Larry J. McCoy

Age 15 - United States Navy

Larry J. McCoy.  I went through six weeks of boot camp ... , with actor Henry Fonda.


I was born on a farm near Abilene, Texas, on 12 February 1927, the fourth of five children, four boys and a younger sister. I was raised in Hamlin, Texas. My parents divorced when I was 10 years old. That created difficult circumstances for me because my family was dispersed.

I was living with an older brother when he was drafted into the Army in June 1942. When he left, I became the only member of my family remaining in my hometown, living in a rented room. My choices were few during those tough times. The economic depression, my broken home, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor caused me to think about joining the Navy.

After starting my junior year in high school, I went to the county courthouse and got a copy of my birth certificate. The copy was a typewriter-generated form signed by the county clerk. I took it to the high school typing room, and with diligent experimentation and practice, succeeded in changing my birth date from 12 February 1927 to 12 February 1925. Suddenly, I became 17 years old! No one doubted it. I was 5-feet 8Y2 inches tall, and weighed 150 pounds. I was physically conditioned by playing football, and I knew I could keep up with the older guys.

The Navy recruiter gave me forms for my parents to sign. I had to convince them that it was what I wanted to do for myself and what I needed to do for our country. They both signed. I enlisted in the Navy on 4 November 1942 at Abilene, Texas.

I went through six weeks of boot camp in San Diego, California, with actor Henry Fonda. He was an apprentice seaman just like me, except he was about 37 years old. He looked like a character from the book The Grapes of Wrath, and always needed a shave.

After boot camp, I was told that I had exceptional eyesight. So I was sent to optical-rangefinder school in San Diego, and later to 40mm gun director training near San Francisco.

I was assigned to the destroyer USS Mullany (DD-528) when she was commissioned on 23 April 1943. We were sent to the Aleutians, where we participated in the Attu and Kiska operations. We encountered cold, violent weather that tested our courage. Our tin can would roll, pitch, shudder, dive, and make us wonder if she would remain in one piece and not roll over onto her side. On one occasion, we rolled 45 degrees and damaged an engine room. We went to Pearl Harbor for a week of repairs.

In August 1943, when I was 16 1/2, I told a buddy my age. I thought he would keep my secret, but he didn't. I was called to report to my gunnery officer. He said, "I have heard that you are 16 years old. Is that true?" I replied, ''Yes, sir." He asked, ''Do you want to go home?" I said, "No, sir!" He thought for a few seconds and said to me, "I am going to forget we had this conversation." I returned to my work and that was the end of it. Recently, in 2004, I noted that my military records showed my date of birth had been changed on 19 August 1943 to show my actual birth date. .

In December 1943, we were assigned to General MacArthur's Australian Navy in the New Guinea area. We engaged Japanese warships, planes, and shore batteries, and bombarded the Japanese during numerous landing operations by our own Army and Marines. My battle station was always topside where I could observe and participate in the battle actions. During 1944, we sailed to Sydney, Australia, twice and had two weeks of R&R each time. Not all the war was bad!

In October 1944, we were in action during the invasion of the Philippines at Leyte. We returned to San Francisco for overhaul soon after. After serving aboard the USS Mullany for 20 months, I was promoted to fire controlman second class and transferred to another destroyer, the USS Cogswell (DD-651).

The Cogswell soon departed for Okinawa, a few weeks after the Mullany. The Mullany was hit by a suicide plane on 6 April 1945. Thirty of my shipmates lost their lives. An article was written about the USS Mullany and published in the September 1989 issue of Reader's Digest. The article, by Nathan M. Adams, was entitled "The Ship that Outsailed Time."

At Okinawa we were on picket duty, intercepting kamikazes in an effort to stop them short of our larger ships. One day we watched helplessly as one suddenly appeared and crashed alongside the USS William D. Porter, sinking it.

Our combat air patrol was getting better, and fighter planes became more available. In the final stages of the Okinawa campaign, we were told to hold our fire as our fighters shot them down. We tracked the enemy planes on our optical rangefinder as they approached, then a fighter plane (usually a Marine F4U Corsair) would get on their tail and shoot them down. Several of the kamikazes splashed very close to us. Some got so close that I could see, with the tremendous magnification in my rangefinder, the pilots in both the kamikaze and our fighter.

Our gunnery officer in the main battery director was a well-educated, sophisticated, New Yorker by the name of Charles Evans Hughes III, a grandson of a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He felt all-powerful, and he enjoyed swinging our servo-controlled director and five-inch gun battery from target to target to shoot at the kamikazes or to watch our fighters destroy them. Once, when planes were splashing all around us, he turned to us (the four men in the director) and said, «What a delightful way to spend an evening!" We learned that it was possible to be half-scared to death and be laughing at the same time.

The Cogswell survived the kamikaze attacks at Okinawa and we moved on to join Admiral Halsey's fleet of fast carriers off the coast of Japan. One of our officers on the Cogswell was Ensign Alan Shepard. Many years later, he hit a golf ball on the moon.

One day in July 1945, Admiral Halsey gave me a personal "well done" over the radio for spotting a Japanese plane with the optical rangefinder and directing our planes to identify and shoot it down. No one else in the Third Fleet could visually spot it or detect it on radar. The rangefinder showed the plane to be at infinity. The Jap pilot must have been as surprised as we were at Pearl Harbor. Retribution!

On 6 August 1945, our fire-control crew was atop the main-battery gun director. We heard a loud, sustained noise. Admiral Halsey wanted to know which destroyer dropped the depth charges. A few hours later we learned of the atomic bomb dropped at Hiroshima.

A few days later, we received three Japanese men aboard. They guided us into Tokyo Bay with the U. S. Navy fleet following. World War II was over! We were soon strolling through burned-out Tokyo; Remember Pearl Harbor! On 2 September 1945, the formal surrender ceremonies took place on the USS Missouri.

Both the destroyers that I served on, the USS Mullany and the USS Cogswell, had excellent war records. I was discharged at Camp Wallace, Texas, on 12 January 1946, after 3 years, 2 months, and 8 days in the Navy, with 25 months on active duty outside the continental United States.

I returned to Hamlin High School to join the junior class. In May 1946, the superintendent noted my straight-A grades and graduated me so I could move on to college. High school was my big break. I met the love of my life there. In 2005 we have been married for 58 years, and counting. With the GI Bill, and the assistance of my wonderful wife, I graduated from Texas Tech with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering in 1950. My life's work has involved mostly the petroleum industry. Most of my working years were spent with the Schlumberger Well Services in Houston, Texas.

My life has been healthy, happy, lucky, and successful. A lot of good fortune in my life can be traced back to my joining the Navy at age 15. Many doors have opened for me because of that decision.

Larry and Phyllis McCoy live in Abilene, Texas. They had 3 children (one now deceased), and have 5 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren.


From the book “Americas Youngest Warriors” Volume III, Published 2006 by VUMS.