FUGATE'S STORY - THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY
JUNE 4-7 , 1942.
The USS Yorktown lists heavily to port after being struck by Japanese bombers and torpedo planes in the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942 during World War II. The destroyer Hamman stands by at right to assist as a salvage crew on the flight deck tries to right the stricken aircraft carrier. A few hours later, the Yorktown was hit with Japanese torpedoes and sank. The Hamman was mortally hit by one of the torpedoes. Woody Fugate from Perry Co. was a radio operator
on the Hamman, and this is his story of the tragic event.
June 4th. in 1942, the World War II Battle of Midway
began. The battle lasted through June 7. In the end seven
ships sunk and 3,364 men died.
The U.S. faced four Japanese aircraft carriers. The U.S. Navy won using only three – the Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown.
The Battle of Midway was called the "turning point in the Pacific" during World War II. It occurred just six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Military historian John Keegan called it "the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare."
Woody Fugate was my mentor when I was in High School in the technical
hobby of Amateur Radio. Ham Radio, as it's often called. He
helped a large
number of enthusiasts in the area, including James Stidham, who was on the Hazard High Championship Basketball Team of 1955. This article was originally
written for the Hazard Herald, when Paul Taulbee was researching stories from surviving World War II Veterans. Woody's story was written by him, and
was published in several consecutive issues of the paper, was probably the longest, most detailed, and was well written. I only made a very few edits in the
original manuscript. James Stidham sent me a copy typed by Woody, since I had lost all but one part of the story. I have had a hard time rounding up my
photos of Woody, but found one.
connection with HHS is Woody's children who attended before he moved to
Cattletsburg, KY. He worked as a radio technician at Kentucky
Company, until he retired. He was killed in a car wreck several years ago, but it was thought he had a heart attack that caused the wreck.
the story, it's a bit long, but detailed and intense. I though a
lot of this man, and he had a great influence on my life, taking me on
trips and activities. There were several more hams from HHS whom he taught and mentored. Jimmy Summers in my class, Alva Hollon and his father, Alva Sr.,
His nephew, Roger Cornett, plus his mother, Woody's sister Iva Cornett, and her husband Harrison Cornett, and many others.
'TORPEDOES STARBOARD! It was the voice of
lookout Donald Broome, then the excited voice of the 00D, Torpedoes
starboard; sound general quarters”. The time was the afternoon of June
6, 1942. The place, 150 miles north of the island of
Midway in the Pacific Ocean, aboard the destroyer USS Hammann (DD412).
During the great air and sea battle of June 4th,between the American and Japanese fleets, The USS Yorktown (CV5), a great aircraft carrier, had been severely crippled and abandoned. The surviving crew members had been divided among the escorting destroyers and we went east on the night of June 4th. out of the immediate battle area in order to transfer the survivors from the Yorktown to the cruiser Astoria which was bound for Pearl Harbor.
On the morning of June 5th. began the slow process of transferring the
survivors of the Yorktown to the Astoria. Ships in this
group were forbidden to stop because of the danger of enemy submarines,
therefore all passenger transfers were made with all ships under way
and proceeding eastward. Before sunset on June 5th. the
transfer of survivors to the Astoria was complete. This
included many wounded and badly burned.The destroyers Hammann,
Balch,and Benham then refueled from the heavier ships of Task Force 17.
After this the three destroyers set a course of 285 degrees for the
return journey to the stricken Yorktown.
We had taken aboard the Hammann the Yorktown's captain Elliot
Buckmaster with his selected salvage crew of 29 officers and 141
enlisted men. At about 4 AM on the morning of June 6, 1942
the lookout on the Hammann sighted the Yorktown, and at around 8 AM
captain Buckmaster ordered the Hammann to go alongside the carrier on
her starboard (right) side. The purpose of this was so that
the Hammann could furnish electrical power, pumps and fire hoses for
salvage operations to be performed by the skeleton crew which we had
We were made fast to our quarry by heavy manila lines and began salvage operations by putting Captain Buckmaster and his salvage crew aboard their ship. A seagoing tug, the Verio had come up from French Frigate Shoals and tied a towing line on to the bow of the Yorktown and was towing her into the ocean swells at about 1 knot speed. Five other destroyers were in a circle about 2000 yards from us as a screen against a possible enemy submarine attack. These were the BALCH, BENHAM, MONAGHAN, GWINN and HUGHES. A motor-whaleboat was lowered into the water from the Hammann to run errands and carry various working parties to where they needed to go. 35 dead still aboard the Yorktown were collected for burial at sea. These men had lost their lives on June 4th. during the air attacks.
Immediately I sprang to my feet when the lookout announced the torpedoes and almost simultaneously the grating sound of the general alarm summoned all hands to general quarters. Also, the announcement came over the ship's PA system, "'Torpedoes Starboard", “All hands to general quarters!” Whatever else happened, I was hound to see for myself, so I took a brief look to starboard to see 4 greenish-white streaks about half~mile away coming straight at us.
While all this was happening my location was one level above the navigation bridge at the base of the main battery fire--control director. This director controlled our 5-inch guns during battle and it contained a powerful telescope which could bring targets very close to the eye of the operator. After a brief look to confirm the 1ookout's announcement, I started to my battle station which was in the emergency radio room on the after deck-house about the middle of the ship.
The first leg of my journey was down a short vertical ladder to the wing of the navigation bridge. In the meantime, the three destroyers to our starboard side had
started firing their 5-inch guns right on top of the warheads of the enemy torpedoes, but to no avail because the depth setting of these deadly missles was intended to
penetrate the side of the Yorktown far below our keel. Now our own big guns had commenced firing at the torpedoes as soon as the first turret was manned and the other guns as soon as crews filled the necessary battle stations. When I reached the bridge and started inside to go below to the main deck, I was immediately stopped by Lt. Martin Rey
who was on the wing of the bridge. He threw up both hands and said, “Everybody lay down".
The only other man in the area was Holt, a quartermaster. On Lt. Ray's command we all three dropped to the deck with our faces within a foot or two of each other and the din from the heavy guns of our ship was deafening. Ray had given his command to prevent us from getting our legs broke by the upward thrust of the ships deck when the torpedoes exploded. During my time lying there I had two major thoughts. First of all I knew we were going to be hit. I knew men were going to die in just seconds and I wondered if I would be one of them. I was also puzzled about another thing. I had started, to my battle station in the emergency radio room but in the meantime I had received another order from Lt. Ray. Which one should I obey? It became clear to me after recalling the many times officers had read the Articles Of War to us and the rule-of-thumb is t0 obey the last order received first. In fact, Lt. Ray may have saved my life because he stopped my steps toward my battle station, which was closer to where the torpedoes
finally exploded. While we were laying there with our faces close to each other Holt yelled amid all the gunfire and said something I wondered about for a long time. He
said "Have they struck yet"? I finally figured that he said it because he thought that with all the noise of the guns they may have struck and we wouldn't hear them.
Now the ships between the Hammann and the submarine had ceased firing. This was because they could train their guns only a limited amount toward us for fear their shells would hit us. Our own guns were still firing because the torpedoes were coming straight at our sides, so we could bring all turrets to fire at them. Soon they were within range of our 5OMM mounts and they began firing too. Later the 5OMM were firing so that now every gun we had was firing directly on top of the warheads. This however did not get the desired results and not one torpedo exploded on their mission toward us.
Suddenly 3600 pounds of TNT in the form of 3 torpedoes hit the hull of the Yorktown directly under the Hammann's keel, knocking the entire keel out of our ship. The explosion made the sound of the 5-inch guns sound like firecrackers in comparison. One torpedo out of the 4 fired at us missed both ships and passed in back of us. To us three on the port wing of the bridge, it seemed that the Hammann had been lifted clear of the water. I was thrown about 3 feet and stopped by the wall of the bridge but my right temple hit a rivet head and that hurt for about a year when I chewed my food.
When the explosion was over we all three sprang to our feet, but then we were pinned back to the deck by thousands of gallons coming back down from the huge geyser which went up about 100 feet from the combined explosions of 3 torpedoes. In all this fuel oil, debris of all kinds including pieces of steel from the hull and part of the
equipment from #1 fireroom and the forward mess hall where the explosion forces were the greatest. This water went into the bridge, chart house, radio direction finder
room and on down the ladders to levels below, filling up the compartments to the hatch combings.
My first thought was to secure a life jacket, since I did not have mine with me at the time. I had left it in the emergency radio room when we secured from Dawn general quarters. I ran inside the bridge and asked "does anyone have a spare jacket"? No Answer, because everyone was busy with their own thoughts and some were hastily putting on the only jacket they could find. I did have time to observe that the equipment on the bridge was all wrecked. The helm (steering wheel), compass binnacle, engine room telegraph, and radar PPI scope and other things were lying on the deck with the bolts snapped off at the deck as if a great wind had come through and blown them all down. The cables on the bottoms of these pieces of gear was drawn up through the deck in an arc since most of them were large and would not break.
After a hurried search of the bridge and the radio direction finder shack for a jacket with no luck, I ran down the ladder to Radio l, which was 2 levels down. When I entered there all the radiomen were gone. The heavy receivers had all popped the bolts that held them to the desks and were laying on top of the meta]. aluminum
chairs, smashing them flat. In the transmitter room all the old heavy transmitters were pulled loose from the deck and was leaning against the walls. The big motor-generators
that supplied power to these transmitters was lying at various angles in the aisle.
No jackets were in sight here so I had only one choice, go to the emergency radio and get my own jacket. My messenger, a young man by the name of Holtz from Elgin, Illinois was nowhere to be seen so I picked up his jacket and carried it out and threw it down on the open deck in hope that some unfortunate soul looking for a jacket would find it. It was gone in an instant. These were the old Kapok jackets that had a big belt around the middle and 1, small ties on the front instead of buttons. I hurriedly put mine on and didn't bother with the little ties but pulled the big belt tightly around my body and tied it securely.
At that time I thought of my valuables in my locker in the living compartment and started in that direction but when I reached the top of the ladder (stairs), I met one of the engineers , Fitzgibbon coming up out of the living compartment. When he saw me he said Fugate, I wouldn't go down there if I were you, she's filling up fast." This was the first words spoken to me after I left the bridge. That changed my mind about retrieving my valuables and I turned to the quarter-deck and I saw that the ship had sunk straight down until the main deck was almost level with the sea. At that time my attention was called to the top of the after deck-house by the sound of high-pressure air escaping from something. When I looked up one of our torpedoes was sticking out of the tube about a feet and seemed to be running, which meant to me that it had already tripped the arming latch. This meant that now, any kind of a blow to the warhead could cause it to explode, which is exactly what happens when they hit the side of a ship. I than unlaced my shoes and kicked them off and like many of the rest of our crew simply stepped out into the great Pacific.
My prime aim at that time was to put as much distance between myself and the Hammann as I could to avoid being sucked under the water by a whirlpool when she went completely under. Every man there knew now that this was imminent. Many of my shipmates at the risk of their own lives had loosened the huge Balsa-wood life rafts and shoved them into the sea as soon as the torpedo explosions were over. These rafts could only be launched on the starboard (right) side of the strip . None could be launched on the port side because that side was against the carrier Yorktown.
Luckily for all of us the wind was in such a way that it was blowing the rafts all to starboard, away from the two vessels. I was a good swimmer and started swimming with all my might toward the raft farthest away from the Hammann. I reached it without any trouble. It was about 200 feet from the side of the Hammann but it seemed too close even then and I continued swimming beyond the raft into the open sea.
I was stopped from this by the voice of Charles Nichols, a redheaded storekeeper from Lorrain, Ohio. He yelled at me and said "Fugate, You'd better get to this raft quick because she is going fast". Again, one of my shipmates was probably instrumental in saving; my life because this word caused me to turn around. This was the first time I had an opportunity to look at the ship since I got in the water. That sight I will carry burned into my memory as long as I'm on this earth. She had gone down by the bow and the only part of her that was then visible was the fantail, with it's depth-Charge racks, the after gun turret and the giant rudder and the sun reflecting off the two great brass
propellers That had given power to this ship. Some of my shipmates were still leaping into the sea. Many had stayed late to help save lives or to attempt to put the depth
charge settings on SAFE. She seemed to linger in this position for just a few seconds and then slid gracefully beneath the surface of the deep. Our only home since August ll, 1939 was suddenly gone with all our worldly belongings never to be Seen again. She had taken her place along with all the other vessels that hail been swallowed up by the sea since man first went down to the sea in ships. What was left in that vicinity was a bunch of souls who had been awed by the perils of the sea.
There was no yelling, no panic, just a group of men which made up most of our crew. They were all covered with black fuel oil. What I remember so well was that the only white I could see was their eyes. The hair was all matted to their heads and the only way you could recognize any of them was by their voices which you had! Become accustomed to over the l st three years. I swam quickly to the raft and found that I was unable to get my hands on the raft itself because it was completely surrounded
by my shipmates and up inside the raft on it's lattice floor was the injured. Those who had received broken legs , shrapnel wounds or severe burns were lying down in this
part. Again I was awed by the great silence. For the first time since I had known them my ship-mates had Little to say. About the time I reached the raft and got hold
of one of my shipmates belt around his jacket, someone said "hold tight... she's going to explode. I think this foreboding thought was running through everyone's mind.
She had now been under for about 10 seconds and I started to say I didn't think she would explode, when I suddenly regained conciousness and saw all kinds of little stars
floating in my vision.
I tried to breathe but to no avail. Not one bit of breath could I get past my adam's apple. The compression from the explosion had collapsed both my lungs. I then began a frantic struggle which lasted about half a minute to I get just a little air in my lungs. When I at last was able to get a full breath, my thought then was "I'm going to be alright now" but when I exhaled blood gushed out with the air.
There was plenty of room around the raft now because after the explosion many of my shipmates floated away unconscious with their heads dropped down into the ocean, where they breathed a combination of fuel oil and salt water, hence their life on earth was ended. The price of freedom for someone in future years.
I looked at my shipmates who had survived the explosion and was still clinging to the outside of the raft. There was blood on nearly all their lips or being expelled from their nouths. Then the aftermath of the explosion, great caldrons of water boiled to the surface of the sea, washing everyone around. This boiling up was so violent that it almost tore us from the raft and tossed it around like a cork. Those already afloat in their jackets and unconscious were washed further from the raft.
At that time little Kenneth (shorty) McMahon from our radio gang said "men let's pray". Shorty was from Omaha Nebraska. He was so young that he looked like a freshman high school student. My reply to Shorty was "Shorty I think we all ARE praying." I knew I was, but a fellow from our black gang by the name of Jim Cronin spoke up and said Aw what the Hell's the use of that!" I think that Jim was trying to uphold the reputation of rugged individualism that sailors are known for, but in truth I believe he was praying as hard as any of the rest of us.
The heavy breeze kept blowing our raft farther from where our ship had been, then a body in a life jacket came floating right to our raft. I grabbed the front of his jacket and lifted his face out of the water and black bubbles was issuing from his nose. I held him there for a minute or so when one of our group said Fugate let him go. I believe he is done for." With great reluctance I released him and his head dropped buck down in the water. I never knew who it was because faces were not recognizable because of the fuel oil covering the heads of everyone there.
Up to this point, the three destroyers on our side of the Yorktown, The Balch, Benham and Monaghan had kept their distance from us fearing that even with their best intentions they may chop us up or drown us with their propellers. After the underwater explosion and the water had settled from it the Benham (DD 396) approached
our group cautiously at some distance. I understood later that she could not throw her engines in reverse due to some mechanical problem, so she could not maneuver like a normal vessel. Slowly with a feather touch on her turbines, the great screws turning over slowly so as not to create a wake, she came up opposite our group and stopped about 200 feet from us.
Then, from a knot of sailors on the Benham's deck came a tall muscular blond fellow in just his undershorts with a broad leather belt around his waist and a line attached to a ring in back of the belt, he faltered a moment on the forecastle and then dived into the ocean and came swimming toward us. I shall never forget this fellow because he was our hero at the moment. Our raft was one of 4 or 5 that had been launched. It was also the one closest to the Benham, so he swam to us first and clipped the rescue line to our raft and signaled the men on the Benham's deck to pull us up to the side of the ship.
Awaiting us when we were pulled alongside was a huge cargo net draped down the side of the ship, reaching all the way to the water. When it came my turn to go aboard I climbed up the side and had enough strength to get my arms over the life-line and was then hoisted the rest of the way to the deck by two powerful guys.
I was then turned over to two other crew members who led me aft to the fantail near the after gun turret. Here, a seasoned chief petty officer began getting my wet oil-soaked dungarees off me. He used his knife to out the buttons off my shirt and while he was doing this huge tears kept rolling down his cheeks. No words passed between us, only understanding. I never knew his name and he never knew mine. When I was completely naked someone. appeared with a warm wool blanket and wrapped me up in it and laid me down on deck. Then everyone left me for a little while, busy with others coming aboard that had to be cared for.
Now the weather deck was covered with prone figures, most of them silent, some of them in the process of dying and others thanking God that they now had a solid deck beneath them once again. I was suffering from mild shock and from the dip I had endured in the cold Pacific water, but the blanket was warming me. The fact that some bubbly blood came out with every breath concerned me and I wondered how much I could loose and still live. The amazing thing to me was that I was not scared, even with the prospect of imminent death.
I had been laid down facing aft (toward the back of the ship). I lay there watching the Balch and Monaghan dropping depth charges about a half mile away. I wondered if
they were on top of the submarine and if they would sink it. Also, at that time I made a note of the fact that I felt no hatred for the Japanese on that ship that had
just deprived us of our home. Another example of how impersonal the game of war is.
After some time two Pharmacists Mates approached my area. I knew who they were because they carried medical kits with a big red cross on the flap. They cautiously approached me and told me they wanted to give me a shot of Morphine. My thought was that if I was going to die, which I believed I was, I wanted to be in my full senses and I asked them not to inject me because Morphine would prevent this.
They left me for a minute or so and had a brief talk and returned. This time they didn't ask, and with no explanation pulled the blanket below my shoulder and stabbed a Morphine cyrette in it and squeezed it empty, both smiling and walked away busily engaged in administering to others in my condition.
After some time two men came and explained to me that they were going to take me up to the wardroom (officer's country). They lifted me to my feet and helped me
walk across the ship to the starboard (right) side of the ship away from where my shipmates were still being helped aboard and laid down on the deck on the Port (left)
side of the ship.
This was the first time I had really gotten a look at them. Now, there they were, men who I had known for over three years. Some now completely quiet, still and lifeless. Others with their tongues hanging out of their mouths like a dog which has been run over by a car. These had already given the maximum for their country and for their loved ones back home. When we left Pearl Harbor for Midway we were told that the fate of our homeland was in our hands, therefore none of us were holding back anything that we could do.
When we reached the wardroom area and tried to enter we found that the deck in the wardroom mess was already covered with bodies, so they turned me around and laid
me down on the main deck for lack of somewhere else to put me. Blood was still coming from my mouth with every breath. It contained bubbles of air. In time it formed a little
rivulet down the slanting deck and into the scupper and over the side of the ship.
Now the morphine shot was taking effect. I felt warm and carefree. That was when Derrill Thompson, a radioman off the Hammann came by and sat on the step of a ladder
near me. I could see that he thought there was not much hope for me. As he sat there he said "Fugate is there anything I can do for you?". I told him that all I needed at
the moment was something to wipe the fuel oil from my eyes. He left for a short time and returned with a T-shirt which I used to wipe my eyes and remove some of the oil from my face. While I was doing this, two men came and told me they were going to take me below and put me in a bunk in crew's quarters.
They helped me get below and laid me in a bunk in the after part of the ship. My bunk was right over the propeller shafts of the ship and near the after-steering engine room. The after-steering engine has powerful electric motors that follows the pilot wheel on the bridge to operate the great rudder that steers the ship on it's course. In case of battle damage to the bridge and the normal helm, an operator in the after-steering can take over from there and steer the ship from that position. This station is always manned during battle or general quarters. Bunks are arranged in groups of 3 on destroyers. They are stacked 3 high with the bottom one being about 2 feet above the deck and two others above it. I was put in the middle bunk which was to my liking.
Every time they put one of us from the Hammann in a bunk someone on the Benham lost his sleeping place, but I believe that most of them relinquished their bunks and some of their clothing without a word. Once in this bunk I felt secure and warm. Only one thing was really wrong, this was a super noisy place with the rumble of the great drive shafts directly below me end the high-pitched whine of the after-steering motors when a change of course was made.
I now noticed that my bleeding had subsided, probably because of the morphine injection I had received. I was never sure if this had any bearing on it. Under the influence and mercy of the Morphine injection I drifted away to a blissful sleep which erased the Cares of the world and the ever present thought of war and its consequences to us and those around us. This thought is with you so much that it becomes a part of your living; also, the acceptance of death goes along with it.
When I was laid in the bunk my only earthly possessions were my dog tags. I don't know whet time it happened, but I was rudely awakened by a terrific explosion which seemed to make the ship jump up several feet. The next sound I heard told me what the explosion was. It was the metallic sound of a 600 pound depth charge being released from the depth charge racks on the fantail right over where I slept, and after a few seconds delay, when it reached the depth it was set for, another terrific explosion.
As someone passed my bunk I asked him what was happening. He told me they had a Sonar contact and that the captain thought there may be a submarine wolf-pack in our area. I was now wide awake and seemingly the effect of the morphine had worn off. Someone in the bunk next to me was making little sobbing sounds. I asked him what was wrong and he simply told me that he was dying. I told him we were all suffering from our wounds but I had hopes that he and I would in time recover. He said "I won't because my bladder is bursted."
Considering the circumstances, I had to agree with him (in my mind)that he was right. I talked with him gently for a little while and tried to console him. He quieted down some then and we just talked. His name was Jack Smith. He was a fireman 3rd. Class from our black gang. He was from Texas and had a wife and children. He was known among our crew as "Whispering Smith because he always conversed in low tones which made it hard to understand him at times.
When I awoke the next morning about dawn he was gone from his bunk. I didn't have to guess hard what had happened to him. Jack was a little older than the average member of our crew. Nearly all of the bunks in this living compartment was occupied by Hammann sailors who had been wounded. Most of them suffered from chest compression and internal bleeding caused by the underwater explosion. There was terrific loss of blood for most of us.
I, like many others was burning up with a high fever and had no appetite for food but I wanted water continuously and volunteers kept going from one bunk to another administrating water to those who wanted it. I asked a man who passed by my bunk what was going on out there. He said we were still with the Yorktown but she was almost under and sinking fast. He also said that the Benham would stay until she was all the way under. The time was dawn, June 7th. 1942.
According to the Benham's deck log, at 0651 the Benhams colors were half-masted and the crew of the Benham stood at attention facing the Yorktown until she slid beneath the surface of the deep, with hats removed from their heads. Some cried silent tears, all were sad and their faces showed it.
It has never been clear to me why the powers-that-be in the navy chose to retain the Benham on station until the Yorktown sank, considering that members of the Hammann crew were still dying, It seems to me that she, carrying the seriously wounded, should have been dispatched to Hawaii as soon as the last survivor was picked up,
thereby getting them to a major medical facility and preventing many deaths. No doubt the officers making the decision had a good reason for this but none of us ever knew what it was. This was a delay of over 12 hours and may have saved many lives.
Meanwhile on the Benham, on June 6th. at 7:27 Pm burial-at-sea took place for sixteen Hammann crew members. The body is placed in a mattress cover with a 5-inch projectile at their feet (for weight). Then the mattress cover is wrapped around them and sewn up mummy fashion. (Ordinarily when available, canvas was used instead of a mattress cover). The bodies, one at a time are then placed on a stretcher or mess table and covered with the flag. The stretcher is balanced on the lifeline. The flag of the ship is half-masted and the word "Silence About The Decks is passed over the PA system.
Then the ship is slowed to 10 or 12 knots. Sailors stood with heads uncovered while Captain Worthington read from the Episcopal Book Of Common Prayer:
"Unto Almighty God we
commend the soul of our brother
and we commit his body to the deep in sure and certain
hope of the resurrection unto eternal life through
our Lord, Jesus Christ. AMEN."
The stretcher was then tilted from the back until the body slid from under the colors off into the sea. No votive stone would mark their resting place. Their only memorial would be when they hit the water and in the hearts of their shipmates and loved ones at home. Aboard the Benham we lay in our bunks, too weak to stand on our feet and we all had one thing in common. We were burning up with a terrific fever. People attending to our needs kept bringing that blessed fluid, water, and we drank from a hose that
was put down into the container. No one could ever seem to get enough so the water dispensers kept going from bunk to bunk as they received the plaintive call for more
It worried me that I had no appetite and had not eaten a single bite since the sinking. The thought that I may yet die from this gave me more than normal concern. However, when I awoke early on the morning of June 9th, 1942 I was hungry and when breakfast was passed out I ate heartily and drank a lot of good navy coffee. After that I felt at peace with the world and drifted off to sleep while listening to the steady drone of the big turbines pulling us toward Pearl Harbor and medical help.
At 1599 (3:09 PM) the Benham tied up in Pearl Harbor and the Hammann wounded were carried from the oil spattered living quarters out into the bright sunshine of the
Hawaiian Islands. What a wonderful feeling it was for me to see sunlight again, to hear the song of the birds and to smell the good earth and the odor of tropical flowers. These are the things we take for granted every day but I think a close shave with death made me more appreciative of them. It seemed at the time that I was starting life all over and experiencing all of this for the first time.
The stretcher cases which the medics deemed serious or critical were taken by ambulance to the main naval hospital there in Pearl Harbor. I along with several others, NOT considered serious, was whisked away by ambulance outside of Pearl Harbor and over to the cane fields in back of the village of Aiea. High on the mountain we were put in metal pre-fab buildings which the navy called a Naval Mobile Hospital.
These buildings were essentially bare except for a row of metal bunks down each side, in other words, essentially a barracks as they were known in those days. We were
attended to by several hospital corpsmen whose main duty was to check us twice daily and to see that we got food and whatever medicine was prescribed. All of us being young and generally healthy, not much was required to get us going again.
My main problem was that I had blood that had settled into the bottom tip of my left lung. In time it cleared up completely and I had no lasting effects from it. My stay was uneventful. Some things I do remember was that the Yorktown's ship service fund gave each of us $5.00 to spend as we saw fit. That was a pretty good gift in that era, especially for someone who had nothing. Also, the school kids at Ewa, Oahu sent each of us a care package which contained writing paper, pencils, stamps, and as I remember tooth brush, tooth paste, razor and shaving cream.
Many of those kids who sent us a care package are grandparents now. I hope they have some understanding of what it meant to us at the time because we had nothing but a couple of changes of underwear and two sets of dungarees. No other clothing or bedding was issued to us until we were back in the states. Something else I remember; after a week
I was able to get on my feet again and help the hospital corpsmen with
the dish washing chores in our building. Just after dusk the movies
started each night in the office
barracks a short distance away for those able to make it. Two officers showed up one evening with home movies they had taken on a trip up to one of the active volcanoes on the island of liaui. One of the things they told us was that it was an overnight trip going up and they rode mules and when they awoke the next morning at their camp, the mule's trough was frozen over with ice. Their movies were filmed in color and were spectacular because color film was s rarity at that time.
Where our "naval mobile hospital” was located we had a perfect view of Pearl harbor and the first time I was on my feet and able to look down, I noticed there was a lone carrier in the harbor. Since no one had informed us what the outcome of the battle of Midway was, I stood there wondering if this was the only carrier the United States had left.
What I didn't know at the time was that due to the efforts of all out there, Japan had lost 4 of their greatest carriers, along with several other ships and many planes and pilots and miraculously, the course of history had been changed forever.
We all had to go down in Pearl Harbor after about 3 weeks and have new picture ID cards made, since all of ours had been lost. I remember I was walking down the street in the navy yard when a radioman from the Anderson came meeting me. "SMITTY" was the only name I knew him by, but when he recognized me he said "Boy, you guys played Hell". He was referring to the sinking of the Hammann. That is the most I remember of our conversation. Out of our crew on the Hammann of 226 enlisted men 44 were "missing in action" 24, were buried at sea and one lost overboard on the Benham. Two were buried at sea from the Belch and 3 from the Viero. 60 men were injured, of which 3 died in the hospital after returning to Pearl Harbor. Others would suffer lingering effects.
Of the 13 officers on board, only 4 survived. Captain True, Lt. (J8) Hartigan, Ensign Smith (SC) and Dr. John Peterson. Peterson was the only surviving officer that received no major injury.
In the early days of July 1942 those of us able to return to the states was put aboard an ocean liner, The S.S. Mount Vernon and taken back to San Francisco and then over to Treasure Island. There we were issued a complete sea--bag of clothing along with a hammock and a bunk-matress. After some time we were issued leave papers and after buying a ticket on the AT&SF railroad I was bound for Kentucky and it felt good to sit on that train and revel in the thought of being an American with a feeling of pride that I was fortunate enough to have served my country in her time of great need.
At the right is the qsl for my first contact with Woody, when he was in Hazard, working as Radio Technician for the Kentucky Power Co. Before that, he had worked in Cincinnati for the telegraph company. He knew both the American Morse Code (landline) and the International Morse as used by Amateur Radio Operators, and the Navy.
taught a large number of hams while he lived in Hazard,
both youngsters like myself, and anyone else who was interested
in Amateur Radio. He taught most of his family members, including
his brother Tony and his daughter, and his sister Iva, her husband
Harrison Cornett, and their son Roger Cornett.
From Hazard, he moved to the Ashland, KY area to do the same job there and lived on a hilltop near Cattletsburg, where he had a great place of antennas, unlike in Hazard. We used to talk to him on the local repeater from this site, so the hundred or more miles were easily covered with a beam from his home.
2. "Earth, only know
abode of life!"
This qsl on the left came from Woody after he moved to Ashland area.
He had two comments on it:
1. "They had to take it twice, someone moved."
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