Facebook Twitter

A brave man I called ‘Dad’ and the ship that made him proud

SHARE A brave man I called ‘Dad’ and the ship that made him proud

I've always had an interest in history, and nowhere is that interest in the past more intense than when it involves people I love.

Exactly 65 years ago this week, people who had no particular dislike for my Dad — Art Aylworth — did their supreme best to kill him.

In fairness, while it sort of works out the same way, those men weren't directly trying to kill Dad. They were trying to kill the ship he was standing on.

In May of 1945 my pop was a radarman third class on the destroyer-minelayer USS Aaron Ward, DM34.

At 2,200 tons, as naval vessels go, the Aaron Ward wasn't big, but she was brand new. Dad was part of the ship's commissioning crew and when she sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, heading for the setting sun, it was her first combat mission.

While the ship was a baby, Dad was a little older than most of his shipmates. He was 31, had a wife and a young son. He was an insurance salesman, and he and my Mom, Dayle, had lived in San Francisco for about six years by that time.

For a couple of months the Aaron Ward was home-ported in San Francisco before she went off to war.

When the ship's captain found out Dad had a family living about three miles from where the ship was birthed, he let the very lucky radarman go "home" every evening.

Since they never knew when Dad would ship out, I can't begin to imagine what it was for my folks to say good-bye every morning knowing it could well be the last time they would see each other in this life.

I always thought Dad was an unlikely sailor. He was born in northern Utah and as far as I know, he never had any great desire to go to sea, but in the last days of April the Aaron Ward with Arthur Aylworth RDM/3 onboard arrived off the coast of Okinawa.

Dad's ship was on radar picket duty, which meant they were suppose to spot incoming Japanese planes before they got to Okinawa. On the evening of May 3, 1945, just before sunset the Ward's radar operators spotted a mass of aircraft headed their way.

In the next furious hour the Aaron Ward was hit by six kamikazes and two bombs. One of the first suicide planes rook out the radar antenna, putting Dad out of a job. In what I think was a great demonstration of personal courage, he volunteered to help the ship's doctor with the ever-climbing number of wounded.

Dad's total battle experience lasted a little more than an hour. In that time 42 men were killed and dozens were injured. Topside the ship was a scene of utter devastation. Functionally everything from the forward smokestack to the fantail was shredded, twisted and burned metal.

The Aaron Ward had several flooded compartments, she was listing badly, both engines were out of commission. Dad was always convinced the only reason the ship didn't sink was because she was afraid to make her commander, Capt. Bill Sanders, angry.

Battered and abused, the ship survived and received enough in the way of temporary repairs that her crew eventually sailed her back to the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard, which was where Dad was in August of 1945 when the Japanese surrendered.

Every May I think about Dad and his ship. Dad died in 1984. He didn't think he had done anything special, but he was adamant that his ship and crewmates had.

While they both would have rejected the title, my folks were part of what has been called the "Greatest Generation." They would have said they only did what they had to, which after all made them and the rest of that generation great.