By: Dr. Scott R. Harden
Memorial Day shall be observed this May 29. For many people it represents a day off of work or the start of summer and time to launch their boat on the lake. For me, Memorial Day means reflecting on my uncle Everett, a man that I never had the privilege to know.
The story of my uncle, Everett Harden, has been shared in my family now for generations. It is a story of freedom and courage that depicts the backbone of our great country. A young man, blessed with the future of becoming a physician at the University of Florida, who experienced the anguish and devastation of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in WWII. He redirected his calling by enlisting in the Navy with honor and glory to fight for the freedom of the United States of America.
The Navy may have trained Everett as a radio-communications officer on a naval destroyer. However, they could never have prepared him for the horrors of war that would follow during his three and one-half year deployment at sea. The war not only redirected his life, but ultimately claimed his life as well.
The USS Twiggs (DD-591) was laid down on 20 January 1943 at Charleston, S.C., by the Charleston Navy Yard; launched on 7 April 1943.
Twiggs was a Fletcher-Class Destroyer, 376 feet long, 39 feet wide, capable of 35 knots, a range of 6500 nautical miles @ 15 knots, and armed with ten 40mm anti-aircraft guns, seven 20mm anti-aircraft guns, ten 21 inch torpedo tubes, fully rigged for deploying depth charges.
After arriving in Pearl Harbor on 6 June 1944, Twiggs took part in exercises and drills in Hawaiian waters and escorted convoys operating near Oahu. On 19 August, she returned to Pearl Harbor to begin rehearsals for the long-awaited return to the Philippines. Later on that year, Twiggs provided antiaircraft cover key to the liberation of the Phillipines.
Also late in 1944, Japan began organized and concerted use of kamikazes, some three years following the attack of Pearl Harbor. On 13 December, a Japanese suicide plane crashed into Haraden (DD-685), Twiggs aided the severely damaged destroyer, fighting fires and treating casualties.
Twiggs arrived off Iwo Jima, February 1945, where Twiggs quickly began fire support for pre-assault underwater demolition operations off the eastern beaches. She also conducted screening and harassing activities, firing on Japanese shore units and providing illumination. On this mission, a suicide plane attack on Twiggs resulted in a close call when the plane, in an obvious attempt to crash into the destroyer, crossed her fantail before hitting the water off her port beam and sinking without exploding. The destroyer continued activities to support American ground forces during the grueling battle for Iwo Jima. On 25 March 1945, Twiggs arrived off Okinawa to take part in the pre-invasion bombardment. In addition to antisubmarine and antiaircraft patrols, she supported ground forces with night harassing fire. Suicide planes were very active at this time, as the Japanese desperately defended the island. On 28 April, a day of heavy air activity, a kamikaze splashed close aboard Twiggs while she was on radar picket duty with Task Group 51. Bomb blast and fragmentation from the splashed airplane and bomb blew in the hull plating between the main and first platform deck causing structural damage. The underwater body was dished in, and the starboard propeller was bent. Damage was repaired and on 17 May, Twiggs returned to duty with the gunfire and covering forces off Okinawa.
In June 1945, the battle for Okinawa was drawing to its close. Twiggs continued radar picket duties in the western fire support area and supported troops with pre-landing bombardment and gunfire support. On 16 June 1945, at 20:30, in the dark of night, a single, low-flying plane dropped a torpedo. Everett Harden is performing his daily routine as a radioman, unaware that in seconds a torpedo will slam into the bulkhead of his ship. The torpedo hits Twiggs on her port side, exploding her number 2 magazine. The plane then circled and completed its kamikaze mission in a suicide crash. The explosion enveloped the destroyer in flames; and, within an hour, she sank. Despite the hazard of exploding ammunition from the blazing Twiggs, 188 survivors were rescued from the oily waters. Among the 162 dead and missing was her commanding officer, Comdr. George Phillip, and Radioman Everett Harden.
I recount this story each year and remember how lucky I am to possess the freedom this country has offered me. I remember my uncle Everett on this Memorial Day, a man I never had the pleasure to know. I dedicate every day in my practice to his life and the opportunity he would have had as a physician, if he had not exchanged his life for my freedom.
Happy Memorial Day.