USS Leyte Explosion

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Ship's History


USS Leyte was laid down as Crown Point by Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, Newport News, Virginia, on 21 February 1944.  It was renamed Leyte on 8 May 1945 and launched on 23 August 1945 sponsored by Mrs. James M. Mead.  It was commissioned on 11 April 1946 with Capt. Henry F. MacComsey in command.

Leyte joined the USS Wisconsin (BB 64) on a good will cruise down the western seaboard of South America in the fall of 1946 before returning to the Caribbean 18 November to resume shakedown operations. The following three years were spent in numerous fleet exercises in the Atlantic and Caribbean, training naval reservists, and four deployments in the Mediterranean: April to June 1947, July to November 1947, September 1949 to January 1950, and May to August 1950. The latter included a demonstration of airpower over Beirut, Lebanon, 13 August, supporting the Middle East against Communist pressure. Leyte returned to Norfolk 24 August, and after two weeks of preparation, departed 6 September 1950 to join TF 77 in the Far East to support United Nations Forces in Korea.

Leyte arrived in Sasebo, Japan, 8 October 1950 and made final preparations for combat operations. From 9 October through 19 January 1951, the ship and her aircraft spent 92 days at sea and flew 3,933 sorties against the North Korean aggressors.

On 4 December 1950, Ensign Jesse L. Brown, the Navy's first black pilot, flying a close support mission from LEYTE, was forced to make a crash landing near Hagaru-ri when his plane was hit by enemy ground fire. Observing that Ensign Brown was unable to get out of his cockpit, one of his squadron mates, Lt. (j.g.) Thomas J. Hudner, fearlessly landed to assist. Ensign Brown died before he could be removed from the wreckage. Lt. (j.g.) Hudner was rescued by helicopter and later was awarded the Medal of Honor. Ensign Brown was posthumously decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross.

All totaled, Leyte's pilots accumulated 11,000 hours in the air while inflicting massive damage upon enemy positions, supplies, transportation, and communications. Leyte returned to Norfolk for overhaul 25 February 1951.

After fleet training exercises in the Caribbean terminated 21 August 1951, the carrier departed for her fifth tour of duty with the 6th Fleet, 3 September. She returned to Norfolk 21 December for operations out of Hampton Roads, and again steamed for the Mediterranean 29 August 1952. Reclassified CVA 32 on 1 October 1952, she returned to Boston 16 February 1953 for deactivation. On 8 August however, she was ordered to be retained in the active fleet, and, redesignated CVS 32 on the same day, work was begun converting her to an ASW support carrier.

On 16 October 1953, at 1515, while still under conversion to an antisubmarine carrier, Leyte suffered an explosion in her port catapult machinery room. Within minutes naval base and city fire trucks were on the scene. After a hard and gallant fight, the fire was extinguished at 1957. As a result of the fire, 37 men died and 28 were injured.

Conversion completed 4 January 1954, Leyte departed Boston for Quonset Point, Rhode Island, as flagship of CarDiv 18. She conducted anti-submarine operations in the Atlantic and Caribbean over the next five years. She also served briefly as an interim amphibious assault ship in 1957, with her normal air group replaced with Marine Corps transport helicopters.

Leyte departed Quonset Point in January 1959 for the New York Navy Yard where she commenced preinactivation overhaul. She was redesignated AVT 10 and decommissioned both on 15 May 1959, and was assigned to the Philadelphia group of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet with a berth in New York. The ship was stricken from the Navy List on 1 June 1969, and was sold for scrapping in September 1970.

Leyte received two battle stars for Korean service.

Explosion - October 16, 1953

On August 16, 1953, the USS Leyte was badly damaged by an explosion and subsequent fire caused by the accidental ignition of hydraulic fluid in the port catapult machinery room while undergoing conversion to a antisubmarine aircraft carrier. The ship was at the Boston Naval Shipyard when 39 men were killed and 28 were injured.  Among the 39 were five civilians.

Casualty (Fatality) List:

  1. Ball, ABC Charles Thomas
  2. Bedford, ADC James Robert
  3. Bielecki, SN Thomas Harry
  4. Buzyk, Edward F. - civilian
  5. Capper, AOM1 Joseph Patrick
  6. Conrad, AB3 Roland Maurice
  7. Crespy, AMMN George David
  8. DeRose, Lt. Leonard Michael
  9. Faulkner, AMMN Gerald Norwin
  10. Fischer, ENS Charles Thompson
  11. Gagas, LT William Achilles
  12. Hackett, AN Jackie Paul
  13. Harrelson, AOM3 Arthur Danvis Jr.
  14. Hartley, AB2 Warren Vincent
  15. Herald, Selby - civilian
  16. Hildreth, AB3 James Arlin
  17. Holt, MMC Elmer Clearance
  18. Hult, Carl O. - civilian
  19. Jackson, AN Nathan Eugene - Jonesborough, TN
  20. Kadlec, AN Leo Francis
  21. Keenan, AB2 Gregory
  22. Lintz, AOM3 Riley Gene
  23. Macomber, MMC Walter Eugene
  24. Mayhew, AOM3 Kenneth Joe
  25. Meyers, Ltjg Thomas Joseph - age 26, son of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert A. Meyers of Milwaukee and brother of Miss Mary Meyers of Long Beach, CA.  Lt. Meyers was the athletic officer on the Leyte.
  26. Mills, SN Sidney
  27. Mountain, ADMN Fulton Thomas
  28. Murphy, Charles J. Sr. (civilian)
  29. Nelson, AOMN Neil Higgins
  30. Patterson, AOMN Joe Albert - age 18
  31. Quinn, AB George John Jr.
  32. Randall, LT Clinton Howard
  33. Rosa, John J. - civilian
  34. Runowicz, BMC Taddeus
  35. Slater, ST2 Earl Hilmer
  36. Winslow, SN James Lynn
  37. Wooley, SN William David

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