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    A chief engineer saves the U.S. Navy’s Bunker Hill

    “This is the chief engineer speaking. The ship is not sinking. It is not in any danger of sinking. And it will not sink. So put your minds to rest on that.”

    It is May 11, 1945, and smoke is billowing from the burning aircraft carrier U.S.S. Bunker Hill, steaming away from the Japanese Island of Kyushu. Hours earlier, two Japanese Kamikaze pilots crashed their planes into the big ship. Her decks were loaded with aircraft, fuel, and ammunition. One attack plane dropped a bomb through the deck into the hanger below then crashed on the deck. The second crashed through the control tower and on to the deck. Bombs and fuel exploded, parked aircraft were in flames, and toxic smoke and soot enveloped the ship.

    Chief engineer Lt. Çmdr. Joseph R. Carmichael Jr. had finished his shift and was doing paperwork in his office when the Kamikaze pilots struck. The ship seemed likely to sink at any minute. Carmichael abandoned the safety of his office to try to stop that from happening. Through the choking smoke, he ran down through five decks to the engine room, 25 feet below sea level.

    For 20 hours, Carmichael and his engine room crew battled smoke and heat to keep engines working, the ship afloat, salt water pumping to fight fires, and fans blowing to bring fresh air to oxygen-starved sailors below decks.

    When the engine room heroes won the fight to keep the ship afloat, Carmichael broadcast his message to the ship’s cheering, heartened crew, who were still fighting fires.

    Bunker Hill made it under its own power to Pearl Harbour. The cost was high. Of the 500-man engine room crew, 125 died during the 20-hour battle, and 268 other crew and officers also perished. But the ship, badly damaged was saved, and so were the lives of nearly 2,800 of the ship’s crew.

    Commander Carmichael won the Navy Cross for “extraordinary heroism” in keeping the ship afloat.

    Carmichael died in New York, September 26, 2011, age 96. His wife, Jeanne, said he had never been able to understand why his life was spared when so many of his crew died.

    Author Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, in his 2008 book, “Danger’s Hour: The Story of the U.S.S. Bunker Hill and the Kamikaze Pilot Who Crippled Her,” had written this about Carmichael:

    “To this day, Carmichael carries the scars from the soot, visible on X-rays, deep in his lungs. The other scars, those that come from leading men to their deaths, are harder to see.”

            Notes from obituary, New York Times, October 1, 2011.

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