Paul Miranda: Plank Owner and Survivor, USS Hoel (DD 533)

By Friends & Neighbors June 6, 2011 18:19

Miranda as young sailor

By Paul Miranda
As told to Donna Underwood

My full name is Gulbrand Paul Miranda. I was born at home at Laupahoehoe along the Hamakua Coast on the island of Hawaii on Dec. 14, 1925. My mother’s family came to the island in the 1840s as Norwegian whalers. My father was of Portuguese decent. He ground coffee for the Army in the First World War. He died of lockjaw when he was only 38 and I was 9.

I had two brothers and two sisters, and the family went on welfare after my father’s death.  When my oldest brother Wally was 17 he got a job at Pearl Harbor. After he got his first paycheck, he went to the welfare office and said, “I can take care of my family now.”

I went to school in Honolulu. I spent kindergarten to sixth grade in Catholic school.  Then, thank God, my mother put me in public schools! I went from sixth to eighth grade at Kawananakoa School. Every summer I worked with my cousin delivering milk to the Army forts on Oahu from age 9 till I was 15.

Pearl Harbor Attack

On December 7, 1941 on my way home from 7am Mass, there was so much smoke coming from Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field I knew something was wrong. There were lots of planes in the air.  I ran home and turned on the radio. They announced, “All military and civilian personnel to your base.” My brother, Wally, had just got home from the night shift at Pearl. I woke him up and told him that we were at war and that he had to return to work.

I then ran up to Lusitana Street and climbed a tree to get a better look. A bomb landed in Mr. Alameda’s front yard and blew me out of the tree! That was my first taste of war, one week short of my 16th birthday. It was the first of many close calls in a young boy’s life.

On Dec. 8, 1941, I went to Hickam Field looking for a job. I was fingerprinted, photographed and given my pass to come and go from the field. I was told to report for duty on December 15 when I turned 16. My pay was $75 per month. Grown men were only getting $30 with the WPA.

I worked as a clerk at the post exchange. I also supplied beer for Hickam and Wheeler Field. One night during a blackout, I decided to cut across the runway with a load of beer rather than taking the normal road. All of a sudden I heard a loud roar as a B-17 landed and the wheels almost touched the canvas top of my truck.  I was scared, but more worried about the cargo of beer.

Commando Training

My family and I left Hawaii on September 13, 1942 on the USS Mount Vernon, headed for California to stay with my grandfather in Campbell. At 17, my mom signed for me to join the Navy. Her advice to me was, “Do not gamble or get a tattoo.” Drinking and fighting got me in trouble more, and I never did get a tattoo. I was sworn into the U.S. Navy on Dec. 14, 1942.

I arrived at Farragut, Idaho on Christmas Eve, stepped off the train in four feet of snow and 30 degrees below with an Aloha shirt on!  Not a good place to be for a boy from Hawaii. I was sent to Camp Hill, Company 43. I did my training as a Navy commando, which was very tough work. Commandos make the first sweep before the troops are landed to destroy mines and barbed wire. The training was like the Army with obstacle course work with rifle and full packs. It was like what the Navy Seals go through today.

After boot camp, I was sent to Treasure Island in San Francisco and from there to Tanforan Racetrack in San Bruno. As I started to get off the bus, someone called out, “Who is Miranda?” I said, “I am.” He said, “Don’t bother to get off the bus – you’ve been assigned to a new destroyer, the USS Hoel.”

So back to Treasure Island and off to school … fighting, gunnery, seamanship, chemical warfare. In mid-July of 1943, the crew was sent to Hunter’s Point in South San Francisco to outfit the USS Hoel (DD 533). What a beautiful ship – my new home. We commissioned the USS Hoel on July 29, 1943. I became a plank owner, which means I was a member of the original crew.

[Named after William R. Hoel, a Civil War hero in the Union Navy, the USS Hoel was a 2,100-ton Fletcher-class destroyer built at the Bethlehem Steel Company in San Francisco. The ship was 376 feet long and 39 feet wide, with a top speed of 38 knots. The Hoel was armed with five 5-inch guns, four 1.1-inch guns, four 20-mm cannons, ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, six depth-charge projectors and two depth-charge tracks. Source: www.navsource.org.]

USS Hoel in SF Bay, October 1943

Enemy off Point Loma

We got our first kill in mid-August on the shakedown cruise. A Jap sub had been tailing the HMS Victoria on her way into San Diego Bay. We sank the sub about 30 miles off Point Loma. Some Jap subs had a hump on the top and inside would be a seaplane used for spying but we were unable to tell if this sub had a seaplane as very little debris came to the surface of the ocean.

The ship left for Hawaii in November 1943. At Lanai, Maui as we were practicing landing marines for the upcoming invasion of the Gilbert Islands, I was on lookout about 0900. I reported to the bridge, “Moby Dick off the starboard quarter.” What a beautiful sight – a pure white whale. Captain Thomas came on the phone and said, “It’s a good omen for you, Miranda. You will make it through the war.”

[After the war, Mr. Miranda requested copies of the Ship’s Log from the U.S. Department of the Navy. Every month the ship sent via a mail ship the previous month’s log, which included reports on battles, location and onboard incidents. Mr. Miranda has the complete Ship’s Log except for the month of October, 1944 which was lost at sea. That log is the source for dates and times of the following events.]

Attack on Company 43

We made landfall off Tarawa at 1432 on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 1943. I was spotting for Gun #2 on deck close to Makin Atoll. I watched as the Navy commandos from a troop transport ship made it to the beach and then the whole beach exploded, killing all the commandos. I asked Captain Thomas what outfit it was and he said it was Company 43 from Farragut, Idaho, which was my old company. I remembered Hoyt White and Sam Lucas from our commando training and thought they surely had died.  I could have been dead too.

The day before, I had been on watch with Strasbury, our 1st Class Boatswain mate. We were by the whaleboat on the starboard side. Strasbury yelled “FISH!” The torpedo went under us. We ran to the port side in time to see a large ball of fire as the torpedo hit the aircraft carrier USS Liscome Bay. There was a second ball of fire as the gas blew, and she was gone. The USS Kidd and the USS O’Bannon picked up the few survivors. Little did I know that 10 months later my own ship would be sunk.

Dec. 1, 1943 was an unfortunate day. After the commando incident, our ship ran aground at Tarawa. The USS Arapaho #25, a seagoing tug, pulled us off the reef and towed us to the USS Indianapolis. They sent divers under our ship to check for damage. It was bad, but seaworthy. We made it back to Pearl under our own power along with the carrier Saratoga, which had taken a “fish” and lost half her boiler.

After repairs at Pearl, we left for the Marshall Islands. We saw action at Eniwetok, Abamama, Majuro, Perry and Kwajalein. Our job was to provide fire support and destroy buildings in our sight to aid the landing of marines and soldiers on these islands. We got return fire mostly from small arms and machine guns. We stayed in the Marshall Islands for about a month.

We left the Marshalls on March 16, 1944, crossing the equator. What a ceremony for first- timers. We were told to strip and stand on deck as fire hoses sprayed us. We had to repeat, “I’m a dirty, slimy, filthy pollywog” many times.

Then you had to go up before a judge for your crime which was, of course, made up.  Soaking wet, you had to sit in a metal chair. There was a sword hooked up to electricity. One guy almost fell overboard when he touched the sword. You had to drink from a baby’s bottle, and if you cried you got hit by a shillelagh [paddle ].

The second time I crossed the equator I was a defense attorney. I made a tall beaver hat out of cardboard, and had a long black robe. I spoke to the new initiates in Hawaiian!

On Monday, March 2, 1944, we came in sight of a war canoe. It had a name on it — Katulusau – and 27 Japs on board.  They opened fire on us with a 303 British Davis machine gun. [British guns were taken after the Japanese captured Singapore and Hong Kong ].

What bravery!  A canoe against a 2,100-ton destroyer. We killed them all with small arms, Thompson submachine guns and 30.06 rifles. They looked up at us and did not cry out as we killed them all. Very brave men, I thought, even though they are the enemy. I would have screamed my head off. I have to give credit where credit is due.

Miranda, age 18

Typhoon’s Toll

We shelled enemy shipping at New Hanover on Saturday, March 25, 1944. We used phosphorus shells. All the Japs ran out into the water on fire. Phosphorus shells are a wicked thing. One Jap climbed up a coconut tree, and one of our guns shot the tree out from under him.

After all the buildings were destroyed, I said, “Gun #2, take out that white church on the hill.” I thought, what the hell is a Japanese church doing here? There was a very large explosion. It was the Jap ammo dump. Capt. Thomas said, “Good call, Miranda.” I knew the Japanese would use the church for something important, hoping that the Americans would not destroy it.

On our way to Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, we got into a typhoon and lost a few destroyers. The ships were half the time under the water, and half the time in the air. It was like being a ping pong ball. No sailors aboard became seasick because we were too busy staying alive.

[On Dec. 17, 1944, the ships of Task Force 38, including the USS Hoel, were caught with little warning by a small but violent typhoon. Many of the ships were attempting to refuel and were caught near the center of the storm with hurricane force winds. Three destroyers, USS Hull, USS Spence, and the USS Monaghan capsized and went down with practically all hands, while a cruiser, five aircraft carriers, and three destroyers suffered serious damage. In all, some 790 officers and men were killed, and 146 planes on various ships were lost or damaged. Source: www.history.navy.mil]

Leyte Gulf: ‘David Against Goliath’

[The battle for Leyte Gulf in October 1944 to reclaim the Philippines from Japanese control is considered World War II’s largest naval battle. Source: “The Battle of Leyte Gulf,” C. Vann Woodward, 2007.]

We had three groups.  Taffy 1 to the south, Taffy 2 protected the Surigao Strait, and Taffy 3 – our group – in the north to guard the San Bernardino Strait.  At about 0600 shells were landing all around our ship. I rolled over in my sack and thought, “The whole Jap fleet is around us.”

The Japs opened fire from 18 miles away. We made smoke to cover our five carriers and lined up for torpedo runs on the incoming enemy ships. General quarters was sounded and I saw one aircraft carrier, the USS Gambier, on fire as I was going to my battle station. I knew this battle would be different. I tied square knots into my life jacket and said, “This is it.” It was like David against Goliath. Destroyers and destroyer escorts against battleships and heavy cruisers. A battle like that will never again be fought on the high seas.

My battle station was #1 Handling Room. Since I was below decks, I could not see any of the battle. However, I could feel the hits we were taking. We sent up to the gun mount all shells and powder we had. As I reached for a shell in the hoist, we took a hit in the magazine and a ball of fire hit me in the face. The heat scorched my face red.  Three shipmates died in the magazine. I said a prayer for them.

The ship lost power and for most of the battle I loaded the 54-pound shells manually.  After 2 1/2 hours our ship had taken over 40 hits. Guns # 3, 4, and 5 were blown out. I witnessed Lt. Sanders blown out of fire control on top of the bridge. Just his torso hit the deck. After the war, I spoke to his family about his heroism, but did not tell the details.  The USS Hoel was a twisted hunk of steel and 255 of the crew were dead.

Last Guy Off the Bow

When the order came to abandon ship, I went forward as a fire had started in the mess hall. When I got by the chief’s head, smoke was coming from the forecastle. The hatch was jammed. I was so scared. Somehow I bent the steel dogs that opened the hatch and got out on deck. Then the scare hit me – I CAN’T SWIM.

I stepped over the life line and was getting up nerve to jump when we took another hit.  The next thing I knew, I was laying beside Gun #1 and the deck was very hot under me.  In one leap I was in the water, scared as hell. I was the last guy off the bow.

Even with a life jacket on, I went down a ways. I used my pocket knife to cut off my boots. As I dog paddled away from the ship I saw my friend, Bob Wilson. He was shot up so bad. He had cuts on his head from shrapnel. “Help me, Miranda, and I will buy you a bottle of good Scotch,” he said. So I went back to the side of the ship and got hold of him. When I put my arm around him, my hand went into his body.

Three times we were blown out of the water by eight-inch shells from the Jap cruisers striking the water near us. Each time I went back for him. Then I turned around to watch the Hoel go down, stern first. I said to Bob, “There goes our home.”

I heard a destroyer bearing down on us. I pushed Bob away. I did not want him hurt any more than he was. The destroyer hit me in the back and flipped me in the air. I went back and got Bob for the fifth time. By then I was so tired and hurting.  Like an angel from Heaven came Bob Despain.  He said, “I’ll take Wilson, you swim along with us.

On the crest of a wave, we saw a raft and went for it. There were three rafts and five floater nets. About 38 survivors in our group.

Death in the Water

When we got to the raft, Ralph Faulkner asked me to cut his arm off. I gave Bob to someone to hold. Ralph had major injuries but his arm hurt him the most. I brought Ralph inside the raft, and cut his arm off.  I held him in my arm and in five minutes he was dead. I said a prayer for him and pushed his body away.

I took hold of Bob again and put his head on my shoulder and took a strong grip on the edge of the life raft.  I held him for three days so he would not drown.

It was cold at night and hot during the day. The more seriously injured were inside the raft. Sailors took turns sleeping, held onto shipmates, some swam away. Many had hallucinations by day and nightmares at night. I had a dream and I could see the streets of San Francisco. I said I was going over there to get a drink at the bar. It seemed so clear to me then.

Many men thought about the danger of sharks but we were not bothered. Our sister ship, the USS Johnson, had also gone down and survivors from that ship told me later they were ravaged by sharks.

The fresh water that was in the life raft had been accidentally spilled overboard. We all could have killed the guy responsible for that. On the second day, I think, we drifted close to the wreckage of the ship and a crate of onions floated by. We trapped it and ate the onions. We also had malted milk tablets from the emergency supplies in the raft … my piece was about the size of a fingernail and soggy. We shared cigarettes but just as mine got lit, a wave came up and hit me in the face.

On the third day, one guy started to panic and was going to pull Bob and I underwater. He tried several times and I kept pushing him away.

He was a new sailor, young and strong, but this was his first battle … I had been in seven battles by then … His name was Curtis Story … and out of anger I hit him in the temple, killing him.

For years it tore me up that I killed one of my own shipmates.

A Welcome Sight

In the water it was quiet and eerie. You realize how big the ocean is and you are so insignificant.  You think, “Is anyone going to come to help?”  I know now that God gave me the strength to survive.

Finally on the third day, Oct. 27th, 1944, a ship was seen on the horizon. Was it the Japs or the Americans? Then we saw the American flag. It was tattered and ripped from the wind and all. To this day, I cry when I see an American flag.

The badly wounded went up first. I didn’t want any help but when I got to the gunwale both my legs went, and BAM! I was down on the decks. About that time, someone gave me a cup of hot tomato soup. I relished it. An officer was nearby and I was saying my Hail Marys. He gave me his rosary.

We were taken to Hollandia, New Guinea to a hospital. I will never forget the charity given there, as people donated clothes for us. We then went to Brisbane, Australia, and then to San Francisco.

In three days, I was in the ocean with little food or fresh water, I cut off Ralph Faulkner’s arm, killed Curtis Story and held Bob Wilson in my arms until help came on the morning of Oct. 27, 1944, and the rest is history.

Kintberger

[Only 86 of the Hoel’s complement survived; 255 officers and men died with their ship.   Commander Kintberger described the courageous devotion to duty of the men of the Hoel in a seaman’s epitaph to the action: “Fully cognizant of the inevitable result of engaging such vastly superior forces, these men performed their assigned duties coolly and efficiently until their ship was shot from under them.” Source: www.history.navy.mil,  dictionary of American Fighting Ships, Naval Historical Center. ]

Personal Heroes

My heroes of the Battle of Leyte Gulf were Commodore William Thomas, the leader of the screening ships, and our beloved skipper, Leon S. Kintberger. Commodore Thomas was very brave to take on the much larger Japanese fleet for 2 1/2 hours. And Captain

Kintberger was like a father to us. He had a stern look, and a twinkle in his eye.

Hero Number 3 was Lt. Commander Baxter, who disobeyed orders from that nitwit General Douglas MacArthur. A half-hour after disobeying the order to return to Leyte and call off the search, his lookout spotted the first of many life rafts. Over 600 sailors and marines were picked up from three carriers, two destroyers and one destroyer escort.

Last but not least is my hero, Admiral Takeo Kurita of the Imperial Japanese Navy. He was a true naval officer of the old school. He had four battleships, eight cruisers, and 11 destroyers. His flagship was the Yamato, the largest battleship in the world.

After sinking our ship and as his column of ships was retiring, the Yamato passed us in the water to starboard. Admiral Kurita leaned over the starboard railing and saluted us. He had given orders to all his ships they were not to kill any survivors in the water. It was in keeping with old naval tradition that when you have met an enemy, and he has given you a good fight although he lost his ship, you salute him for his bravery.

Oh yes – the other nitwit, besides MacArthur, was Admiral Bull Halsey. He left the invasion wide open to go off with all his battleships, carriers and heavy cruisers on a wild goose chase after Jap carriers, some of which had no planes on them! When word reached Pearl Harbor about the battle, Admiral Nimitz broke radio silence and said the whole world wants to know where in the hell is Halsey?

Aftermath

In April 1945, I was awarded the Purple Heart. An admiral in San Diego requested that I be awarded the Marine and Navy Lifesaver Medal and the Navy Cross, but there was not enough written eyewitness evidence, so I did not get these medals. I did receive service ribbons for the campaigns I was in.

After survivor’s leave I went for further training, and was assigned to the USS Fred T. Berry (DD 858). But the mental and physical toll on me was too much, and I was transferred to Balboa Hospital in San Diego on June 30, 1945 for evaluation.

On VJ Day [Victory over Japan, August 15, 1945 ] my friends and I went to a Catholic Church to thank God and then downtown San Diego to join the celebration.

My experiences in the war have made me more cautious, and aware of my surroundings. Because I was trapped below decks with fire all around, I am to this day afraid of elevators and tight places.

I wanted to make the Navy my career, but after two years, two months, and two days, I was honorably discharged on Oct. 16th, 1945. The Navy taught me respect and to care more about my fellow man.

I thank God every day for sparing me.

Forgiveness

On my recent trip to Washington, D.C. to see the new World War II Memorial with the Grand Master of Masons of California, and 50 other WWII vets, I was looking for a name and could not find it. I was looking for Curtis Story.

I wanted to put my hand on his name and ask him for his forgiveness for killing him 67 years ago. One of the vets in my group could see I was sad and upset. He asked me what was wrong.

Miranda and friend, May 2011

I told him about killing my shipmate, Curtis Story. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Curtis forgave you 67 years ago, and so did God.” After 67 years, my soul is free again thanks to the kind words of an old WWII vet.  God bless him.

Forty-two years after the USS Hoel went down, my old friend Bob Wilson came to visit me in Sonora, California. He had been a school teacher after the Navy. He and his wife stayed in their motor home on our property, and we went to a nice dinner. Oh, and we shared a good bottle of Scotch.

Mr. Miranda, 88, was interviewed in January, February and March 2011 by volunteer Donna Underwood through the Tuolumne Veterans History Project, an all-volunteer effort to record Tuolumne County veterans’  memories of their wartime experience. These stories are archived on the FAN website as a public service and typically have not appeared in the print publication.

By Friends & Neighbors June 6, 2011 18:19