Frederick W. Mielke, Supply and Disbursing Officer Of Whitehurst , 10 November 1944 - 12 April, 1945


 Ensign Fred Mielke

Fred Mielke ca 2001


I Brief Account  

The kamikaze, a Val bomber, tore through Whitehurst’s superstructure from port to starboard, coming to rest on the starboard searchlight platform. Its 500-pound delayed-action bomb continued on and exploded about 50 feet off the starboard bow, with deadly effects on personnel with battle stations on deck.  The plane went completely through the CIC Room and Pilot House, killing all there.  On the deck below, in the Radio Room, where four of us had our battle stations, the plane ripped a gash in the overhead, sending flaming gasoline into the room and adjacent passageways.  William Yeager (RDM3c) and I were lucky enough to escape with only burns.  Irving Paul (RDM2c) was killed outright when the door of the Radio Room slammed into him after being blown off its hinges and into the Radio Room by the piston-like pressure of the kamikaze’s impact into the ship’s tightly closed up superstructure. Most sadly, True Lofton (RDM3c) died of asphyxiation trying unsuccessfully to escape the fire and smoke by retreating from it as far as he could (he reached the vacant Captain’s Cabin) to avoid going through a flaming passageway to get to fresh air.   

The two of us who escaped chose to make a seemingly impossible effort to get out of the closed-up space by dashing aft through the flaming passageway to get to the watertight door that led outside to the boat deck. To escape, we knew we had to survive long enough in the flames to unlatch the six lugs (dogs) that held the massive steel door shut. This would require unlatching each of the lugs by hand, because the door was not one with a single central wheel that controlled all the lugs.  

As it turned out, the two of us were lucky.  The same force that had blown the Radio Room door off its hinges had been strong enough also to blow that heavy steel door off its hinges.  In the process, it had bent or broken away the six heavy steel lugs that clamped the door shut.  

It was months later, when I rejoined the ship in Pearl Harbor after being treated for burns, that I learned the story of the blown-away door.  I had been in a quandary.  I had no recollection of actually undogging that door, yet I remembered falling down over the coaming of that opened door and someone scrambling over me to get out.  I assumed, but could not believe, I had actually undogged the door.  I also knew, however, that I was confused and desperate in the flames and probably not fully aware of what was happening.   

When I related this quandary to my shipmates, I got this reply:  “You know, we never did find that door.  It was completely blown away and must have gone overboard.  We looked for it everywhere.”  

So there was the answer.  It fitted my memory.  I knew there was no way we could have undogged that door before succumbing to the heat, flame and smoke.  We were lucky.


II More Details  

On April 12, 1945, during the Okinawa campaign, Whitehurst was attacked simultaneously by three kamikazes in mid-afternoon (about 1500).  One, approaching from the starboard beam, was brought under fire by the ship’s four starboard 20-mm automatic guns.  Another, approaching from the stern, was fired upon by the ship’s two aft 20 mm automatic guns, its single 1.l inch automatic gun, and its aft 3”/50 caliber gun.  Both planes crashed in flames nearby.  

The third plane, more distant, was fired upon as it came within range.  Two friendly fighters were also attacking it from above, but these veered away from the gunfire.  The plane started its dive of about 40 degrees off the port beam.  It was hit with several 20-mm shots, but the pilot managed at the last moment to avoid crashing into the sea by veering upward from his original aim at the ship’s waterline and crashed into Whitehurst’s superstructure.  The plane was a Val bomber, with a 500-pound delayed action bomb. It hit the port side of the ship, went through the CIC Room (Command Information Center) and Pilot House, both located on the deck between the Flying Bridge and the Radio Room (my battle station).[1]  

After passing completely through the CIC Room and Pilot House, the plane came to rest on the starboard search light platform (where the dead pilot was found in his cockpit the next day).  The bomb went through the ship and exploded in mid-air fifty feet off the starboard bow, causing heavy casualties among those in exposed battle stations on deck.  All personnel in the CIC Room and Pilot House were killed.  The deck of the CIC Room (the overhead of the Radio Room) was ripped open sending flaming gasoline into the Radio Room.   

Of the four of us in the Radio Room, one was killed outright, one died from asphyxiation, and two of us escaped with burns.  

The official casualty list from the attack was 37 dead or missing and 37 wounded – one-third of the ship’s complement of about 210.[2]

Similar Attacks  

The attached article in “Trim But Deadly” describes two similar Kamikazi attacks, one on USS Oberrender DE 344 and one on USS England DE 635.  Both attacks took place almost simultaneously, at 1853, on May 9, l945, twenty-seven days after the attack on Whitehurst.  All three ships were attacked in similar circumstances.  

note: England’s experience was similar to the attack on Whitehurst, with the Kamikazi striking from the starboard, not port, side.  England's casualty count was also 42.  The plane similarly struck just below the flying bridge followed by an explosion of the delayed action 500-pound bomb. Bowers strike was directly through the sonar shack.  A head on blow to the port side above the pilot house. The final count of Bowers casualties was 65.  Witter took a hit in the engine room wit 13 casualties.  mc


My Experience  

Needless to say, I survived the Kamikazi attack on Whitehurst, but, as I will explain later, Lady Luck played her part again, or I would not have made it.  

On this particular GQ, we soon knew we were in the thick of some action, because shortly after we went to GQ, Whitehurst began putting out substantial, though sporadic, gunfire.  

Suddenly the gunfire became much greater.  In almost no time it appeared that every gun on Whitehurst was firing without let up.  Although the four of us in the Radio Room could not see the action, there was no question that Whitehurst was being targeted by a Kamikazi at close quarters.  

Then we were hit.  The crash was loud and violent.  Metal wrenched.  The ship was massively shaken.  We knew instantly what had happened.  Fire was all about us.  The heat was immediate – like being thrust into an oven.  My first thought was “My God.  So it happened to me.  I’ll be just one more sailor who died trapped in a closed compartment in a stricken ship – but My God, it’s hot, it will be over quick.  I won’t last long.”  These thoughts flicked into my mind in a millisecond.  

But wait!  Death was not going to be instantaneous.  There was some brief time to act.  But do what?  The situation was apparent in a glance.  Loften and Yeager sat turned in their chairs, unhurt, not on fire, stunned, looking at me.  On the other side of me, Paul was propped up in a strange upright position, impaled by the door of the Radio Room which had been blown off its hinges and was holding him upright like part of an A-frame made by him and the door, his head protruding through the displaced louvers in the door’s upper panel.  He was still. Parts of his clothing were on fire.  

But do what?  The only escape was out into the flaming passageway, turn aft, and go back and undog the watertight door to the boat deck.  I did not believe I would survive in that flaming passageway long enough to undog that door.  But not to try would be to die without a struggle.  What else to do in the time left?  

I looked at Loften and Yeager – I remember trying to conjure up the best command voice I could muster to indicate a degree of confidence – and said something like, “C’mon, let’s go!”  Or maybe, “C’mon, let’s get out of here.”  It was probably the former, because I think it was all I could choke out.  

All of this took no more than 10 seconds, if that.  It bothered me not to attend to Paul, who was there motionless.  I had pangs of feeling about responsibility to rescue him, but I knew it would be impossible if he were unconscious.  However useless it may have seemed, I stopped for a swift moment and shook him, shouting in his ear.  There was no response, but that brief gesture helped my conscience.[3]   

I darted into the passageway with Loften and Yeager behind me and rushed aft with my eyes closed, arms shielding my face, and headed back to the dogged-down door.  I hardly knew what I was doing.  I could not see and was flailing blindly.  The heat was intense.  The next thing I recall was slipping and falling onto the coaming of the open door as someone behind climbed over me to get out.

  Into the Water  

I scrambled over the coaming, went a step or two starboard, and without any wasted movement, clambered over the starboard rail of the boat deck and dropped into the water.   

I ended up deep in the water, and it took a while to surface.  But when I did, what a glorious feeling!  I had made it.  Here I was afloat and alive on a bright day, with fresh air, and cool seawater washing over me.  What a transformation!  

But no sooner had the euphoria struck than I was immediately sucked down under the water by a powerful force.  I was drawn down very deep, tumbling and twisting.  I thrashed and resisted, trying to get right side up, but it was confusing.  At long last, the water became less turbulent and I managed to get headed upward, kicking and thrashing toward the surface.   

But I had been down a long time and I was very deep.  I struggled hard to get to the surface. It seemed to take forever, and the thought crossed my mind, “My God – how ridiculous to be saved and then die drowning.”  For a long time I thought I would not make it, but just as I felt I could hold out no longer, I could tell I was nearing the surface.  I finally broke through and gulped air – a second great feeling of unbelievable relief.  I realized I had been in the wash of the propellers, and now was out of it.  The ordeal was over.  Now I truly was saved!

I looked about for Whitehurst, expecting to find it nearby, where I could be taken back aboard.  Somehow, I expected to find the ship stopped in the water, like an automobile smashed into on a highway and no longer moving.  As well ordered as I believed my thought processes were in this crisis, I realized the mind was playing tricks.  The ship was off in the distance, smoke pouring forth from her fires as she proceeded even farther away.  

Completely irrationally, it had never occurred to me that I would be away from help after I went into the water.  Not that I would have done anything differently.  I had not even thought about the pros and cons of going overboard.  I was on fire, and the quickest way to quench fire was to get into the water.[4]  But, like some fanciful dream, I expected everything would be back to normal once I doused the fire.  I would simply get back on the ship.  How strangely the mind can act.  

When I looked about, I saw, perhaps a hundred yards ahead of me, in the direction of the ship, two other people in the water, so I started toward them.   

As I did, I noticed something strange about my hands.  They had some stringy white material clinging to them. I thought there must have been a sticky white substance in the water that I had passed through.  I tried unsuccessfully to wipe the stuff away, but it clung tight.  After a few more attempts to get rid of the clinging substance, I came to realize that the stuff was shreds of my skin.   

Up to that moment, I had no awareness of my burns.  The sea was cool and felt good[5].  I had no sensation of being burned on my hands or anywhere.  I felt that my dive into the sea had put out the fire on my clothes and that I had miraculously escaped without harm.  But I now knew this was not so.  Certainly the skin on my hands had been damaged, with shards of useless skin hanging there.  Still, I felt no particular discomfort.  

Swimming toward the others, I felt safe in the water.  Before the war, I was not an experienced swimmer, but after signing up for the Navy, I had taken a course on survival swimming and how to tread water.  At Harvard, I had once tested myself to see how long I could swim, and after forty-five minutes I knew I could swim almost indefinitely if necessary.  I regarded a calm sea as friendly, not threatening.   

I saw other ships about.  As I made progress swimming toward the two others, I felt confident we would be rescued,

Awaiting Rescue  

When I reached the others, I found they were Lieutenant Vincent Paul and an enlisted man, both from Whitehurst.  I knew Paul well, but was unacquainted with the enlisted man.  Paul was not hurt.  As he greeted me, he suggested that I inflate my life preserver.  Up to then, I had been swimming and had not even thought about the life preserver. Because my hands were too damaged to squeeze the CO-2 cartridges, Paul did the inflation.  The life belt, of course, was a big help, since I was fully clothed – underwear, T-shirt, long-sleeved khaki shirt,[6] khaki pants, socks, shoes.  

When I spoke to the enlisted man, I learned that he was in considerable pain.  He thought his leg might be broken.  

The three of us hardly talked.  Although the sea was not really rough, there was a good chop to it.  We put the backs of our heads to the direction of the wind and chop, which was not only the best defensive posture for the choppy water but also let us face in the direction where we might expect to see any approaching rescue vessel.  Despite the effort to protect against the choppiness, I found I could not keep from swallowing seawater as it washed over my head and down my face.[7]   

I don’t recall any conversation about where anyone of us was when the ship was hit.  Such details seemed unimportant.  We all knew what had happened – and it was difficult to talk with water shipping over our heads.  We were simply waiting to be rescued, as we felt we would be, and that was enough to occupy us – or at least me, because, as we waited, I also began to get quite cold.  The water, which had seemed so refreshing at first, was now chilling me.   


In about a half-hour, we saw a camouflaged destroyer-type vessel (it was the USS Crosley APD 87, I later learned) approaching us.  It came near, slowed and launched a boat. When the boat came to us, we were asked about any injuries.  The enlisted man with us in the water did not speak, but I remember answering for him and suggesting that he be taken care of first because his leg might be broken, so they pulled him into the boat first.   

I had been checking my watch and I noted that we had been in the water forty-five minutes.[8]  

My memory is fuzzy about how we proceeded to get aboard our rescue vessel – whether I got aboard under my own power, was lifted or helped aboard, or what.  I do know that I was cold and tired and welcomed being cared for by people who seemed to know what they were doing.  I was entirely willing to let them take over for me and do what was necessary.  

First Aid  

I didn’t know where Paul and the enlisted man with us were taken, but I was laid down on a table in the crew’s general mess (eating) room.  They gave me a shot of morphine, which to me seemed unnecessary because I was not feeling any great pain.  I dismissed it as probably just standard procedure.  They also started cutting away my clothing, which again seemed wasteful and more than necessary, but at that point, I was not about to protest.  They seemed quite experienced in what they were doing.   

I noticed that they were also giving me blood plasma.  This surprised me.  I knew that wounded soldiers in the field were given blood plasma to counteract the shock effect of the trauma and that it was often a matter of life and death to administer the plasma as soon as possible to avoid death from the shock alone.  So I asked if they thought I was suffering from shock.  Their answer was yes.  They supplemented this by saying that burns create shock and that in the case of injury from burns, it is very important to give plasma to the victim.[9]  

About this time, I needed to urinate.  Since I was under their control lying flat on my back on a mess table, I asked them how I could go about it.  I thought, because they seemed to be medical people,[10] they might have one of those gadgets used for this purpose with bedridden males.  To my surprise, they told me, “Just let it go.”  “Right here?”  “Yeah, right here, just go ahead.”  So I did.  It seemed strange, but I was too dim-witted to realize that it made little difference, since the place was already dripping with seawater from my clothes.  

Their next step was to slather me with Vaseline (petroleum jelly) wherever I was burned and then cover those areas with layers of gauze.  This meant putting bandages in places on my legs, arms and back, and completely covering up my hands and face with gauze wrapping.  When they finished, I couldn’t use my hands and couldn’t see.  

During the course of all this, I was talking with them and answering their questions, and they were answering mine.  They seemed dumbfounded when I told them I had been in the radio room.  They had seen the attack and did not think it possible that anyone could have escaped from where I was.  They passed this information around to others who came by and all expressed absolute amazement that anyone could have escaped from there.  

I learned that their ship was Crosley APD 87, a DE converted to a small attack transport that carried small groups of personnel for specialized landings – for example, the transporting of Navy Seals (Underwater Demolition Teams).  


The next step was to transfer me to a suitable place.  This turned out to be a transfer a few hours later to USS Crescent City APA 21.[11] – “about 1900” according to

notes I subsequently made in my Navy file.[12]  

I was transported in some kind of small craft to Crescent City.  I could not see or help myself with my bandaged hands, so I did nothing but let whomever it was take charge of me.  Once we were at Crescent City, there was considerable commotion around it and I recall it taking some time for anyone to get to me.  I was in one of those ridged wire stretchers and was lifted aboard by some mechanism.  Once aboard, I was laid in a bunk located in what, from the sounds, seemed to be a small room with a number of other wounded being taken care of.  I was comfortable and do not recall being in any pain.  It was going into nightfall, so the time for further kamikaze attacks had passed.  I rested and slept.  The morphine may have had an effect  

The next day, my main concern was that I was helpless.  I could not see and could not use my hands.  I could walk, although it hurt a bit when blood rushed into a bandaged lower leg.  I worried about how I could get out of that room if the ship were hit.  I knew the ship was not underway and was somewhere off Okinawa, but not sure where.[13]  I therefore assumed it was as vulnerable to another kamikaze attack as any other ship.  I thought it might still be stationed off the beach where it had landed troops.[14] Attendants in the room were busy, but I managed to ask one of them about my concern.  He assured me someone would lead me if I needed to get out.  I knew of course that would be the intention, but I wanted some assurance I would not be forgotten.  I also knew it was an intention that might not be able to be fulfilled.[15]  

My Navy records show that I was aboard Crescent City for the next four days.  I don’t recall much about those four days – all of which were spent in that bunk – except for the day after my arrival.  There was a radio in the room, and during that next day an announcement came over it that President Roosevelt had died.   

This of course was major news, and the attention given to it on the radio was not surprising.  But it gave me a strange feeling – all this attention to one man’s dying when all about me I knew of carnage and death in wholesale numbers.  Each loss of a human life out here was just as tragic on a personal level as the loss of any other human, and just as wasteful of one of God’s wonderful creations.  But obviously the life of a world leader was something different and justified an enormous amount of attention.  I did not resent the attention, nor did I think it should not be given.  It just left me with a very strange feeling, which even now comes over me as I write.  

My stay aboard Crescent City for the next three days was just a temporary holding action until I could be transferred elsewhere.  I received no further treatment, nor did any seem necessary.  My bandages remained in place.  Time just passed.  

Hospital Ship and Homeward  

On April 16, 1945, I was transferred to the hospital ship, USS Hope AH 7, which after a few days left for Saipan.  By then my burns had been rebandaged and were healing well.  I was transferred to the Naval Hospital at Saipan on April 22, 1945, and was evacuated by air on May 15, 1945.  Arriving at Hawaii on May 16, 1945, I was transferred to the Naval Hospital at Aiea Heights.  Later, in an outpatient status with burns healing nicely, I visited with shipmates aboard Whitehurst.  The ship was under repair at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard and, among other things, was being outfitted with reels of electric cable in place of her torpedo tubes, so she could use her steam-driven electric drive generators to supply shore power when the invasion of Japan took place.   

From these visits, I learned for the first time what had happened to the ship and to so many of my shipmates on the day of the attack.  I learned also of the blown-away door to the boat deck that had allowed Yeager and me to escape to safety.  

I was detached from Aeia Heights Naval Hospital on June 12, 1945 and provided transportation aboard the U.S. Naval Unit S.S Matsonia to San Francisco, where I arrived on June 17 and was transferred to the Naval Receiving Hospital in San Francisco.   

Unfortunately, my hospitalization was not over, because I came down with Hepatitis B from the blood plasma given me on the day of the attack.  So on July 3,1945 I was transferred from the Receiving Hospital to The Naval Hospital at Oakland (Oak Knoll).   

I was not discharged from treatment at Oak Knoll until August 29, 1945.  By then, Japan had surrendered.  World War II was over.


[1] Being closed up in the Radio Room, I did not witness the attack.  The details recounted here are from the Whitehurst’s official battle report and from conversations with shipmates.  

[2]The 37 wounded figure is taken from published Navy reports.  However, on April 13, the day after the attack, J. C. Horton, the commanding officer of Whitehurst reported in a letter to the commander of the task group in which Whitehurst was serving the name, rank, and serial number of the casualties.  He listed 31 dead, 6 missing, 22 wounded (as the only wounded officer, I headed the list) and 5 “Death[s] on board hospital ship to date.” A copy of that letter is in my Navy file.  

[3] My conscience was even more relieved when I learned from shipmates months later that Paul had died instantly of a broken neck, undoubtedly caused by the Radio Room door slamming into him.  He was found with his head grotesquely sloshing back and forth as he lay on the deck of the Radio Room in water accumulated from the fire fighting.

[4] Subconsciously, I am sure I was influenced to go overboard by the feeling that I was in safe waters, not far from that small island group now in our control, Kerama Retto, which I looked at daily as we patrolled back and forth off its shore only a mile or so away.  I remember feeling somewhat assured by this proximity and the thought that it might even be possible to swim ashore, if it were ever necessary.  Had Whitehurst been operating alone far at sea, my subconscious decision, I’m sure, would have been to suffer onboard.  

[5] Whitehurst took daily readings of sea temperature.  At Okinawa, the readings were about 72 degrees.  

[6] For flash burn protection, all Navy personnel were under orders to wear long-sleeved shirts rolled down to the wrists.  The fact that my hands turned out to be burned worse than my arms shows the wisdom of this rule.  

[7] Since the wind and chop were coming from the direction of Kerama Retto, this buffeting action by an otherwise calm sea made me realize how impossible it would have been for me to swim to one of those seemingly close islands and the false comfort I had taken in thinking that I might be able to. (See footnote 4.)  

[8]  I had been keeping track of the elapsed time in the water and have remembered it ever since, but I was not particularly noting the time of day.  Months later, before I knew the actual time of the attack, I made a handwritten entry in my Navy file giving the time we were picked up by Crosley as “about 1530.”  It was years later before I knew the actual time of the attack.. The Navy’s “Secret Action Report” of the attack, now declassified, states that Whitehurst “Sounded general quarters and all hands manned battle stations” at 1433 and that the “approximate” time the plane crashed the ship was 1502.  By this estimate, my handwritten note was only fifteen minutes off.  

[9] The reason burns can lead to shock, I subsequently learned, is that substantial body fluid (blood plasma) can ooze out through the burns.  

[10] I was probably in the hands of a pharmacist’s mate (the navy term for what the army would call a medical corpsman).  Small ships, such as DE’s did not have doctors, but had petty officers with a pharmacist’s mate rating.  All these petty officers, of course, had Navy training for their duties, but they came from various civilian backgrounds.  Aboard the Whitehurst, we found it amusing that our pharmacist’s mate had been an undertaker in his civilian life.

[11] An APA was a large attack transport used to bring troops to land on enemy territory.  There were about 250 of them commissioned in World War II. According to her ship’s history, Crescent City had been converted to a temporary hospital evacuation ship in March and had arrived at Kerama Retto on April 6, “[r]eceiving casualties from the beaches of Okinawa and from other ships….[She] remained at Okinawa receiving casualties and other transients until the end of the war.”  

[12] I entered these notes months later on the Navy’s paper work, which followed me. My Navy file shows that I received orders dated that very day of April 12 (undoubtedly delivered to the Medical Officer of Crescent City without my intervention) signed by Whitehurst’s

commanding officer, J. C. Horton, reading as follows:  

“You are hereby detached from all duties assigned you aboard this ship; will report to the Medical Officer, USS. CRESCENT CITY (APA-21) for medical treatment…Diagnosis as follows: # 2508 – Burns, Extremities/Key Letter “K”


[Enclosed were my Navy Pay Record (so I could get paid), my Health Record, and my Officer’s Qualification Jacket]  

[13] Upon writing these memoirs, and researching the history of Crescent City, I learned that the ship was anchored in Kerama Retto, a relatively safe place to be, because it was ringed with small mountainous islands, making kamikaze approaches difficult.  In addition it always had a concentration of ships there, which could bring some awesome firepower to bear on a kamikaze attack.  

[14] Again, it was not until doing research for these memoirs that I learned that this particular APA ship was no longer an attack transport, but had been converted to a hospital evacuation ship.  

[15] My concern would not have been so intense if I had known that this APA was not serving as an attack transport.  As an attack transport, which I thought it was, I regarded my presence there as something unusual, where I could easily be overlooked in an emergency involving their regular duties.  


   Excerpt from p. 491, "United States Destroyer Operations in World War II"

                      By Theodore Roscoe, US, Naval Institute, 1953

      Contributed by Roger Ekman, Capt USN. Ret, who served on Whitehurst

In the action on the afternoon of April 12th, destroyer escort Whitehurst (Lt J. C. Horton, U.S.N.R. Commanding) was maimed by a small, but vicious bomb and a smash from a suicidal "Val."  The plane plunged into the CIC. and the ship's entire bridge superstructure was enveloped in flames. All hands in CIC. and pilot house were killed.  All in the radio room, on the deck below, and at most of the forward gun mounts were killed or badly wounded.  Although this was a baptism of fire for captain and crew, the Whitehurst men fought conflagration, battle damage, and successive Kamikaze attacks with a veteran skill and discipline that saved the DE.


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