When 2nd Lt. Joe Blaustein went topside aboard the USS Black on April 11, 1945, his ship was fighting off Japanese aircraft during World War II.

His timing made him a witness to the kamikaze attack that struck the USS Kidd.

“We were perhaps no more than a football throw away, off their port side,” said Blaustein, 97, who lives in Topanga, California. “It was horrific.”

The attack on the Kidd, which has been the centerpiece of the USS Kidd Veterans Museum in Baton Rouge since 1984, killed 38 sailors and wounded 55 more.

Although the Kidd stayed afloat, it was sent to California for repairs and did not return to action for the rest of the war. Blaustein would never see the ship or its crew members again.

“We took liberties together, had friends aboard the Kidd,” he recalled. “We looked on helplessly, helplessly. It was a tough day — an awful day, a day I don’t want to remember. And yet, we also couldn’t help thinking, ‘There, but for the grace …’ etc.”

The Kidd and the Black were part of the same destroyer unit that fought together for much of the war and were supporting the American invasion of Okinawa when the kamikaze attack occurred. The Japanese had employed aircraft as suicide weapons earlier in the war, but they stepped up tactic as Allied forces neared their homeland.

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As American aircraft carrier-based warplanes returned from missions, Japanese airmen learned how to slip past radar that warned carriers of their approach. American planes had a radio signal that identified them as friendly. Japanese planes would follow them — distant enough that American airmen didn’t see them, but close enough that they appeared on radar to be among the friendly forces.

To counter that, destroyers like the Kidd and the Black were posted miles away from the carriers, and returning American aircraft were ordered to fly over them. If Japanese aircraft were following, the destroyers could warn the carriers they were coming.

As a result, the destroyers became targets themselves, adding danger to an already stressful 206 consecutive days at sea. Kamikazes struck 69 destroyers during the war, and when Blaustein eventually got paid, he discovered that this duty had merited a 50% raise.

“It was officially termed ‘suicide duty,’” he said.

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On the day it was struck, the Kidd and Black were among four destroyers on this picket line when the Japanese planes attacked. Blaustine was the Black’s combat intelligence-communications officer, putting him below deck with radar, where they could direct weapons.

When planes got within 1,000 feet, radar contact was lost, so Blaustine went topside through a nearby hatch so he could see. A Japanese plane just missed the Black fantail and crashed into the sea. The Black’s guns swung in the direction of another fighter plane.

“The plane had just barely missed us and our 44mm guns were blazing at other incoming suicide planes,” Blaustine said. “(I) saw the incoming plane as we swerved, and heard and then saw in horror the explosion and blast.”

It wasn’t clear if any of the Kidd’s sailors were knocked overboard, and there was no time to check. Black went back to the CIC room.

“It sounds callous and awful, but, frankly we had to save ourselves, and, though our sister ship was only a stone’s throw away, we lost track of them so quickly I have no recollection, other than finding out later they had enough power to make it to port,” he said.

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Blaustein stayed aboard the Black until war’s end. In civilian life, he became an artist and art instructor at UCLA until retiring in 1993 and continues to teach privately. 


Email George Morris at gmorris@theadvocate.com.