Veteran's Series Article:
Cpl Neal Franklin McDonald entered the Army Air Corps
in 1943, trained in New Jersey, Ardmore, Oklahoma, Greeley,
Colorado, and Utah. He served in Hawaii, the Philipinnes,
WWII Letter Home Tells
of Typhoon in Okinawa
by: Bobby McDonald
As told by Oleta Coppedge McDonald
The discovery became evident almost seventy years later, when the Tsunami hit Japan, in March of 2011, causing catastrophic damages. An 89 year old native of Hopkins County, living in Chandler, Texas, remembered something that she'd received from her husband, in a letter, during World War II. Oleta Coppedge McDonald, in her 20's and living in a apartment at the Cameron Rooming House, on Oak Avenue, with her small son, while she "waited out" the war to continue her life, had received a letter from her husband, Cpl Neal Franklin McDonald, describing "massive rains" in his camp, in Okinawa.
Oleta went to the family trunk and "dug out" the letters she'd kept, all the years, and began searching for the news she remembered receiving, almost 70 years earlier, after she'd seen the 2011 Tsunami news on television. "I remembered Neal telling me about the rains, floods, and devastation that they experienced," related Oleta. "But, you must remember that I was young and really until seeing the damage from the Tsunami, I guess it had really never 'hit home' just what a peril he and his fellow men were involved with, until it was graphically portrayed on the television!"
Oleta found the letter that she'd received, dated October 3, 1945. "Honey, it's coming that kind of rain that would make an iron roof leak, tonight, and the wind is blowing something ferocious, outside!" wrote Cpl McDonald. "I can only imagine what it's going to look like outside, when we wake in the morning. I'm sure lonesome and would love to be back in Reilly Springs or Sulphur Springs, with you and Danny."
The letter was mailed and received days later in Sulphur Springs. Cpl McDonald goes on to say in the letter that he's looking forward to when his "number " comes up to "have enough points" to be discharged from the Army and resume their lives back home, in Texas.
What McDonald and his fellow GI's woke up to the next morning, was the worse typhoon to have ever hit Okinawa, described as follows:
"On 4 October a typhoon developed just north of Rota as a result of a barometric depression and the convergent flow of equatorial air and tropical air. Guam Weather Central called the storm of apparently weak intensity "Louise" and put out the first weather advisory on it at 041200Z, with further advisories following at intervals of six hours. Up to that time of the 16th advisory (080600Z), the storm was following a fairly predictable path to the NW, and was expected to pass between Formosa and Okinawa and on into the East China Sea. At this time, however, the storm began to veer sharply to the right and head north for Okinawa. The 17th advisory at 081200Z (081100I) showed this clearly, and units began to be alerted for the storm late in the evening of the 8th. The forecast for Okinawa was for winds of 60 knots, with 90 knot gusts in the early morning of 9 October, and passage of the center at 1030(I).
"Louise", however, failed to conform to pattern, and that evening, as it reached 25º N (directly south of Okinawa) it slowed to six knots and greatly increased in intensity. As a result, the storm which struck in the afternoon of the 9th has seldom been paralleled in fury and violence; the worst storm at Okinawa since our landings in April.
The sudden shift of the storm 12 hours before its expected maximum , from a predicted path 150 miles west of Okinawa to an actual path that brought the center of the storm less than 15 miles east of Okinawa's southeast coast, caught many craft in the supposedly safe shelter of Buckner Bay without time to put to sea far enough to clear the storm. The ninth of October found the Bay jammed with ships ranging in size from Victory ships to LCV(P)s. All units, both afloat and ashore, were hurriedly battening down and securing for the storm.
By 1000 the wind had risen to 40 knots, and the barometer was down to 989 millibars, visibility was less than 800 yards, the seas were rising, and the rain was coming down in torrents, liberally mixed with salt spray. By 1200, visibility was zero, and the wind was 60 knots from the east and northeast, with tremendous seas breaking over the ships. Small craft were already being torn loose from their anchors, and larger ships were, with difficulty, holding by liberal use of their engines. At 1400 the wind had risen to 80 knots, with gusts of far greater intensity, the rain that drove in horizontally was more salt than fresh, and even the large ships were dragging anchor under the pounding of 30 to 35-foot seas. The bay was now in almost total darkness, and was a scene of utter confusion as ships suddenly loomed in the darkness, collided, or barely escaped colliding by skillful use of engines, and were as quickly separated by the heavy seas. Not all ships were lucky; hundreds were blown ashore, and frequently several were cast on the beach in one general mass of wreckage, while the crews worked desperately to maintain watertight integrity and to fasten a line to anything at hand in order to stop pounding. Many ships had to be abandoned. Sometimes the crews were taken aboard by other ships; more often they made their way ashore, where they spent a miserable night huddled in caves and fields. A few were lost.
By 1600 the typhoon reached its peak, with steady winds of 100 knots and frequent gusts of 120 knots. At this time the barometer dipped to 968.5 millibars. This was the lowest reading that the barometers recorded, and was probably the point of passage of the center of the typhoon, but the maximum winds continued unabated for another two hours, the gusts becoming more fierce, if anything. During this period, the wind shifted to the north, and then to the northwest, and began to blow ships back off the west and north reefs of the Bay and across to the south, sometimes dragging anchor the entire way. These wild voyages by damaged ships caused a nightmare series of collisions and near escapes with other drifting ships and shattered hulks."
"You know how when you're young you think you're indestructible. I guess I just didn't realize the peril that Neal was in, at the time!" related Oleta McDonald. "I was counting the days until he could be discharged and it had never dawned on me, really what danger he was in, back in 1945!"
"And, of course, we were so happy to see each other when he came home, the incident was never really discussed and explained in detail," continued Oleta. "It finally 'struck' me, just how dangerous it was, when I saw the Tsunami reports, back in March of last year!"
Cpl Neal F. McDonald, passed away in February of 1987, and is buried in the Shooks Chapel Cemetery.
He was born in Reilly Springs, Texas, the oldest child of Dan and Lottie McDonald, on August 24, 1915.
His name is on the Hopkins County Veterans' Memorial Wall.