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BOOK REVIEW: The Lady Gangster – A Sailor’s Memoir

By Del Staecker, Cable Publishing, Brule, WI, (2009).

Reviewed by Charles H. Bogart

The author is the son of Irvin H. Staecker who served on board the Lady Gangster from 1941 to 1945. The Lady Gangster was the crew’s name for USS Fuller (APA 6). The ship’s nickname developed from the fact that many of the ship’s first crew were naval reservists from Chicago, Illinois. Fuller started life in 1919 as the passenger ship City of Newport News and was acquired by the Navy in 1941.  Initially rated as a transport, (AP 14), Fuller was fitted out to carry assault landing craft. As a result, the Navy reclassified her in 1942 as an attack transport (APA 6).

The book contains two stories in one. The first story is that of a son developing an understanding of his father as he learns about his wartime experiences. The second story covers Fuller’s service in World War II as told in his father’s words with supporting background information based upon excerpts from the ship’s World War II cruise book. The result of this moving back and forth between then and now within the book causes a certain dis-jointness in story flow, but it does add another dimension to who Irvin Staecker was.

Staecker was a raw recruit without any formal Navy training when his unit was mobilized in 1940. The first Navy training Staecker received was when he was sent to San Diego, California, to attend Landing Craft School.  Upon joining Fuller in Seattle during the ship’s initial fitting out, he was assigned to the deck force and became part of a landing craft crew.  Staecker would end his enlistment as part of the ship’s Master at Arms detachment.

Fuller saw service in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters of War. She carried Marines to Iceland in 1941 and troops to Scotland in early 1942. She then moved to the Pacific taking part in the amphibious assaults on Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Saipan, Peleliu, Philippines, and Okinawa. Staecker, as part of the landing force, saw the invasion beaches close up.  On a number of occasions he shared the beachhead with the invading Marines. The tales of these assault landings are poignantly told and one learns of the fear Staecker felt while he continued to do his job. As with most combat veterans of the Pacific War, he finds no fault with President Truman’s decision to drop the Atomic Bomb.

The book is an interesting and informative read of a subject not often written about, the landing of the Marines on an enemy beachhead as experienced by the Sailors putting them ashore. Those interested in the ship to shore movement of Marines to the beachhead will find much of interest in this book. The book is a good addition to any library on the U.S. Navy in World War II.

Charles H. Bogart of Frankfort, Ky, served in the Navy from 1958-1961. He recently retired as a Planning Supervisor from the Kentucky Department of Military Affairs and is now employed as a Historian by Frankfort Parks and Historical Sites.

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