Photo above: Dick Lillie holding “Blood Chit” he removed from a corpse wearing a pilot’s leather flight jacket. ?Photo courtesy of Britt Taylor Collins, www.bootsonthegroundART.com
Meet USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) WWII Veteran Dick Lillie Torpedo man Second Class. Dick at 17 yrs old, became a plank owner as he was on the USS Bunker Hill from the beginning when he was commissioned in May 1943 and sent to the Pacific Theater of Operations during WWII.
Imagine, seventy-two years ago a 19 year old sailor surviving two kamikazes crashing 30 seconds apart into the Bunker Hill on 11 May 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa, and finally lowering himself into a shark infested ocean feeding on wounded and dead sailors and Marines severely injured and killed by the devastating explosions and subsequent inferno. The surface of the ocean was 80 feet from the exploding armaments and aviation fuel inferno on the aft flight deck, and after one hour of avoiding death in the chaos, Dick was finally able to lower himself 50 feet of the distance on a line and jumped the remaining 30 feet into the ocean. Dick and four shipmates were miraculously the last to be rescued after sharing a life preserver to stay afloat for five hours, because rescue operations by escort ships were terminated by orders to return to battle operations. Sadly, 43 missing Bunker Hill sailors and Marines perished, because rescue operations were suspended.
After being rescued by USS The Sullivans DD-537 navigated by Quartermaster Second Class George “Kissing Sailor” Mendonsa, Dick and 165 Bunker Hill shipmates were either transferred to the hospital ship USS Bountiful to treat their burns and wounds, or if not wounded returned to the carrier to help bury at sea their 343 shipmates killed.
When Dick was assigned to the burial detail he was given a broken mop handle and instructed to insert the pole into the corpse’s mouth to move (slide) the badly burned bodies. Dick was asked if he had a knife and told to check the bodies for identification (dog tags, etc.). Dick was ordered to cut off the lower jaw and put it in a pouch if there were no ID’s on the body, so dental records could identify the deceased.
The above photo below shows Dick holding a “Blood Chit” flag worn by combat pilots that he found on a body wearing a flight jacket that he prepared for burial at sea. Preparing a body required wrapping the corpse in sailcloth after securing an empty 5″ shell casing on the chest and another shell casing between the legs to weigh the body down so it would sink upon entering the ocean. The military process to bury 343 Bunker Hill sailors and Marines at sea took over eight hours commemorating six corpses at a time.
We honor you, Dick Lillie.