Johnson City

World War II veteran remembers Halsey's Typhoon

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - This weekend we honor those who died protecting our freedoms and for some veterans, it's a time for reflection. We talked to a World War II veteran who saved his ship from capsizing in the Pacific during a typhoon.

It's been almost 70 years since Burchel Pierce was aboard the USS Cape Esperance, an escort carrier stationed in the Pacific.

"Really felt proud, we did, when we'd wake up some mornings, look around us and there would be battleships, cruisers all the way around us," said Pierce.

In December of 1944, Admiral "Bull" Halsey sent the Pacific fleets right into the heart of a typhoon.

Pierce was his aircraft carrier's lookout.

"The wind was hitting me, the waves, couldn't tell what they said but I wanted to stay up there because they couldn't see nothing," he said.

Pierce remained at his post despite winds as high as 100 mph and saw the storm start to untether planes on the flight deck,  putting the ship's balance in jeopardy.

He told us the men started running back and forth across the ship's hangar deck to keep it level but then two fully fueled planes collided on the deck. They erupted in flames.

"We were getting ready to put it out but I don't know how we would've done it," he said. "Here come a big wave over the flight deck."

The very storm destroying them, put the fire out.

"We didn't know how bad it had hit the rest of the fleet," said Pierce. "We knew the fleet was big we just didn't  know how much it had hit."

He told us, when they found out, the news was devastating. Three destroyers capsized in the storm and between 700 and 800 men died.

"You better believe we paid a price, maybe a lot more than people knew about," Pierce said.

Even though Pierce's keen eyes kept his carrier from being one of those losses, he said the real heroes that day were those men who died. He told us he'll remember those men on Memorial Day.

If you want to know more about Pierce's story or the other fleets in the storm, he recommends you read the book "Halsey's Typhoon," by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin.

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