Reviewed by J. Wandres
Jerome S. Welna makes a heroic effort to tell The True Story of a Destroyer Sailor’s Life at Sea During World War II. The first 90 pages give a pocket peek at events causing and leading to World War II. Welna relies on Roscoe’s United States Destroyer Operations in World War II, Costello’s The Pacific War, and the works of Morison and Liddel-Hart, but not always accurately. He recalls the Luftwaffe air raid on Coventry, England, which he called “a small town . . .with absolutely no value as a military target.” Ten minutes on Google would have shown that Coventry was an important manufacturing city, and that London didn’t forewarn the population about the November 1940 raid so as not to tip off the Germans that the British were reading their codes.
It is likely Welna had access to deck logs of the two destroyers on which he served, the USS Barton (DD 722) and the USS Sterett (DD 407), because he is very precise as to when certain actions occurred. He may also have kept a diary of what he did, saw and ate. When Barton called at Plymouth Harbor, England days before D-Day he and his buddies went on liberty where, 60 years on, he recalls that in a USO canteen he enjoyed “a ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato sandwich on white bread and a glass of milk.”
A 115-page section describes D-Day in detail and hand-drawn maps; however, Welna writes comparatively little about Barton or his role: “We in the torpedo crew spent the night at our battle stations at the K-guns and depth charge racks on the ready for possible submarine attack. We were all exhausted from lack of sleep. I wrapped my arm around the breather pipe . . . and promptly fell asleep standing up. . . .” In one instance Welna opines about Americans killed and wounded on one particular warship during Operation Neptune: The USS Nelson (DD 623) “[was] anchored about 600 yards on our port quarter on the ‘Dixie Line’ (an imaginary line on the map designating the west radar screen boundary)… [and was] was hit by German E-boats, and suffered . . . more damage than the ship’s log indicates . . . . Casualties totaled twenty-four dead and nine wounded, which is normal for that type of a hit.“(Emphasis added!) What is the source for such a statement? Later, he gives casualty reports for nearly every U.S. warship involved in Pacific Ocean battles. Even if accurate, the statistics have little to do with Welna’s “life at sea.”
A Destroyer Sailor’s War makes some course corrections and picks up speed when Welna transfers to the USS Sterett operating in the Pacific AOR. He tells us that even as a PO2/c he wanted to show he was one of the guys in his division by volunteering to slide through empty torpedo tubes in dungarees to clean the tubes with diesel oil-soaked rags. Welna relates the several kamikaze suicide attacks on allied ships. It is only after an attack on Sterett that we know what it must have been like for him. Because of the humid, tropical climate Welna often took his mattress up to the second deck, near a 20-millimeter ammunition locker. One night, someone else took his spot. Welna says he could have pulled rank and told the other guy to move on, but GQ was sounded. A Japanese “Betty” bomber hit the ship with a bomb. Shrapnel from the explosion ricocheted around the ammo locker, shredding the interloper’s mattress. “Fortunately, he was at his battle station. I was happy that he also escaped being killed. This was the second time my guardian angel had saved me from certain death.” The war over, Sterett was decommissioned and scheduled to be scrapped. Welna writes that he is sad, of course, but relieved that his ship “. . . didn’t suffer the indignity of being sold into some third rate navy. . .”
A Navy veteran who retired as a Chief Journalist in the Naval Reserve, J. Wandres earned a B.A. degree in English and M.S. in television production, and recently authored “The Ablest Navigator: Lieutenant Paul N. Shulman, Israel’s Volunteer Admiral.” He is working on a book about the Navy’s World War II top-secret project, “The Norden Broadcasts,” which beamed disinformation to German U-boat crews.