Battle of the Coral Sea: Memories of Donald Wilson, Aboard the USS Yorktown (CV-5)

Battle of the Coral Sea

May 1942

Uncle Don Wilson was the the ship’s company flight deck electrician on the USS Yorktown (CV-5). Just like everyone else stationed on the flight deck, Don later wrote, he had his spot to jump into during emergencies–over the edge onto a catwalk.

But while the carrier patrolled  the Coral Sea, another electrician panicked during General Quarters (battle stations) below decks in the steering motor room. Donald traded places with him, glad to transfer from the risky fight deck to an area with extra armor plating for the vital steering, even though during combat with the ship closed up, the room was stifling and the noise deafening.

The Yorktown’s Engineering Department had three divisions–Boiler, Main Engine, and Electrical. Donald was in Electrical (E. Div.), made up of four ‘gangs’–Generator, Power, Lighting, and Interior Communications (I.C.). Donald wrote, “The crew was a closely knit, well-trained group, as evidenced by its late accomplishments.

“My battle station was the steering motor room. During the Battle of Coral Sea, the sound was like a freight train underneath you, in a tin barn in a hailstorm, and a dust storm coming in an open window. I wondered where dust and dirt came from on our clean ship many miles at sea? The only air intake supply was from the trunk from the 5” gun platform topside.

“During all our practice firing (over 5 years) no dirt was ever jarred loose. During the Coral Sea action, our lights were only visible as a glow due to the dust.

“After standing several thousand hours on watch in steering gear, my ears were tuned to the screws’ RPMs (they still are). Our best-ever RPMs were done during Coral Sea battle.”

During the Battle of the Coral Sea, from May 4-8, 1942, a bomb dropped from a Japanese plane hit the Yorktown and exploded deep inside. “The ship vibrated violently, sounding like a freight train,” he later recalled, “or like being in a tin barn in a hailstorm.”

From Leora’s Letters:

The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II:

“That night, the Yorktown held a burial service. The shrouded bodies of forty men were given up to the sea. Of course, Donald could reveal none of this when he wrote home.

“The Wilsons in Iowa heard news reports about a big battle in the Coral Sea. The Japanese reported their victory and the sinking of two carriers. U.S. reports said that a dozen Japanese ships were sunk, but that no American battleships had been lost. The Wilsons did not know that the Yorktown had been damaged and the carrier Lexington lost. But when they didn’t hear from Donald, they worried that he had been in the battle.

“Meadowlarks had been back for weeks, Iowa’s plum thickets bloomed white against spring’s green, potatoes and onions and lettuce had been planted. While the youngest brother, Claiborne Junior Wilson, graduated from Washington Township High, Donald’s carrier, trailing oil from leaking fuel tanks, limped toward Hawaii for repairs. Arriving at Pearl Harbor, the Yorktown–its crew mustered on deck in their dress whites–was greeted by sirens, whistles, and cheering sailors.”

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5) in Dry Dock No. 1 at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, 29 May 1942, receiving repairs for damage received in the Battle of Coral Sea.



    • Thank you, Gwen. More from Uncle Don on June 6, and on the 3rd will be a book by a man whose father was in the band on the CV-5! He became a chaplain.

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