One of the most interesting "old-timers" about town is a 94-year-old mechanic/builder by the name of Clyde Cyrial Koerner, Sr. Koerner was the featured guest speaker on Thursday at the Historical Society’s monthly luncheon at the Kate Lobrano House. He is a Navy World War II veteran and spoke about his wartime experiences in the Pacific Campaign aboard the light cruiser, the USS San Diego.
Clyde Koerner was born on February 18, 1925 and has lived in Bay St. Louis since age two. He attended St. Stanislaus College and enlisted in the Navy in February 1943. Koerner served the remainder of World War II as a second class gunnery mate on the light cruiser, the USS San Diego. This ship was an integral part of the Third Fleet Carrier Task Force. Koerner explained that a typical task force might contain five aircraft carriers surrounded by ten heavy cruisers and on its periphery be scattered ten light cruisers like the USS San Diego. The nature of naval warfare in the Pacific Theater of World War II had evolved from old fashioned duels of fleets of battleships to combat between naval powers principally with airplanes and submarines. The light cruiser was the first line of defense, capable of thwarting both enemy warplanes and submarines.
The USS San Diego was a light cruiser with eight gun turrets on its deck which are rotating gun mounts. They are armed with antiaircraft guns with one of the heaviest broadsides in the fleet. Her rapid fire cannons protected the carriers from aerial attack. This ship was 541 feet in length and fifty three feet wide and was able to travel thirty two knots and keep up with any carrier traveling full steam ahead. It had a crew of 750 sailors. This warship boasted eight torpedo tubes and six depth charge projectors which would prove lethal for an intruding enemy submarine.
A gun turret on the deck of a warship houses the big gun or cannon mounts.
Within a turret is a gunhouse which protects the firing mechanism and the gunnery crew where the cannon are loaded. The shells and gunpowder are transported to the deck by two separate elevators from magazines way below deck in the bottom of the hull. Koerner was a gunnery mate in charge of such a magazine. He commanded ten sailors during a typical battle that would load the elevators with shell and powder. Koerner was promoted during the war and placed in charge of the armory which was a small arms and ordinance storeroom.
One of Koerner’s most terrifying experiences occurred in December 1944 when the Third Fleet unwittingly sailed into the heart of a 100 mile per hour typhoon (hurricane) Three destroyers capsized and sank which killed 790 men. Nine other warships were damaged and more than 100 warplanes were destroyed or washed overboard. The USS San Diego lost its lifeboats but did not sink.
The USS San Diego steamed over 300,00 nautical miles during the war, and the ship earned eighteen battle stars, more than any other warship, except for the carrier, Enterprise. In recognition of its service, Admiral William “Bull” Halsey designated the USS San Diego, with Clyde Koerner aboard her, to be the first allied warship to enter Toyko Bay and take over the naval base there after the surrender of Japan. We are indeed indebted to all of our brave veterans, past and present, who like Clyde Koerner who serve their country in uniform.