Donald T. McDonald -- US Navy


Don & Irene were married on 3 May 1944 at the Naval Base on Treasure Island, in San Francisco Harbor, CA


Donald T. McDonald

US Navy

World War II


After his High School graduation in Polson, Montana, Don enrolled as a Freshman at Montana State University.  He tells his own story as follows: 

Toward the end of the semester a navy recruiting team came to the campus to look for candidates for the V-12 program which was an officers candidate school.  Norris (his friend) and I passed their written test OK but both flunked the physicals.  Norris had a heart murmur and I had a hydroscele that I picked up playing football.  The recruiting doctor told me I could have it fixed and then they would accept me.  I went to a local doctor and was told that the total cost would be one hundred dollars including a couple of days in the hospital so I wrote home and asked for the money.

I found I could hitch hike over to Missoula and back on a weekend during the fall.  If Irene {Morton, who was attending Nursing School in Missoula} could get Saturday night off we could go dancing... it usually meant an early return to the student nurses residence with most nights ending at ten o’clock and a few at eleven.  I soon got acquainted with the Mother Superior and the Housemother.  They arranged to have little talks with nurse’s boy friends who returned their charges late.  The talks were like being dressed down by an angry top sergeant and usually involved a short course in ethics, but they were as nice as could be when I came over the next time.

When I got back to Bozeman after one of the visits to Missoula, the check arrived for the hydroscele surgery and I was faced with a dilemma.  Should I have the surgery and go into the V-12 program or should I buy an engagement ring and pop the question to Irene?  I bought the ring and hitch-hiked to Missoula on the next weekend and we became engaged.  I have never regretted that decision.

When I got back to Bozeman it was decision time.  The hot breath of the Okanogan, WA (Grand Coulee) draft board was blowing down my neck.  This was basically a farming county and if they could fill their quota with young guys who had registered for the draft while working at Grand Coulee Dam, as I had one summer, so much the better for them.  First there was the question of the hundred dollars.  Should I tell the folks what I did with it and ask them to replace it?  I decided that wasn’t fair.  I needed to just tell them, which I did.  The second decision involved the Military where there were three options: First, I could join the enlisted reserve through ROTC and perhaps finish the first year in school.  I was not enthused about the army however and some of my friends who did go the ROTC route wound up making the Normandy landing where one of my good friends was killed.  Second, I could attempt to join the Army Air Force for pilot training but did not think I could pass the physical in view of the V-12 experience. So that left just the Navy.  Earlier in the year I had read in the Saturday Evening Post about a test designed by a Commander Eddy to qualify candidates for electronics training.  Norris and I went down to the Navy Recruiting office and made an appointment to take the test about a week later.  Neither of us knew much about electronics so we went to the library and checked out all the books that looked like they would be helpful.  The Radio Amateur’s Handbook in particular was a gold mine of definitions and we did our best to memorize about four pages and to review Ohms Law, determine how to convert frequency to resistance.  We both passed the test and were told that if we enlisted we would be given a year of training and wind up as radio technicians second class.  We took the oath on December 7, 1942, a year after Pearl Harbor. 

We were both placed on inactive status so that we could attend a sixty day radio school in Helena.  The college gave us credit for finishing the first quarter and we moved into a cheap motel room in Helena near the school.  The school was run by the National Youth Administration (NYA) program and we got paid about thirty dollars a month to attend.  We didn’t have much money but could afford the motel rent for the first thirty days with about fifteen dollars left over for food.  The motel had a two burner hot plate, one cooking pan, two plates and two bowls.  We lived on Kraft macaroni dinners for the first two weeks and then Norris’s parents moved to Helena into a rooming hotel and rented a room for us.  Norris’s Mom was a great cook and we found ourselves living pretty good.

The school was a snap after college and we were learning basic theory with little trouble.  We got along well with the other students and both of us did a certain amount of tutoring, which probably helped us more than anyone else.

Missoula was about a hundred miles nearer so I spent most weekends hitch-hiking over and back.  About the third weekend I asked Norris if he would like to go and he jumped at the chance.  His Dad told him he didn’t want him to go but Norris decided to go anyway.  He told me later that that was the first time he ever completely disobeyed his father.  Anyway, when we got to Missoula, Irene got her friend Lila Miers to double date with us and Norris and Lila hit it off to such a degree that they were married after the war.  From that weekend on we usually double dated and had lots of fun as a foursome.

The sixty days ended all too soon and we were called up for active duty early in March of 1943.  We were shipped to Farragut, Idaho for Boot Camp, but got separated into two different training companies, Norris into Co. 163, and me into Co. 164, with the result that it was some time later that we saw each other.  When Boot Camp was finished I had ten days leave and went down to Poston {AZ} to visit my parents and explained about the hundred dollars.  I took a bit of kidding from Dad but felt good to have it off my mind.  The last half of the leave was spent in Missoula with Irene, and saying good-bye was very difficult.

When I reported in at Camp Farragut I found that I had a three week delay before I could proceed with the electronics program so I worked in the Navy Post Office while waiting for orders.  Irene made one trip out to Spokane and stayed with Aunt Stacey and I got Liberty for a couple of days.  We had lots of fun but knew that this good-bye would be for quite a while.  The last time I saw Aunt Mary was on that visit.  She came over to Stacey’s house to meet Irene and told me when we were saying good-bye, “to hang on to that young lady” so I knew we had her blessing.  She died about six months later but lives on in the lives of people who were blessed to know her. 

It wasn’t long until I was shipped to Chicago to attend Wright JR College, then to Texas A&M, and finally to Treasure Island {in San Francisco Bay, CA} for the Navy Radio Material School.

Irene and I decided to get married about a month before graduation and she took instructions for the Catholic Church from a serious minded Priest that she said was somewhat frightening.  Nevertheless, we got all the paper work done, including a telegram from Dad giving his twenty year old son permission and including a comment, “You’ll be sorry” and were married by a Catholic chaplain on Treasure Island on May 3, 1943. 

We had a two week honeymoon and visited the folks at Poston for a couple of days and spent the rest of it in Santa Rosa by ourselves.  Those were beautiful days that I still treasure, and they passed all too swiftly. When we said good-bye this time it would be eighteen months before we saw each other again.  The World War II movies picture servicemen’s good-byes as romantic happenings and I suppose to some they appear that way.  Frankly in our case it hurt like Hell.

I put Irene on a bus going north and gave her our last five dollars.  I kept sixty-five cents which was the bus fare to the Mare Island Naval Base where I would get orders to report to the USS Hemminger, DE746 and spend the next year and a half out in the Pacific.

Donald T. McDonald on the US Navy base at Treasure Island, in San Francisco Bay.

Don is in the third row back, second man (third face) from the left.

USS Heminger -- Destroyer Escort 746


Don’s personal story ends at this point, but we have a little more information about his military service and about his ship, as given below.

Don served on a destroyer escort on board the USS Hemminger.   A complete ring of such smaller vessels surrounded each aircraft carrier with the goal of protecting it from submarine attacks and enemy aircraft.  Don’s assignment was to spend one shift each day at the radio to send and receive communications for the ship’s captain. 

From Wikipedia on the Internet, we learn the following about the history of the service of the USS Hemminger:

Shakedown completed, Hemminger reached Pearl Harbor in August 1944 to train submarines for war patrols. She also patrolled between Pearl and Eniwetok and worked in hunter-killer antisubmarine operations. On 28 February 1945 while on a HUK mission with USS Corregidor (CVE-58) and CortDiv 53, the destroyer escort was diverted to participate in the fruitless search for Lieutenant General Millard F. Harmon, Commander Army Air Forces Pacific, whose plane had disappeared. After patrol duty in the Marshall Islands, Hemminger sailed 30 April to escort a resupply convoy to Okinawa, where battle still raged.  From 16 May to 20 June, she acted as screen for a carrier group engaged in neutralization of Sakishima Gunto and supported ground forces on Okinawa as well as the air attack on Kyūshū.

Don indicated that his service was pretty pleasant with good food and living conditions.  He enjoyed most of his duty, other than the fact that it kept him away from his new wife.  His fleet was attacked on at least one occasion not far from Okinawa, but the point of the attack was directed at the aircraft carrier.  He and his shipmates watched from the distance as kamikaze pilots flew into the carrier, but his ship was left unmolested. 

At the end of the war, Don’s ship sailed to Bremerton, Washington, where he was discharged and allowed to return to his wife and to college life.  Following his military career Don enrolled first in the University of California at Berkley, but not caring for that school, he quickly changed and enrolled in Electrical Engineering at Montana State College, in Bozeman, MT in the fall of 1945.

Don McDonald at home in Ronan, MT on leave between basic training and Electronics training -- 1943 -- age 20.

Don and pet dog while visiting his Aunt Cora  Smith and his cousins in Ronan, MT in 1943.

Don McDonald (back row, right side) posing with some shipmates in Hawaii.