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eMedals-United States. A Purple Heart to Boatswain's Mate, KIA Aboard USS Wahoo at Sōya (La Pérouse) Strait, 1943

Item: AZ042

United States. A Purple Heart to Boatswain's Mate, KIA Aboard USS Wahoo at Sōya (La Pérouse) Strait, 1943


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United States. A Purple Heart to Boatswain's Mate, KIA Aboard USS Wahoo at Sōya (La Pérouse) Strait, 1943

In bronze gilt with purple, red, green and white enamels, engraved "DONALD O. SMITH B M 1c USN" on the reverse, measuring 35.2 mm (w) x 43.5 mm (h), original ribbon with brooch pinback, roll catch, intact enamels, light contact, spotting, near extremely fine. in its hardshelled case of issue, marked "PURPLE HEART" on the lid, lightly soiled medal bed, case also near extremely fine. Accompanied by copies of his Service Records.
Footnote: Donald Owen Smith was born on November 4, 1912 in Humboldt, Richardson County, Nebraska, the son of Alvin Smith and Clarisa Smith. His father was born in Missouri and his mother was born in Illinois. His father had died by 1940 and his mother had remarried, becoming Mrs. Frank Grieson of Trilla, Illinois. Donald Smith had a Grade 11 education when he filed his Application for Enlistment with the United States Navy on December 21, 1939 in Falls City, Nebraska, seeking a career with the navy. He enlisted as an Apprentice Seaman (318-62-57) for six years' service with the United States Navy at the Naval Recruiting Station in Omaha, Nebraska, on January 10, 1940, at the age of 37, stating that he was not married and that his trade was that of Clerk. He was soon transferred to the Naval Training Station at Great Lakes, Illinois. Smith was a Seaman Second Class when he reported to the Colorado-class battleship USS West Virginia (BB-48) on March 26, 1940. He crossed the equator on July 24, 1940 and satisfactorily completed all practical factors for advancement to Seaman First Class on August 27, 1940. His rating was officially changed from Seaman Second Class to Seaman First Class on November 16, 1940. Smith was under treatment due to other misconduct (sick misconduct) for twelve days, from November 25 to December 6, 1940 and was appointed Coxswain on August 1, 1941. He was transferred to the Nevada-class battleship USS Oklahoma (BB-37) on October 31, 1941, for further transfer to the troop transport USS Wharton (AP-7), and for further transfer to the Submarine Base at New London, Connecticut for course instruction at the Submarine Training School, the class convening on November 30th. He attended the course from December 1, 1941 to February 9, 1942, which was soon followed by his transfer to the Recruiting Station in San Diego, California for assignment. Coxswain Smith was transferred to the United States Navy Yard at Mare Island, California, for duty in connection with fitting out the Gato-class submarine USS Wahoo (SS-238) on February 24, 1942, his rating changed from Coxswain to Boatswain Mate Second Class on October 1, 1942. He qualified for submarine torpedo boat duty on December 1, 1942 and had been previously attached to the Gato-class submarine USS Silversides (SS/AGSS-236), before being transferred to the USS Wahoo on February 16, 1943. He would see his final promotion while with USS Wahoo, this time appointed as a Boatswain's Mate First Class on June 1, 1943. The USS Wahoo was the first United States Navy ship to be named for the wahoo, a scombrid fish found worldwide in tropical and subtropical seas. Construction started on her before the United States had entered the Second World War, and she was commissioned after entry. USS Wahoo was assigned to the Pacific theatre.
She gained fame as an aggressive and highly successful submarine after Lieutenant Commander Dudley Walker "Mush" Morton became her skipper. USS Wahoo is credited with having performed seven patrols: First (August 23 - October 16, 1942), Second (November 8 - December 26, 1942), Third (January 16 - February 7, 1943), Fourth (February 23, - April 6, 1943), Fifth (April 25 - May 21, 1943), Sixth (August 2-29, 1943) and Seventh (September 9 -October 11, 1943), with Boatswain's Mate First Class Smith having participated in six of them (he did not serve on the Third Patrol). On the seventh and final patrol of USS Wahoo, Lieutenant Commander Morton, smarting from the last luckless sixth patrol, asked to return to the Sea of Japan, and permission was granted. He elected to take a full load of the newly arrived Mark 18 electric torpedo rather than take the risk that further production runs of the Mark 14 steam torpedoes might still be defective. USS Wahoo got underway from Pearl Harbor, topped off fuel and supplies at Midway Island on September 13th, and headed for La Pérouse Strait. The plan was to enter the Sea of Japan first, on or about September 20th, with USS Sawfish (SS-276), another Gato-class submarine, following by a few days. At sunset on October 21st, USS Wahoo was supposed to leave her assigned area, south of the 43rd parallel, and head for home. She was instructed to report by radio after she passed through the Kurils. Nothing further was ever heard from USS Wahoo. On September 25, 1943 the Taiko Maru was torpedoed in the Sea of Japan, which was mistakenly credited to the USS Pompano (SS-181), as it was apparently sunk by USS Wahoo. On October 5th, the Japanese news agency Domei announced to the world that a steamer, the 8,000 long tons Konron Maru, was sunk by an American submarine off the west coast of Honshū near Tsushima Strait, with the loss of 544 lives. The victims included two Japanese congressmen of House of Representatives, Choichi Kato and Keishiro Sukekawa. Postwar reckoning by JANAC showed USS Wahoo sank three other ships for 5,300 tons, making a patrol total of four ships of about 13,000 long tons. The sinking of Konron Maru enraged the Japanese navy, and the Maizuru Naval District ordered a "search and destroy" operation for American submarines. According to a Tokyo radio broadcast of October 7, 1943, a Japanese liner was sunk off the west coast of Japan. In a letter dated November 9, 1943 from Commander Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet, to the Commander in Chief, United States Fleet, the Commander stated that "No other submarine of this command was in the vicinity specified (the area west of Japan where the liner was sunk) and it must be presumed that this attack was made by the USS Wahoo". Japanese records also reported that on October 11th, the date USS Wahoo was due to exit through La Pérouse Strait, an anti-submarine aircraft sighted a wake and an apparent oil slick from a submerged submarine. The Japanese initiated a combined air and sea attack with numerous depth charges throughout the day. The Gato-class submarine USS Sawfish had been depth-charged by a patrol boat while transiting the strait two days before, and the enemy's anti-submarine forces were on the alert; their attacks fatally holed USS Wahoo, and she sank with all hands. She was scheduled to return to Midway on or about November 1st and had been unreported after leaving Midway. She was declared overdue on December 2, 1943 and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on December 6, 1943. In a letter to his sister, Mrs. Lawrence Tilton of Los Angeles, California, dated November 6, 1944, it was stated that Boatswain's Mate First Class Smith had been "placed in the status of missing. He was serving on board the USS Wahoo, when that submarine was reported overdue and presumed to be lost" and that he was "to be continued in a missing status until further information is received or other circumstances occur which would indicate that he should no longer be continued in this status". In a letter to his mother, Clarisa Smith (now Mrs. Frank Grieson) of Trilla, Illinois, dated January 16, 1946, it stated that "In view of the length of time that has now elapsed since your son was reported to be missing and because there has been no official nor unconfirmed reports that any of the personnel of the vessel survived of were taken prisoners of war, I am reluctantly forced to the conclusion that your son is deceased". Boatswain's Mate First Class Donald Owen Smith was initially declared "Missing in Action" on October 11, 1943 and was officially declared "Missing and Presumed Dead" on January 8, 1946, as USS Wahoo had "Failed to return from War Patrol". He is remembered with honor at the Courts of the Missing, Court 2, Honolulu Memorial in Honolulu, Honolulu County, Hawaii. In addition to the Purple Heart, he was posthumously awarded the Navy Presidential Unit Citation, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with six battle stars (as USS Wahoo earned six battle stars for its Second World War service) and the World War Two Victory Medal. A death gratuity cheque in the amount of $1,282.50 was paid to his mother in February 1946. The Purple Heart had been sent to his mother, but she had died as of September 1946, so the medal was re-routed to his sister in Los Angeles. After the loss of USS Wahoo, no American submarines ventured into the Sea of Japan until June 1945, when special mine-detecting equipment became available. USS Wahoo had long been believed to be resting in the Sōya (La Pérouse) Strait between Hokkaidō, Japan and Sakhalin, Russia. Beginning in 1995, the Wahoo Project Group (an international team of Americans, Australians, Japanese, and Russians, and led by a relative of Commander Morton) searched for her based on the available evidence. Japanese Vice Admiral Kazuo Ueda, working with the Wahoo Project Group, examined the historical record and correctly predicted the location of USS Wahoo. In 2005, electronic surveys in the region yielded what turned out to be a United States Gato-class submarine in the Strait, while in July 2006, the Russian team "Iskra" investigated the site which contributed further evidence of location of USS Wahoo. On October 31, 2006, the United States Navy confirmed that the images provided by the "Iskra" team are of USS Wahoo, the wreckage lying intact in about 213 feet of water in the Sōya (La Pérouse) Strait. The submarine was sunk by a direct hit from an aerial bomb near the conning tower. On July 8, 2007, the United States Navy conducted a wreath-laying ceremony at sea for the crew of USS Wahoo. The ceremony was held on the confirmed site of the sinking of the submarine as a joint exercise with the Navy of the Russian Federation. On October 11, 2007, the United States Navy held an official remembrance ceremony for the crew of USS Wahoo, conducted at the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park at Pearl Harbor.


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