Donald Wilson: Kamikaze

Donald Wilson, who survived the sinking of his USS Yorktown at the Battle of Midway, was now a Chief Electrician’s Mate aboard the aircraft carrier, USS Hancock (CV-19).

The ship and crew had taken part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle of all times, the October before, and had been in combat most of the time since. The US armada consisted of thousands of ships by then, but the Japanese were using increasingly desperate tactics.

While the Hancock attacked Kyushu airfields and Inland Sea shipping March 18, 1945, the Japanese counter-attacked causing 1400 casualties on two ships.

The U.S. carrier force was under attack the next three days. The ship following the Hancock in formation lost over 1000 men. Four other ships were also damaged. When a kamikaze was shot down over the Hancock a day later, parts of the plane hit the deck and its bomb landed in the water within just 100 feet of the ship.

Kamikaze aircraft were essentially pilot-guided explosive missiles. Because accuracy much highter than conventional attacks, Japanese pilots would try to crash their aircraft into enemy ships. “The goal of crippling or destroying large numbers of Allied ships, particularly aircraft carriers, was considered by the Empire of Japan to be a just reason for sacrificing pilots and aircraft.”

On March 21, the stack of the carrier was hit by the guns of a U.S. ship aiming at kamikazes. The Hancock attacked the Nansei-Shoto Islands in support of the ongoing combat with Japan.

There were 65 more casualties when kamikazes hit two ships March 27. 

Day after day, the carrier struck several islands and supported the Tenth Army on Okinawa with continuous combat. A kamikaze hit another U.S. ship, causing twenty-nine casualties.

U.S. troops landed on Okinawa, just 350 miles from Japan, April 1st. Kamikazes damaged eight Allied ship, resulting in several casualties. Six ships were hit the next day, 167 men killed, 166 wounded. Three more ships were hit while the Hancock supported the troops April 3 and 4.

Waves of kamikazes attacked the U.S. fleet off Okinawa April 6, hitting sixteen ships, some several times. Five ships were lost, with many casualties.

Don’s ship was in combat in the Nansei-Shoto Islands. The next day, April 7, 1945, off southern Kyushu, a kamikaze cartwheeled across the Hancock’s deck. Its bomb hit the port catapult and exploded, killing sixty-two men, wounding seventy one. Fourteen other ships were hit. One of them sank, many casualties.

USS_Hancock_(CV-19)_hit_by_kamikaze_1945
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Hancock (CV-19) is hit by a kamikaze suicide plane off Okinawa, 7 April 1945. US Navy photo.

Two days later, the carrier continued in combat in the Nansei-Shotos. And it retrieved from other ships the Hancock’s survivors of the kamikaze attack they’d rescued.

As the carrier retreated to Ulithi the next day, they held burial services at sea.  

Hancock

Hancockchaplain (2)The Burial at Sea service was conducted Chaplain Joseph F. Parker, father of Cliff Parker, member of the USS Hancock Association CV/CVA-19 Association Facebook page. Used with permission.

Damage to the ship was so extensive that it was ordered to Pearl Harbor for repairs. The Hancock was out of action through early June. 

During ten harrowing days, the U.S. Navy had taken its greatest pounding in history–1200 casualties. Nearly 200 more kamikazes had attacked the fleet, damaging nine more ships.

At home in Iowa, Donald’s parents had received the second telegram about one of his brothers being Missing in Action. Would this war ever be over with?


Donald was one of five Wilson brothers served. Only two came home.

Story behind the Dallas County Freedom Rock (Minburn, Iowa) is told in Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II.  Leora was their mother. And my delightful grandmother.

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7 comments

  1. My father, Cdr.Joseph F Parker, CHC USN, was the Protestant chaplain aboard the Hancock at the time of this tragedy. He participated with the burial at sea in these photographs RIP

  2. Great posts. Those kamikazes were really something; desperate measures by the Japanese. But, they wasted so many young men with little actually gained … except a lot of death.

    • They even deployed some in tiny suicide submarines, which were used against Ulithi atoll, where the ships went to reprovision, rest, get mail. (I was going to add refuel, but that was mainly done at sea.) The Japanese were desperate to use those tactics.

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