Japanese Ocean Mine
Clarence and Wilda
This is the factual story of Clarence Franklin Sanders' military activities
while he was in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
I think you will find this true
story to be quite
interesting and inspiring.
Clarence, of course, was far too modest to tell this story on a web site. So, that is why I am telling the story. Now, others will know his story too. Clarence passed away on December 1, 2006.
Clarence was born November 23, 1925 in Ryan, Oklahoma to Bert Sanders and Mabel Sanders. His brother ,Troy Sanders, was born nine months later. Then after Troy's birth, Clarence's sister Ethel Patricia (Sanders) Sonnevelt was born. Clarence’s beloved mother Mabel died when her children were very young and the three kids spent several good years with their maternal grand parents.
Later Bert married Lou Ella Sanders, whom all loved dearly. Later Betty Sanders Echols was born to Bert and Lou Ella.
Clarence grew up in the Waurika, Oklahoma area. He was a hard worker and an excellent student in school. He helped his father Bert work on the windmills for Bert's customers. It was in these early years that Clarence learned the value of determination and persistence.
While a Senior in high school Clarence was drafted into the US Navy and shipped out to San Diego, California. After Navy basic training he was assigned to the LCI (G) 396 ship as the 70 man crew was assembling on this new ship.
The first time Clarence had ever seen the ocean was when he was in San Diego. After much training by its crew the 396 was ready to join in the war effort and they sailed for Hawaii. After some more advanced training in Hawaii, the 396 and crew departed to join the Pacific naval war. Clarence was assigned to the 396 Engine Room and the 40 MM gun.
I am going to fast forward a little bit and jump to the part of Clarence's story about a Japanese ocean mine. This part of the story is in red font. A little later I will get back into sequence in the blue font.
Here is the most important thing about this Clarence Sanders story. I guess you could say ... it is why I am writing this story on behalf of Clarence. In one millisecond of time (less than a blink of an eye) at about 11:55 AM on January 18, 1945, the Lord determined that Clarence would survive a horrendous Japanese magnetic ocean mine blast.
Seaman 1st Class Sanders was leaning over the 40 MM gun railing on the starboard side of the stern half of the LCI (G) 396 ship, intently trying to spot what had been earlier reported to be a possible Japanese mine floating in the water near the ship.
His shipmates just called him "Sanders" in those days. Sanders was required to be in this location of the ship at this time since his assigned duty was to man the 40 MM port gun (as the "Trainer") on the aft section of the ship during General Quarters emergencies like this.
Sanders, as a 40 MM Trainer, controlled the firing and horizonal positioning of the 40 MM gun. Sanders' friend, Norman R. Fenimore ("Ray") was the "Pointer" for Sanders' 40 MM port gun. The Pointer controlled the vertical positioning of the 40 MM gun. Frederick P. Parlie (with a crew of two assistants) was the "Chief Loader" on Sanders' gun. The Chief Loader had a tough job quickly keeping the ammo ready to fire.
When a floating mine was spotted, the Trainers would shoot it in the water to explode it before it could damage the ship. His ship was near the northeast corner of Urukthapel Island located at about the midpoint in the Palau Islands chain of the South Pacific. Seaman 1st Class Bobby G. Ozbirn was on his left and Seaman 1st Class Norris B. Sells was on his right at the starboard 40 MM gun railing on the aft section of the ship. All three of these guys were eighteen years old and all three were all from Oklahoma.
As the three young sailors were peering in to the ocean trying to locate this feared Japanese device, the stealth-like mine suddenly veered into the slowly moving ship at water level just below the railing where these boys were perched. The mine exploded. The blast of the mine was so powerful that it bent the steel gun barrels of all of the ship's 40MM guns, 20MM guns, and .50 caliber machine guns, on the starboard side of the ship, upward so that they were non operational. The shrapnel and concussion from the mine instantly killed Bobby G. Ozbirn and Norris B. Sells. Clarence was violently thrown about twenty feet across the width/beam of the ship into the LCI's port 40 MM gun area in the aft of the ship (his assigned gun) due to the mine blast. Clarence bounced off the railing on the port side of the ship. That prevented him from being thrown into the water. He had been hit by shrapnel in the stomach and right leg. However, he was alive.
Three Oklahoma boys standing side-by-side at the railing. Two killed and Sanders, the Jefferson County, Oklahoma boy, survived. That is when the Lord determined that:
Matthew (Shane & Whitney),
Michael (Shane & Whitney),
Joseph (Billie & Joe), and
...would each be given the chance to live their individual lives on this earth. I guess the Lord had some plans for these 26 folks. The Lord also had some plans for Wilda for she would later marry Sanders.
Seven of the 396's crew were killed by the blast. Some were severely wounded and may have died at a later date as a result of their wounds. Sanders' friend, Seaman 1st Class Clyde Sampson, the Pointer on the bow 40 MM gun, was severely wounded, however, he was pulled out of the water and survived. The Gunnery Officer, William H. Hosch, was blown over the yard arm and lost almost all of one of his shoulders. Daniel T. Murphy ("Murph") and the LCI Group 39's doctor, Lt. Harold F. Jarvis, got Hosch off the yard arm. Many others were wounded. Cecil Cone, a Parli gunner, was blown off the starboard side into the water with massive head wounds but he survived. (Cecil, who died in 2010, was also a part time cook and played his "banjo" - 3 string guitar - in the ship's band) .
William Thomas Hatherly Jr. was known as "Pop" on the 396. He was 35 years old. On January 18th, Bill had just finished eating and had gone to relieve the person who was on his watch. He had just put his helmet on when the mine hit. Bill was on the part of the 396 that was partially blown off. He was blown into the water. He was able to grab a box to help keep him afloat. A lot of oil was in the water and a fire was coming his way. Then all of a sudden the wind changed and the fire went another direction. One of his buddies that was not hurt told him that when he got on the rescue ship that all he had on was his shorts and he was carrying his shoes. He was taken to a hospital and survived. Bill passed away in 1970.
The following seven 396 sailors were killed: James R. Wertz (the Communications Officer); John P. Mannino; Bobby G. Ozbirn (Sanders' Oklahoma buddy); Norris B. Sells (another Oklahoma boy); Robert J. Calvert (the bow 40 MM Trainer); Oliver E. Cole (Sanders' earlier-assigned engine room mentor); and Charles V. Foxx (a part-time banjo player in the 396 string band). Sanders' friend and electronics mentor, C. W. Ashley, pulled the deceased Oliver E. Cole (as well as two other crew members) out of the water. It was reported by observers on the scene of this mine blast that "the ocean waters had turned red with the blood of the these young sailors".
Within twelve minutes after the mine blast (at 12:07 PM), Caleb K. Drenning (the crew just called him "Sparky"), the 396 radio man, was able to make an "All Stations" radio call for help. This prompt call for help was vital. The LCI Group 39 doctor, Lt. Harold F. Jarvis (stationed on the 396), and the ship's pharmacist, PHM 2nd Class Woodrow W. Newland, were both wounded by the mine blast. The 396 was the "medic" ship for LCI Group 39 of the Black Cat Floatilla 13.
So, Sanders was quickly treated by some Navy medical corp guys on the ship. The mine's shrapnel caused grazing type wounds on Sander's stomach and right leg. After getting those wounds quickly taped, he reported to the engine room with a skeleton crew. The bow one-third of the LCI had been blown-off the ship by the mine blast and it was just barely hanging on to the stern two-thirds by the keel that ran the full length of the underside of the LCI. Sanders and the rest of the skeleton engine room crew throttled the ship back and forth to go ahead and break-off the front one-third of the ship. "Murph" was the one who actually controlled the ship's throttle to do this. The front portion of the ship then broke off and sank.
The Japanese on shore recognized the perilous situation that the 396 was in so they started bracketing the 396 with artillery fire to get the right range on the ship. Then, Sanders and the other engine room crew had to help maneuver what was left of the LCI in a zig-zag type pattern to avoid Japanese heavy six inch incoming gun fire from nearby Urukthapel Island. This manuvering could only be done in the engine room by alternating power and angle to the twin variable pitch props, since the ship's steering ability had been wiped out by the blast.
Initially, help arrived in 65 minutes from LCI (G) 728 at 1:00 PM. The 728 took the dead sailors and some of the wounded sailors from the 396 aboard the 728. Seaver (the Captain of the 728) and John Piel (the Captain of the 396) searched the water in a small boat for any dead and wounded that could be found. The 728 started towing the 396 toward Peleliu. At 1:30 PM LCI (G) 729 arrived and took over the towing duties from the 728 while the 728 then sped toward Peleliu with the dead and wounded. Sanders stayed on the 396. Later the LCI (G) 732 arrived and took over the towing duties from the 729. When the flagship LCI (G) 730 arrived, the 730 and the 729 fired their rockets at the Japanese troops on shore and the enemy fire soon stopped. (A Marine bomber was called to bomb the enemy position, but when the bomber arrived the Japanese guns had gone back into hiding).
What was left of LCI (G) 396 was towed by the 732 to the nearest Navy island base in the Palau Islands area. Sanders only received periodic out-patient type care. At the request of the US Navy, Sanders would, about a year later, hand-carry the last personal possessions of his buddy, Bobby Ozbirn, to Bobby's family in Oklahoma.
Well that was the part of Clarence's story in red font above that I wanted to get to first. Now I will get back into sequence.
The 396 finished training in Hawaii and made its way to the invasion of Peleliu after skillfully avoiding Japanese subs along the way. After the major invasions in Peleliu and Angaur, the 396 also provided rocket fire support for the US Army and Marines in three other island invasions in the Palau Islands chain.
The 396's close-in rocket fire support was vital to the Marines (at Peleliu) and Army (at Anguar) just before they stormed the beaches. Many times this close-in rocket support would clear the way and save many American lives as the beaches were initially stormed.
These three other invasions were dangerous, but certainly not as intense as Peleliu and Angaur. After the US forces gained complete control of Peleliu and Angaur, the 396 cruised ( performed "Picket Duty") in the other islands in the Palau Island chain for of a couple of months, helping out where needed. They were on call to help out any way they could.
On one occasion, the 396 was assigned reconnaissance duty to cruise up a narrow island river with their flat-bottom 396 for three miles into the jungle. Everyone had an odd feeling during the river-run. It felt like you were being looked at by someone. Monkeys and parrots everywhere ... but no Japanese military were spotted. By mid-January of 1945, the enemy was pushed farther and farther north in the island chain.
The Captain of the 396 was John Piel. The XO for the 396 was Townsend. Everybody liked Townsend. Piel was an outstanding Captain and the the crew of the 396 was well known as one of the very best. When the Navy decided to start a new patrol line duty in the Palau Island chain, Captain Piel was the first to sign the 396 up for this duty. Two very dangerous aspects of the 396's patrol line duty were the "Shinyo"and the "Fukuryu". "Shinyo" is a Japanese suicide motorboat with explosives in the bow typically stored in caves near the water. The motorboats would ram an LCI (G). [ The LCI (G) 365 and LCI (G) 82 were both sunk by the Shinyo.] "Fukuryu" is a Japanese suicide swimmer with a mine who would carry the explosive mine beneath a ship. [ The LCI (G) 404 was damaged by the Fukuryu.] At times there would up to 35 Fukuryu Japanese swimmers with bombs/mines swimming toward an LCI with the goal of boarding LCIs, killing the crew and blowing up the ship.
The 396 during this time also participated in defending against three Kamikaze attacks. One of Sander's other duties on the 396 was to maintain and charge the smoke generator on the ship that would quickly roll-out the huge clouds of smoke to protect US ships (as well as the 396) from Kamikazes.
Sanders became a roving "jack of all trades" in the island area (so to speak) after the destruction of the 396. Sanders had now been promoted to Seaman 2nd Class. He worked as a barge operator, baker, barber, diver, electronics repairman, mail man, and guitar player.
About this time Sanders was awarded the Purple Heart by Captain Piel on board of what was left of the 396. The ceremony brought back many memories of the mine blast.
Then it finally happened. Sanders got orders to return to the USA in the Spring of 1945.
Once Sanders made it back to San Diego, he had a thirty day leave to go to Oklahoma to see his family ... and, course, his girl friend Wilda. He also used this time to deliver the last possessions of his buddy Bobby Ozbirn to Bobby's parents in Oklahoma.
After the thirty day leave, he was stationed in Portsmouth/Norfolk Virginia and worked on Navy diesel tug boat number 226 for about seven months escorting the Navy ships daily in and out of the James River harbor. So, Seaman 2nd Class Sanders operated as the engine engineer of the 5 crew-member tug.
VE Day was May 8, 1945. Then VJ Day was August 15, 1945. Sanders and his Virginia buddies celebrated on both days.
When Sanders ask Wilda to marry him, she said ... "yes". Much to her mother's concern, Wilda took a train from Waurika to Kansas City where she changed trains for Cincinnati. [Wilda's mother thought she may never see Wilda again, so she had a family photo made before Wilda left, in case Wilda did not return. In Cincinnati Wilda got on a train to Virginia where Sanders would meet her. She followed Sanders' savvy advice on how to get a seat on the crowded outgoing train by tipping the train "Red Hats" with a quarter. In those days traveling troops had the highest priority on all trains. Upon arrival, they were married on December 18, 1945. Wilda was now a... "Navy"... wife.
Sanders, toward the end of his Navy service, transferred off the electric tug boat 226 and was assigned to numerous other diesel tugs in the area.
Wilda and Sanders made some life-long friends when they lived in Virginia. However, they could not wait to get back to Oklahoma. On May 17, 1946 "Franklin" (or "Clarence", if you choose) was honorably discharged from the US Navy as a "Purple Heart" recipient. He did his part to help the USA win the war. They returned to Oklahoma. Clarence was now a civilian. He had learned a lot in those two years and five months in the Navy. Harvard could not have provided him a finer education. He now had a wife. Clarence and Wilda were ready to get on with living of the rest of their lives.
THE REST OF THE STORY ... CLARENCE FRANKLIN SANDERS -
Near the end of World War II, on December 18, 1945, Clarence and Wilda Jean Pilgreen were married in South Mills , North Carolina. When he was honorably discharged from the US Navy, they returned to Oklahoma. Clarence rapidly earned his BS in physics and mathematics from University of Central Oklahoma. (Physics and Math, 1949, upper 10% of class, Alpha Phi Sigma, Oklahoma Central State). (Later - Graduate studies at North Texas State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Baylor University).
His outstanding career always involved ever-increasing positions of responsibility. He was always seeking a challenge in the aerospace industry.
Here is a short summary of this work after the Navy from latest to earliest:
Director, Test Laboratories Applied Technology Systems Tracor, Inc. As Director of Test Laboratories for Tracor, Inc. , Clarence was responsible for the environmental laboratories, electromagnetics testing laboratory, and burn-in laboratory. He served as national president for several years of IES (a national professional engineering organization).
Program Director, Tracor, Inc.
Program Manager, Tracor, Inc.
Manager of Engineering Test, Rockwell Corporation.
Manager of Development Engineering, Rockwell Corporation.
Marketing Executive, Rockwell Corporation.
Chief of Engineering Test, Rockwell Corporation.
Engineering Supervisor II, Rockwell .Corporation.
Test Engineer, Phillips Petroleum Company.
Principal Engineer, Martin Aircraft.
Assistant Chief Physical Testing, USAF, AFSWC.
Physicist, Sandia Corporation.
Aircraft Assembly Worker.
High School Physics and Math Teacher.
During this time Clarence and Wilda raised their children Nancy Carol Miller, Michael Franklin Sanders, and Patricia Loyce Sanders Boyd. Clarence, Wilda and the children enjoyed water-skiing, fishing, and many family vacations. Clarence enjoyed piloting Wilda around the nation in a private airplane for family activities, family reunions, and travel. Clarence and Wilda gained fulfillment volunteering in Texas Baptist Retired Men’s Church Building where they participated in building about 100 churches across Texas.
Clarence Franklin Sanders went to his glorious Lord Jesus Christ December 1, 2006. Wilda went to her glorious Lord Jesus Christ on May 28, 2020.
Clarence and Wilda made a great team. Through thick and thin they were there to help each other. They were a model to all of what it means to trust God. They honored God. They served God. In a good way they positively touched the lives of a lot of folks. Faith, family, and friends. They made this world a much better place.
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