World War II Navy experiences of John Bray

Cincinnati, OH


John (Ed) Bray was awarded a Purple Heart for his service and wounds in World War II. After all he went through in the war, he and his wife often say, “God must have had a mission for him.”
Assignment to sub hunter duty in the Atlantic. Ed grew up on a small farm in Mount Vernon, Ky. He had four brothers and a sister. When he turned 18, he was drafted into the Navy on Oct. 23, 1943. He took his basic training at Great Lakes. Then he was sent to Boston, assigned to a task force nicknamed “Sub Buster.” USS Barr (DE 576) operated in the Mediterranean as part of a hunter-killer group with the escort carrier Block Island (CVE 21) on anti-submarine duty. This task force was credited with hunting and sinking (eight) German U-boats.
Sinking of Block Island (CVE 21). Ed was assigned to the depth charges, or K Guns. When he came on duty at 4 p.m. on May 29, l944, he noticed the ocean was covered with oil. That meant that there was a German submarine in the area. He immediately sensed the carrier was in danger and called the bridge about the oil slick on the starboard side of the ship. But the German sub slipped through their defenses. The carrier was hit with three torpedoes on the starboard side. John ran to the lifejacket rack and picked out a new one, which he credits with saving his life.
Ed says it could all have been avoided if the other ship in front of them had warned about the oil slick and the K Guns could have been fired earlier. John was instructed by the bridge to set the K Guns at 30# of pressure and they rolled into the ocean. As it was, Barr was hit in the stern by a torpedo also. The explosion threw Ed from the back of the ship to the front. A friend of his, from the same county in Kentucky, stayed by his side while he was critically wounded.
The six planes on the carrier had to fly to the Azores as the nearest land, but because of the distance and fuel shortages only one plane made it. Block Island was sunk, but everyone was picked up by supporting destroyers. 17 men lost their lives and 32 were wounded. USS Buckley rammed the sub (U-549) and took German prisoners, including the captain.
After the battle. Barr was disabled and towed to Casablanca. The wounded were transferred to a hospital in Africa. Ed suffered leg, ankle and head wounds and a 6-inch gash in his side. After spending 10 days in the hospital he was flown to St. Albans Hospital on Long Island, N.Y. Ed remembers how cold it was on that flight, because he was laying on the deck of a converted cargo plane with no seats. After skin grafts and five months in the hospital, he was discharged and assigned to USS Benner (DD 807). It was commissioned in Boston’s Charleston Navy Yard on Feb. 13, 1945.
Service in the Pacific. He served on Benner (DD 807) in the Pacific. On July 11, 1945, five months after commissioning, Benner steamed westward from Pearl Harbor escorting a carrier. In July 1945, Benner joined Adm. Halsey’s Task Force operating in the home waters of the Japanese empire. His ship was preparing for shore bombardment of Japan when the Japanese surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945. Benner anchored in Tokyo Bay in September 1945.
Civilian life. John was discharged. He finished his education with a GED and barber’s college in Cincinnati. He worked at Stearns & Foster for several years and then for the DOE plant in Fernald, Ohio, before retiring. He now lives with his wife in the Central Park community.
John and his wife like to say, “God had a mission for him, alright. It was to take care of his wife!”

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