USS SLC...USN...Donald V. Stenger, GM3c
July 17th, 2009
I boarded the Salt Lake City in October of 1943 along with 1,000 other sailors bound for Pearl Harbor and reassignment. Along the way a few hundred of us were selected from that group to remain aboard and serve as members of the ship's crew, as was your father [Hoyt W. Thompson, S1c].
I will always believe that I was destined to serve on the SLC because of a series of events. I first tried to enlist when I was seventeen but I was turned down. Later I heard that if you volunteered for the draft you would have a better chance of being inducted into the service of your choice. So I went to the draft board in my hometown, Tuscola, IL. and volunteered for the draft. So my entry into the Navy was delayed for eight or nine months. (Waiting on the SLC?)
When I was finally drafted and declared 1-A, I went through the physicals in Chicago. The entire group of draftees for the day were ordered to go single file down a narrow hallway. As we walked along, a lone sailor stood to the side and directed some of us straight ahead and others to a room adjoining the hallway. It wasn't until later that we found out that the ones sent ahead were going to the Army and the ones going into the side room were going to the Navy. So I was lucky to arbitrarily be pushed to the Navy side and ultimately the SLC. After three weeks of boot camp, I came down with spinal meningitis and I was in the hospital for nearly six weeks. I had to do boot camp all over again. Again, I was delayed. (Waiting on the SLC?) Lucky me on a lucky ship.
Ultimately I was sent to a base in Pleasanton, CA. and called out to board the SLC for transfer to Pearl Harbor. I was selected as one of the men to remain aboard. I didn't know then how lucky I was.
My first major action was Tarawa. We bombarded the island before the Marines invaded. All during the bombardment the Japanese artillery straddled us with their shells. You could see the shells splashing in the water…. First on one side of the ship, then the other. That is what artillery crews' strive for, but none ever hit us. That evening some Japanese torpedo bombers attacked our task force. My watch position was at the highest point on the ship. The crow's nest just below the radar antenna. I was higher from the water than the planes were and I had a bird's eye view of the 40mm anti-aircraft shells going directly into the pilot's position. It was an incredible sight for this young farm boy.
From there we spent many days at sea. We covered troops at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. For six weeks we bombarded Iwo Jima every third day prior to the invasion. We anchored at Saipan. Everyday at noon the Japanese air force would do a quick fly over, bomb, and strafe the airfield there. One day, while we were out shooting at Iwo Jima, they combed the ships in the harbor. Lucky Salt Lake City.
We were in the huge armada that took all of the troops and equipment to Okinawa. One morning while in General Quarters, either us or a huge aircraft carrier failed to make the proper turn for zig zag. The carrier came from our port side and was going to cross directly in front of us. She was blasting out on her horn. Our engineers did an emergency full speed astern from our forward speed. The ship shuddered as if it was in an earthquake. We missed hitting the carrier by only a few yards. We could have died a fiery death. Again…. Lucky Salt Lake City.
During the Okinawa occupation, the Navy would set up a screen of ships between the island and Japan to intercept any Japanese ships from reaching the island. The Kamikaze suicide missions would hit this screen every night. The next morning we would see ships come in badly damaged. We were assigned to bombard the island so we only had to do the screening one night. On that night, the Japanese did not attack the screen, but attacked the ships in the harbor. The anti-aircraft fire looked like the grand finale of all grand finales from our position in the screen. Once again, lucky Salt Lake City.
We were able to avoid two major typhoons while I was aboard. We did not encounter any surface-to-surface confrontations. That must be the most fearsome of all combats. Veterans on the ship did however and came through without major damage except for the Komandorski event.
One time we made a run from Adak towards Japan. We were spotted and turned back. No one sees to know what the mission was. If we were on our way to bombard Japan, it certainly would have been suicidal. It surely was intended to see how close we could get to Japan without them seeing us.
I was originally assigned to Division "F". That division was responsible for "aiming" the eight inch and five inch guns during battle. In addition, we cared for all of the ammunition magazines and the small arms on the ship. After I made GM3c I was a gun captain on one of the five inch guns on the starboard side. I was in the 6th Division.
The picture at the top of my page was taken about a month before I boarded the SLC. I was eighteen years old.
Thank you for caring for the Salt Lake City and her crew. Someday I am sure you will be rewarded for all your efforts.
After the war, I graduated from the University of Illinois with a Mechanical Engineering Degree. I married a fine nurse, Dorothy and we had two boys and a girl. Dorothy passed away with breast cancer at the age of 49.
I am 84 years old and retired from my engineering career at the RR Donnelley Eison printing and bookbinding company. I now keep busy working part time as a sales clerk in the house wares and luggage department at a Macy's store near here. Carmel is a suburb of Indianapolis.
SLC Deck Log Oct. 1943