But towards the end of his life he would make these cryptic references to the secret mission. Neither my brother nor I could pry any details out of him. One time, while waiting at the deli counter in a supermarket, out of the blue he said, “It was around this time we spent a week playing cat and mouse with a Jap sub.” * I asked him to elaborate and he just shrugged and said, “Nothing. Never mind.” He seemed distracted, lost in thought.
A few years after he died I was talking with my brother and he brought up the secret mission thing. I mentioned the supermarket incident and decided that I had to look into it. Off to the Google I went.
What I found was an article in the Cleveland Plain dealer from 2009 that stunned me. It was called John Wicinski of Garfield Heights was on a secret mission aboard the USS Tucson: A World at War.
Wicinski, 87, of Garfield Heights, said he and fellow crewmen aboard the USS Tucson were told only that they were part of a secret mission. The details became obvious that night as the lone cruiser assumed the role of a battleship supposedly leading a naval task force in an attack on Japan.
They were out there with their asses hanging out.
The plan, as detailed in the U.S. Navy Cruiser Sailors Association newsletter last fall, was to have the Tucson break from the task force on its own and head for southern Japan, while the rest of the group actually sailed in the opposite direction to bombard Hokkaido and the Northern Honshu islands, which lay beyond the range of B-29 bombers.
A team of Navy tricksters aboard the Tucson would send out a flurry of radio dispatches that mimicked the communications of an entire task force, with ships talking to other vessels and aircraft. The hoaxers used scripts and even moved to different locations aboard the cruiser to obtain different background noises for their transmissions.
The hope was that the Japanese would monitor the broadcasts, assume an attack was imminent in southern Japan, and reposition their defenses accordingly.
The old man did say that one point they they were at general quarters for a week, which in miitary parlance means an announcement made aboard a naval warship to signal the crew to prepare for battle or imminent damage, but again, no details despite being pressed.
I contacted the U.S. Navy Cruiser Sailors Association to see if I could get a copy of that article since I was the son of someone who was on that boat. They graciously provided the article which you can read here.
The old man’s boat was a light cruiser which accompanied battleships. He said it was like a floating ammo dump. Somewhere I have a copy of a letter Admiral Halsey sent to the fleet thaking them for “giving Tojo what for.”
That was that generation. He was told not to talk about it and he never did.
*The USS Indianapolis had just delivered the first atomic bomb to Tinian when it was attacked by a Japanese submarine. The cruiser sank in 12 minutes. Some 900 of its 1,196 crewmen survived the sinking, but only 316 were left by the sharks four days later for rescue.