Donald Wilson: USS Hancock and the Battle of Leyte Gulf

South Pacific

The USS Hancock arrived at the twenty-mile-long atoll of Ulithi in the western Caroline Islands on October 5, 1944. Ulithi had an anchorage large enough for the fleet and had been captured by U.S. troops just two weeks earlier. The ship was part of a carrier task force assigned to hit Japanese air and sea bases in the Ryukyus, Formosa, and the Philippines, preparing for landings at Leyte in the Philippines. Donald Wilson couldn’t write any of this information home. 

UlithiDec1944 (2)
Ships at Ulithi, taken December 1944.

Return to Combat

The next day, the Hancock sailed for its first combat operation. Donald Wilson and his new carrier would take part in nearly every major naval Pacific campaign for the rest of the war. They would lose 221 men in combat.

Hancock3 (2)

During the next two weeks, planes from the Hancock and sixteen other carriers attacked airfields on Okinawa and the Nansei-Shoto (Ryukyu) Islands, then moved into the Formosa Sea. 

Donald Wilson’s battle station was six decks down—in the Interior Communications Room, the main control room for circuit monitoring and trouble shooting—where, at age 28, he was in charge. 

DonBB (2)
Right before joining the crew of the brand new USS Hancock (CV-19), Don Wilson played ball with a team from Electrical Interior Communications school. He is standing second from left.

The fleet pounded ammunition dumps, hangars, barracks, and industrial plants on Formosa. Japanese planes struck back at night. One plane was shot down within 500 yards of Donald’s ship. A 500-pound bomb landed on the carrier’s deck, damaging a gun platform, but luckily landed in the water before exploding.

Even six decks down, these attacks were frightening, Don Wilson wrote me decades later. Because they had wired an amplifier and speaker in order to monitor, listening in on fighter-direction and air-plot circuits, they knew when a plane had managed to get through Combat Air Patrol. In the I. C. Room they kept track of dreaded bogies on their own plotting board. Deep in the ship, they could imagine the enemy planes boring in closer and closer. Donald had also wired a phone system, relay and switch, so that in an emergency, when the Bridge Officer of the Day dialed, the call would break in automatically.

CEM Donald M. Wilson, shakedown cruise of the Hancock.

For the next several days the carrier’s planes descended upon enemy airfields and shipping in the Philippines.

Then the Hancock retired to Ulithi for a few days before being ordered back to the Philippines. 

Battle of Leyte Gulf

Intercepting retreating enemy ships, the carrier became part in the greatest naval battle of all time—the four-day Battle of Leyte Gulf. The Japanese began desperately lashing out with suicide kamikaze attacks. 

A 250-plane raid damaged five U.S. ships. Two were carriers. Dozens of men were killed. Kamikazes—prepared to die for their emperor—lunged at U.S. naval forces almost daily, especially singling out aircraft carriers.

Also that October, Donald’s parents in Iowa had just finished moving things–including a flock of chickens–from the landlord’s farm near Minburn to an acreage of their own near Perry.

Perryacreage (2)
Taken from the north side of the house. Clabe cut down a crate to fit in the truck of the car. That’s how they transported Leora’s chickens to their new home.

While Don was in combat, his younger brother Danny was on a Liberty Ship headed to Italy and combat as a P-38 Lightning pilot.

And the Kansas City Quartermaster Depot received effects of Dale Wilson’s from New Guinea during that month. They sorted and cataloged the items, then sent some of it on to Clabe and Leora Wilson, who had to sign for it when it arrived in Iowa.



    • Uncle Don said that as daunting as it was, they were one of hundreds of ships in different task forces in the Pacific by then. Nothing like the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway when they were one of ONLY TWO aircraft carriers–one lost in each battle, including his at Midway!

  1. All the lives lost, all the lives lived… so many individuals in each effort. I used to try to ignore anything to do with the war, when my parents were alive but these days, somehow it holds me.

    • When my parents were alive, no one talked about it. Both Dad and his brother were also pilots. Never talked about it. I had to know what had happened to my mother’s brothers, now making sure their losses aren’t forgotten. One of the three was married, no children to remember them.

    • My super hero, as well. Uncle Don was the younger brother. I don’t know why he’s on the left on the Freedom Rock, but I just left it alone. He really was the family hero, wasn’t he?

  2. I have new determined that my father, Michael P. Simko, USMCR, radio man and gunner on a TBM, on the USS Hancock, took part in the battle of Leyte Gulf. What a great remembrance of my father, one of the millions of unsung heroes in the war and at home. He never talked aboot the war, but went through a lot.
    I followed in his path and enlisted after college.
    Warren “Mike” Simko
    USMC / Airborne

    • Thank you for your note. Uncle Don was one of the two Wilson brothers who survived the war, but he also saw more combat than the others. Having joined the crew of the new carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5) in 1937, he received a Naval Commendation Medal for being part of the effort to salvage the ship when it didn’t sink that first night. The CV-19 was his second brand new carrier, a plank owner on both. His mother, my Grandma Leora, lost three sons and was widowed within a three year period. She was a delightful and amazing grandmother for another four decades!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.