Walter W. Wendt - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Walter W. Wendt


Walter enlisted in the U.S. Navy in May of 1939 at the age of 20. He arrived at Pearl Harbor about a year before the attack. When at Pearl Harbor he was stationed on the USS CL50 Helena (Light Cruiser) where he went through the ranks and ended up chief machinist mate. When the attack began he was getting dressed in his living quarters and he remembers he was anxious to get to breakfast. As he was pulling on his pants he heard a loud shout over the loud speaker, "Japanese planes are attacking Ford Island, and this is no shit!" After the first torpedo hit the ship he was sent down to check the bearings and stern tubes - where the main shafts left the ship - to find out how badly the shafts were leaking seawater into the ship. He was able to get there somehow and found they were leaking too much so he tightened the packing gland nuts on the stern tubes. Then he went back and immediately reported to the aft engine room officer. During the attack he kept working while he was under intense fire to take care of the engines. "The Japanese hit us with the first torpedo prior to 8 am and back again around 10 am. This time the torpedo missed us by 10-15 feet and took out our pier. There were too many of my shipmates killed with that first torpedo. I had to try to help them. Their legs were like spaghetti, hanging all over, twisted over their heads, those who were wtill alive were moaning. The blast killed most of the men near the Gee Dunk (ice cream stand) on the 3rd deck." Walter remembered two friends of his that were on either side of the 60' wide ship and that one called to the other, "I think I'm hit" when his friend got to him he had no guts and he was dead. He spent most of the day in bewilderment wondering if the Japanese were coming back.

The USS Helena was the first ship to open fire on the Japanese. "One of their bullets went through our flag pole, but our 5" guns kept firing in pairs." During the attack the Helena shot down 6 or 7 Japanese planes. On Sunday night he got no sleep, he just leaned against the bulkhead.

A little over one and one half years later, in July of 1943, the USS Helena was sunk in three pieces in the Battle of the Kula Gulf with more lives lost. After the USS Helena was sunk they were taken to San Francisco where they had 25 days to get to Newport News Virginia and prepare to serve on the USS Huston. That ship was later torpedoed and he survived, but that's another story. The Huston was the first Navy ship with the longest tow after being hit and disabled. We were towed 4-5 knots at a time as the ship was ready to break in half. The crew used emergency generators to weld plates together to keep her afloat. The ship had carried 1,000 men and they underwent the tow with a crew of 150 to keep her going. Admiral Halsey personally gave Walter the Bronze Star Medal for keeping the Huston going. "I always like to put one of these on an enlisted man because I know God Damn well he earned it!" Red Ettinger, chief store keeper, and another guy whose name Walter forgets also earned the medal. At the age of 93, these memories are from a long time ago…..

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