As we celebrate the forty-fifth anniversary of the Greenwich Library Oral History Project, we are eager to share an interview of historical significance, “World War II—the USS Laffey,”conducted by OHP interviewer Allan Gibb in May, 2017. The following blog was written by guest blogger, Joseph Campbell.
|Officer Lloyd Hull, U.S. Navy, 1944|
Lloyd N. Hull lived in Greenwich for more than 60 years and had an amazing life. Lloyd passed away on January 13, 2018, and before we lost him, he was kind enough to share his story with the Greenwich Oral History Project, including his time in the U.S. Navy during World War II. As we approach Memorial Day, it is altogether fitting to tell the story of this son of Greenwich and of his service in the war.
When the war in Europe began in September of 1939, Lloyd was attending the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and, like millions of other Americans, would soon be swept up in a war that would engulf the entire world. While the war was raging across the Atlantic, most Americans were going about their daily routines until December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. While at school, Lloyd was a member of the Naval ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) and, upon completion of his degree, received his commission and graduated from Midshipman’s School in June of 1943. He was initially assigned to a minesweeper operating out of Newport, Rhode Island, and patrolled between Rhode Island and Newfoundland. When not on patrol, he and the crew were able to enjoy their stateside port, spending free time with the locals and at the beach.
In September 1943, Lloyd was assigned to a newly commissioned destroyer, DD-724, the USS Laffey, which would become known as “The Ship That Would Not Die.” Lloyd joined the crew of nearly 350 enlisted men and officers and was placed in charge of the Combat Information Center, which coordinated the ships weapons and radars and relayed vital information to the crew on the bridge. He commanded a team of nearly twenty men, all of them older than he was.
|USS Laffey during the war|
After a brief training and shakedown cruise in the Bahamas, Lloyd and the crew of the USS Laffey headed to Europe and joined their squadron in time for the D-Day landings. Lloyd describes the duties of the Laffey as escorting ships into the invasion zone, shelling German positions along the French coast, including Cherbourg, and helping defend against German E-boat attacks (E-boats were German Motor Torpedo Boats similar to American PT boats). Lloyd describes how during the Normandy landings he was able to see the men going ashore under fire and struggling to move off the beaches. In spite of the intense fighting at Normandy, the Laffey was only hit with a German 88 shell, which pierced the ship but failed to explode. With the Laffeydamaged, Lloyd and the rest of the crew were sent to Belfast to make repairs, and then came back to the States (Boston) for a refit with new radar and firing computers. While in Boston Lloyd was able to have his family come and visit him during the refit. Lloyd goes on to describe how he could not tell his family when he was leaving or where he was going once the refit was finished and, as luck would have it, one day his family came to visit and Lloyd was gone with the Laffey having shipped out.
Immediately after the refit, the Laffey made her way to the Pacific, first stopping at Hawaii after transiting the Panama Canal. Lloyd and the crew of the Laffey then took up duty escorting and protecting battle groups and carriers. In 1944, Lloyd found himself in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. From Leyte Gulf he then went to Okinawa. It was at Okinawa that the Laffey suffered several kamikaze attacks which, according to Lloyd, took the lives of many of his crewmembers and caused extensive damage to the ship. Lloyd’s thoughts were not only with his shipmates but also with the Marines that had to land and fight on Okinawa. He describes watching the Marines climbing the cliffs and the brutal fighting they had to endure against the determined Japanese. After Okinawa, Lloyd and the Laffey came back to the States for repairs, and Lloyd was able to take much needed leave and see his family. Lloyd was back on the East Coast with his family when the war ended, and soon thereafter he had to report back to his beloved Laffey.
|The Laffey in 2007|
Lloyd loved America and the Navy. He continued to serve after the war, leaving the Navy as a lieutenant commander. He was proud of his service and the men he served and fought with. They formed a bond that lasted more than 70 years. Lloyd was not shy about sharing his opinion about many things, including the war, politics, family, New England, and leadership. Throughout his life he always remembered his fellow sailors as well as the men who were fighting to take and hold the ground, the soldiers at D-Day and the Marines on the islands of the Pacific. To read Lloyd’s story is it to read a slice of American history. His interview, especially near Memorial Day, serves to remind us of the sacrifices made on our behalf by those who were willing to answer the call to defend our great nation.
(The interview, “World War II—the USS Laffey,” can be found on the first floor of the Greenwich Library, the reference area, or in the Oral History Office, lower level of the library.)