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Joe Librizzi, of Oceanside, submariner who rescued aircrews

An image of World War II veteran Joe

An image of World War II veteran Joe Librizzi who, along with roughly 80 other submariners, was assigned to the USS Balao during June 1945.

Life was relatively easy for Joe Librizzi and the roughly 80 other submariners assigned to the USS Balao during June 1945.

But for the 18-year-old Far Rockaway native, who had already survived attacks by enemy torpedoes and depth charges in the western Pacific, his month of tropical island rest and repair work was about to make way for a harrowing new task.

American bomber planes were hitting Japan's home islands with everything they had. It would be up to crew members of the Balao to rescue American fliers who were forced into the sea by mechanical trouble or Japanese anti-aircraft fire.

That meant sailing to within eyesight of Japan's fiercely defended mainland, at a time when Librizzi thought Japan's surrender was a foregone conclusion.

"We were saying, 'This is crazy, the war is supposed to be over,' " said Librizzi, who worked as an electrician after the war, raised four children in Oceanside with his wife, Rose, and retired in 1991 after 20 years teaching for Nassau BOCES. "People tell you they weren't scared? We were scared."

Librizzi said he was not yet 17 when he enlisted in the Navy. He joined the crew of the Balao, which by then had already been on five combat patrols in 18 months of Pacific war service, in August 1944.

American submarines had proved lethally effective in strangling Japan's war effort by denying the resources-poor island nation needed war supplies.

Japanese oil imports from petroleum wells captured in the south Pacific fell by 80 percent during the year after August 1943, denying the Japanese military of aviation fuel needed to train pilots or send warships to sea.

Meanwhile, submarine warfare cut Japan's success in delivering war supplies to its front line troops from 96 percent in 1942 to only 51 percent by 1945.

In the war's final months, with few marine targets left to attack, U.S. submarine crews increasingly were tasked with rescuing members of American aircraft crews forced down in the western Pacific.

Librizzi said locating downed crew members was anxious work for submarine crews, whose surfaced craft was more vulnerable to sudden attack by aircraft or rival submarines.

But successfully plucking a waterlogged American pilot from the western Pacific's frequently shark infested waters was satisfying work, Librizzi said.

"When they would see us, you would see them jumping up and down in their rubber boats," he said. "They were enthusiastic about seeing us."

Nonetheless, on July 7, 1945, as Librizzi left the relative tranquillity of Hawaii to embark on what proved to be his last combat patrol, the prospect of a land invasion of Japan cast a heavy pall over the American mood.

More than 30 million civilians and troops had already perished during the Pacific war. U.S. planners anticipated that a land invasion against an expected half million dug in troops would inflict as many as 46,000 more deaths among American GIs already weary from nearly four years of continuous fighting.

Librizzi said his submarine was in the East China Sea on Aug. 6, 1945 when an American B-29 named the Enola Gay flew over Hiroshima, dropping the first of only two nuclear bombs ever detonated in war.

"We all asked the same question," he said of his fellow crew members. "What is an A-Bomb?"

A month later, the war was over.

"We were told we were going to invade Japan," Librizzi said. "Fortunately, the bomb took care of that for us."


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