AMM3c Jacob Elijah Ricketson
Torpedo Squadron, Air Group 17, USS HORNET
Killed in Action 7 April, 1945 in the East China Sea
off the coast of Kyushu, Japan
Epitaph for a Father lost
-- Elaine Ricketson Danks --
Renowned is his hallowed grave, majestic and awesome,
He was only 22 years old that early April day when he died, half a world
away from the small town in the rolling hills of Georgia that was his home.
Yet even in that briefest of lifetimes he was blessed with what he cherished
most in life: a wife and child, and his close-knit, loving family.
Whose solemn waters taste of tears,
And depths and breadth pale in shame
beside the vastness of his spirit,
Once contained by slender limbs and boyish charm.
A life bright as a just-struck match,
Flared brilliantly for too little time,
Transfigured to a radiance that lights eternity,
He soars among the gauzy clouds
and dances with the wind.
He was the second child and first-born son in the family of eight
children of George and Effie Ricketson, and was named for both his
grandfathers; but those somber, biblical names were too weighty for his
fun-loving and affectionate nature and so he was known always and to everyone
simply as "J.E." He was the protector, defender and adored older brother of
his sisters and brothers, his father's pride and joy, and his mother's
"heart." His father worked for the railroad and on Sundays served as a
minister in some of the small-town Baptist churches that were nearly as
plentiful as the tall Georgia pines. His mother played the piano in church
and at home, and their house was filled with music and happy family times.
The lean days of the Depression were still being felt when he graduated
from high school and, though he was valedictorian of his class, the thought
of going to college could have only been a dream. Instead he joined the CCC
(Civilian Conservation Corps) where he was taught baking and meat cutting.
At Christmastime he met and fell in love with Lola Mae Smith from a nearby
town and the following July, 1941 they were married and moved to Florida
where he had been working at the site of the newly built Eglin Field near
Pensacola. Though war was spreading over the world, for a short while the
young couple lived a simple but happy and relatively carefree life. In
April, 1943 my birth made him a very proud father and I was named Elaine
after the song "Maria Elena" which he particularly loved. He had joined the
reserves in 1942 and in September, 1943 he was called to report for induction
into the Navy. He took my mother and me back to his family in Georgia while
he went to Maryland for training. Perhaps he might have been able to use his
meat cutting or baking skills in a safer place within the Navy, but he had
always yearned to learn to fly and so he requested aviation training.
He was first sent to aviation mechanic school, and was then found suited for
aviation gunnery so he was transferred to Hollywood, Florida for further
training. At last my mother was able to be with him again and he delighted
in taking us to watch the planes at the Naval Air Station as they squeezed
every moment from the dwindling days they would be together. All too soon
the time came for him to take his place fighting the war in the Pacific and
he left by train for California. Once there he volunteered for testing of
some sort of gas, for by so doing he would be granted a leave with his family
before departing the United States. He was able to spend a last Thanksgiving
in Georgia and arrived there with terrible, blistered skin on his back from
the gas. Photographs taken during those precious days show only smiles, but
hearts were surely breaking as he had to say goodbye once more. He would not
let my mother go to the train station for he told his father he did not
believe that he would be coming back from the war and he did not think he
could bear to say goodbye to her there.
From California my father, his pilot Lee O'Brien and radioman James
Opheim, who had trained together in Florida as a crew for the Avenger torpedo
bomber/fighter, slowly made their way toward the battles raging in the
Pacific. In March, 1945 they left Guam on the supply carrier USS WINDHAM BAY
to be transferred to the USS HORNET to support the invasion of Okinawa that
would begin on April 1. This last great battle of the Pacific war was fought
on land, in the air and on the sea as kamikaze attacks on the carriers
increased daily. There was no rest for the crews of the bombers and fighters
and the unrelenting stress on them was so great that after seven missions
they were temporarily replaced.
In early April the Allied Forces learned that the Japanese were planning
to send the YAMATO, the largest battleship ever built and mounted with
enormous guns, to Okinawa to help their embattled troops. On the morning of
April 7 planes from twelve U.S. carriers converged off Kyushu, Japan to
intercept and sink it and its accompanying convoy before they could reach
Okinawa. They attacked in waves and the torpedo bombers from the HORNET took
their turn just after noon. Ensign O'Brien began his run toward the YAMATO
just a few hundred feet above the ocean through intense anti-aircraft fire,
holding to a course toward the left side of the bow to make certain their
torpedo would run straight and true. The plane was hit, the engine burst
into flames, and they crashed into the East China Sea just beyond the bow of
the Yamato. There was no sign of wreckage or any survivors.
It was their seventh mission.
A couple hours later the YAMATO and other ships in the convoy had been
sunk and the Japanese Navy no longer existed.
In early May, 1945 my mother and my father's parents received the dreaded
telegram stating he was "missing in action." The long, terrible war with
Japan came to an end just four months later, but it was not until an
interminable year and a day after that terrible April morning that their
beloved husband and son was declared to be dead, and their agonizing waiting
and praying for his return finally came to an end with the awful knowledge
that he was gone from them forever, and their shattered lives would never
again be the same.
I have just now learned my father's story, 53 years after his death, and
it was the miracle of finding AWON that made it all possible. I am
especially indebted to Jack Forgy, an AWON member, for locating most of the
information about the last weeks of my father's life, and for helping me to
truly "find" my father.