On March 19, 1945, at 8:07 a.m., the worst day of my life began to happen.
Our ship, the aircraft carrier USS Franklin, was operating with a task force 60 miles off the coast of Japan when an enemy plane hit us with two armor-piercing 500 lb. bombs. Both scored direct hits and one of the bombs couldn't have been more strategically placed for all the damage and carnage that resulted.
This one bomb fell among our fully armed planes which we intended for a strike on Kyushu, Japan. As these planes exploded, thousands of gallons of high octane aviation fuel was forced down on to the hangar deck below the flight deck. That area became a blazing inferno, dooming hundreds of men to a fiery death.
After a whole day of fighting fires and explosions, and sustaining severe damage and heavy causalities, it was now time for the burial detail to go to work since the dead now outnumbered the living left aboard the crippled ship. Being a member of the ship's band, one of my duties was that of stretcher bearer of the dead or wounded.
As violent explosions shook our ship like a series of strong earthquakes, the effect was indescribable. Much more traumatic for me than the fear, however, was the task of burial at sea for hundreds (724 to be exact) of my shipmates and the pitiful state of their bodies. It was comparable to picking up the pieces at a major airliner crash.
Those who sacrificed their lives are the real heroes -- I'm merely a survivor. I thank God for letting me live through that horrible disaster and the many prayers that helped me endure it.
Against all odds, our ship limped her way across the Pacific, through the Panama Canal and made it to the Port of New York -- the most heavily damaged ship ever to reach home port under her own power.
After all these years I've never completely recovered from the effects of the horror of that fateful day, but I have learned to live with it and the nightmares no longer haunt me.
Harold Hougland is a Downey resident and World War II veteran.