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Pete Jensen, a Bedford resident, just returned from what might be termed a victory lap.
Jensen is a Navy veteran from World War II. He served aboard an LCS (L). Termed “Mighty Midgets,” they were the craft that everybody wished they’d had at D-Day. Based on the LCS hull, a type of large landing craft, these craft could accompany landing craft right to the shore during an amphibious assault.
Recently, Jensen was diagnosed with a terminal form of leukemia, acute myelocytic leukemia. For some time, he had wanted to visit a shipmate, Bob Blyth, who lives in Oklahoma, who he had last seen three years ago. His oldest daughter, a retired oncology nurse, told him he had better do it while he can.
Last month he and his brother, Ed Mott, a retired Navy officer, hit the road. Jensen, who is 84, and Mott alternated driving, putting in eight hours a day on the road.
The two old sailors met on U. S. Route 66, in Weatherford, Okla., and swapped sea stories like two old sailors will do. During that time, Mott served as their gofer and Jensen said that they enjoyed the idea of an officer serving enlisted men.
They took in the sights, seeing the home of the Cherokee Indian Nation in Muskogee, the end of the “Trail of Tears” after the Cherokee had been forcibly uprooted from North Carolina and Georgia in the 1830s and taken west by the Andrew Jackson administration.
The trip included seeing long horn steers, bison, and a wind turbine farm with 99 massive turbines spinning in the Oklahoma wind. Jensen also took in an Indian casino, and came out with a lighter wallet.
Jensen’s trip back to Bedford took him through Rogers, Ark., where he shopped at Wal-Mart’s Store #1.
It was the two shipmates' service together on the LCS that had led to the trip.
Flat bottomed, the LCS could even run aground and winch themselves free, if necessary. They were designed to blast the beach with rockets that, unlike the rockets fired at D-Day, actually made it to the beach. They could also provide high volumes of gunfire from rapid fire weapons from ranges close enough to see targets that larger ships, farther from shore, could not see.
The ships were small. Their heavy load displacement was only 387 tons. This light displacement, along with their flat bottoms, meant that it didn’t take a very heavy sea state to get them rocking and rolling. They were 185-feet, 6-inches long and 23 feet, 3 inches wide and their eight diesel engines gave them a top speed of 16.5 knots. However, they were heavily armed with four 20mm machine guns and either five or six 40mm guns, or four 40mm guns and a bow mounted 3-inch/50 gun. This gave them the greatest amount of firepower per ton of any ship the Navy built.
Jensen was part of the crew of the LCS (L) 61 and took part in the amphibious assault on Okinawa. Only good shiphandling by the commanding officer, Lieutenant James Kelly, 22 when he took command, prevented her from becoming a kamikaze statistic. The ship’s antiaircraft guns had set a Japanese twin-engine bomber on fire and the pilot attempted to crash into her. Kelly was able to dodge the bomber’s final plunge, which missed by only 20 feet.
Jensen didn’t know what a close call they had until after the crew secured from general quarters. His battle station was a cramped compartment, called after steering, below deck in the ship’s stern. He heard the antiaircraft guns firing, but didn’t learn the details until after the attack.
Jensen’s battle station, by the way, was not a good place to be. There was only one way out and if the ship’s winch, located in the stern, got smashed, its wreckage would have blocked that hatch rendering escape impossible. Blyth’s battle station was damage control, which was set up on the mess deck during general quarters. Jensen was a motor machinist mate and Blyth was an electrician’s mate.
All World War II veterans are now well over 80 and their ranks are thinning daily. Many units no longer have enough living members left to hold reunions.