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by William L. Griggs
Atlantic Press  1997
Soft cover
279 pages
Index, photographs
ISBN 0-9659837-0-6
Price $21.95
Language: English

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Preludes To Victory
The Battle of Ormoc Bay in WWII

"My attention was focused on avoiding attacks from aircraft, possible torpedoes, enemy fire from surface ships and shore batteries... We were in a hot spot, hotter than we knew at the time." - Cmdr Foster, USS MOALE recalling Battle of Ormoc Bay

Part personal memoir, part a destroy unit history and part collective oral history, this book is full of photographs, and even poetry. Preludes to Victory is a superb read, that begins with the author's high school and college years, while war clouds built. One truly gets a feeling about what it was like to be living in an America that choose to ignore the raging war in Europe and the threat of Japan.

After Pearl Harbor, we follow author William Griggs service in the Naval Reserves, which trained him as a sonar man, 3rd class. His first duty was on a convoy patrol in early 1944 across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean in USS Kephart DE-207 the crew drilled and trained continuously on the patrol. Although the ship did not experience enemy action, there was a sonar contact.

The book is filled with interesting details, like the fact that when the destroy departed for its first sea trials, there was a large sign placed on the pier that read: "Constriction of this ship made possible by the purchase of over $5 million in War Bonds by the citizens of Greensboro, NC" Or, how crew members were told not to keep diaries, in case the ship was torpedoed and they fell into enemy hands. And details about life aboard a destroy, from the constant use of off-color language, to humor to break the monotony.

Converted to ADP
After these patrols, the ship was repainted to "tropical jungle" jigsaw pattern and converted to an ADP, the naval designation for a high speed destroyer transport, complete with LCVP landing boats, and quarters for 150 troops. Their destination was the Philippines for the Leyte invasion. Many of the troops and crew were in their upper teens or early twenties.

Battle of Ormoc Bay
The combat career of KEPHART and her crew began with the Battle of Ormoc Bay which coincidentally took place December 7, 1944 three years after Pear Harbor. The book becomes a free wheeling oral history at this point, jumping from different veterans recollections about the confusion that took place during the night. Cmdr Foster of the MOALE summarized it best with "My attention was focused on avoiding attacks from aircraft, possible torpedoes, enemy fire from surface ships and shore batteries... We were in a hot spot, hotter than we knew at the time."

Strange Coincidences
Fellow destroy USS Ward APD-16, the ship that had destroyed a Japanese midget submarine trying to enter Pear Harbor just prior to the air attack, was herself hit by kamikaze, one hit the ship and its engine went completely through the ship. Other ships came to her aid, but the order came for the O'BRIAN to sink her, who captain ironically was the skipper on WARD at Pearl Harbor!

Relentless Kamikaze Attacks
At Ormoc, Kamikazes attacked in waves as well as conventional air attacks. The Japanese had localized air supremacy, although P-38 and other Allied planes did their best to provide cover. Dodge Priest remembers,"We would go to chow... but each time we tried GQ alarm would sound. So the cooks served us coffee and spam sandwiches at GQ stations." Stories of harrowing combat, near misses and tragic losses. Accounts of how gunners could see the faces of the youthful Japanese suicide pilots moments before they crashed into their ship or nearby water. The damage was so bad, that news that the damage was inflicted by suicide planes was repressed.

Luzon, Borneo and (almost) Japan
The book does not end with Ormoc Bay. The KEPHART went on to participate in the landing at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon and to Borneo to land Australian troops. When the atomic bomb was dropped and the war ended USS Kephart DE-207 and her crew were training for the invasion of Japan, which all expected would be the worst operation yet , with even more determined suicide attacks in the air and on the ground.

This marvelous veteran authored book now has an honored place on my bookshelf. To order, visit the Battle of Ormoc Bay Website (via WayBack Machine February 2, 2006) and follow up by making a check for $21.95 payable to W. L. Griggs The book can be ordered directly by mail from BG Enterprises.

Review by Justin Taylan  

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Last Updated
November 25, 2022

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