USS St. Louis, CL 49
BILL LITTLEJOHN @ BOOT CAMP 1940 & CPO IN SHANGHAI CHINA 1946
Bill Littlejohn was born in Mitchell, Nebraska, and enlisted in the United States Navy in October 1940. He was assigned to the light cruiser USS St. Louis in December 1940. On the morning of December 7, 1941, the ship was moored at Pearl Harbor for minor repairs, with all firing leads off her antiaircraft guns, cold engines, and two of her eight boilers dismantled for cleaning. Bill was on the quarter deck early in the morning and all of a sudden, “I hear all these planes flying over head and here one comes down between us and the San Francisco and it had a torpedo hanging on the bottom of it.” Bill could clearly see the Japanese pilot giving him a big grin as he flew towards the battleships. General quarters immediately sounded and Bill rushed to his duty station in the #2 boiler room.
Within two minutes all guns were firing and they were making preparations to get underway. The St. Louis was the first major ship to get out of the harbor, getting underway in 67 minutes, where it normally takes two to three hours to get up to steam on the boilers. She was fired on by a mini submarine and the torpedoes narrowly missed and exploded on the reef. The “Fighting Lou” was strafed, near missed by bombs, and the target of a torpedo attack and still made it to open seas suffering inconsequential damage. Her crew then nicknamed her the “Lucky Lou.”
The St. Louis patrolled around the Hawaiian Islands for the next three days, joining in the search for the Japanese fleet. After failing to locate the enemy strike force, the ship was assigned to escort civilians back to the state and troops to Hawaii. The St. Louis was part of the task force in the Navy’s initial attack of the war: raiding the Japanese bases in the Gilberts and Marshalls in February 1942. The St. Louis delivered Marine raiders to Midway Island, but missed the battle of Midway (“the turning point in the war”), by two days. The St. Louis was also involved in bombardments of Kiska and Attu islands in the Aleutians, as well as the bombardment of New Georgia.
In February 1944 the St. Louis suffered it’s first combat fatalities at Green Island, where Japanese planes dropped bombs that exploded amidships living compartment, killing 22 enlisted men and one officer. After repairs they sailed for the Marianas and bombarded the Asan beach area of Guam. In November the ship and crew supported the landings on Leyte Island in the Philippines. A Japanese Navy kamikaze bomber dove on the ship, crashed onto the hanger deck, and its bomb detonated causing severe damage. A total of 16 crew men died and many more were injured. Amazingly, the casualties were quickly replaced and guns continued in action. The St. Louis downed four planes and assisted in the destruction of two others.
The St. Louis earned 11 Battle Stars during W.W.II and the Navy Unit Commendation for “outstanding heroism in action against the enemy.” She is credited with sinking 1 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, 5 destroyers, one submarine, damaging five other destroyers, and shooting down or assisting the shooting down of 20 enemy aircraft.
Bill stayed on the St. Louis throughout the war. He was the junior NCO and attained the rank of chief petty officer. He was awarded the Commission Pendant. He married Josephine in 1946 and together they raised two sons and now have one grandson and one great-grandson. They have lived in the Sacramento area since 1950. Bill is an active charter member of Pearl Harbor Survivors, chapter 6.
BILL & JO LITTLEJOHN @ THE 65TH REUNION IN HAWAII OF THE PEARL HARBOR ATTACK, DECEMBER 7TH,1941.