Donald Wilson, USS Yorktown Survivor–Saw the Torpedo Spread Coming

Donald Wilson, in his later years, sent this memory to the “Yorktown Crier” newsletter:

My experience, recollections on the Salvage crew, CV5

June 6, 1942

“In A.M. went on board CV-5, via Bos’n chair.


“The repair work progressed. I retrieved my tools from steering-motor room. Assisted in connection submersible pumps (Electrical power from Hammann).

“The footing was treacherous. Made for slow going. The air state and foul. I know I sweat my tail off. Lunch was sent over from the Hammann. I was up for lunch and air. Sitting on the starboard side, hangar deck opening (curtain I believe), forward of the Officer of the Deck location. I was watching the Hammann alongside. Suddenly the GQ alarm took off on the Hammann and I looked out, on a mirror flat ocean, and could see the torpedo spread coming. Clear water, those torpedoes big, long, colorful and running slow. I, looking down, could see those damn props turning. A machine gunner on the Hammann was firing at them.

“Being my first experience for something like this I jumped up, moved a few paces aft, and was right where I started from when they hit. The way I saw it, one torpedo hit the Hammann, two of the other 3 that went astern of the Hammann hit the CV-5 and one missed. That[‘s] what I think I saw.

“The Hammann dropped to about 1 foot above the main deck. On an even keel fore and aft. Torpedo must of blew up inside. I noticed no breaking in two at this point. I’ve got a vivid picture of a crew member, on the Hammann setting depth bombs on safe, as the deck on the Hammann was awash, going down.

“There was a lot of loose items on the CV-5 banging around I headed for the fantail, where I made my first abandonment [June 4]. I recall having to jump down in[to the] after airplane elevator pit and climb up again, as the elevator dropped below the hangar deck level.

“Others were arriving on stern also.  delayed entering water, warned others there to hold it a bit. Good thing, a tremendous underwater explosion. God, I know my blood-pressure was high. Evidently either some of the depth charges went at 50’, or boilers or both I don’t know. I do know those in the water suffered.

“I caught the tug Vireo, which had moved astern the carrier to pick us up. From the Vireo (sea going tug) I transferred, I think to the Gwinn. . . . Slept on deck blanket near engine room exhaust. Kicked away on morning of the 7th. Watched the gallant CV-5 take the plunge.”

The USS Yorktown (CV-5) carried 90 aircraft and 2919 officers and crew. The ship lost 141 men during the Battle of Midway.

Yorktownreturnaddress (2)
Notice the dates and return address on these two envelopes. The Yorktown had been sunk June 7. The survivors were at Pearl Harbor, but he couldn’t breathe a word of it in his letters.

EM 1/c Donald W. Wilson was awarded a citation from Admiral Nimitz for volunteering for the salvage attempt, and a Naval Commendation Medal.


Two wounded crewmen hadn’t been located so were left aboard the ship after it was abandoned the first time. The daughter of one of the men, Seaman First Class George K. Weise, left a message at the end of this story about the the carrier being found in 1988, which I replied to.

Don Wilson is one of the five Wilson brothers remembered on the Dallas County Freedom Rock at Minburn, Iowa.

All five brothers served. Only two came home.

Their story is told in Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II by Joy Neal Kidney with Robin Grunder. 



      • I used to tell my father to send his letters to be published, but he insisted no one would be interested in what he had to say so long ago.

      • I was so surprised that Uncle Don took the time to send his in, but the readers were his contemporaries. It was before joined the group, so I’m thankful he even sent me a copy.

  1. I can’t imagine witnessing and living through an experience so horrendous. The thought of seeing those torpedoes headed straight for the ship, and there is no where to go . . .

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