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The Chief Yeoman’s War

by Nov 24, 2019

Left Image: Chief Yeoman William A. Suiter

Right Image: A Japanese bomb explodes on deck of the carrier Enterprise during the Battle of the Eastern Solomon’s.

“Well Suiter, it took us almost four years, but we did it, didn’t we?”, said Admiral Halsey, to his Chief Yeoman, William A. Suiter, standing on the bridge of Missouri one afternoon after they’d received word, of war’s end.

Out of high school at 17, the Depression still going strong and further formal education not a high priority, William Suiter joined the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps.

His dad dropped him off at the Country Courthouse in Roseburg (Oregon) where he hopped in the back of truck with others headed for the CCC camp near Tiller, where he worked as a clerk.

After receiving letters from friends who’d joined the Navy to see the world, and with parental permission given, he too joined the Navy under a special “minority enlistment” for those younger than 18, their enlistment to expire on their 21st birthday. Suiter thought: “What a deal! And the pay! $21.00 per month!”

He was sworn in on January 21, 1940 and boarded a train to the Navy Training Station at San Diego. After Boot Camp came additional Yeoman training.

On July 1st, Suiter was assigned to Admiral Halsey’s flag allowance on board the USS Enterprise at Pearl Harbor.

Chief Yeoman William A. Suiter

He traveled to Hawaii aboard the USS Dorsey (DD 117), a Wickes-class destroyer launched in 1918. It took a week to get there, in stormy weather, “sick as a dog most of the time.”

Suiter recalled, “Hawaii was nice, and I enjoyed going on liberty in Honolulu”.

The Fall months in 1941 were spent in training exercises, target practice, planes taking off and landing, he remembered, while he studied for advancement, focused on his Navy career.

In November, while on liberty in Honolulu., Suiter picked up some Christmas cards to mail home.

“Subsequent events changed my mailing plans…”

At sea on December 4th, the carrier Enterprise launched the squadron of Marine aircraft they were ferrying to Wake Island and reversed course back toward Pearl. “On the way back, we ran into stormy seas and it was necessary to slow our speed. “Admiral Halsey rescheduled our arrival time from Saturday, December 6, to noon on Sunday, December 7th.”

Then came the message: “Air Raid Pearl Harbor…this is not a drill.”

“The following day we entered Pearl Harbor…the water was coated with thick, black oil, fires still burning, stinking smoke was everywhere, buildings were destroyed, ships damaged and/or sunk up Battleship Row and around Ford Island. A ship was sunk on the spot where we would have normally been tied up…”

Suiter was aboard Enterprise for the Gilberts and Marshall and Wake and Marcus Island raids and escorting the Hornet into range of Japan for the Doolittle raid on Tokyo, and the Battle of Midway in June where the Yorktown was sunk, before steaming south to Guadalcanal.

In August Enterprise was bombed during the Battle of the Stewart Islands, losing some 75 shipmates that were buried at sea. Back at Pearl for repairs, they were back in the South Pacific for the Battle of Santa Cruz islands in October, 44 more shipmates lost, the ship suffering considerable damage; the carrier Hornet sunk, the Enterprise the only carrier still afloat in the Pacific. Suiter writes: “It was demoralizing to realize that we may be losing the war.”

But the tide of war in the Pacific turned. By May 1945, Chief Yeoman Suiter was with Halsey’s Third Fleet Command staff aboard the battleship USS Missouri, preparing for strikes against Japan, on targets in Kyushu, Hokkaido and Honshu, continuing into July.

Finally, on September 2, in Tokyo Bay aboard Missouri, he went early to the flag bridge, his battle station in the preceding months, and “watched the decks fill up with the hundreds of representatives of the allied nations, along with reporters and photographers.”

He thought back to when he was first assigned to Halsey’s staff four years earlier, and all that followed.

“I remembered the carnage and destruction we observed as we entered the harbor on December 8” and “watching Jimmy Doolittle’s bombers take off from the carrier Hornet for the first air strike on the Japanese homeland, and the Battle of Midway, Guadalcanal, the naval battles of the South Pacific when our ship was badly damaged by Japanese dive bombers, and we buried so many of our shipmates at sea. I thought back on those dark days and the despair of knowing that we could be losing the war. I remembered the attacking Kamikaze planes, the night battles with the sky lit up with flares and tracer bullets, and the shelling of the Japanese steel mills with the 16” guns of the Missouri. Now all that was history!”

After everyone had arrived aboard, the Japanese delegation last, the ceremony completed, General MacArthur stepped to the microphone saying: “Let us pray for peace…and that God will preserve it always. These proceedings are closed.”

Soon after, they transferred to the South Dakota for the return home, to San Francisco, arriving at noon, October 16, 1945, where Admiral Halsey addressed a nationwide audience:

“This is what we have dreamed of, hoped for, fought for and prayed for – to return home again…”