“The galloping Ghost of the Java Coast


William Charles DeWald


AMM1/c William Charles De Wald 385 69 30, USN
Killed in Action
March 1, 1942


William "Bill' was born October 14, 1916 near Sultan. Washington. He was the second child of Elmer Worthy De Wald and Olga Slattelmeier De Wald. Per the birth certificate. Olga acted as her own midwife.

Bill grew up on a stump ranch west of Sultan and attended Sultan schools, completing the eleventh grade. Back in those days, you graduated in 11 years. Sultan is in Snohomish County about 15 miles inland from Puget Sound and about 40 miles NE of Seattle. At age 19, Bill enlisted in the U.S. Navy at Recruiting Station Seattle on June 15 1936 as an apprentice seaman. He trained at the U.S. Naval Training Station. San Diego from June 17 to October 3, 1936 when he was transferred to and reported aboard the USS Sicard DD 346 for duty. Bill changed his rating to Fireman Third Class on November 16, 1936 and was promoted to Fireman Second Class on June 1, 1937. Fir Titan First Class on May 16, 1938 and Machinist Mate Second Class n May 16, 1939.

In 1936 or '37, while in San Diego Bill married Vivian. Their divorce became final in 1941. They had no children.

In early 1937, the USS Sicard and the three sister ships in her Destroyer Squadron had their home port changed from San Diego to Pearl Harbor.

On September 18, 1939, Bill reported aboard the Light Cruiser USS Memphis CL 13 for duty. While bill was aboard, the Memphis made a cruise to the Territory of Alaska. Bill was transferred to Receiving Station San Diego on May 12. 1940 and then to Receiving Station Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington. on June 1940. Bill was discharged June 41940 after serving 3 years. 11 months and 20 days with a final average for all Quarterly Marks of 3.82.

Prior to his discharge, Bill had been trying to change his rate from Machinist Mate to Aviation Machinist Mate (AMM). Bill told his brother Fred that he wanted to aet out of working in engine rooms because of the heat and that he was losing his hair Ultimately Bill was successful and reenlisted on June 28, 1940 at Receiving Station PSNSY Bremerton as a Machinist Mate Second Class with authorization to change his rate to Aviation Machinist Mate.

Subsequently, Bill received orders to the USS Houston CA 30 and went to the Philippine Islands aboard an unknown ship. Bill reported aboard the Houston in Manila on September 26. 1940 and was assigned to the Ship Aviation Unit - V Division. In November 1940. the Houston became the Flagship of the Asiatic Fleet.


Bill completed the Navy training courses for AMM3/c and AMM21c in January and February 1941. and was recommended for a change in rate. Bill took and passed the AMM21c test on March 4. 1941 and subsequently his rate was changed to AMM21c. He was making $140.00 per month. He completed the Navy training course for AMM1/c and Chief on July 23, 1941. Bill took the test for AMM1/c on December 19, 1941. passed and was advanced in rate on February 1. 1942. Many rosters erroneously show Bull as AMM2Jc when he was lost.

In 1941 there were four aircraft assigned to the Houston. one SOC-1. two SOC-3 and one SON-1. They were single engine, two place (seat). bi-29ng, Scout Observation (SO) float aircraft with a wingspan of 36 ft., length 26 ft.. and height 13ft 2 in. They had a Pratt and Whitney R-1340 (radial) engine which developed 550hp. Each aircraft had a crew assigned. Probably the most important duty the flight crewmen had was connecting the hook from the ship's crane to the lifting cables on the aircraft so it could be hoisted back aboard. When the aircraft returned from a flight, the crew performed all necessary maintenance including fueling, checking oil, wiping down (cleaning) and creasing control wires.

Part of Bill's duties included flying as an observer in the back seat of the aircraft he worked on. In a March 1 1942 letter to his brother. Bill said, We are required to spend four hours in the air a month, but we get much more (flight time). Talk about a car (having) pickup (acceleration) you should ride a plane shot from a catapult 60 miles an hour in forty feet. I get to take over controls once in awhile now but later on I should know how to fly.' In a letter of March 15 1941, Bill said he had over five hours in the air in Houston's aircraft and also flown in PBY's. (There were PBY's, twin-engine Patrol Bomber (PB) seaplanes at Sangley Point in Manila Bay. At times. Houston V Division personnel and aircraft were off the ship on temporary duty at Sangley Point.)

The Houston was sunk on March 1. 1942. Later, none of the survivors could recall seeing Bill during the last battle or in the water thereafter. He was declared Missing in Action (MIA) as of March 1, 1942 his presumptive date of death was reported as December 26. 1945. His status was changed from MIA to presumed dead on September 22, 1947.

Bill was previously awarded the Good Conduct Medal for his first enlistment. For service on the Houston he received the Naval Presidential Unit Citation. Purple Heart Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with Fleet Clasp and two bronze stars. American Defense Medal with one bronze star. World War II Victory Medal and the Philippine Defense Medal with one bronze star. Bill's name can be found in the Tablets of the Missing area in the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, together with the names of 17.581 other Sailors.


Submitted by LCDR Bruce F. De Wald USN Ret. nephew of Bill. Bruce has been a member (NG) of the USS Houston Survivors Association since 1979.