Norm Lasman was a 21 year-old sailor down below in an engine room onboard USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) when the ship was hit by two Japanese kamikazes in less than 30 seconds on May 11, 1945, just off the coast of Okinawa. In the deadly minutes that followed, he heard someone pass the word over his sound-powered headset to “Abandon ship.” (Note: This was the CO, Captain George Seitz, who ordered those at the aft ends of the flight and hangar decks, where flames and smoke were heaviest, to abandon ship; the order no doubt added to an already highly confused situation to those that heard it, and even to those who did. Quickly, the rumor spread around the ship that she was to be abandoned, and there were a few incidents of sailors and officers that were not in immediate danger jumping into the sea or onto ships that had come alongside to provide assistance. There was at least one court-martial case brought against a junior officer for abandoning his men and post, and may have been others).
Lasman made his way up a ladderwell and almost out onto the flight deck towards relative safety, when suddenly he heard the Chief Engineer, Commander Joseph Carmichael, tell his engineers “We are not abandoning ship. We are going to stay at our posts and keep the ship afloat.” Lasman, realizing he most certainly would die by doing so, took one last look at the sky, closed the hatch and climbed back down the ladderwell and into his workspace to do his job and help save his ship.
Some 19 hours later, Lasman woke up on the flight deck, surrounded by his dead shipmates. With no recollection of who saved him that day, he spent the next several decades with issues of short and long-term memory loss, and later discovered he had suffered severe issues from carbon monoxide poisoning. It wasn’t until the book Danger’s Hour by Maxwell Kennedy that he finally began to fill-in some of the blanks from before and after the events of May 11, 1945. A neighbor of Lasman began to do help him do some additional digging online, and with additional help provided by Chicago’s Channel 9 WGN News, they were finally able to track down now 97 year-old Al Skerritt, one of Lasman’s former shipmates and the man that pulled Lasman out of the engine room that fateful day. Skerritt lives across the country from Lasman in Seattle, but see the link below to watch the phenomenal reunion between the two World War II heroes.