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In Harm’s Way

At 1201 on 21 January 1945, near Formosa, a Japanese Kamikaze pilot crashed his “Zeke” plane through the flight deck of the USS Ticonderoga (CV-14).  Just short of an hour later a second suicide plane crashed into Ticonderoga’s super-structure.  Despite 337 casualties, of whom 144 were killed or missing, all fires were under control by 1437 (2:37 PM) – without fire-fighting assistance from other ships.

On this day morale on the “Big T, or the “Queen of the Fleet” – both names the crew called her – was high.  The crew and the ship had been victorious in battle.  Then, a minute after noon, out of the sun and through a cloud bank, came a single-engine Japanese plane.  Bomb and plane crashed through the flight deck.  The bomb exploded between the gallery deck and the hanger deck, which was packed with aircraft being refueled and rearmed.  main girders near the bomb explosion were twisted by the blast and heat.  The fire, fed by gasoline, spread swiftly to the wardroom passage and to staterooms.  Officers and men fought the fire as they had planned and trained for.

This ship was the fourth on the United States naval list named “Ticonderoga.”  It was first designated as the “Hancock” when she was laid down on 1 February 1943 at Newport News, Virginia, by the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company; then was re-named “Ticonderoga” on 1 May 1943.  Ms. Stephanie Sarah Pell, the grand-daughter of Stephen H. P. Pell, who restored “our fort” ~ Fort Ticonderoga christened her with vintage champagne; however, it took two swings at it to accomplished the task.*

* This writer shares excerpts from a “remembrance” letter written to him speaking about her efforts at this task:

USS tI - Stephanie's 2000 ltr

“What a thrill to hold in my hand the envelope post-marked February 7th, 1944 from the Portsmouth, Virginia Navy Yard! What a lot of memories this brought back of long ago!

“I had received a confidential letter from the Navy Department on November 19th, 1943 informing me that I had been designated the Sponsor of an aircraft carrier to be named “Ticonderoga” still under construction, but with a probable launch date of Februrary 1944.  The day and time were withheld due to wartime restrictions, and would be forwarded to me within six days of the actual launching.

“Can you picture my state of mind when this news sank in?!  Nothing in my life up till then had prepared me for such an honor……

“Time came for the BIG DAY.  My grandfather and I boarded a train at Pennsylvania Station (NYC)… My father, Robert Thompson Pell, joined us in Washington, DC …the three of us arrived in Newport News, Virigina, where we were met at our hotel lobby by two representatives from Ticonderoga.  One was Grant Johnson, then mayor of Ticonderoga…(and) Stephen J. Potter..(well know businessman and benefactor of the “Potter Foundation” who to this day contributions from this trust provides financial assistance to area schools and organizations – including the Ticonderoga Historical Society.)

THE ACT ~ “..the Navy band struck up a tune, we placed ourselves besides the ship’s huge bow, Admiral Le Breton handed me a bottle of champagne which dangled on a long rope and advised me to think of it as base-ball bat and “aim” at the same time calling out “I christen thee Ticonderoga.”  Well, I had been well-trained by my Grand-Father who insisted that “to be agreeable Dear, means to agree.”  I knew right and then I would miss the ship. I had been raised in Europe where young ladies didn’t play base-ball.  I had never in my life held a base-ball bat.  So, with a fanfare blasting, I called out the words I had been instructed to say, swing the bottle and….missed the target by several feet.  The awful silence that ensued was deafening.

“…followed by a collective gasp from the crowd reaching out desperately in search of oxygen.  The bottle flew gracefully through the air past the spectators, past the Chaplain’s nose missing it by an inch, past the row of midshipmen frozen into rigid attention which their eyes focused from left to right concentering on the projectile.  When it reached the end of its rope it boomeranged back with deadly speed aiming at the thin line of horror stuck officials.

stephanie pell

Stephanie Pell as a French Nurse