By Nathan Baker
In 1941, a 21-year-old Howard McGinnis joined the Navy to see the world, a change of pace from his lifelong home in Tennessee.
He was assigned to the USS Tennessee.
Aboard the 624-foot battleship McGinnis saw action across WWII’s Pacific Theater.
“He was extremely proud of his service,” Howard’s son, Danny McGinnis said. “He had gone to protect his country and he had gone to see the world. He probably saw more of it than he wanted to.”
When Howard arrived on the ship, it had just been repaired and outfitted with modernized weapons and radar after being struck by two armor-piercing bombs during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“The Big T” as it was referred to by its crew, was now fitted with a barrage of antiaircraft guns, and Howard wanted to fire one of them.
“His job title was as a gunner’s mate,” Danny said. “He said that when he got on the ship, he had unassigned duties and they asked him what he would like to do. He said he took one look at those guns, and said that’s what he wanted to do. He wanted to fire the gun.”
Howard’s diary detailing two years of his deployment overseas was saved by his family.
Among personal accounts of the battleship’s actions, it contains a “gunnery record” of the ammunition expended by the 41,000-ton ship.
As of Aug. 20, 1944, a year before his return to the states, Howard recorded the Tennessee’s 12 14-inch main battery guns as firing 4,917 rounds, or 2,635 tons of ammunition.
The diary also contains a list of the islands he visited and entries for each of the major engagements of his tour.
On June, 14, 1944, Howard wrote, “Hit Saipan. Landed troops, took three topside hits. Nine dead, twenty wounded.”
His longest diary entry comes from one of the largest naval battles in history, the Battle of
Leyte Gulf, when huge U.S. and Australian forces squared off against the Japanese navy near the Philippine Islands.
“After receiving word from our reconnaissance scouts that the Jap forces were on their way to engage our forces in Leyte Gulf, we started making preparations to encounter them,” Howard wrote on Oct. 24, 1944.
The battle began in earnest early the next morning when the Tennessee came across a group of Japanese ships.
“Our target was a battlewagon, and the first salvo was a direct hit,” he wrote. “You could see flashes by this time, and fires from the Jap ships burning.
“The cruisers were up front by this time with the tin cans (destroyers). The whole force firing was the greatest experience of my life.”