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Seaman Dietterich, My Father-in-Law

Since World War II veterans seldom talk about their war experiences, if one is to learn much about their experiences, he often has to find the lessons from other sources. Such I discovered was the case with my father-in-law, Charles Dietterich (aka "Lefty"), who served in the U.S. Navy during the final months of the war.


Thankfully, Dad saved his ship's logbook, and through the "magic" of Google (as well as his temporarily loosened tongue when he was interviewed by a reporter for his local newspaper in Port Charlotte, Florida), I was able to glean a little information about his involvement in the war.

The above photo of the U.S.S. St. Paul shows her firing her guns (apparently the 5-inch guns on the same (starboard) side on which Dad was assigned during World War II). This shot, however, was made against North Korea in a later war.

Dad enlisted in the Navy in 1944 and underwent the typical seaman's training before boarding a newly built warship, the heavy cruiser U.S.S. St. Paul (CA73). He was assigned to be a sight setter in a twin-mount 5-inch dual-purpose gun on the starboard (right) side of the ship.


The Fifth Division aboard the U.S.S. St. Paul. Dad is the first seaman on the left on the back row.

In the closeup photo below, Dad is in the center, behind and to the left of the officer. The muster roll above shows that he boarded the ship on 17 February 1945.


The St. Paul was a Baltimore-class heavy cruiser whose keel was laid on 3 February 1943 by the Bethlehem Steel Company in Quincy, Massachusetts. She was launched on 16 September 1944 and commissioned on 17 February 1945. Her first captain was Ernest H. von Heimburg.


The St. Paul had a main battery of three turrets, each with three 8-inch guns. The secondary battery consisted of six twin mounts of 5-inch guns, many 40-mm quad guns, and two 20-mm antiaircraft guns.


They departed from the Navy Yard in Norfolk, Virginia, for their shake-down cruise in the Caribbean as far south as Trinidad, then returned to Norfolk and Boston before heading on 15 May 1945 to the Pacific Theater of Operations via the Panama Canal. After a few weeks of training out of Pearl Harbor, the ship and crew joined the fast carrier strike force designated Task Force 38. By 23 July 1945, they were in position to launch strikes against Honshu, Japan. The St. Paul screened the task force's carriers during air attacks on Kure, Kobe, and Tokyo and shelled industrial targets (textile mills and iron and steel works) along the coast.


On 15 August, all offensive operations against Japan halted as the Japanese negotiated a peace settlement. The St. Paul had the distinction of having fired the last salvos of the war. (The St. Paul would later also have the distinction of firing the last salvo in the Korean War.) During late August 1945, the ship spent two months patrolling the southeastern coast of Japan in support of occupation forces. On 1 September, the heavy cruiser sailed into Tokyo Bay and anchored beside the battleship the U.S.S. Missouri. The next day, Dad and his crewmates witnessed the surrender ceremony over which General Douglas MacArthur presided.


Among the captains and commanders under whom Dad served were Captains E.H. von Heimberg and Harold D. Baker and Admirals Marc Mitscher, Raymond Spruance, and William "Bull" Halsey. The overall Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, was Admiral Chester Nimitz. But the one Dad mentioned most often was Halsey, and he enjoyed watching actor James Cagney play Halsey in the movie The Gallant Hours. (John Wayne also filmed portions of the movie In Harm's Way aboard the U.S.S. St. Paul.)


After the surrender of Japan, the St. Paul moved to Shanghai, China, where she became the flag ship of Task Force 73. While in Shanghai, a Chinese barge broke loose from its moorings, floated down the river, and struck the St. Paul, doing extensive damage. The heavy cruiser remained in China until the end of 1946, when she returned to the United States to be refitted.


Included among the few memories of his service that Dad mentioned briefly were the typhoon they experienced, during which the seamen were lashed into their bunks below deck. Another involved the incident of the runaway barge.

Although Dad never talked very much about his war experiences, his service contributed to the overall successful conclusion of the war and no doubt colored his views of subsequent U.S. military involvements around the world. He is yet another example of what often has been referred to as the "greatest generation."



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