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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.