Good Evening
Good Evening
Long IslandNassau

Edward Coyne, of Plainview, survived kamikaze attack

Edward Coyne of Plainview served on the flight

Edward Coyne of Plainview served on the flight deck of the USS Intrepid during World War II. On Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015, he spoke about his mission in the Philippines to seek out and destroy the Japanese fleet, and about surviving kamikaze attacks. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Few Americans living today would do better than return a blank stare if asked with whom they had breakfast on Nov. 25, 1944.

But for Edward Coyne, a Plainview World War II veteran who was serving aboard the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier that day, the question brings a grim shudder.

Coyne's shipmate Raymond Rucinski, a fellow sailor from Wisconsin, had shared that morning meal with Coyne. Rucinski was dead before dinner.

"He was killed in that kamikaze attack," Coyne recalled of the incident. "It was devastating."

Coyne, 89, a retired regional director of investigations for the U.S. Customs Service, is one of the last surviving World War II crew members of the USS Intrepid, now a floating museum at Pier 86 on the Hudson River.

The Navy veteran was a crew member on the day the 872-foot warship made its first voyage in 1943, sailing from Norfolk to San Francisco, and then into battle in the Pacific. And he was aboard the big boat during nightmarish battles against the Japanese navy.

But it is perhaps the Intrepid's last battle of 1944 that formed the most vivid and painful of Coyne's wartime memories.

Coyne, a Harlem native, was not yet 19 when the Intrepid was sent to pave the way for U.S. Marine invasions in the Philippine Islands by attacking Japanese shipping and airfields there.

Because large carriers like the Intrepid typically had 2,600 crew members, as many as 110 planes aboard and could strike at multiple targets hundreds of miles away, the ships were the most highly-sought naval targets of Japanese attacks during the Pacific war.

Carriers were typically flanked by several protective ships as they sailed - destroyers and cruisers that were expected to shoot down enemy planes before they could reach the big prize.

But during battles, Coyne saw his share of kamikaze craft fly through the floating phalanx of anti-aircraft guns. Not four weeks earlier, the Intrepid had been hit by a burning kamikaze, which slammed into the ship's portside, killing 10 sailors and setting the ship ablaze.

". . . you were so busy you didn't have a chance to think you were going to die," Coyne said. "You'd only think of that after you had time to settle down."

"There were no atheists while we were in battle," he said. "We were all praying to God."

In a diary kept secret for more than 60 years - Navy regulations banned diaries as a security threat - fellow sailor Ralph Nurse described the vast damage done by the November 1944 kamikaze attack.

He recalled the chaotic moments after the first suicide strike engulfed the savaged ship's flight deck in flames. As scores of sailors raced topside to beat back the blaze, a second kamikaze got through.

"No sooner had we gotten out when the next suicide plane hit right in our armory . . . " Nurse wrote in his diary, which was donated to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan after Nurse died in 2007. "This bomb exploded on the hanger deck killing almost everyone fighting the fire. We fought the fire for five hours before getting it under control."

The ship, whose crew was able to do needed repairs on their own after prior attacks, was forced to return to San Francisco for two months of rehabilitation. In all, 6 officers and 59 crew members were killed and another 100 wounded, according to a published history of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers.

But Coyne dodged death again that day. He eventually returned to New York and married Audrey Schultz in 1949, when he was 23. The couple eventually settled in Levittown, where they raised two children: Edward, now of Orlando, Florida, and Jean-Marie, of Sea Cliff.

He said the Intrepid still brings him great pride. But the memories of the kamikaze attacks come with a steep price.

"It was sad," Coyne said. "You had shipmates you'd never see again. Kids, 18, 19 years old who never had a chance in life, who didn't get a chance to grow up."

Nassau top stories