Infamous destroyer crew holds Tahoe reunion
On Feb. 17, 1945, Leon Grabowsky became one of the youngest men in naval history to command a United States Navy destroyer.
He was 27 years old when his commanding officer was wounded at Iwo Jima and Grabowsky took command of the U.S.S. Leutze.
Grabowsky and his crew went on to earn their place in World War II history in sea battles at Palau, Leyte Gulf, Lingayen Gulf, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
On Sept. 15, 53 years later, these seafaring men and their families gathered at Lake Tahoe for what might be their final reunion. Capt. Grabowsky and his wife Joanne, of Danville, Calif., organized and hosted the event at their Tahoe Keys vacation home.
The reunion was summed up by Grabowsky who was recovering from heart surgery. “We deserve it, we went through hell,” he said.
The “hell” he referred to happened at Okinawa, April 6, 1945, when Grabowsky and his crew were caught at the center of one of the largest Kamikaze attacks of World War II.
The Leutze and the U.S.S. Newcomb were on a mission to intercept the Japanese battleship, Yamato, when a large group of Kamikaze began nose-dive suicide attacks. The Leutze shot down five Kamikaze while five others crashed into the Newcomb causing explosions that practically gutted the ship.
The Leutze crew nearly had the fires on the Newcomb under control when a low-flying Kamikaze skidded over the Newcomb and crashed into the Leutze. Amid flames and almost total destruction, the Leutze and her crew made it to port, narrowly escaping a watery grave.
Grabowsky was awarded the Navy Cross and the Bronze Star. The crew of the Leutze was recommended for the Presidential Unit Citation for meritorious performance but the award was denied, reportedly at the last minute.
The Grabowskys have fought the denial for years. Their correspondence file is thick with letters to President Clinton, the secretary of the navy and several senators, requesting what they feel is their due.
So far, the decision stands and the crew of the Leutze remain without the recognition they feel they fought for.
“I will fight this decision until my dying day, because these guys deserve to have their efforts recognized by this country,” Mrs. Grabowsky said.
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