The Press Newspaper

Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper


         While serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Larry Hohenbrink was all over the Pacific, but says there was no greater thrill then when the Japanese surrendered.

        Hohenbrink, now 91, was serving aboard the USS Bracken (Amphibious Personnel Assault-64), a Gilliam-class attack transport, when the announcement came.

         “I was walking by the No. 2 hatch, and the captain announced the war is over and the Japanese

k Hohenbrink

Larry Hohenbrink holds the rosary he carried in World War II.
(Press photo by Ken Grosjean)

surrendered,” Hohenbrink recalled. “I got right on my knees, made the sign of the cross and said a couple beads and the Rosary.

        “You know, my father gave me a Rosary when I went in, and that’s the one (displaying the Rosary), and I’ve never had it out of my right hand pocket. The crucifix is broken, Jesus is gone and one of the beads is gone, but I had it every time. At times, it would get tough, but I had it right in my hand, you know.”

        Larry and his wife Catharine have been living at the Genoa Care Center for the past 10 years, but he still carries the Rosary in his pocket — every second of every day.

        However, the USS Bracken’s crew will go down in history for being the last to see the USS Indianapolis before a Japanese submarine torpedoed it during the final days of WWII.

        “When we passed, a couple football fields away, they looked about that big (pinching his fingers), but you stayed on the side rails and you waved and what-not. Ships pass right to right, starboard to starboard, backwards from driving a car, and they looked about that tall,” Hohenbrink said. “Just three hours later, it was sunk by the Japanese.

        “The Indianapolis took the big atomic bomb from the United States over to Tinian (Mariana Islands). Then, a bomber took off and bombed Hiroshima. Then, she was going back to the Philippines, and all of a sudden the captain of our ship said, ‘The war is over,’ and we had never heard of an atomic bomb. Did not even know what an atomic bomb was.

        “Then, it was afterward that they said the ship we passed last night was the Indianapolis and it was sunk, and our ship was the last one to see it.”

        As the Indianapolis sunk, hundreds of sailors were lost and never recovered before help came. The incident has Hohenbrink believing the Japanese were more aware of what was going on than has been reported.

        “I think the Japanese knew that the Indianapolis had that bomb, and they didn’t hear about the bombing yet. It just worked out well,” Hohenbrink said. “And, why didn’t they sink us? Weren’t we big enough? They were waiting for the Indianapolis.”

        The end result shocked Hohenbrink and his 400 or so crewmates.

        “They dropped that, and the newspapers came out with it, and we said, what does ‘atomic’ mean? What is that?” he continued.

        “I don’t know how we ever won it, first of all. Just the transportation of troops and people and stuff — just think, how in the heck did we do it? It was fantastic.”

        Hohenbrink is known by his friends locally as the former owner of Blackberry Corners restaurant from 1963-75. He says his father, a former A&P manager, had started the business as a grocery store, and then he purchased it years later after learning the commercial food business working as an auditor for the Kroger chain for 3½ years. He also served as commander of the Clay Center VFW for two years.

Football, then WWII

        Hohenbrink wants people to know that “he’s not just blowing his horn,” but with WWII veterans passing away at a rate averaging 362 per day, most will say that getting his story out is important.

        He and his buddies, who played football for Oak Harbor High School, enlisted as soon as they were eligible. Hohenbrink was 17 and says his parents had to sign off on his enlistment.

        “Three of us went in right after football. It was December and football ends in November, and we were all in pretty good shape,” Hohenbrink said. “We played football our senior year, and we left right after football. They said if we went in we’d get our diploma, and we said goodbye.”

        Between October 1944 and March 1945, the Bracken operated off the coast of southern California as a training ship for the crews of 22 subsequent ships of her class. Hohenbrink said training for him and his mates was quick, and not easy.

        “The day we got on the ship we just got finished with all this schooling down in San Diego and Coronado, and then we were assigned to the ship,” Hohenbrink said. “We got there and there were lines all over the deck. It was raining and foggy, half-mast and four o’clock in the morning, and here is this ship, gray and moving, and it was scary, you know. We didn’t know where the heck to go. Then, a couple days later, we took off.

        “We were practicing — always practicing — in San Diego, and we got to the Marine Corps base in Pendleton and we used their beach for about two weeks. Then, we used rubber boats — we took six men in the boats and you would get knocked over when you got close to shore. Then, you’re over and the boat is on top of you and you’re fighting to get air. I was glad I was 17-years-old. I couldn’t have done it otherwise. Then, you did two weeks of that horse crap.”

15-feet jump took its toll

Hohenbrink’s experience left him with a service-connected disability, in part because he had to jump from the Bracken into the landing craft. He has had countless operations at VA Centers in Ann Arbor, Cleveland and Buffalo, mostly on fused vertebrae.

“We had to jump into the landing craft and if you’d jump five or six feet — that would be nothing. But the wave would go down, and now it’s a 15-foot drop, and you’re in midair. You aren’t going anyplace but down. Then, you come up and it hits you, so that’s how my back got all screwed up and it got worse and worse. I had a heck of a time walking,” Hohenbrink said.

        Hohenbrink was a motor machinist’s mate, or mechanic, in laymen’s terms, even though he claims to have not known anything about motor engines before he enlisted.

        But he learned how to care for the Bracken’s diesel engines, and the Bracken spent most of the war delivering troops, unloading from LCVPs (landing craft, vehicle, personnel). The LCVPs were often called the Higgins boat after lumberman Andrew Jackson Higgins, who originally came up with an amphibious boat design for Louisiana trappers and oil drillers.

        Between 1942 and 1945 more than 23,000 LCVPs were built, seeing use on every front from Sicily to Normandy, Guadalcanal to Okinawa, and landing more troops than all other craft combined.

        The Bracken, which was about 400 feet long, carried 15 landing craft, but other APAs carried as many as 30. Hohenbrink says on The Bracken there were 45 people assigned to the landing craft, including three to a boat, plus five officers.

        As a result, Hohenbrink and his crew visited 29 islands, delivering troops and supplies.

        In May 1945, the Bracken took aboard passengers and cargo and proceeded to Pearl Harbor. In July 1945, the Bracken loaded a full crew of replacement troops and proceeded to sail to the Marshall Islands, the Caroline Islands, and Okinawa.

        After the war ended, the Bracken departed Pearl Harbor and called at MidwayHiloEniwetokUlithiOkinawaSaipanLeyteSamar, and Cebutaking, taking aboard occupation troops for transportation to Yokohama, Japan, where she arrived in September 1945. The Bracken then joined Operation Magic Carpet, which was tasked with transporting returning servicemen from the Far East to the United States.

        The Bracken remained on this duty until February 1946, when she commenced preparation as a target ship for Operation Crossroads, the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. She survived the atomic test and was maintained for radiological and structural studies until 10 March 1948 when she was towed to the open sea off Kwajalein and sunk.

        Larry and Catharine have five grown children, including a son who is a patent attorney for the U.S. Government and another son owns a factory in Alabama that manufactures doors, windows, and bathroom fixtures.




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