Charles Stanton

It wasn’t until the 60th anniversary of Japan’s surrender ending World War II that retired Navy radioman Charles Stanton decided to tell his story. I’m humbled that he allowed me to write it. Charles Stanton and his wife Dorothy live in Livingston, TN.

Remembering the USS Waldron:
Radioman shares personal account of life on a destroyer

The USS West Virginia was among the many vessels on Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor in the early morning hours of December 7, 1942. Hit by seven torpedoes and two bombs, the destruction on that ship alone took the lives of more than 100 sailors and sunk the vessel to the harbor’s bottom. War was declared on Japan.
The events prompted Tennessee Tech student and then- Cookeville resident Charles
Stanton to enlist in the U.S. Navy. “I had to go to Nashville to enlist, and that night, they put me on a train to Norfolk, VA,” he said, noting that the train passed through his hometown on the way. “I asked if I could stop in Cookeville to call my parents.”

The response he received left no doubt about his immediate future: “Son, you’re in the Navy, now.”

The events that would transpire over the course of the next few years would eventually place the young man in the midst of the enemy, and on hand for the enemy’s ultimate surrender.

On June 8, 1944, a group of sailors, including Radioman Second Class Stanton,  gathered at the Navy Shipyard in New York to greet the destroyer that would house them for the next year and a half.

Rear Admiral Monroe Kelly stood in front of the sailors and their families to commission the USS Waldron for active fighting duty. “Certainly, no finer destroyer has ever been built, none more powerfully armed with offensive fighting punch,” Kelly had said in his speech of the 2,200-ton vessel.

It was a day like any other, Stanton recalled. “Everything with the Navy was hurry up and wait,” he said. “It took about six weeks before we did our first shakedown in Bermuda to make sure everything was working.”

One of the engines was not.

The ship returned to New York where it remained until Sept. 26, 1944.
“One of the best parts was spending two or three months in New York City,” Stanton said, “and being able to go into the city every night.”

The comforts of home were short-lived, and the Waldron, USS D699, began its journey into enemy waters, where it would remain throughout the course of the war.
The crew picked up an extra passenger as the USS Waldron traveled through the Panama Canal. The short-haired, brown mutt defined by terrier features
quickly became a loyal companion to all hands. Scuttlebutt, as he was called, spent his first few months in the radio shack.

That’s where Stanton became acquainted with the dog. As a radioman, Stanton, along with three other sailors, received Morse code. It was grueling work that came in four hour rotations, 24 hours a day, Stanton said, meaning there was no such thing as a good night’s sleep.

After becoming acquainted with the radio shack, Scuttlebutt’s quarters were moved closer to the mess hall and galley. “He was definitely our mascot,” Stanton said. “But he hid when the guns fired.”

In January of ‘45, Scuttlebutt and the rest of the crew continued to earn their sea legs. The Waldron was one of the first ships to make passage through the Bashi Channel in to the South China Seas. But the trip was not an easy one where the weather was concerned.

“We rode through two typhoons, and that was the first one,” Stanton said. “We were in 50 to 60-foot seas, so I had to tie myself to the chair in the radio shack to do my job.”
Their entry into the South Pacific Seas was monumental beyond their abilities to ride out the typhoon. The Japanese Lake, as it was referred to, had been under the control of the Japanese since the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Now, the United States was taking control.

“It was a far cry from the Japanese broadcasts of two years before – “Where is the American Navy?”” the ship’s narrative reported. “The answer came with considerable force right at his front door.”

The USS Waldron had powered through the Philippines and South China seas as a
member of the “first team”, participating in strike after strike. From Okinawa and Formosa, Saigon to Hong Kong, the ship continued on its journey. By February, the same fleet of U.S. Naval vessels attacked Tokyo. The Waldron had become the first ship to enter the bay since the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

On February 18, 1945, the 699 approached an enemy picket line strategically placed to uncover the US positions. “They were small, wooden boats, maybe 50 or 60 feet,” Stanton said, “and they’d gotten into our circle of ships.”

Now on high alert, the crew responded to its mission: destroy the enemy.
“There was no time to train our guns on them,” he said. So the destroyer quickly implemented an alternate tactic, heading directly toward the enemy at high speed. The impact from the sharp bow of the Waldron ripped the enemy coastal vessel in half.

“You could hear the Japanese chattering after we hit them,” Stanton said.

Days later, the USS Waldron acted on her next orders and headed for Iwo Jima. Stanton was already familiar with the island, because it was one of the locations where he had previously relayed ship-to-shore information.

“I was the radioman and was connected to a spotter on the islands,” Stanton said. “He gave me coordinates to pass along for the shelling, and I would tell the gunnery officer what quadrants they needed to fire on.”

On the destroyer’s return to the island, the sailors’ eyes were drawn to a massive volcano on the far southern end of the land. Mount Suribachi had fallen to the US Marines‚ 28th Regiment 5th Division. The United States flag waved from the top of the volcano, marking the Marines’ victory.

“Even the most hardened among us felt a surge of pride, for such is the stuff brave men are made of,” the ship’s narrative reported. Sixty years later, the image of that same flag being raised is etched in the minds of most Americans. But at the time, it represented only victory.

“We didn’t realize the significance of the flag at that time,” Stanton said. “It just didn’t register.”

By the spring of ‘45, Allies were facing leathal danger from Kamikaze pilots. “They were fanatics, you might say. The soldiers in Iraq are going through the same
thing with the suicide bombers,” Stanton said.

The kamikaze were an almost-constant threat that spring. One particular day was marred when a suicide pilot approached D699, (nicknamed The Bloody W) under heavy anti-aircraft fire. It wasn’t until the plane was within 2,000 yards of its target that it lost a wing, shifted direction, and plunged to the water. It was followed some time after by an enemy torpedo that, at as close as 6,000 yards, was estimated to be traveling at 175 mph.

“Lookouts and gunners say you could practically reach out and touch the onrushing target,” according to the ship’s narrative. Luckily, it exploded into the black of night at 4,000 yards. The assault on the Bloody W continued as another enemy plane crashed a mere 500 yards from port side after being shot down by other ships in the Waldron’s formation.

But the close calls were soon overshadowed. On May 11, USS Waldron sat within 2,000 yards of the USS Bunker Hill carrier. Because of the 699’s location, enemy planes would be forced to fly over it, or come from ahead in order for the kamikaze to succeed. The belligerence of two suicide pilots was almost unfathomable, their determination equally fanatic, and their success devastating as they approached from ahead in a steep dive, causing massive explosions on the Bunker Hill. The fires were
so great that firefighters were still battling the blazes three hours later. Below the decks, the men were dying of heat and suffocation. The Wilkes Barre moved in to help, pressing its bow against the Bunker Hill starboard quarters. As the Bunker Hill turned against its counterpart’s pressure, water shifted across the ship, finally
blanketing the flames.

“It almost seemed as if we, ourselves, were the victims, so great was our anger and grief,” the ship’s narrative reported. Initial reports relayed 375 dead, 264 wounded and 19 missing. Among the injured, some sustained only minor burns and scrapes. Others were burned almost beyond recognition.

“People were coming in and out of the radio room, talking, saying they hit the Bunker Hill, there were men overboard in the water,” Stanton said. “It happened so fast we didn’t have time to think about it. Our divers, tied to a rope, would swim out to rescue the men. ‘Rope a line’, we called it.”

In addition to rescuing those gone overboard, the 699’s doctor and pharmacy aids worked without sleep or rest for two days and two nights in an effort to save every patient. It was a drill The Bloody W repeated within days when the Enterprise
and Franklin were hit.

“It was all part of what we were into,” Stanton said. “We had to accept it and go on.”
Even through the toughest of times, the sailors continued to band together. “We had great morale. One thing about the Navy, we looked to our fellow sailors as brothers practically.”

Their courage and camaraderie was beginning to pay off, as many on the ship’s crew felt the tides turning in favor of the U.S. and its allies. As word spread of the Atomic bomb dropping on Hiroshima on August 6, talks of peace began to fill the air as well.
Nine days later, 1,000 planes headed toward Tokyo after a dawn launch, reaching their targets only to be called back to their carriers. As they landed, President Truman declared the war over.

While there was a sense of relief onboard, the Waldron continued to shoot down five enemy planes and endure numerous alerts immediately thereafter, “making the good news hard to believe.” Nevertheless, Stanton and his fellow sailors, stationed
in enemy waters, celebrated Victory over Japan with the rest of the free world.
As plans for signing the peace treaty were solidified, the Waldron once again took its position among the first team, leading Battleship Missouri into Tokyo Bay.

On August 26, the Waldron participated in the first arranged rendezvous with an enemy vessel. “Crewmembers stared in disbelief as the pilots, dressed in full Japanese Naval uniforms, came aboard and were placed under guard,” the ship’s narrative
reported.

The Waldron pulled parallel with the British naval ship King George V, as a line was passed between the two ships, and a chair swung on a pulley rigged on the line.

Japanese officers were strapped in and hoisted to King George V. Upon reaching the deck, the Japanese officers saluted with their distinctive open-fingered salute. British soldiers returned the salute. Customary handshakes, however, were “notably absent.” As the enemies faced each other, their faces were void of emotion. “But there was no denying that the very silence of the occasion showed the tenseness that prevailed.”

On September 2, 1945, Gen. Douglas Macarthur spoke briefly from the USS Missouri. Dressed in a simple field uniform, open collar with no decorations, he outlined Japan’s surrender. The Japanese Empire would be ruled with justice and tolerance, he said, but Japan would adhere to the terms of surrender in full compliance. On deck, the flag that flew over the White House on December 7, 1941, now flew from Big Mo.

The first team of destroyers watched the events unfold from their strategic placements in Tokyo Bay. The Bloody W Scuttlebutt, Waldron’s newsletter, recounted the morning’s events:

”Five-inch guns of the Missouri and Iowa deliberately followed every movement of the Japanese destroyer. Naval planes hovered steadily overhead. The Japanese destroyer was ordered to take formation with armor pointed outside our screen. From sky control, highest nest on tower, we observed Jap sailors sitting solemnly with their backs toward our giant battleship. Curiosity did not seem to move them; they were immovable like stone figures. Why, nobody could explain.”

”It was a joyous occasion,” Stanton said. “There was celebration on the ships just like in the States.”

The sailors knew the end of the war also ushered in a new chapter of their lives. “We knew we’d get to come home then,” Stanton said. “I think every man on the ship wanted to go home.” Within a month, RM2C Stanton was one of those men heading home. But he didn’t return on the Waldron.

His ride home came courtesy of the USS West Virginia. The battleship, which had been raised from Pearl Harbor’s floor and completely rebuilt, seemed to pay a fitting tribute to those who had defended her country when the war first began.

”There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t think about the things that happened during World War II,” Stanton said. “It’s something I wouldn’t take anything for… but certainly wouldn’t want to do again.”

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3 Responses

    • I’m curious to know why you sent the link. Were you on the Waldron? Do you know Charles Stanton? Is there something you want me to see in the wikipedia entry? I’d like to know more from you – Thanks!

  1. Posted so folks here can see more of the history of the Waldron….if OK I can put an external link in Wiki to here or you can enroll in Wiki and post the link to here.

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