A Veteran’s Story: Jack Massimino

DANGEROUS WATERS

On the morning of September 26, 1950 a twenty-year-old US Navy sailor named Jack Massimino was at his assigned General Quarters position on board the Navy destroyer, USS Brush.

Jack’s job during G.Q. was to supply the ship’s starboard/forward 40mm guns with ammunition. On that fateful morning the Brush’s guns were hungry for fresh shells as they blasted enemy shore positions in Northern Korea.

Behind them, Jack could see the destroyers USS Taussig and the USS Samuel Moore. Glancing past the bow he had a view of the squadron leader, the USS Maddox churning up the sea waters as her guns also maintained a deadly fire.

The four “Tin Cans” were an awesome naval force but they were operating in dangerous waters. Just how dangerous… the sailors aboard the Brush were about to find out…

 

Jack had been born and raised in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. He was of solid Italian and German stock. It was his Italian father, John Massimino who shouldered the responsibility of raising Jack and his two older sisters… as Jack’s mom, Pauline Hoffman Massimino died within a month of her son’s birth.

When he was 11 years old, Jack watched as the nation went to war after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Perhaps it was the World War II years that instilled a sense of patriotism and sense of duty in the young Arkansan. He had just finished high school when he joined the Navy in July of 1948.

At the time there was no “shooting war” going on, but faraway in Korea the dark clouds of conflict were beginning to form.

Once he finished basic training at San Diego, Jack was assigned to the destroyer USS Brush (DD 745). The Brush already had a storied combat history. She had taken part in many of the operations during the final push toward the defeat of Japan, including the Battle of Iwo Jima. Later when the battleship USS Missouri sailed into Tokyo Bay for the official surrender of Japan, the USS Brush was one of the warships given the honor of escorting her.

In 1950 war broke out in a divided Korea and once again the USS Brush, along with her new crew, sailed into combat. It was Jack’s first “cruise” and it would be one he would remember for the rest of his life…

As his ship headed to the Philippines and then Japan where she took on supplies and ammunition, Jack became fast friends with another young sailor named Dale Hoover, from South Dakota. Jack and Dale were “Liberty Buddies” and since Jack did not drink alcohol, it developed that he became a sort of “big brother” who made sure Dale got safely back to the Brush after a night ashore.

The fighting men of the USS Brush soon found themselves off the coast of Korea on “Bird Dog” duty, rescuing downed American and British fighter pilots. The flyboys were told “Make it to the Drink…. And we will come get you.” It meant that if a downed pilot could avoid capture and somehow find his way back to the beach area, the sailors of the USS Brush would risk everything to bring him home. During the Korean War, the Brush would save at least 21 downed airmen.

Along with rookie seamen, like Jack, Chief Petty Officer Duffy Morris was on board the Brush for his final deployment for the US Navy. Morris was only 43 years old but he had seen action in World War II and had earned five red strips to adorn a sleeve of his dress uniform, for more than twenty years of service. He was looking forward his military retirement and the adventures of civilian life, which was to begin in November.

As a part of a four destroyer squadron, in September the USS Brush was ordered to conduct shore bombardment off the coast of North Korea. Young Jack Massimino wondered about the danger of a naval warship operating so close to enemy tanks and shore batteries. The combat veteran, Chief Duffy Morris knew well the danger.

On September 26, 1950, the four fighting ships formed off shore near the city of Tanchon and following one behind the other, began pounding suspected enemy positions with a sustained fire. In the lead, the USS Maddox passed over an enemy mine without harm. The mine had been set too deep to harm the Maddox but as her propellers passed over it, the churning waters brought the deadly weapon to the surface.

There was no way lookouts on board the Brush, trailing the Maddox so tightly, could have seen the mine. The Brush struck the mine with her hull near mid-ships, on the destroyer’s portside.

The powerful explosion rocked the small warship tearing thought steel and flesh. Some sailors were killed outright, some blown overboard, while many others were wounded by the blast and the resulting flying debris.

The Brush’s three sister ships immediately began rescue operations. The search for missing seamen would continue for several days, as the USS Brush limped toward port in Sasabo, Japan. When the final casualty list was completed, 13 of Jack’s crewmates were listed as Killed In Action, 31 others had been Wounded In Action..

One of the dead was Chief Petty Officer Duffy Morris. In November of that year, Morris became the first Navy sailor who was killed in the Korean War to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Jack’s good friend, Dale Hoover was also killed when the mine exploded, Young Hoover’s body was never recovered. It was Jack who wrote to his family, telling them that Dale would not be coming home. Eventually, the parents saw a USMilitary headstone, engraved with the name Dale Hoover placed above an empty plot in the Black Hills National Cemetery in Sturgis, South Dakota. It stands, not only as a tribute to a brave young seaman, but as a testament to the dear cost of American Freedom.

Jack stayed with the USS Brush though long months of repairs and when she was ready to go to sea again, he did two more deployments to the Korean War Zone. Upon his discharge from the Navy, Jack returned to the Ft. Smith area, where he soon met Mary Cronn, a pretty young lady from nearby Van Buren. Jack and Mary married on July 16, 1955.

The newlyweds soon moved to California seeking adventure and better employment opportunities. Jack found work in the machine shop of North American Aviation, where he participated in the F-86 and F-100 projects. A career switch landed him at the Federal Reserve Bank in Los Angles for eight years and then in 1964, Jack joined Sears. He worked for the retail chain for the next twenty-five years.

In 1995, Jack and Mary felt the call of old home ties in Northwest Arkansas. The couple bought a home in Rogers, where they still live today. Mary is an active volunteer at Rogers Wellness Center and Jack is a popular member of American Legion Post 100.

One of Jack and Mary’s favorite activities is attending the annual reunion of former Sailors who served on board the USS Brush. As old stories are swapped between the Navy veterans, Jack’s thoughts often turn to memories of his crewmate and good friend Dale Hoover.

*****

Author’s Notes:

The USS Maddox (DD-731), the destroyer that was leading the squadron when the USS Brush was hit by the mine, would later become famous in U.S. Naval History. On the foggy night of August 4, 1964 the Maddox reported that while in the Gulf of Tonkin, it had been attacked by North Vietnamese gunboats. Although the commander of the USS Maddox would soon after question whether there had actually been an attack on his ship, President Lyndon Johnson’s administration used the “Incident” to convince the U.S. Congress to pass the “Gulf Of Tonkin Resolution” which led the Vietnam War.

The USS Brush (DD-745) received 5 Battle Stars for her actions in World War II and received 4 additional Battle Stars for her actions in the Korean War.

Sources:

  1. Interview with Jack Massimino
  2. Website: http://ussbrush.org
  3. Website: http://ussmaddox.org

Article copyright: Travis L. Ayres (Feb. 1, 2017)

Travis Ayres is a local author of two nonfiction books: "Shiloh to Stones River" and "The Bomber Boys - Heroes Who Flew The B-17s In WWII". After serving in the US Navy during the Vietnam War, Travis spent 30 years in radio broadcasting as an on-air personality and programmer, with 15 years in New York City at WABC & WCBS. He is currently the host of the website http://CivilWarFieldTrip.com.

1 Comment

  1. Deb
    June 8, 2017
    Reply

    I just met Jack today when he came by the office. He sure was proud to have his story saved and shared by Home For Dinner. He was a delight to visit with. I am glad his story is being saved and shared, as well!

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