Veterans Day: Celebrating a destroyer that helped the United States win World War II-Morning Post

2021-11-12 08:53:11 By : Mr. Shixiang Chen

Three quarters of a century later, Ralph DePadua (Ralph DePadua) is one of the few people to tell the story of the USS Hellman, the largest naval battle in World War II. Played a key role.

It makes sense that Depadova was one of the few survivors who served on the destroyer in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He was only 17 years old when he boarded the ship in 1944, the youngest of 326 sailors.

"That's why they call me a child," Depadova, 95, told me at the dinner table at his home in Foxtown on Tuesday.

He did not invite me to talk about his military service there. He wanted to share Heermann's story and the bravery of the crew on Veterans Day.

"This has nothing to do with me," DePadua emphasized many times.

"It's about this," he said, typing on a book about this ship, also known as "Destroyer X."

"That is a great boat. It deserves recognition."

Heermann was built at the shipyard of the Bethlehem Steel Company in San Francisco as part of the steel company's commitment to build one ship a day during the war.

It was the only American destroyer that survived the Battle of Samar Island, one of four engagements in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944.

Through land, sea, and air, the Allied forces are launching mobile attacks on the Philippines. The Japanese are making the final resistance.

The Herman is one of dozens of ships in the escort formation of three aircraft carriers. Its function is to protect the slow-moving aircraft carrier.

At the beginning of the battle, the crew rescued three pilots who were shot down. The next morning, when DePadua lined up for breakfast—they were serving his favorite corn fritters—he saw water splashing around.

At first, the crew thought they had been attacked by the plane. At this time, the Japanese fleet appeared.

The main function of DePadua is to operate sonar. His combat position is to load a Heermann gun with 5-inch shells. From the post under his deck, he could hear the sound of fighting.

The aircraft carrier launched their plane, while Herman and other destroyers set up a smoke screen. Heermann advances, launching torpedoes and artillery. A few achieved their goals. An enemy ship sank. The other retreated.

Heermann was also hit.

A shell hit the bridge, killing four crew members and a pilot who had been rescued the day before.

One of the victims was Depadova's good friend Sonarman Thomas Evanowski (Thomas Evanowski).

"If it weren't for Tom and Jack [Woolworth, quartermaster]...all these people had taught me and took care of me," he recalled.

The front hull was also hit.

"Suddenly, the ship rose and fell in the air," Depadova recalled.

The shell did not explode, but left a large hole and flooded the front compartment.

DePadua was ordered to close the hatch and go to the deck. He came out without wearing a life jacket, someone handed him one. He continued to pump while others grabbed mattresses and two-by-four things to plug the hole.

According to the record in the book "The War History of the Battleship Hermann", the Hermann was so close to the Japanese that the crew "can smell... the smell of cooking in the kitchen."

"We lost the radar and they shot it down," Depadova said. "The mast is hung up."

As the Heilman continued to fight, other American ships were sunk.

"I watched Gambier Bay collapse," Depadova recalled. "I saw San Luo exploded."

USS Gambier Bay was the second aircraft carrier sunk by enemy surface fire during the war. The USS San Lo, also an aircraft carrier, was sunk by Kamikaze forces. The Battle of Wright Bay was Japan’s first launch of a suicide pilot.

Two destroyers, USS Hoel and USS Johnston, and the escort destroyer USS Samuel B. Roberts were all lost.

Heermann was called to the bow of the aircraft carrier formation to provide a smoke screen. Slowing down due to the ingress of water, it got there, firing at the Kamikaze pilots along the way.

The crew then began to work to rescue the survivors of the St. Lo and pull the 81 out of the sea.

Seventeen people on the Heermann were injured in the battle. Several crew members were commended for heroism and meritorious deeds.

From 1943 to 1945, Heilman won the Bronze Service Star in nine battles in the Asia-Pacific region. It is one of several ships that have been commended by the President for their actions in the Battle of Wright Bay.

DePadua has a copy. Part of the content is as follows:

"The heroic ships of the task force fought fiercely with the advancing speed and firepower of the enemy. They quickly launched and re-armed the aircraft, violently and tortuously protecting ships attacked by enemy armor-piercing shells, lethal artillery shells, and suicide bombers.

"As one of the group’s aircraft carriers sank and other aircraft carriers were severely damaged, the squadron’s aircraft courageously coordinated the offensive and carried out air strikes against the enemy fleet when the Japanese army was ruthlessly approaching the enemy fleet. The force’s two heroic destroyers and one The escort destroyer charged the enemy fleet. The battleship was straightforward, defending the entire group with the last torpedo, sinking under the enemy's heavy artillery shells, as the culmination of the continuous fierce battle that lasted two and a half hours.

"The courageous determination and excellent teamwork of the officers and soldiers who fought the landed aircraft and manned the ships in Task Force 77.4.3 helped to retire the enemy forces that threatened our Leyte Island invasion and cooperate with our The Wright Island invasion is consistent with the highest traditions of the U.S. Navy."

The ship went to Palau for temporary repairs. Along the way, it buried the dead in the sea.

Depadova still remembers the quartermaster Woolworth sewing a body bag.

"Some things will stay with you for a long time," he told me. "I will never forget that day. One of the worst days in my life."

The four-day battle of Wright Bay and a parallel land battle that lasted several months were successful. During the war, it gave the US military undisputed naval and air command in the Asia-Pacific region.

The price of victory was huge. 16,043 soldiers and 7,270 sailors were killed. Seven American ships were sunk, including three aircraft carriers.

Heermann's stay in Palau was very short. It set sail home, stopped briefly at Pearl Harbor, and then went to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in California for permanent repairs.

The crew were given vacation leave and returned to the South Pacific in January 1945.

Heermann participated in several battles, including Okinawa and Iwo Jima. It provides air defense cover for the aircraft carrier. It sank several small ships, helped sink a submarine, and shot down what is believed to be the last Japanese aircraft during the war.

When Japan surrendered, the Herman was in Tokyo Bay. Through binoculars, Depadova watched the signing of the treaty on the USS Missouri about a block away.

He left the Navy in 1946, refused to re-enlist, and returned to his home in Patterson, New Jersey.

He established his career in the field of public accounting and held executive positions at Houbigant, an international perfume and personal products company. He became a golfer, hit five holes in one, and met Arnold Palmer. He and his wife Francis have been married for 57 years.

A few years after the war, Depadova received a call from Woolworth. The crew of the Hellmann is about to start a party.

There are about 20 people. The first one had about 80 attendees and their wives. The last time was in the 1980s, there were about 16 people. Thomas Evanowski's parents attended some.

DePadua is very happy to meet his friends. They are not crew members; they are friends.

"The best ship in the navy. You have to know everyone."

Several people were survivors of the Pearl Harbor incident, and he praised their leadership.

"They kind of welded us into a great crew member."

Many years ago, he did not remember exactly when DePadua received the package in the mail. They did not have a return address, nor did they mention who sent it.

Inside are books about Hellmann, framed illustrations and other objects about the ship.

DePadua doesn't know who sent them, or why he was chosen to receive them. He checked the other crew members and they did not get any similar information.

He cherishes these gifts very much. They are a way for him to remember Hermann. They are also a way to share their stories with others.

"We only have three people left," DePadua said.

I am honored that as Veterans Day approaches, DePadua chooses me to contribute to this history.

You can contact the morning call columnist Paul Muschick at 610-820-6582 or