Extraordinary Leaders: World War II Memoirs of an American Naval Officer and an Imperial Japanese Naval Officer

Extraordinary Leaders: World War II Memoirs of an American Naval Officer and an Imperial Japanese Naval Officer

by Joseph E. Janotta Jr.


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Extraordinary Leaders is an account of the author's uncle, Alfred Vernon Jannotta, Jr., who commanded a Landing Craft Infantry Large (LCI L) in multiple campaigns-first in the Solomons and later in the Philippines where he earned a Navy Cross, a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and a Purple Heart. After the war, Uncle Vernon retired from naval service as a Rear Admiral. Juxtaposed with Uncle Vernon's wartime service, recounted through numerous letters to his wife, is the wartime experience of Ensign Kotarō Kawanishi who was posted to Bougainville in the Northern Solomons. Kawanishi's wartime service is based on diaries he wrote throughout the war.
This work is different from most World War II memoirs because of the juxtaposition of the written accounts of two combatants, an American naval officer and a Japanese naval officer posted to fight for control of the Solomon Islands. In particular, the main body of the book focuses on what it was like, both offensively and defensively, to fight for the island of Bougainville. This is a first-hand account that lasted throughout the war, between 1942 and 1945, by two of the opposing officers who fought there. This is that rare account of combatants explaining in their own words what it was like to be sent to fight in the Pacific until one side defeated the other.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504950077
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 10/05/2015
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.65(d)

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Extraordinary Leaders

World War II Memoirs of an American Naval Officer and an Imperial Japanese Naval Officer

By Joseph E. Jannotta Jr.


Copyright © 2015 Joseph E. Jannotta, Jr.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5049-5007-7


Early Years of Jannotta

The entire man is, so to speak, to be seen in the cradle of the child.

Alexis de Tocqueville

It was Ensign Jannotta's sixth round trip transporting US troops to France when his ship, the cruiser USS San Diego, struck a German mine off the US East Coast and sank. After five hectic hours in the 55-degree Atlantic they were picked up by a Dutch freighter and off-loaded the next morning into an empty Hoboken, New Jersey warehouse where they faced a new problem. The crew had lost everything — money, personal effects and clothes, except for the salt-crusted uniforms they were wearing. Uncle Vernon telephoned his mother's brother in Short Hills, New Jersey, and borrowed $2,000 so that he could loan each of his men $10.

Over the next several years some of the money dribbled in, repaid by the sailors. The last payment came eight years later in the summer of 1939. Jannotta, then the CEO of Tapp, Inc., a high-end manufacturer of bedroom furniture, was riding up a New York City building elevator on his way to a customer meeting. Absorbed in reviewing his plans for the sales call, he suddenly became aware of a man in his thirties staring at him.

"Aren't you Vernon Jannotta?"

"Yes, I am."

The young man reached into his pocket and pulled out a $10 bill.

"I served under you on the USS San Diego. Sorry to be so late, but here's the money I owe you."

Later sitting in a Manhattan bar drinking a scotch, the encounter with his shipmate triggered waves of memories: his leap from the sinking USS San Diego's rising keel into the ice cold Atlantic, giving his life jacket to the sailor who couldn't swim and the intense fear he felt when he thought he might be sucked under by the sinking ship.

Back in his suburban Chicago home Vernon told his wife, May, of his New York City encounter with his shipmate. Hoping to find his Navy records that might include the sailor's name and address, he began a search. With May's help — she was an interior decorator and the attic was her territory, full of samples and materials — they rummaged through it until they found a dusty, wooden footlocker with his name painted on top: "LTJG Vernon Jannotta, USNR". Included in it were his Oak Park High School and Cornell University records as well as his Navy files, but no record of the sailor's name. Of note, though, were his high school grades: he achieved an "A" average during his four years at Oak Park High with the exception of one "C" (which the high school registrar told me on a phone call, might have been due to an illness). Truth known, his academic achievements were in part due to the watchful and ambitious eye of his mother, Stella Skiff Jannotta, on her first son. Her aspirations included Vernon running the family-founded, -owned and -operated Jewel Tea Company. His mother, a liberal activist, was also dead set against smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol. She suspected Vernon was a user, and in a letter written at the time of his high school graduation she admonished him that grades weren't enough. "Do not forget that you will do no good if you do not lead a clean life. There is only one way. Self control. Then you can look the world in the eye. Make me a proud mother, Vernon."

The record shows despite her admonition, Uncle Vernon entered Cornell University, threw clean living to the wind and dove into Cornell University social life. He joined a fraternity, sang in the Glee Club, formed and played in a dance band, took weekend trips to New York City, and mostly partied. His academic record suffered and by his senior year, he was on probation.

But what interested Uncle Vernon most was the war in Europe. He asked his mother's permission to join the Ambulance Corps in France. On April 2, 1917, before she could respond, President Wilson declared war on the German/Austrian Axis. This time Vernon didn't wait for permission. He enlisted in the Navy with his entire Cornell class. When Stella found out on April 9, 1917, she wrote to him, "It breaks my heart that you have already enlisted." An avowed pacifist, her high expectations for her first son didn't include military service.

Regardless, Vernon was committed, and it wouldn't be long before that commitment would be tested. In May 1917, Seaman Recruit Jannotta reported to the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, for basic training, and enthusiastically embraced Navy life. By mid-July he was promoted to Chief Petty Officer. Then, following five days of competitive exams and two screening interviews, he received notification that he was to be commissioned an Ensign in the US Navy Reserves. In a September 8, 1917 letter to his mother, a youthful Jannotta shared the news:

Oh, I was never so happy in my life. To be recommended for commission immediately was great enough, but to know the Commandant and his staff considered me to be good enough to send out to duty with the fleet ... is the realization of my ambitions and hopes of the last six months — and it's more than that, because it is more than I had hoped for.

Here's another glad surprise I received the other day. Of course all this time I had charge of Company D — a mighty fun bunch of men, too — drilling them and whipping them into shape. Well, last Saturday they were all shipped out — sent across. Just before they left, I had called them to attention and was going to tell them how sorry I was I wasn't going with them, when one of the men stepped out of the ranks and handed me a package as a token of "esteem," he said from Co. D. I opened it up, and it was a small watch, with the engraving on the back: "Presented to A.V. Jannotta, C.Q.M., by Co. D, September 1, 1917." Well you could have knocked me over with a feather I was so surprised. That was pretty darn nice of them, wasn't it?

When I receive my appointment, I've promised a bunch of my friends here a dinner party and blowout. Can I ask you for the money or not, Mother? If not, just say so, and I can put them off.

Give my love to all the folks. Can't you and Margaret (adopted sister) come and visit me here next week? Please try, Mother. You know I get awfully homesick.

Loads of love, Vernon

Uncle Vernon was assigned to the USS San Diego, a cruiser that convoyed US troops to Europe. On his sixth trip, near Long Island, when the San Diego struck a mine, Jannotta was standing watch high up in the mainmast. In the intense excitement of the moment, he thought he saw a submarine — "something straight, slender and dark" — and directed the port broadside guns to fire.

At this point, the San Diego developed a serious list and the increased angle made the guns inoperable. A cease-fire was ordered. For the first time, with the intense excitement of the past few minutes, Jannotta became conscious of his surroundings. His mind shifted from firing guns to the condition of his ship.

He recorded the event in a memoir written September 1931:

We were no longer moving. The starboard engines were now dead, too. And we were settling by the stern and heeling over fast; a good 18-degree list at least. The water had reached the port quarterdeck, and as I looked down from on high, I seemed almost to be hanging over the sea. I saw no one but a small group of sailors stationed at the depth bombs on the quarterdeck, hanging onto the chute and the rail to keep from sliding down the deck into the water. — God, she was certainly going over! I could almost see her roll. Looked at the water creeping up the deck on the low side! — Heard a crash? Something big broke over the port side then — That turret was going to slide in soon! — How long before the mast snapped? It couldn't lean clear over the water like this much longer.

I looked at the men with me. Men? No, just youngsters like me. Tense, questioning — but not afraid. Good boys, these. Yet no sound, since the last futile, ear-splitting crash of the guns. Everything was so still. The sea, the ship, the wind, all seemed hushed. Slowly, surely — but quietly, so strangely quietly — the San D was going over. Why didn't the skipper say the word? Be too late in another minute. Then — the clear, high notes of a bugle, from up forward on the bridge. It sounded "ABANDON SHIP" — once, twice, three times.

To my sailors on the voice tubes, "Gun crews abandon ship." Now to the two men with me, "Over you go, don't try the port side — take it to starboard." We scrambled one after the other over the side of the control-station rail — and down the mast.

Already, hundreds were swarming over the starboard side of the ship. Men were sliding, jumping, dropping into the water. Life rafts, mess tables, Kapok mattresses, preservers — anything that might float and was nearest to hand — were being hauled or hurled overboard too, for a man-of-war carries no lifeboats. Sick and injured were all being carefully lowered in hastily made slings, and men, swimming, towed them to nearby rafts. Cool and collected officers directed as division after division, section after section, group after group of sailors went over the side. Not a second to lose — but no panic here. A splendid, almost unconscious discipline.

I reached the foot of the mainmast and glanced quickly around. Looked like most everyone was off. I couldn't stand upright on the boat deck now, the list was so great. I scrambled to the starboard edge of the boat deck — slid down its side — then a jump, and I pulled myself up to the rail of the main deck. Over I climbed. Out to starboard were hundreds of men swimming, struggling, in the water. The deck was almost at right angles to the water. Two others, an officer and a sailor, were climbing to the rail with me. "Got to hurry," one said, half aloud.

I slid — the others with me — over the curving side and bottom of the ship as she rolled — to the bilge keel as it came up from the water — and then, as the keel was quickly rising, a wide-flung leap to the sea, five or six feet below. As I struggled to the surface, only one thought — to get away from her before she made her final plunge. Get away as far as possible. Her boilers might explode — the ammunition — the depth bombs! My God, the depth bombs. The safety pins were pulled when we went into action. They'd blow us all to hell and gone. Swim and kick as I would, I could not seem to get away from the ship. A suction kept pulling me back, alongside of her. Was I going to drown after all? For a moment I panicked. For the first time in all those crowded minutes preceding, I felt the ice of fear contract my heart. Thoughts of home, of mother, sweetheart, flashed through my mind. I didn't want to die.

Then I realized my frantic strokes were taking me away from the ship. My mind cleared. I became calm, and swam more coolly, for perhaps a hundred yards. I forgot myself, and thought of the ship, the San D; turned round, and treaded water. She was full bottom up now. Slowly, ever so slowly, she was sliding down, stern first, into the water. Men forgot for the moment their own predicament and watched her final moments. The forward end rose higher, higher. When a half of her length was under, she paused, quivered. Then, with a rush and rumble of water, she disappeared below the surface of the sea. Choppy swells, foamy water, bubbles, to mark the spot. The San D was gone.

I glanced at my watch. It had stopped — 1122 — the moment I had struck the water. It couldn't have been twenty-three minutes after that time that she'd gone down. That would make it eleven twenty five. God, that was quick work. Hit at 1105 — gone at 1125. Only twenty minutes! It had seemed like hours — so much had happened.

As the torpedoed USS San Diego plunged from view, Ensign A. Vernon Jannotta became alert to a chaotic seascape — heads and debris bobbed everywhere, mingled with cries of shipmates finding their buddies.

Within minutes, conversations dropped to a minimum; the focus became survival in 55 to 60 degree Atlantic waters. To maintain circulation, Jannotta kept both legs and arms moving. Others were having more serious difficulties. Someone cried, "Help!" Jannotta located a sailor with no flotation aid and with the help of two other men, Jannotta removed his life jacket and put it on the sailor.

The sinking of the San Diego was Uncle Vernon's closest encounter with combat and death during World War I. He served out the remainder of his enlistment without serious incident, and after the war returned to Cornell to finish his bachelor degree; then he entered the business world.


Early Years of Kawanishi

Like Vernon Jannotta, Kotar Kawanishi's adult achievements were shaped and foreshadowed by his family upbringing and his society's culture.

A fundamental premise underlying American anthropologist Ruth Benedict's research is that human behavior — be it of a Buka tribe or an entire nation — "is learned in daily living." Her landmark study of the Japanese during WWII, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, pondered a simple question: why were Japanese troops willing to fight until death, rather than surrender? It represented a paradox that, for her, begged systematic research. So Benedict set about studying the "deeply entrenched attitudes of thought and behavior" learned in the daily social experience of Japanese and, in her words, find "what makes Japan a nation of Japanese."

Both the US and Japan looked at each other using their own cultural lens, seeing and judging the other through their respective beliefs and doctrines. Equality-driven Americans, for example, viewed the Japanese strict adherence to hierarchy (in which each individual takes his prescribed place in society) as illogical or, worse, irrational. Conversely, the Japanese saw winning the war as "the victory of spirit over matter." It amounted to pitting American faith in 'things' against Japanese faith in a 'spirit' that was handed down over more than a thousand years by the divine and legendary Emperor Jimmu. For a Westerner, it's not an easy cultural tenet to grasp.

Benedict illustrates this disconnect with a Japanese wartime radio broadcast about an air force captain returning from a combat mission. The Japanese captain landed, dismounted from his plane and, gazing through binoculars, accounted for his squadron. He then proceeded to headquarters and made his report to the commanding officer, at the end of which he collapsed.

The officers on the spot rushed to give assistance but alas! He was dead. On examining his body it was found that it was already cold, and he had a bullet wound in his chest, which had proved fatal. It was impossible for the body of a newly dead person to be cold. Nevertheless the body of the dead captain was cold as ice. The captain must have been dead long before, and it was his spirit that made the report. Such a miraculous fact must have been achieved by the strict sense of responsibility that the dead captain possessed.

To an American, this tale seems bizarre, but not to Japanese of that time. If a thousand-year-old spirit can be transmitted to the emperor's descendants, why can't the discipline or spirit of a dead captain last two hours?

* * *

Much of what we know of Kawanishi's childhood depends largely on his unpublished autobiography, which was generously made available to me by his son, Takahiro Fujimoto. Written late in his life, the writing recounts his family history and describes his childhood up to the age of 12.

Kotaro Kawanishi was born to Shokichi and Hide Kawanishi, who brought their first-born son into the world on April 26, 1919, in a downtown Tokyo ward. At their house in one of the world's fastest-growing cities, Shokichi and Hide would produce a family of five children in eight years — an eldest daughter, then Kotaro, two more daughters, and another son. With Hide's daughter from a previous marriage — she had buried two husbands before meeting Shokichi — there were eight in the Kawanishi family.


Excerpted from Extraordinary Leaders by Joseph E. Jannotta Jr.. Copyright © 2015 Joseph E. Jannotta, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Why This Book?, xv,
I Early Years of Jannotta, 1,
II Early Years of Kawanishi, 9,
III Sunday, December 7, 1941, 21,
IV Strategic Overview, 35,
V Admiral Yamamoto's Death, 41,
VI Landing Craft Infantry Large (LCI L), 47,
VII Air War, 59,
VIII Grandpa!, 69,
IX Allied Task Force Forms and Heads North, 77,
X The Battle for Bougainville, 81,
XI The New Mission Gets Under Way, 97,
XII Trekking up Bougainville, 109,
XIII Homesick, 119,
XIV Trekking in Merciless Sun and Thirst, 123,
XV Liberty, 137,
XVI Ramp-up: New and Improved LCI Ls, 143,
XVII Submarine Resupply, 153,
XVIII A Broken Leg and Convalescence, 161,
XIX Sweet Potato Thief, 169,
XX Winning Hearts and Minds, 175,
XXI "I Shall Return", 185,
XXII Rest and Recuperation, 197,
XXIII Backtracking, 203,
XXIV "The Last Embers Burned Out", 217,
XXV Surrender and Hope, 227,
XXVI POW 288045, Buka, 239,
Epilogue, 249,
Sources and Notes, 253,
Acknowledgements, 255,
Glossary, 257,
Bibliography, 259,

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