By: Susan Marenoff-Zausner, President, Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
November 25 marks 75 years since the darkest day in Intrepid’s history. On that date in 1944, the USS Intrepid, which played a vital role in turning the tide in the Pacific Theater during World War II, fell victim to two devastating kamikaze attacks that killed 69 crewmembers. In all, kamikaze attacks claimed the lives of 88 crewmembers from 1944-45.
But out of these horrific events came numerous acts of bravery and heroism. There was Alfonso Chavarrias, who died while trying to shoot down a kamikaze airplane that crashed into the ship. There was Donald Domenic DiMarzo, the ship’s fire marshal, who died fighting fires on the hangar deck. Both men were posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. And then there was Bill Daniels.
Daniels was a decorated fighter pilot in World War II and the Korean War, and served aboard Intrepid as fighter director officer, guiding pilots toward their targets. The kamikaze attacks of November 25, 1944, sparked numerous fires on board Intrepid, trapping men in smoke-filled compartments. Daniels braved fire and smoke to reach a group of about 25 trapped crewmembers. He not only helped lead them to safety on the flight deck, but for one sailor, he applied a tourniquet to one leg and amputated the other, to save that sailor’s life. He then went back to save more. The Navy recognized Daniels with the Bronze Star for his heroism.
Japan’s military leaders had hoped that the devastation and terror caused by crash-diving kamikaze attacks would improve Japan’s negotiating position at the end of the war.
While Kamikaze pilots caused measurable damage to Allied ships, the exact number of attacks is unknown. It is estimated that between 46 and 66 ships were sunk or damaged beyond repair, and 250–400 ships were damaged to a lesser extent. And the human toll was even more devastating as the attacks cost 6,190 Allied servicemen their lives.
Yet for all these losses, the intended results were not achieved. The mighty U.S. fleet maintained its operations despite losing numerous vessels. Kamikaze attacks initially came as a surprise to Allied military leaders, but they quickly developed better defensive tactics. And while Navy sailors—like the crew of Intrepid—felt awe and fear as enemy airplanes barreled into them, they did not lose the will to fight.
Former crewmembers, including Ed Coyne who survived the kamikaze attacks, are today gathering at the Intrepid Museum to remember and commemorate their fallen colleagues, and will pause for a moment of silence at the exact time of the first attack.
But the Intrepid Museum remembers and honors those events, and the bravery and sacrifice of those who served, each and every day. Bill Daniels, a hero of November 25, 1944, went on to become a cable TV pioneer, owner of sports franchises and generous philanthropist. Thanks to the support of the Daniels Fund, which he established, the historical depiction of the kamikaze attacks on Intrepid is now told through major enhancements and updates to an existing kamikaze exhibit.
Kamikaze: Beyond the Fire features artifacts and items from the collections of the Intrepid Museum and, through a new collaboration, Japan’s Chiran Peace Museum, including photographs, writings, medals, and fragments from kamikaze aircraft. Firsthand accounts from survivors and an immersive multimedia experience reveal the history and impact of kamikazes. And a memorial wall honors the crew members who gave their lives while serving aboard Intrepid.
Sixty-nine former crewmembers, many teenage boys, lost their lives that fateful day. As a survivor, Ray Stone, poignantly noted, “All their talents and aspirations were buried with them, deep in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.” It is our duty to remember them always and to perpetuate their legacy for generations to come.