Sep 18, 2016

WWII True Story: Sinking Ship, Leaky Life Vest, Two Men Hanging On!

Sadly this week Mr. Wheeler was buried with military honors.  You can imagine how sad we are to lose this man, this hero, this WWII legend!  Today I share his personal account of what he and my daddy Carl endured during the sinking of this LST off the coast of Anzio. The story itself, as you may know, is close to my heart and to have it used in his funeral made it all the more touching.  Isn't it ironic that this true WWII Hero basically wrote his own Military Eulogy

454 Americans and 29 British sailors lost their lives on the night of January 26, 1944.  Operation Shingle is what the amphibious landing was named.  Anzio beachhead was the location.  0200 was the time of the surprise attack. General Lucas would call it "One of the most complete surprises in history".

The LST 422 which was American Made saw no active service with the US.  It was commissioned into the Royal Navy as HM-LST 422.  Sunk by a mine off the coast of Anzio.

If you aren't familiar with what an LST or Landing Ship Tank is they usually carried heavy equipment, tanks, wheeled and tracked vehicles, artillery, construction equipment and much needed military supplies.  They served a very important mission with valuable cargo and men.

Some of the 83rd Chemical Mortar Battalions C and D Companies plus some from HQ Co. were on board that night and most lost their lives. A few of the survivors have come forward over the years and told their stories of what happened that night.  This story will be for two of those soldiers, Jimmie J. Wheeler and Carl D. Johnson.

Mr Wheeler's story of how he and my daddy Carl survived will be added to the history of the 83rd Chemical Mortar Battalion of WWII. He stated that this was when they first became such close friends.

Joe from Houston, Tx, Carl D. Johnson  (daddy) & Edward L. Shoemaker?
I think that is Mt. Vesuvius in the background

Mr Jim said, "he had 5 trucks over there. "Carl drove a 3/4 ton a lot along with driving a jeep. Carl would haul officers mostly 1st and 2nd Lieutenants and on rare occasions a Captain.  Mr. Wheeler said they didn't show their faces up that close to the front much. There was one exception and that would be Ole Patton, Ole Blood & Guts.  He'd come up there, he was scared just like the rest of us but he didn't believe in telling the ole boys to go up there if he wouldn't go too." They changed the generals out bout every 6 months. We'd rather had him he would feed you rations too."

Jimmie J. Wheeler and Carl D. Johnson
This is the day they spoke with Patton, or should I say he spoke to them loudly!
He told them to put those hats and canes back up in the house and get back to work!
They threw the stuff in their trucks and hi tailed it out of there laughing all the way.
They enjoyed him talking to them and he would laugh at them as well!

I remember daddy talking about him riding in with crop and that famous pearl-handled revolver. He stood like an emperor to hear daddy tell it.  They enjoyed seeing him but at times he got on their nerves. Not on this day they were having way too much fun! More of the story here (well I cleaned up what Patton said but you can imagine).  Mr. Wheeler said, "You know I believe we was the only ones that got to talk to Patton in our unit.  We went back proud as could be and told them!"

Mr. Wheeler said that they had given my daddy Carl a nickname, "Piccolo", while in Italy and it stuck with him. Mr. Wheeler said with a smile, "Yeah he'd answer to it". He carried that nickname until the end of the war. Daddy was short in stature but was strong and courageous as a giant! All who knew him knew this.

Carl D. Johnson & ? Johnson
"The Johnson & Johnson Band Aid Kids"

I guess he acquired that nickname after the death of another soldier friend with the same last name I was told by another Company C man William Ramsey.  They were called at that time 'The Johnson & Johnson Band Aid Kids".  Mr. Ramsey said they were the youngest in the unit. If anyone out there recognizes the taller soldier on the right please let me know.  We've wondered his name for years. Sadly, daddy saw him killed right next to him.

Some of the 83rd Chemical Mortar Battalion Company C 
Amalfi, Italy

While visiting and talking with him he knew I would be sharing this information and he was so glad to share his and Carl's experiences in the war.  Today I share in his own words the sinking of the LST 422.

Surviving The LST 422 Ship Sinking
                           by Jimmie J. Wheeler

We (Mr. Wheeler and Carl Johnson) of Company C and in the Motor Pool at the time were up on the top deck of this ship. They had sent everybody in the Motor Pool that had trucks, me and Carl had trucks up top. The men who had vehicles were told to go up to unboon (remove) some of the chains from them.  We were up there awaiting orders to remove the last chain holding the vehicles when it happened.  We were getting ready to dock when high winds knocked that ship into the first mine. The Germans had laid those mines in the water. We had unchained all but the one chain so that they wouldn't slide off if anything should happen like if they hit a mine field, and that was it!

That ship sank fast!  It sank like an iron ball!  We was on top when it hit! Me and Carl jumped off there when it was 18-20 ft. above the water.  Bunch of them boys was trying to slide down that anchor chain and here come a wave that pushed them boys up against that boat. We decided we didn't want to get on that.

Then they had to shut that hatch down to those below. (I could tell that hurt them so badly to know that, but it had to be done). They go by a code and have to do that to keep the ship from sinking so fast.

We said, "Jump"! No life jackets, we both came off that boat and we were treading round there in that choppy ocean water. We was scared we wouldn't be able to find each other out there with so much going on. Those waves were so big and current so strong!  Explosions, lots of explosions that ship had plenty of ammunition and so we weren't out of danger by any means.

We did find each other and it wasn't long before here came an ole boy face down in the water so we borrowed his jacket. (he said this sadly) I said to him, "You mean he was dead?  Y'all took his jacket? Mr. Wheeler with a half smile said to me, "Well, honey he wasn't gonna need it anymore".  (I know a blonde moment).  It was a Mae West* had to blow it up.  One of us stayed in it, it would leak and we'd blow it up for awhile. Other one would hold onto it awhile.

Mr. Wheeler said, "I couldn't remember the times but I believe it was about 2 o'clock until 8 o'clock. the next morning". I remember daddy, (Carl) saying "That water was cold so cold and it seemed like they were in it forever"! Both Mr. Wheeler and my daddy said the same thing they saw many die that dark night and I guess they did because so few of them survived and thankfully they were 2 of them.

We had finally got out to where you couldn't see nothing but black.  People say, "Y'all didn't think about no sharks"? "Hell, I said, "I thought about a lot of things I didn't think about sharks, we didn't think about no shark".

Quick, daylight came I was hanging on and Carl was in the vest, a little ole reconnaissance plane came by. Made out of little ducket cottonsack ducket.  It came over with a motor that sounded like a lawn mower motor...little putt putt putt putt.  When it came over my arm went up about 15 foot up in the air waving. He went on and we talked about them for a bit!

Wasn't long here come a little ole boat.  I was holding onto Carl they pitched a rope down with knots in it. Boy, I got that rope and wasn't nobody gonna take that rope away from me! I was going to pull myself up but got up just to my shoulders out of the water and that's about as far as I could go.

I had to stay in the hospital a little while and wasn't long Carl was out and up fighting some fierce battles at Anzio.  I came along for that fierce fighting later.

Yep that's where I first met Carl and we became close friends out there hanging on for dear life!  Me and him held on to one another to survive. We got all the swimming we wanted that night. I don't swim anymore.
The End.

I thank the Good Lord for all of this!  I'm telling you every step of the way He has given me information when I knew nothing. I know that He brought us all together. 

If you've been keeping up with the Texas Wheeler WWII stories then you already know how we met and if not you can read the very first story here.

Susie Wheeler, wife of Jimmie Ray Wheeler, Mr. Wheeler's son is responsible for bringing us together and I'll be forever grateful to her for that. Mr. Wheeler was buried this past week with Military Honors. She decided to use some of this story for his funeral, as a part of the Military Eulogy.

This story itself as you may know is close to my heart and to have it used in his funeral made it all the more touching.  Isn't it ironic that this true WWII Hero basically wrote his own Military Eulogy?  The Honor Team had a little smile on their faces when some of this was read. I think the part with the shark but that was sweet as well. I'm sure they did so tastefully and couldn't help it the man was a pistol!

I now know the personal story behind the ship sinking involving my daddy.  I never knew of this before.  Daddy told of the sinking but with very little detail.  Mr. Wheeler has given us a gift and we're truly grateful.

We will miss him truly but are so thankful that we got to meet him to learn about him and daddy as well at that young time of their lives in war.  I have a few more stories short ones that I may share because they are a part of history and very interesting. We have a family that we will be keeping up with as well now our extended friend/family in Texas!

Anzio credit
Could have been the LST it was on this day.

Here are more stories of some lost in the sinking of the LST 422....continued from WWII True Story: Sinking Ship, Leaky Life Vest, Two Men Hanging On! Honoring those whose lives were lost. Some were rescued only to sink on a rescue ship. 

Daddy told us of this as well. The LCI 32

The disaster was compounded when LCI-32, which had gone to assist LST-422, hit a mine and sunk herself. 30 of her crew were lost, and 11 wounded.

Years ago I was in contact with a gentleman from England whose relative was on the ship.  I will have to write a continuing story when I return to the information he has given me.

More Resources

Book:  The Bastard Battalion, the History of the 83rd Chemical Mortar 

Book:  The Day of Battle:  The War in Sicily and Italy 1943-1944

Rekindled Memories:  Dan Miller

*Mae West Life Vest/Jacket
During World War II, Allied aircrews called their yellow inflatable, vest-like life preserver jackets "Mae Wests" partly from rhyming slang for "breasts" and "life vest" and partly because of the resemblance to her torso.  A "Mae West" is also a type of round parachute malfunction (partial Inversion) which contorts the shape of the canopy into the appearance of a extraordinarily large brassiere. credit


  1. I have goosebumps and I could cry. This is such an amazing piece of history and a wonderful gift for him to share with you. He is a man who will truly be missed.

    1. Thank you Kim! It sure touched my heart. I will miss him that's for sure. I'm glad he shared this it was as if he had to find some of us to talk about it. He and daddy became close friends even after the war for a time. So good to hear from you sweet friend. xoxo

  2. That would have been so scary! I'm glad he was able to share the story with you before passing. I know you will miss him and keep him in your prayers.

    1. Hi Kathy, it was one of the closest things to hearing my daddy talk as having him back alive. I lost him in 1990 and to see and hear this close war buddy talk about him gave me chills! Chuck and I both agreed and it's true that Mr. Wheeler have some of the same mannerisms and thoughts. Oh they are different but share some of the same. One side affect from this visit, a good one, we fell in love with him. Quite the character, quite the man. We'll never forget him and will stay in touch with the family. Yes in my prayers.

  3. He left such a beautiful story♥

  4. Enjoyed.

    I wish I'd gotten a chance to meet this cousin. Regards from Tampa, FL ... an El Paso, TX native.

    1. I had that chance and am forever grateful! He was quite a pistol (character). I can tell you that you would have loved him. Thanks for writing and nice to meet you on here.

  5. My uncle PFC Jerome G. Leap of the 83rd Chemical Battalion Co.C was on LST-422 when the ship struck a mine and sunk. His name is on the Tablets of the Missing at Sicily-Rome American Cemetery

    1. Oh my, I'm so sorry but so glad you found out. I used to have so much info on but they took all of that down. It has been years since. Have you been able to go see the Tablets?
      I hope to get there one day. Thanks for letting me know.

  6. Thank you for sharing this. My family believes that my great Uncle Romey was on that boat but he did not survive. He is in the picture on the steps. We had never seen this picture before and believe it to be the last living picture we have of him. We randomly found this site while searching for information on his Chemical battalion. We knew he passed when his LST hit a submerged mine off of Anzio but that was all we knew.

    1. Hi, I'm just seeing this comment. How sad and yet I'm so glad you've found the picture. My daddy probably knew him. Feel free to contact me at email if you have anything else to tell or ask on the subject. I am sorry you and the family lost your great Uncle Romey.

  7. My father, Donald Loveland also survived the sinking of LST 422. Among his WWII souvenirs he left a couple of notebooks with names and addresses of men he met. Carl D Johnson and Jimmie Wheeler are among these listings. Dad died in 1958 and we knew little of his war experience until I read "Bastard Batallion". You were fortunate to have your father and Mr Wheeler in your adult life.

    1. Oh my this is so touching. I am blessed to have had my father that is so true. I only knew Mr. Wheeler for a short while but also know it was a gift from God because every step of the way was led by Him. I knew nothing of any of daddy's WWII until after his death and I started researching. It was truly a blessing to find any information. Feel free to contact me I'd love to even know the addresses of my father and Mr Wheeler at the time. That is information I don't even have. I'd love to hear any stories you may know of your father, if you decide to share.