West Loch survivor visits site of 1944 disaster

Jack Sampson (left), a survivor of the 1944 West Loch disaster, meets with Capt. Michael Singleton (right), commanding officer of Navy Munitions Command East Asia Division, during a visit to Navy Munitions Command, Pearl Harbor.

Jack Sampson (left), a survivor of the 1944 West Loch disaster, meets with Capt. Michael Singleton (right), commanding officer of Navy Munitions Command East Asia Division, during a visit to Navy Munitions Command, Pearl Harbor.

Story and photo by Brandon Bosworth

Assistant Editor, Ho’okele

On May 21, Jack Sampson, a survivor of the 1944 West Loch disaster, toured Navy Munitions Command, Pearl Harbor, and visited the wayside exhibit commemorating the tragedy. The exhibit is located across from the wreckage of LST 480.

The West Loch disaster occurred on May 21, 1944. Thirty-four ships were in Pearl Harbor’s West Loch to load ammunition and supplies for an invasion of Saipan. The LSTs (landing ship, tank), or small ships designed to land battle-ready tanks, were close together along six berths.

At 3:08 p.m., an explosion occurred resulting in a chain reaction of explosions that sank six of the LSTs and severely damaged several others. One hundred and sixty-three men were killed and 396 wounded.

The West Loch Disaster was Pearl Harbor’s second greatest disaster in terms of casualties. The exact cause was never determined.

Sampson was a pharmacist’s mate with the 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, assigned to LST 222 at the time of the disaster.

“When things started blowing up, I didn’t realize how close we were,” he said. “Why we didn’t go up … who knows?”

Sampson recalled that as soon as the explosions began, the captain of his ship wanted to get underway.

“He yelled, “Get that engine going! We’re getting out of here!'” he said. “We got the engine going and got underway and went off the entrance of Pearl Harbor.”

Despite the events of May 21, 1944, Sampson said he enjoyed his time in the service.

“I was in for three years. It was a great time,” he said. “Sometimes I thought I was John Wayne.”

Sampson has frequently returned to Hawaii and even lived on Maui for two years when he was attached to the 4th Marine Division.

However, this was his first visit back to West Loch. While there, he met with Capt. Michael Singleton, commanding officer, Navy Munitions Command East Asia Division.

Accompanying Sampson were Jim Neuman, Navy Region Hawaii historian, and Doug Wachter, whose father was also a survivor of the West Loch disaster. Wachter has visited Pearl Harbor before and said he always enjoys touring the base.

“It’s amazing how much history there is out here,” he said. “I could study it for years.”

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Category: News