Oral History – Torpedoman Second Class Donald R. Witmer and the Kamikaze Attack on USS Twiggs (DD 591)

USS Twiggs 80-G-215535

USS Twiggs underway in 1944. National Archives photo. 80-G-215535

During World War II, millions of young Americans enlisted or were drafted into the United States Navy to man the largest fleet ever created. Hailing from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Donald R. Witmer would take part in this experience. Having a technical background, Witmer was rated as a torpedoman and was eventually assigned to USS Twiggs (DD 591), a Fletcher class destroyer.

Commissioned on 4 November 1943, Twiggs would join the Pacific Fleet in 1944 to participate in the Leyte, Luzon, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa invasions. Off Okinawa, Twiggs would be struck twice by kamikazes. The second strike proved fatal. On 16 June 1945, at 2030, a single, low-flying plane dropped a torpedo, which hit Twiggs on her port side, exploding in her number two magazine. The plane then circled and completed its mission with a suicide crash. Enveloped in flames, the Twiggs would sink an hour later. There were 152 sailors, including the skipper, Commander George Phillip, killed. Injured with burns and a broken leg, Witmer was amongst 188 survivors.

Witmer wrote down his recollections of the attack for a Twiggs reunion. That vivid recollection has been added as an appendix to this interview.

Robert F. Naczi, a retired chemical engineer from Wilmington, Delaware, conducted the interview on 7 March 1998 on behalf of the Naval Historical Foundation’s oral history outreach program. Although not a historian by trade, Naczi has had a long interest in naval history. In 1995, the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings published his article “Tragedy Strikes in New York Harbor: The Sinking of USS Turner, DD 648.” He prepared well for the interview, studying the ship’s history and other materials on the war in the Pacific. In addition, he assisted, along with Witmer, in editing the transcript, insuring correct dates and place names.

The Naval Historical Foundation is grateful for the efforts of these two men to help capture this deckplate perspective of World War II combat.

Download the Full Oral History

9 Responses to Oral History – Torpedoman Second Class Donald R. Witmer and the Kamikaze Attack on USS Twiggs (DD 591)

  1. Tony V. Brown, PNC(SW), USN (Retired) says:

    I have a picture of a Everett G. Jackson that I found in an antique store. If the price is right I buy naval pictures and publications. Then I try to find a home for them with a relative that will keep them as historical documents of the family. I believe that he was on the USS TWIGGS (DD-591) which sank off Okinawa on 16 June 1945. I also have other items: 7-All Hands 1953, 2 Naval Training Bulletin 1953, 8 The Word 8th Naval District 1953, 1944 Polorus V12 Annual Mississippi College, Naval Air Training Command Letter 3 Jun 1949, XSB2U-1 Scout Bomber Land Plane in Flight dated 1-17-36 photo, 1945 Patoon Commanders School Class 45-15 photo, RTC Co545 DEC 45 NTC San Diego, Ca. photo, RTC Annual CO-C180 and advancement certificate I believe belong to CTT Perry Pinkard. I m trying to clean out my study and if you would like any of these items let me know and I will send them to you. If not let me know who might be interested in them. Have a smooth sailing day.

    • Michelle Spooner says:

      My grandfather was a water hauler on the USS Twiggs. I have his plank ownership certificate and a picture. I also have his navy bible which has watermarks from when it sank. His Navy ID bracelet. He was my hero! He died suddenly four months after I took him to my senior prom in 1989.

  2. Paul says:

    any pics or info on Ray Price – signalman 2C from the Twiggs? He was lost with the ship.

  3. Sean M. Warble says:

    My uncle was killed on the USS Twiggs. If anyone finds anything about Vincent Grella please let us know. Apparently sailors from the Twiggs visited my family after the war and described the last day of his life to them. He was married briefly and had a son he never knew. After the war she got remarried and didn’t want to see any of us because it hurt too bad. Ive been researching the Twiggs for the last 10 years and have found out some fascinating info and interviews.

  4. Dave Pierce says:

    My uncle was also on the USS Twiggs 16 June 1945 when it sank as a result of enemy actions. Any information about JOHN W. PIERCE, Fire Controlman 3rd class from Ithaca NY or pictures would be appreciated.

    • dwitmer says:

      Hi Dave,
      I knew your uncle rather well aboard the USS Twiggs, but I can not tell you anything beyond (according to our records) that he was aboard when disaster struck 16jun1945. The ship as scuttlebutt has it , was designated to return to the States in a matter of days for refit and reserve duty for the push on the Japanese Mainland. As luck would have it , ours didn’t hold out!

  5. pat says:

    Trying to find out if my uncle was on this dd591 when it went down.

  6. Pat says:

    I realized that my previous post did not mention my uncle’s name. His name was Frank Gagliardi. I’m tying to determine if he was on the Twiggs DD591. All I have is the fact that he was either missing or deceased on June 16 when the ship was sunk by a Kamikaze aircraft.

    • dwitmer says:

      Hi Pat,
      Your uncle was aboard the USS Twiggs when it was sunk on June 16 1945. Un fortunately that is all I can tell you.

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