MOUNT PLEASANT, SC (WCSC) - Veterans who served aboard the USS Laffey gathered on the fantail of the ship at Patriot’s Point Tuesday to honor the 32 shipmates killed during a Japanese kamikaze attack near Okinawa in 1945.
All 32 names were read out loud and there was a wreath laying ceremony.
“When I was aboard I didn’t really know the history of this ship,” former shipmate and current member of the USS Laffey Association, Sonny Walker, said. "But I found out later. Just to get to talk to the guys... wow... listening to the stories. Because those guys didn’t talk about it but when you’re down here [in Patriots Point] you can’t shut them up!”
There were many special audience members, including Pat Wilson and her family. Wilson’s father served on the USS Laffey and was on the ship when it was attacked in 1945.
“I don’t know how he did it at 20-years-old," Wilson said about her father, Robert E. Kennedy. “That is so young to face death like that.”
Kennedy survived the attack and passed away in 1994. Wilson said she enjoys bringing her family from St. Louis to events held at the USS Laffey.
“We want to make sure it keeps going forward so that for generations to come, they have these lessons to learn, they have this heritage, they know the greatness of their grandfather," she added. “He was a good man. Every man on this ship, we have not met anybody that’s associated with this ship I wouldn’t say the same thing about. Very honorable.”
At least six of the 22 Japanese aircraft in the attack crashed into the ship on April 16, 1945, and the ship was hit by four additional bombs.
But despite the damage, the sailors of the Laffey fought off the attack and kept the ship afloat, Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum spokesman Christopher Hauff said.
In addition to the deaths, 71 were wounded in the attack of the ship that came to be known as “the ship that would not die,” he said.
In February, Patriots Point celebrated the 75th anniversary of the ship’s commissioning. The Laffey is the last-remaining Sumner class destroyer.
The ship also served in the Korean and Cold Wars before it was decommissioned on March 9, 1975 and opened at Patriots Point in 1981.
It was declared a national historic landmark in 1986.