Story of Fred H. Leighton
My name is Fred Henry Leighton. I was born 6-12-21 in Healdsburg, CA.
I joined the Navy in July of 1939. I was in San Diego for Boot Camp. After
graduation I was stationed aboard an old (World War I) four stack destroyer
called the USS Ramsay, DM 16. While we were trying to put her back into
commission, I was chipping rust off the deck one day and an officer came by
and asked “What are you doing?” I didn’t even look up, I just said “I’m
chipping this god damn rust off the deck.” He asked me if I knew who he was
and I said “No, and I don’t give a damn.” He said, “Well, I’m Capt. McKansas,
the Capt. of the shipyard and you keep on doing what you are doing son, you’re
doing a good job.” And he walked away… It’s a wonder that I was not
When the ship was put back into commission, we sailed north to the
Puget Sound. We were assigned to Neutrality Patrol. One night we chased a
ship all over the sound demanding it to be recognized. They ignored us until
we fired a shot over its bow. Then it paused and told us it was a Russian
Freighter with freight for Seattle. From there we went to the San Francisco
Shipyard and they removed one engine and stack and put depth charge runners
on deck, so now it was a three stack destroyer.
We were then sent to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. While there we had been
Doing a lot of war practice and patrolling.
On Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, I got out of my bunk to go to the
(Head) bathroom. It was on the fan tail of the ship. While out on the
well deck, I saw a plane swoop down over Ford Island and I heard a
big explosion. The Captain came up and asked me what was the explosion
and I said, “I think one of our planes accidentally dropped a bomb” (because
when the carriers would come in, they would pull a mock raid). So the Captain
said go to the hatch and call away fire and rescue. Just then an ensign came up
and saw another plane and he said “Fire and rescue…Hell, that’s the Japs,
General Quarters.” By then we could see them all around us.
We were anchored off of Pearl City. It took us about one hour to
get our engines going, to get out of the Harbor.
While we were steaming out of the Harbor, I was the range finder
operator on the Flying Bridge. We were shooting at a plane and so was I. One plane
came right towards us straffing. I ducked down behind the canvas, thinking “If he
did not see me I was safe.” Just then I heard a ping behind me. There was a bullet
hole in the bulkhead. If I had not ducked, it would have hit me. Then I became
scared. I brought my hammock topside and slept on deck for a couple of weeks. We
dropped our depth charges on what we thought might have been subs and didn’t
come back in the Harbor for three days.
After that, we loaded up with depth charges and mines for the South Pacific.
We mined American and British Samoa, Fiji, Tongatapu, and the New Hebrides.
Then we went back to Hawaii. They loaded us up again and we were sent north to
The Aleutians. We were sent north so fast that it took months for us to get any
About the fall of 1943, I was sent back to the states aboard an oil tanker
called the USS Neches. They needed a Boatswain’s Mate in San Pedro, Long
Beach Shipyard, New Construction to train a new crew. I trained the Crew aboard
the YMS 395, a mine sweep. I thought I might have to sweep the mines we had
laid earlier in the war. All we did was patrol the South Pacifc, and pick up any
downed Airmen. We never did pick up any airmen.
In early 1945, I was sent back to the states again to train another crew. This
time for the USS Navarro, APA 215, a troop transport. Later in 1945 we were part
of the invasion of Okinawa. During the attack, I was watching a Kamikaze Plane.
It looked like it was trying to decide which ship to hit. As it was coming down
we were firing at it. We hit it and it landed on a small boat being towed back to
our ship. No one was in it and the plane cut it in half. Then I saw a wheel fly up
and something hit my left side. I fell back and down a ladder to the deck below,
between two corpsmen. They asked if I was OK and I didn’t know. They opened
my jacked and then I felt the blood and they helped me to sick bay.
A piece of shrapnel had hit my left side and shattered a rib. I was sent to a
hospital where they removed my shattered rib. A muscle on my left side gets
pinched when I bend over because of this.
I was sent back to my ship and we were part of the armada that sailed into
Yokohama Harbor for the signing of the surrender.
I was over my enlistment time and the Captain announced that anyone over
their enlistment could get discharged. I was the first one to arrive at the
I was discharged from Shoemaker, CA on Nov. 11, 1945.
Foot note: While I was aboard the YMS 395, I was a gun captain. My gun
misfired . When I put the cocking tool on to reset, the tool slipped and the
gun fired in my left ear. The Captain said he did not want to report this, because
he wanted to send me to diver’s school. So it did not get in my official
records. The corpsman rigged a large coffee can with a light bulb in it and
it would shine on my ear to heal it. It had ruptured my eardrum.