WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – William Coon, or “Kansas Bill” as he is known, joined the military in late 1942, becoming an aviation machinist for the Navy Air Force.
He would serve on the USS Kalinin Bay, a small aircraft carrier that would aid in the liberation of the Philippines.
On October 20, 1944, the American campaign in the Philippines began with the Kalinin Bay and 12 other ships in the unit operating off the island of Samar.
“We had been there about one week. I was sitting on my bunk, took my right shoe off, and battle stations started.”
On the morning of October 25, 1944, the 13 ships of the historic “Taffy 3” task unit prepared for a lifetime battle.
“I had to go to my battle station, which was a foam generator, in case we had a gasoline fire,” Coon said.
The 13 ships of the “Taffy 3” were up against 23 enemy ships, most larger and heavily armed.
“The Japanese had two or three carriers, and of course, they had the biggest battleship.”
The battleship was the Yamato, a ship with more firepower and weighed more than all 13 “Taffy 3” ships combined.
“We didn’t have anything but on board our aircraft, the torpedo bombers. They had taken the torpedoes out and loaded a 100-pound bomb, so that’s all we had to fight with except our rockets and machine guns.”
The hull of the Yamato was seemingly impenetrable, while his ship suffered round after round of fire.
“The front of the ship was pelted 13 times, and we had water, of course, and we couldn’t pump it out.”
Coon recalled watching a kamikaze fly into a nearby ship.
“Flew into him, and he exploded, and elevators that carried the aircraft up and down the lower deck went 200 feet in the air.”
The men of “Taffy 3” were under fire for two and a half hours. But, incredibly, despite being outnumbered and outgunned, “Taffy 3” won.
“I don’t know how, but we did.”
The USS Kalinin Bay would stay afloat. However, the five “Taffy 3” ships would sink, with hundreds of men dying.
“We had one man killed about 30 feet away from shrapnel, and I, if I’d have been standing up, I probably would have gotten it right through my shoulder, but I didn’t know that until after the battle. Of course, you can’t hear that stuff. There’s so much noise.”
If you would like to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Hannah Adamson at firstname.lastname@example.org.