Feb. 13th, 2001
For the record I enlisted in the U. S. Navy in June 1940, completed boot
camp at Great Lakes and was then assigned to aviation radioman school at
North Island in San Diego. I finished school in February, was assigned
to the SLC and reported aboard in March 1941 in Pearl Harbor. I remained
aboard in "V" Division until May 1943. Though I complained, as did many of
us, in retrospect those two plus years were a very important time of my
life. I have some wonderful memories of the SLC and my shipmates and I
made many lifetime friends. A few of my memories follow.
I remember the first time I was catapulted from the ship. It was almost
my last time. Because of poor instructions or poor listening on my part,
my head was not in the proper position and I received a jolt that gave
me a stiff neck for a few days. I was afraid to tell anyone for fear they
would think I was not fit for flying. Can you imagine a kid so green he
couldn't find the smoking lamp flying for the first time ever, being
catapulted and performing the recovery duties without incident. The 19
year old grew up a little that day.
I remember the trip to Australia in 1941. I had liberty four out of five
days, shared in a rented car and had a great time. The first afternoon in
Brisbane a man at a bar was helping us learn the value of each of the
Australian coins and paper money. After chatting a little, we asked
him if he could recommend a restaurant. He said he not only could do that
but he could also take us there for that was where he was going. When we
got there he told us he was the owner. His name was George and he saw to
it that we got good food and service. We saw George each day we were in
town and we became friends. Needless to say, we looked him up in 1942 and
he continued to befriend us in many ways.
I remember on the way back to Pearl Harbor from Australia there was some
confusion about who was entitled to flight pay. I was positive, of
course, that I remembered an order stating how many radiomen were to get
flight pay (and that included me) but no one else in V Division agreed
with me and I could not prove it. On his own our yeoman went to
Charles A. "Chuck" Vasey, CY in the Executive office and he was
able to find the right order from Washington in his chronological file.
I never knew Chuck aboard ship but, as you can imagine, he was my best
friend for helping me get the flight pay I was eligible for.
I remember W. Lenhart, Jr., AMM3c,
one of the aviation mechanics, who operated the trip line during aircraft
recovery. His job was to see that the heavy hook
didn't crash into the plane which was especially crucial during heavy
seas. As soon as a plane was secured on one side the crane was lifted
up and swung around to the other side. On one recovery as the crane
swung up Lenhart's foot got caught in a coil of the trip line. He was
lifted ten or twelve feet above the flight deck and then swung out over
the well deck. The crane operator didn't realize what had happened and
poor Lenhart was hanging on for dear life. Just then the executive
officer appeared on the well deck. Seeing Lenhart he said to get that
man down from there because that's not safe. Yes sir, right away!
I remember December 7, 1941.
Lt. Edmond H. Katenkamp and I were catapulted off the
ship in late morning and flew a four and one half hour patrol flight ending
at Pearl Harbor. We
flew around the harbor twice and could hardly believe what we were seeing.
I have relived that scene a
few times. At about five o'clock we were told where we could get a
sandwich and coffee. By the time we were on our way back it was getting
dark. At least a half dozen times we were challenged by someone with a
rifle. Fortunately none of them were trigger happy. We were finally
told by an officer to get back to the hangar and stay inside for the
rest of the night
Captain Ellis M. Zacharias
saying the uniform of the day from now on
would be dungarees and the only bugle call used would be for general
quarters. A few weeks later
we tied up along side the Vincennes. The next morning the bugle sounded
and we all rushed to our battle stations. The executive officer
complimented us on our speed but then told us it was only the Vincennes
I remember our first liberty after the war started. I think it was on
January 11. Frank H. Tolhurst, ARM1c and I were
at the dock waiting for our boat
when a sailor who had had too much to drink stretched out on the dock
and asked if we would wake him when his ship's boat came in. He gave us
his ship's name but I've long since forgotten it. Suddenly we heard his
ship's name called and we woke him. By the time we got him fully awake
we heard, from the far end of the dock, the last call. With that he got
up and started running but the boat started to leave. Nothing else for
him to do but jump. He missed by a couple of feet. He went down in a
white uniform but came up with a black one from the fuel oil all over
the harbor. They wouldn't let him in the boat like that so they
proceeded across the harbor with him hanging on for dear life.
I remember watching Doolittle's planes take off from the USS Hornet.
Each one dropped down after takeoff and it seemed, from my vantage
point, the were falling into the sea. Then they reappeared one by one
and we were very glad they all made it off the Hornet and completed the
bombing of Japan.
I remember one of our planes being recovered at sea on the starboard
side, missing the sea sled inboard, catching the wing tip float on the sea
sled and then spinning into the screw guard. The plane capsized and the
men were picked up by one of our Destroyers. I was scheduled for
that flight but came down with a chest cold and
W. R. "Bill" Burke, Jr., ARM3c took my place.
I remember John Ford, the movie director, being aboard with a camera
crew. One day Lt. Katenkamp and I were being recovered at sea after a
patrol flight. The sea was heavy and the swells rose high. On one
attempt to hook on a heavy swell brought the plane up so fast the hook
and line from the crane came within inches of going through the wing.
On a later try I was ready to hook on when a big swell pitched me
forward . The hook just missed my head and the eye, held in my right
hand and the only thing I could hang on to, snapped back and hit me hard
in the upper lip. I was shaken up and bleeding badly from the blow to
my lip but I still had to hook on and get us aboard. Fortunately, there
was a lull in the swells and I made the hook up. We climbed down from
the plane and I believe to this day there seemed to be more concern for
Lt. Katenkamp's trousers, which had my blood on them, than for my still
bleeding mouth. A few years later I had to have a tooth removed because
the hit had caused it to abscess. The navy would not pay for the dental
work because I had no proof it happened the way I told them. Lt.
Katenkamp, however, did get a new pair of trousers. By the way, during
the episode Ford and a cameraman were out at the end of the catapult
filming the whole thing. I've wondered if the footage ever made it into
a training film as a how not to do it example.
I remember the trip to Australia in 1942. I had a great time except for
the day we got lost on a patrol flight. When returning to shore a heavy fog had settled in and we
couldn't see any landmarks. Thinking we were south of the river we flew
north until our fuel got low, landed and tried to beach the plane for the
night but ran aground on a sandbar. I waded across the sandbar to a
dock, cut my feet on the barnacles climbing up, got to a phone in the
village and contacted the ship. When I got back to the beach the plane
was gone because the loss of my weight on the plane allowed it to float
off the sandbar. The pilot got a fishing boat to take the plane in tow
and we soon had it beached and tied down While we were having a bite to
eat one of the villagers told me I had waded in water infested with four
foot long sharks. A military unit put us up for the night and located
some aviation fuel for us. Next morning we flew back and explained that
we had indeed tried to contact the ship by radio. Unfortunately a C
Division radioman lost a few days of liberty because he had been
listening to states side radio instead of standing watch on our
I also remember
Edward "Reg" Howard, ARM1c,
Frank Tolhurst, Unknown Miller, Unknown Taylor and me going
out to a country club to play golf. We were treated royally by the pro
and the members. They all came out to watch us tee off to see how good
we were. Naturally we all dribbled our tee shots. When we finished
playing the members treated us to a sandwich and drink. Such great
I remember Reg Howard asking our friend George where he could buy some
fine quality suit material made from top grade Australian wool. He
bought some and sent it back to the states. When I saw Reg at the 1995
reunion I remembered that event and asked him if he ever had a suit
made. He said he did and was married in it. Then he laughed and said,
"Don, the suit lasted a lot longer than the marriage."
I remember leaving for New Zealand to pick up the Marines. Two days out
as I was climbing from the plane after a patrol flight I heard Lt.
Percy G. Higgins, Jr., AMM1c the
mechanic that the starboard wing seemed heavy and maybe he should check
the wing tip float for water.
When Higgins took the cap off a few minutes later he found four bottles of
Johnny Walker scotch carefully protected with a large bath towel. What a
party that turned out to be that night!
I remember flying over Wellington for an hour and a half at 12000 feet.
We were just going back and forth to give our gun crews a little
tracking practice. It was cold at that altitude in the winter and I
hadn't dressed warmly enough. After the flight as I was climbing from
the plane I heard Lt. Katenkamp telling the mechanic about a loud noise
he kept hearing during the flight. He then asked me if I had heard it
and I said no. As he described the intermittent noise I realized what
he had heard. I told him I had made the noise by stomping my feet on
the metal deck trying to get some circulation going.
Russell P. Morse, Lieut being washed overboard
in not so calm seas. Fortunately he was spotted by the bridge and kept in
sight while the ship circled to pick him up. I have often wondered what
went through his mind while battling each wave and swell and watching the
ship moving away. I wondered too if the ship would have tried to rescue
anyone falling overboard but I never had the desire to test the Captain
I remember taking on some of the Wasp survivors. As each one came
aboard he was assigned to one of us for help. The guy I got was bandaged
from above his elbow to his fingertips. He couldn't take a shower so while
he held his head under the sink faucet I washed his head for him. Also he
had me take him to the storekeeper so he could leave his money belt. He
said he had been in a poker game the night before. The storekeeper
counted out just over $4,000 in the belt!
I remember Cape Esperance. Four of us in V Division with no night battle
stations were leaning on the crane watching the battle off to starboard.
Suddenly, we were hit hard in the back. Fortunately we were wearing kapok
life jackets. We retreated aft and examined each other for shrapnel but
found no damage to the life jacket or to us. Cautiously, we went back to
the crane and discovered we had been whipped across our backs by an
antenna severed near the bridge. We watched the Boise catch fire and pull
out of line. Earlier we watched our plane launched, catch fire and go
down. That story is told elsewhere by
Claude Morgan, ARM1c who lived through the crash.
I remember the Komandorskis. I was issued fleece lined flight gear
including boots, gloves, pants, helmet and jacket. I wore them to bed
every night we were in Alaska. During the battle I stood a phone watch
on the flight deck. At about eleven a shell hit just under the starboard
plane and a piece of the shrapnel hit me.
Ernie Porterfield and one other
Arch McGougan, Jr., S2c] carried me down to the wardroom to
the battle aid station. I spent the rest of the battle in the wardroom
James "Jim" David, F2c
Chaplain Richard Hodge
him last rites. After the battle three of us who were wounded were taken
to Captain Rodgers cabin where we stayed until we reached Mare Island.
Each morning he came in and asked how we were.
I remember being transferred to Mare Island Hospital in early May. I
didn't realize it at the time but that was my last day aboard the SLC.
My wound would not allow me to carry out my duties and I was not allowed
to stay aboard while I recovered.
I remember a great ship and great shipmates and great times.
Don received the Purple Heart for wounds he
received during the Battle of the Komandorski Islands
1995 USS SLC Reunion Group Picture
#8 in Victor Division, May 30th, 1942
#1 in picture from the collection of
Joseph R. "Devil Dog" Shannon, AMM1c
Return to Battle of the Komandorski Island Index
Tidbits of Info.
Lt. Commander Dennis Crowley was the senior pilot
when Don Rholl came aboard in March of 1943 and thus was the officer in
charge of V Division.
The Zacharias Zombie was made on the SLC
by Crowley and the aviation ordinance gang. They started with a practice
bomb which was made out of sheet metal and filled with water for practice
use. For this purpose it was filled with kapok and fuel oil and dropped on
either Wotje or Marcus to see if it would start a fire. It started many
fires, all to small to do any damage, because the impact and resulting
explosion scattered the contents too far.
Donald A. Rholl
List of Injured on March 26th, 1943
1995 SLC Reunion Group Picture
E. C. "Buddy" Porterfield
SLC Deck Logs May 1942