Hal Vieau was a Palisadian who died earlier this month. He was a short, quiet, unassuming neighbor who chose to relegate his Second World War exploits to the dustbin of forgotten history.
Few know that he was part of a most remarkable chapter in the war in the Pacific in 1944, a history I would like to share with the community as we mourn his passing.
Taffy III was the designation for 13 ships operating in the Philippines. They were not trained to be assault forces: They were intended to patrol and sweep the periphery of the area of combat and provide rescue missions.
On Oct. 25, 1944, two days after the initial landing of U.S. forces on Leyte in the Philippines, this small contingent found itself unexpectedly alone in confronting a massive Japanese fleet off the east coast of Samar.
The main Japanese fleet, comprised of four battleships, including the Yamato (the world’s largest battleship), and many destroyers found itself unobstructed in its goal to destroy the unguarded U.S. force on Leyte.
Admiral Halsey had mistakenly assumed that a “decoy” squadron of outdated Japanese vessels, which had been spotted 250 miles to the northeast, was the Japanese main fleet. As a result, he recklessly pulled out with his entire fleet.
Vieau was a pilot in one of the “Taffy” groups that raced in to support “Taffy III” in its suicidal effort to divert the massive Japanese fleet.
This little force hurled themselves repeatedly at the massive Japanese fleet. They were like angry bees attacking a grizzly bear.
Pilots who had emptied their guns made repeated “dummy” runs at the Japanese vessels, which, while extremely dangerous, caused the destroyers to remain in a defensive position rather than pursuing the vulnerable jeep carriers.
The cost was great: Taffy III lost 898 men and five ships, and over 900 of the survivors were wounded.
And yet, by virtue of their incredible daring, their amazing courage and the surprising amount of damage they inflicted, the will of the Japanese commander was broken, causing him to break off contact and retreat in confusion to the north, directly into range of Halsey’s returning aircraft.
Despite the incredible loss of ships and lives, Taffy III succeeded in a monumentally heroic battle, for which it was untrained and ill equipped and in which it was massively outnumbered and outgunned. Sheer courage, audacity and dedication of men like Vieau won the day.
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