Colello Story of Kamikaze Attack
Joseph Colello currently lives with his wife, Lillian (‘Doie’), at:
409 Sand Creek Road
Colonie, NY 12205
He has 4 children (one son, three daughters), all living in the Albany area, and six grandsons. Although legally blind, he gets around remarkably well and can read to some degree with the use of a special magnifying machine.
Here is his story as he recalls the kamikaze attack on the USS Terror (told to and as written by Rosemary Armao, a newspaper editor and also a cousin of our family).
May 1, 1945 by Rosemary Armao
He remembers none of the details, what he was doing or with whom, how many men were lost, or even whether it was night or day.
What Joseph S.C. Colello does remember about an hour in battle over a half-century ago that changed his life is a miraculous woman’s clear voice steering him from death.
Colello was an eighteen-year-old seaman, first class, on May 1, 1945 – a rural Albany boy no longer after about a year in the Navy and duty aboard the minelayer USS Terror. He was only seventeen when he and seventeen other high school seniors went to enlist in the Navy. They were sent back to school for the few weeks left till graduation, then it was off to boot camp at Sampson Naval Base in Geneva, New York. At home, his parents worried about him; and his pretty, fifteen-year old girlfriend, ‘Doie’, said novenas for him.
After graduating from radio school, Colello was shipped out in January of 1945 by troop train to Treasure Island, California, where he boarded a ship for Hawaii. He began to doubt the wisdom of joining the Navy, for by the time he got to the Golden Gate Bridge, he was seasick.
From Hawaii he was flown to Johnson Island, then Guam, where he boarded a Coast Guard cutter to rendezvous with the USS Terror at Kerama Retto in the South Pacific.
Throughout the opening months of 1945, the Terror steamed through the thick of the South Pacific slug-fest between the United States and Japan, aiding the pre-assault bombardment of Iwo Jima, rushing battle casualties to Saipan. Finally, in late March, operating off Kerama Retto as flag ship and tender for minecraft, as Americans prepared for the invasion of Okinawa.
As the crew worked grueling hours supplying a flotilla of ships with water, oil, gear, and ammunition, the shelling, Colello said, was continuous. Near constant warnings went out about possible attacks by Japanese planes, swimmers, and suicide boats.
On April 2, 1945, two attacking Japanese planes were shot down in the harbor, one just 600 yards from the Terror. On April 6, 1945, Japanese fighters pounded the U.S. ships in the harbor for four hours. It went on for a horror-filled month. To a teenager who had never been away from home before, the spectacle of war resembled the final night of the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. “I used to watch other ships get it,” he remembered, “we’d try to shoot them down – it was like fireworks, the tracer bullets all through the sky.”
Ninety-three times that month, the men were directed to general quarters for periods that ranged from seven minutes to 6½ hours. On April 28, 1945, a kamikaze plane slammed into the Pinckney anchored nearby. Three days later, May 1, 1945, the alarm for general quarters sounded yet again just a few minutes before 0400 (4 a.m.), an hour in between darkness and light.
Young Seaman Colello, off duty at the time, and 186 other men crammed the cafeteria. “The lights were all out,” he remembered. “The noise was horrendous. Then there was a huge explosion, a tremendous flash.”
Penned in the dark cafeteria, Colello never saw the twin engine Betty Bomber that darted through a hole in the smoke screen over the water and dove toward the Terror’s port beam. The fighter banked around the stern of the ship, then dove into the starboard quarters so fast only one of the minelaye’rs stern guns even opened fire. As the aircraft tore into the ship’s communications platform, one of the two 500-pound bombs it carried went off, igniting a roaring fire that would burn through the ship for two hours. The explosion and flash rocked the cafeteria where all was chaos.
“All the tables fell over on us,” Colello said. “We were blind. I didn’t know the way out.” At that hopeless moment, he heard the woman. “This way.” She told him. “This way.”
No women served on the Terror, or anywhere else in the Navy in those days. Maybe the voice had something to do with the fact that half a world away, Doie was kneeling in a novena at Our Lady of Angels Church. “Maybe,” Colello said, “I just heard it in my head.” But he obeyed the woman’s voice. He and five other men who followed him groped their way through a hole blown through the ship, out to rescue. Only 56 men made it out. “I never found out the toll on the whole ship,” he said.
It was 171: 41 dead, 7 missing, 123 (including Colello) wounded.
The Japanese pilot’s helmet was found on board – with pictures of the Terror in it. He knew what he was looking for.
Horribly burned, Colello was strapped onto a gurney and transferred by a pulley and rope rig into another ship, the Natrona. It took hours, but all he remembers now is that halfway over, suspended over the water, the stretcher flipped over and he was staring into a sea coated with flaming orange-red gasoline.
From the Natrona, the wounded would be taken to the USS Samaritan, a hospital ship, and then to Saipan, and finally to Hawaii. The full extent of his injuries was evident from the start, though. His temperature soared to 106. His face, hands, and the backs of his legs were raw. His dark hair was burned off, his eyelashes so scorched they’d never grow back. Under his arms blisters swelled as big as grapefruits. Doctors hooked the teenager to an IV and socked him with a massive 100,000 units of penicillin to fight off infection. He would continue to need treatment into the 1950’s.
Badly as he was hurt, Colello remembers others who suffered more. An African-American man in the hospital at Saipan, for example, who agonized as pale new skin grew over his wounds. “All night you could hear him,” Colello said, “Oh, Lord, please make me all one color.”
Frank Pivarunas, a young sailor aboard the Natrona, tried to soothe, and he talked to the wounded Colello that first night after the attack. He agreed to write a letter home for him, wording it carefully to get it by Navy censors.
“Hello folks,” it began, “I met Joe under unfortunate circumstances. He got burnt, but is otherwise whole … what happened can’t be told. He believes that God got him out of the fix he was in. Your prayers at home for him reached him…”
Doie remembers taking that letter from the mailbox and carrying it to the Colellos. She remembers crying with them over it. The stains of those mingled tears remain on the paper 56 years later.
The Terror spent months in repair, then went to war again. After his release from the hospital in Saipan, Colello was put on board an LST bound for Hawaii. The trip took two or three agonizing weeks. Although far from well, Colello was expected to do duty as a radio man on the LST. He remembers receiving a May Day call but was too sick from his injuries, the diesel fumes, and the motion of the small ship, to respond to the SOS. He could only ask the sailor to please call another ship. To this day, he is curious about what the problem was and how it was resolved.
From Hawaii he was transferred to the San Leandro Hospital in Oakland, California. About six months after the kamikaze attack, he was discharged and sent home, a four-day trip by train.
He went to work first on the railroad, but then enrolled at Siena College in Loudonville, New York, on the GI Bill. He married Doie in 1948.
To this day, he cannot touch anything remotely hot. He cannot bear fireworks. And while he has a Purple Heart and a Conspicuous Service Cross, what he wears is the same Miraculous Medal that was around his neck on May 1, 1945.