Alan Lawler was one of the sailors stationed below deck on the USS Colorado.
Then hell broke loose.
The battleship was unexpectedly pummeled by Japanese onshore battery outposts just off Tinian Island on July 24, 1944.
“My battle station was in the magazines,” said the 87-year-old Indian Harbor resident and World War II veteran. “If I hadn’t been in the magazines, I wouldn’t be talking to you now. I could hear the shells hitting the ship.”
An estimated 96 of the 2,000 sailors on the ship died from their wounds.
The Colorado was damaged by 22 hits before the enemy outposts could be taken out.
Lawler said the men on deck who died never had a chance.
“The ones that were buried at sea kind of got me,” Lawler said. “There wasn’t any hospital ships around (in the Philippines).”
As for himself, he stated, “I look back and I think it wasn’t my time.”
“The Colorado’s main job was to knock out pill boxes and soften up the shore for our troops,” Lawler said, noting that the Japanese were firing from hidden 8-inch stationary weapons.
Lawler said the ship’s captain made the mistake of moving too close to the shore.
“We got too close and got caught with our britches down,” Lawler said. “That skipper, I don’t know how he lived with himself after that.”
Lawler, a cancer survivor, traveled to Seattle with a friend this week for the USS Colorado Alumni Association Farewell Reunion. He couldn’t count the number of USS Colorado reunions he attended over the years.
Diminishing attendance resulted in organizers calling an end to the reunions, which first began in 1953.
“All of the members are over (age) 87, and they are not able to travel,” said Dorothy Jones, assistant secretary-treasurer of the Colorado Alumni Association.
The Japanese weren’t done damaging the Colorado. On Nov. 27, 1944, a plane on a suicide mission struck the ship.
“A kamikaze hit us and only hit one gun mount,” Lawler said of a Nov. 27, 1944 incident. “The kamikazes couldn’t do much damage unless they hit the magazine.”
The 16-inch guns of the Colorado – a ship first launched in March 1921 that had been used in 1937 to search for lost pilot Amelia Earhart – possessed awesome firepower.
“If you’re topside when one of those 16-inch guns goes off, it can take your shirt off,” Lawler said. “That’s why I don’t hear good. I wasn’t on that deck very long, thank goodness.”
Lawler joined the Navy at age 17 in 1944.
He was discharged on Mother’s Day in 1946 as a petty officer, third class.
“We were right in the height of the war,” said Lawler, whose grandson, Donnie Cox, is a Navy commander who works in the Pentagon. “I think it’s something that had to be done, and we did it.”
Lawler seemed amused recalling Japanese war propaganda that didn’t quite ring true for the men aboard his ship.
“We heard broadcasts from Japan saying the Colorado had been sunk,” Lawler said with a smile. “We’d get a big kick out of it.”
Lawler was in Toyko Bay on the Colorado for one of the most notable moments in history – Japan’s formal surrender, Sept. 2, 1945.
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