CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Patrick R. Tobia is a US Navy veteran who served as an Electrician’s Mate and Chief Electrician aboard LST (Landing Ship, Tank) 679 during World War II. His ship participated in a number of landings in the Philippine Islands. He also served in the postwar Japan occupation force for a short period of time before being honorably discharged in 1946.
Tobia was born in April, 1925 in Bloomfield, New Jersey. He recalled being a “water bug,” during his childhood, a passion that would eventually lead to his naval service. Tobia’s older brother served in the US Army Air Force during the war, and Patrick, who was seventeen at the time and not yet of draft age, was able to visit his brother before he shipped out from Fort Dix, New Jersey, after basic training.
Tobia said that his “mother would not allow [him] to join with one son in the service, so [he] had to wait to be drafted.” He was drafted on September 9, 1943, and, when given a choice of what branch to serve in, chose the Navy. Tobia was sent for basic training in Newport, Rhode Island, for two months. After Newport, “due to [his] limited civilian background in electrical work, [he] was sent for a crash course, sixteen weeks, in electrical engineering.” That course was also offered in Newport and was attended by 120 men, including “sixty Marines and sixty sailors.” Tobia “graduated twentieth” in his class and became an Electrician’s Mate, Third Class.
Tobia was subsequently sent to gyrocompass school in Brooklyn, New York, where he learned the operation and maintenance of shipboard gyrocompasses. The gyrocompass was calibrated for true north, and Tobia recalled that “due to its sensitive nature, there were only two keys for the room…only two men on board the ship were allowed in the room, myself and the captain.” When Tobia was eventually assigned to a ship, he became the Chief Electrician, adding to his responsibilities and attesting to his thorough training and skill level.
Following his stint in Brooklyn, Tobia was sent to Camp Bradford, at Norfolk, Virginia, to learn amphibious assault skills, and then on to the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for further training. After those courses, he was assigned to the crew of the brand-new LST-679, built in Pennsylvania. (LSTs were constructed at inland shipyards, since coastal yards were busy building larger ships.) A skeleton crew sailed the LST down the Mississippi River to the Todd Shipyards, New Orleans, Louisiana, where repairs and preparations were made for the ship to serve overseas, and where she was officially commissioned.
From New Orleans, Tobia’s LST sailed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and from there through the Panama Canal, which Tobia said “was very exciting,” and on to the US Naval Staging Area at Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides archipelago. From there LST-679 traveled to Hollandia, where Tobia became enamored with the natives, interactions with whom he described as culturally “enriching.”
Tobia found his shipboard living conditions “comfortable.” The crewmen were friendly with the officers, (unusual on a navy vessel), as well as with the soldiers or Marines they transported. Each man had a fairly comfortable living space and bunk, and the only thing restricted was water. Tobia showered in salt water, and remembered that to combat the excessive heat the crew “used to rub diesel oil on themselves.” Those problems were minor, though; since, he recalled, “we were eighteen, nineteen years old and it didn’t matter.”
LST-679 supported the landings at Leyte in the Philippines, and was also involved in the amphibious assaults on Luzon, Mindoro and Mindanao. Tobia, as an electrician, spent most of his time at general quarters below deck, converting and directing power from ship systems to the anti-aircraft batteries’ optical gun sights.
When landing on Luzon at Lingayen Gulf, LST-679 and the other LSTs were not allowed to hit the beach, for fear of being stranded ashore by the tide. Three smaller LCIs (Landing Craft, Infantry) were sent to the shore, but capsized, drowning all those aboard. The LSTs were forced to wait three nights for better tides. Tobia recalled that on the first night he heard an unsubstantiated rumor that a Japanese suicide bomber had climbed up on an LST and detonated his bomb inside the craft. As a result, crewmen were ordered to “shoot everything that moved” during the rest of the night. With morning, his observation of bullet damage on American vessels due to wild firing and ricochets led Tobia to conclude that “we did more damage than that one guy did.” The next night they were told not to shoot at anything. The LSTs were allowed to disembark their troops on the third day, where they found that “there wasn’t a solid piece of ground” ashore due to the shelling of the beach by the battleships, cruisers and destroyers offshore. He remembers men saying, “It was like going to a party.”
Following the Philippine landings, LST-679 was stationed off Luzon and was present when Typhoon Cobra, also known as “Halsey’s Typhoon” struck the American fleet. Tobia recalled that “ships were splitting, and I don’t know how many LSTs were sunk. There were sixty foot swells; one moment you’re on top of the world, and the next you’re caught between two mountains of water.” He attributes the survival of his ship to the captain, “a thirty-two-year-old nautical genius” (Lieutenant Nairn A. Nelmes, USNR). The storm, which blew LST-679 several miles from its original position, resulted in a reported 790 sailors killed, and it was one of the worst disasters in American naval history.
When their vessel was subsequently assigned to a convoy headed for Mindanao, Tobia and his shipmates were subjected to the taunting of Japanese radio propaganda personality Tokyo Rose, who warned the sailors that their convoy would be destroyed. Tobia remembered that Tokyo Rose “told us at what hour on the clock and what ship a plane would be dive bombing…and we had no air cover.” A Japanese kamikaze suicide plane hit a transport behind LST-679. The ship was carrying troops, fuel and ammunition, and the explosion killed over five hundred men. Tobia’s position in the engine room was not totally protected from the blast, and he was knocked down a ladder by the shock wave. Unconscious, he was shaken awake by a friend, and then climbed up onto the deck, where a PT boat was pulled up alongside to bring a casualty aboard. Shrapnel from the blast had severed the leg of one the PT boat’s crewman, a forty-five-year-old grandfather. The convoy made it through safely; however, he recalled that “it was terribly unsettling.” Tokyo Rose, generally speaking, would hound the sailors and soldiers, to the point of fearing for their supplies. Getting a convoy through while Tokyo Rose was speaking against it became life or death for soldiers and Marines relying on a convoy’s safe passage. Tokyo Rose spoke fluent English, further unsettling the American GIs, taught to view their Japanese adversaries as foreign and subhuman. The success of this targeted convoy, therefore, was nothing short of a miracle.
After the Japanese surrender, LST-679 supported the American occupation of Japan. Tobia remembers it as pleasant duty, recalling how friendly the disciplined Japanese people were, especially the children. He and his shipmates “learned to ski in Japan.” Japanese children would come to ski or watch the Americans; and, if Tobia or his shipmates fell, “they would not laugh a bit until we started to laugh.” The utter devastation and poverty the war caused the Japanese people struck him as most memorable.
Tobia was one of a handful of men assigned to LST-679 who were part of the crew from before the ship’s commissioning to its decommissioning, when it was struck from the Naval Register in Seattle, Washington on June 24, 1946. Tobia was discharged afterwards and took a train cross-country, arriving in Chicago during a nationwide rail strike. He recalled that he, “like any good sailor would do, got a Scotch and enjoyed [his] stay.” Upon his return to New Jersey, a friend stayed with him to help him readjust to civilian life.
Shortly after his return, Tobia met his future wife. They married and now have five children and ten grandchildren. Tobia kept in contact with only a few friends from the service. He is a member of VFW Post 1838 in Manasquan, New Jersey, where he has lived the past thirty-two years. Tobia was asked to be the Grand Marshal of the 2015 Memorial Day Parade in Manasquan, which he accepted “for [his] fellow veterans.” At the time of this interview, Tobia said that “there are only three of us left from World War II” at the local VFW.
Tobia is very proud of his service and also of his family, but is also extremely humble. He refutes his generation being dubbed “The Greatest Generation,” as he believes that “every generation and every veteran is great.” Tobia lives a comfortable life in Manasquan, New Jersey with his wife of sixty-eight years. He is still enjoying his family and the ocean, as he is “still a water bug” after all these years.