NormLasman
Norm Lasman

'For 65 years I never said a word'

BY LAUREN FITZPATRICK

It took decades for Norman Lasman to tell his children about a day in 1945 when his life was threatened by Japanese suicide bombers in the Pacific Ocean.

They knew he was in the Second World War. They knew he'd been in the Navy.

But they knew nothing about his USS Bunker Hill - that it was in 11 major battles and hit by two kamikazes in Okinawa, or that he was dragged unconscious out of the engine room.

"For 65 years I never said a word," Lasman, 87, said.

Lasman, of Mount Greenwood, was the chief gyro electrician of the aircraft carrier that was home to 3,400 guys, overseeing the electricity that kept the compass magnets pointing north.

But for battle stations, during fights in the Philippines, at Iwo Jima and at Okinawa, his place was in the engine room.

At Okinawa, the carrier was hit squarely by two kamikaze pilots. The first dropped a bomb through the carrier, then crashed into fuel-filled revving airplanes on deck. They all exploded, their pilots killed. The second one crashed near the control tower the pilot was aiming for.

The captain ordered all 3,400 to abandon ship.

But Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Carmichael overruled him and gave instructions to save the ship: Keep the engines going. Pump out the bilges.

The Bunker Hill stayed afloat. She survived.

"And most of us were saved because of Lt. Cmdr. Carmichael. I have to call him the hero of my life."

Lasman's memory runs out after the planes crashed.

"Once we got blown up, and I was down there, I don't remember anymore. I remember pulling a tongue out of somebody's mouth, cause when they suffocate they swallow their tongue - you take a plier and pull it out. I don't remember coming up topside."

And he doesn't know who dragged him out. Fifteen men were in the engine room that morning. Three made it out. Almost 400 servicemembers died that day.

"We had the largest burial at sea to this day in the history of the United States Navy."

The bodies were lined up 10 at a time, wrapped in flags, weighted and dropped into the ocean. There was no way then, Lasman said, to bring them back.