Two views of U.S.S. CAPRICORNUS (AKA/LKA-57) at sea
U.S.S. CAPRICORNUS Association
D. Thomas Longo, Jr., Chairman
20690 Sugar Ridge Lane
Lawrenceburg, IN 47025
(home) 812-577-3686, (cell) 443-783-2322
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE U.S.S. CAPRICORNUS (AKA/LKA-57)
The vessel that became the USS CAPRICORNUS was originally built in Oakland, CA by the Moore Drydock Company and launched as the S.S. Spitfire on August 14, 1943. She was converted to Navy duty by Willamette Iron and Steel Works in Portland, OR, and was commissioned as USS CAPRICORNUS (AKA-57) on May 31, 1944 under the command of Lieutenant Commander Benjamin F. McGuckin. Her commissioning crew of "Plankowners" included numerous 17- and 18-year-olds. Those boys and young men pointed her bow westward across the broad Pacific and took her to war.
CAPRICORNUS' specialty as an Attack Cargo Ship (AKA) was to support amphibious landings with the numerous assault boats she carried to land cargo and people from both herself and other ships onto hostile shores. CAPRICORNUS was one of many unsung heroes during World War II. Battleships and aircraft carriers got the glory, the "Scrappy Cappy" and her brethren got the grunt work. "Last to know, first to go" was her wry ship's motto of those days. CAPRICORNUS was a lucky ship. Despite being strafed and bombed, she brought all of her WWII crew members home safely.
CAPRICORNUS participated in several World War II island invasions in the Pacific from Leyte to Okinawa. On November 13, 1944, while transporting Army reinforcements, CAPRICORNUS destroyed one of the Japanese torpedo planes which attacked her group. This was the origin of her nickname, "The Scrappy Cappy." The Okinawa invasion in April 1945 became, fortunately, the last major amphibious assault of WWII. In the period after the cessation of hostilities CAPRICORNUS helped support the U.S. occupation of Japan. She visited Nagasaki on September 23, 1945. Her crew could see a great amount of the atomic bomb damage from where she was moored. Sightseeing was forbidden but most of the crew at least got to set foot on Japanese soil.
After Nagasaki, CAPRICORNUS sailed to Manila and Hong Kong to load Chinese troops for the reoccupation of northern China. She continued similar support of the occupation until her return to Seattle on December 11, 1945. CAPRICORNUS carried cargo and personnel to and from the Far East for most of 1946 and 1947. On November 16, 1947, she steamed to Philadelphia, and entered the Reserve Fleet on March 30, 1948, three years and nine months after her commissioning.
With the expansion of the fleet at the outbreak of the Korean War, CAPRICORNUS was recommissioned on October 12, 1950 for duty in the Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet. Extensive training exercises coupled with periods of Cold War deployments to the Caribbean and Mediterranean followed. She deployed many times to the Mediterranean for duty with the U.S. Sixth Fleet. On November 13, 1955, CAPRICORNUS proceeded to the aid of the radar picket ship USS SEARCHER (YAGR-4). Rescue parties from CAPRICORNUS boarded the SEARCHER, brought a serious engine room fire under control after five hours, and towed her to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for repairs. CAPRICORNUS was deployed as part of the Sixth Fleet's amphibious ready squadron in the Mediterranean when the Lebanon crisis erupted in 1958. Her landing craft delivered the first Marines ashore, and she continued participation in the operation until October, when she returned to the United States.
In subsequent years CAPRICORNUS followed a pattern of training and exercise deployments to the Caribbean and Mediterranean. As for her ultimate fate, there was a rumor that she was sold to Holland for continued service as a civilian cargo ship. However, according to various information, more likely is that she was decommissioned on February 10, 1970, and was stricken from the Naval Register on January 1, 1977, and scrapped.
An LCVP - Landing Craft Vehicle-Personnel, the famous World War II Higgins Boat. CAPRICORNUS carried up to fourteen of these nine-ton craft, made of plywood except for the metal ramp and powered by a single Diesel engine. Three were carried on davits on each side of the superstructure and eight more nested within larger Mike boats atop the ship's hatches. The lower LCVP on the starboard davit was the duty lifeboat.
An LCM-6 - Landing Craft Mechanized. CAPRICORNUS carried six of these all-metal, 30-ton assault "Mike boats" plus two similar LCM-3 craft equipped for salvage purposes such as towing grounded boats back into deeper water. The crew pictured with this particular LCM in 1963-65 were Coxswain James G. Prewitt of Kentucky, Engineer (ENFN) John Hill from Texas, and Seaman bowhook M. Lansa of Boston, MA.
LCMs were powered by twin Diesel engines. They were so heavy that when swung out for lowering into the water, the entire ship would heel several degrees. During loading and unloading operations alongside ships' cliff-like sides, LCM's and LCVP's would lurch up and down on the waves many feet, complicating efforts of troops trying to board them and operations of their crews handling heavy cargo. Everyone had to look out for life, limb and safety and to display near-acrobatic ability to avoid being crushed or maimed. When the boats backed off a beach to return for more troops and cargo, incoming waves would erupt and explode against their square sterns like fireworks as with engines roaring they powered aft over sandbars and into more incoming surf. They and their crews were tough!
In October 1962, while deployed to the Caribbean, CAPRICORNUS participated in operations related to the Cuban Missile Crisis. She unloaded her Marines and cargo to reinforce the U.S. garrison at Guantanamo, proceeded to Charleston, SC to reload, and returned to sea off the coast of Florida ready to respond as required during the crucial three weeks before the crisis subsided. CAPRICORNUS participated in Dominican Republic contingency operations in Spring 1965. She got underway on an emergency basis from Norfolk, VA, loaded equipment and Marines further down the East Coast, and became part of a large flotilla of American ships off Santo Domingo. A confused situation existed ashore, there were suspicions of communist Cuban involvement, and CAPRICORNUS landed her Marines to help keep order. She went to battle stations in earnest on one occasion ("Now, General Quarters, General Quarters, this is not a drill, General Quarters!") when three Dominican military craft steamed out of Santo Domingo harbor with uncertain intentions. They turned around and went back. She also patrolled off the southern coast of Cuba as an early warning picket ship.
This historic photo shows U.S. Marines landing at Lebanon in 1958. The LCM-6 in the left foreground is one of CAPRICORNUS' boats.
A 1963 artist's rendition of CAPRICORNUS' being straddled by bombs during a Japanese air attack during WWII. Crew members who were aboard at the time say this is an accurate depiction - it was a near thing.
THE U.S.S. CAPRICORNUS ASSOCIATION
The U.S.S. CAPRICORNUS Association was begun in 1992 when a few former shipmates located by WWII Coxswain Elmer "E.J." Patterson got together in Texas. The Association at first limited itself to World War II people but around 1996 opened up to anyone who had served aboard, family members, and any one else interested. We have contact information for some 371 people, of whom 84 are currently active, dues-paying members. They range from persons who put the ship in commission in WWII to people who served during the Korean War period and through the Cold War until she was decommissioned in 1970.
The Association has logged twenty-six reunions: 1992-Texas; 1994-Las Vegas, NV; 1995-Branson, MO; 1996-Charleston, SC; 1997-Bremerton, WA; 1998-Boston, MA; 1999-New Orleans, LA; 2000-a cruise to Mexico from New Orleans; 2001-San Francisco, CA; 2002-Washington, D.C.; 2003-San Antonio, TX; 2004-Milwaukee, WI; 2005-Cincinnati, OH; 2006-Baltimore, MD; 2007-San Diego, CA; 2008-Branson, MO; 2009-Norfolk, VA; 2010-Nashville, TN; 2011- Allen Park, MI outside Detroit; 2012-Rapid City, SD (Mount Rushnore); 2013-Seattle, WA; 2014-Buffalo, NY and Niagara Falls USA and Canada; 2015-Kansas City, MO; 2016-Las Vegas, NV; 2017-New Orleans centered on the new National World War II Museum there; 2008-Branson, MO; 2019-(no reunion) . Jacksonville, Florida is on tap for April 24-28, 2020.
We warmly invite anyone interested in the U.S.S. CAPRICORNUS to join the Association. To join, dues are $15.00 per calendar year. (Persons who join during the last three months of the year have their $15.00 applied to dues through the next calendar year.) Dues include a subscription to our periodic newsletter that comes out three or four times a year. You will also receive a wallet-sized laminated membership card with a picture of the ship, a copy of our current roster, and a more extensive Ship's History than what appears above. Association dues go primarily to pay for the newsletter and other expenses, to fund deposits for reunion events, and, when possible, partially to subsidize reunion costs.
If you would like to join, please send a check for $15.00 payable to USS CAPRICORNUS Association to Thomas Longo at the address at the top of this webpage. Include a note with your full name, mail address, email address, and phone #. Include your spouse's first name if applicable. If you are a former crew member, indicate what years you served aboard (month/year to month/year) and what your highest rank or rating aboard was (please spell out, e.g., Machinist's Mate Second Class, not MM2), so that we can include all information in your roster listing.
CAPRICORNUS DISCUSSION SITE ON YAHOO
There is a USS CAPRICORNUS discussion site on Yahoo which contains additional materials in its Files section including copies of recent Association newsletters. If interested go to: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/USSCAPRICORNUS/ .
A traditional central part of Association reunions is an annual Remembrance Ceremony recalling shipmates, spouses and other members of "The U.S.S. CAPRICORNUS Association Family" who have passed on since our last reunion. Above are views of this year's ceremony, held in College of the Ozarks' gothic Williams Chapel on their campus near Branson, MO. During the ceremony names are read and a few words are said about each recently departed, and the Association's ship's bell is rung for each. This year;s ceremony featured music from the chapel's impressive pipe organ including The Battle Hymn of the Republic, a sing-along of the Navy Hymn accompanied by the organ, and more. The ceremony concluded with "Taps."
NOW HEAR THIS!
ALL HANDS ON DECK FOR REUNION JACKSONVILLE, FL APRIL 24-28, 2020
Details will appear in forthcoming issues of the Association newsletter.
In 2010 Association members donated to fund a commemorative U.S.S. CAPRICORNUS Plaque that has been mounted for permanent display on the Memorial Wall of the United States Navy Memorial on Pennsylvaniaa Avenue in Washington, D.C. A picture of the Plaque is above.
Our reunion group at outside College of the Ozarks' Williams Chapel near Branson, MO on April 27, 2018 following our Remembrance Ceremony in the chapel.
(This website updated September 9, 2019 to update listing of past reunions held and point to Reunion 2020 in Jacksonville FL).
Association Chairman Tom Longo told the following story when he unveiled his personally-purchased USS CAPRICORNUS model for the first time at our reunion Welcome Dinner in Buffalo on June 9, 2014. For the better part of ten years Tom had looked for a model to build of the U.S.S. CAPRICORNUS or some similar AKA-type ship that might have doubled as her. Tom scoured the Internet repeatedly but found nothing except a picture of the box of an apparently German "Andromeda Klasse USS CAPRICORNUS" model kit. But that actual model kit was nowhere to be found, not on Google, not on eBay, nada. So Tom looked further and discovered on the Internet a firm in San Diego that custom-buildts museum-quality models of all types - Navy ships, commercial ships, private yachts, airplanes and more. The firm is San Diego Modelmakers and their website is www.sdmodelmakers.com.
SD Modelmakers are not inexpensive but they custom-build top quality models according to the customer's specifications, photographs and desires. It took several months from placing the order in November 2013 to delivery of the model in late May 2014 for Tom's model to be completed. It is configured as the ship was when Tom served aboard her 1963-65. The wood, glass and brass case was made in Connecticut and the model itself was painstakingly crafted in the Philippines Pictured above is the model on display in our reunion hospitality room in Buffalo, and World War II veteran Dick Cordano viewing it for the first time.