porthole. What the other guys didn’t know at that moment was that there was an iron ladder going up the side of the ship. So I led close to150 men in two compartments out the porthole. As you said the portholes and ladders were put on when the Bunker Hill was back in the states before Christmas. By the way, I got on the Bunker Hill with 140 men in Admiral Marc A. Mitscher and Admiral Arleight A. Burke flagstaff when the ship came through Pearl Harbor after Christmas. As we went out the porthole and up the side of the ship, we had to climb over the superstructure to get to the Flag Bridge where Adm. Marc A. Mitscher and Adm. Arleigh Burke were. Since I was the first one out of the porthole, I was the first one running down the flight deck in your picture. Admiral Mitscher personally told me to go to the forecastle for a roll call. This is the reason you were seeing four men running down the flight deck toward the forecastle when everybody else was fighting the fire. The reason we were ordered to the forecastle was for a roll call to find out how many men we had left. “Wizzer” White, a retired Supreme Court Judge, took the roll call. He was 27 years old at that time and I was twenty years old. Later on “Wizzer” White died on April 15, 2002, sixty years after the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo.

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Mitscher was captain of the ship, USS Hornet, on April 18, 1942 when Doolittle took off for Tokyo. Lt. White found out that day we had lost 13 men out of 140. The next day Adm. Mitscher took a skeleton crew of 40 men out of 127 left and transferred over to the USS Enterprise. It was hit. Then they transferred over to the USS Yorktown. It was hit.

They transferred over to the USS Randolph. The people on the Randolph told Adm. Mitscher’s crew to go back where they came from because they were bringing bad luck. Ha. I stayed on the ship taking care of the Admiral’s gear. We got off the Bunker Hill at Ulithi . We had to stay out there in combat until June 1, l945. Admiral John McCain was our relief. He was Senator John McCain’s Grandfather.

Now to explain what was going on when you took the “Victory at Sea” picture. I had spilled Clorox down the seam of my pants when I had them rolled up in my sea bag. When I went out of the porthole my pants ripped up to my belt, I took my wallet out of my hip pocket and put it in my front left pocket since my pants were torn up to my belt. These pants had square cut pockets in front and back. So when you look at the picture you can clearly see my wallet in my front left pocket and my torn pants hanging down on the backside in your picture. The reason I am squatting down is because my pants are torn up to my waist. I have my good side toward your camera, ha. This picture was taken in a split second just as the picture on Iwo Jima was taken in a split second. So you had to think fast. The other three guys caught up with me and all four of us must have gone by you on the way down to the forecastle.

Now to explain who are the four men running across the flight deck in front of you on May11, 1945 about fifty-nine years ago. My grandmother was born on Sept. 11, 1864. So it looks like everything happens on the 11th. I was born September 18, 1924 in Selma, N.C.

Alfred R. Wilson
1612 Lakewood Ave.
Durham, N.C. 27707
833-83-12 RM 3/C USNR
I am the lone sailor squatting down in front of the “Victory a Sea “ picture

Andrew M. Maybik
Swartz Creek, Michigan
862-35-53 RM3/C USNR
Maybik is the sailor in the middle running across the flight deck.

Harold E. Fettters
4330 Gallia St.
New Boston, Ohio
828-62-06 RM1/C USNR
He is the sailor on the right side running down the flight deck. He was the only one in our flagstaff that copied Japanese code. We did not see him much except when he came to our compartment.

The guy on the left is a 3rd class signalman I think, but I am not sure about his name.
The only man in our flagstaff from Oregon was:
Duff B. Kimsey
1218 E. 11th St.
The Dalles, Oregon
892-24-21 RM2/C USRN

An interesting observation of the “Victory at Sea” picture. What do you think the smoke coming up from the ship looks like? It is a horse’s head. You can see the neck, mane, eyes, nose, and mouth. I have an 18 x 20 picture in my living room that clearly shows the smoke to look like a horse’s head. Ha, It’s true.

I would like for you to look up www.Lonesailor. Org. Alfred Robinson Wilson. I have my story on it.

Why is the “Victory at Sea” picture the number one picture coming out of World War II?

1. It is on the front cover of the “Victory at Sea” record album. It is the only classical music coming out of World War II. It was written by Richard Rodgers, who wrote Oklahoma, King and I, Sound of Music, South Pacific, State Fair and Victory at Sea, etc.

2. Captain Edward Steichen, who was head of photography for World War I and II, used the Victory at Sea picture on the front cover of his book. His book called “U.S. Navy War Photography-Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay” had 115 of his best pictures in it and he used your picture on the front cover. Steichen took J.P. Morgan’s picture in 1905.

3. The Victory at Sea picture has been used in just about every issue of the “Naval History” and Proceedings” Magazine.

4. Tony, now you have the top musician and top photographer of the twentieth century using your picture. Why wouldn’t it be #1?

Tell Jerry, I understand him trying to play football at Wake Forest. I tried to play basketball for Wake Forest, but coach Murry Greasen did not think so. I told him I would not like to play for a losing team anyway. I was captain of my Boot Camp Basketball Team at Bainbridge Maryland in August of 1943. We won the 4th regiment championship. I was the number one player coming out of North Carolina in 46-47 and 47-48 season having won the Junior College Basketball Conference Championship for Campbell College. I had two gold basketballs for the State Championship of North Carolina when I was at Durham High School. Bones McKinney won the National Championship at Glenn Falls, N.Y. in 1940 for us. I had more gold basketballs than Michael Jordan, James Worthy, and Bob MacAdoo put together. Who says a “White Men Can’t Jump,” Ha. When Jerry was a freshman, I was a junior at Wake Forest. If you came down to Wake Forest, I was there. My mother used to teach in Summer School at Wake Forest from 1929-1940.

I saw on TV that Destin, Florida was just about destroyed. Anyway you can read parts of this long letter to your shipmates at the next reunion.

Your Shipmate,

Al Wilson

P.S. I went to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. on May 27, 28, and 29. As the four jet planes flew over the Washington Monument they played six or eight excerpts form the “Victory at Sea” record album by Richard Rodgers. No one knew I was the lone sailor squatting down in front of the Victory at Sea picture except my family and Richard Neugass who interviewed me the day before for the “Library of Congress.” In that Interview, I did mention the fact that I did not know the photographer at that time. So you are in the “Library of Congress,” as the photographer I didn’t know. By going to Washington it enabled me to at last get in touch with the photographer- which was you, Anthony Faccone.