Ernest Walters WWll Veteran
by Jean Craft/Contributing Writer
Ernest Walters, 82 of Bulan, is one of six children born to Preacher Willie and Rosa Short Walters. Preacher Willie was a coal miner. Ernest attended Hardburley Grade School and Dudley High School where he built fires in the potbelly stove which was used to heat the building. He was paid five cents a fire. He saved his money and bought a 22 Rifle for $8.00, which he still has. He later attended the new school, Robinson High School, Mark Napier was the Principal.
When Ernest turned 18 he enlisted in the Navy for six years. On February 11, 1940 he was sworn in at Louisville. He was sent to Great Lakes, Illinois for eleven weeks of boot camp. After boot camp he left for California and was put aboard the U.S.S. Utah in Long Beach, which was a temporary station.
The ship was used to drop dummy bombs on a tarp or raft. The ship had no real guns and was just a practice ship. He was put aboard the U.S.S. Savannah, en route to Hawaii. After arriving in Hawaii he was transferred to the U.S.S. Astoria. The Astoria was a heavy cruiser (CA-34). The ship weighed 10,000 tons, and carried three gun turrets. Each gun turret had three, eight inch barrels and was 440 inches long. The ammunition for the turrets consisted of powder and projectiles. Each projectile weighed 240 pounds. It was the duty of Ernest to see that all the guns were clean and ready to fire. The ship carried about 1,000 men.
U.S.S. Astoria tied up at Pearl Harbor. In the port of Pearl Harbor was battleships, aircraft carriers, light and heavy cruisers, destroyers and submarines. The Astoria would go out to sea to practice war for a week at a time, then it would return to port and tie up for a couple of weeks. This was the case December 7, 1941. Before daylight, the crew was returning to Pearl Harbor, escorting two aircraft carriers. The Astoria had three other heavy cruisers, four light cruisers and eight destroyers, accompanying the fleet. The fleet was heading towards Hawaii when the general alarm sounded. The P.A. system announced that Pearl Harbor was being bombed. "This is no drill," was the news. "Take out all dummy ammunition and replace with live ammunition, intercept and destroy the enemy at all cost!"
The crew aboard the Astoria tried to find the Japanese fleet, but after three days they had not located the enemy and had to return to port. They found the harbor full of oil and bodies. Hickman Field, which was an airfield was completely destroyed. It took three days to change anti-aircraft guns. The crew then left for the Coral Sea where the Astoria engaged the Japanese in battle. The U.S.S. Lexington was lost in this battle. The Astoria then returned to Pearl Harbor where they took on provisions and ammunition and then went back out. This time they were engaged in the Battle of Midway. They lost the aircraft carrier, Yorktown, the destroyer, Hammond.
After the Battle of Midway, the ship returned to Pearl Harbor where bodies were still being recovered from the water. Ernest and crew then took a task force to Guadalcanal, off the coast of Australia in the Solomon Islands. In August of 1942 the Astoria was engaged in a surface to surface battle with the Japanese warships. The Japanese dropped bombs onto the Astoria and torpedoed the ship from their submarines as they came through the Savo Islands. The ship was on its side and sinking when the surviving crew that was still on board with me noticed what seemed to be the outline of a ship coming closer to us. Ernest spotted a battery light nearby the gun turret and began flashing an S.O.S. The ship returned the S.O.S. and started using a bull-horn to call out to the crew. The commander of the oncoming ship stated that due to enemy subs still in the area that the water around the Astoria had to be cleared and then they would return for the men. When the ship returned for the crew, Ernest said that he jumped from the sinking Astoria to the destroyer without even getting his feet wet.
He was then put aboard another destroyer which took the crew to the Fiji Islands where they tied up so the crew could go onto land. They were told to watch for headhunters. They saw seven foot men and pygmies. A hospital ship then took them back to Pearl Harbor and to the states. In California he had to wait on another ship called a subchaser, which was being built. He stayed on the subchaser for 10 months off the coast of California. Ernest says that he saw a lot of big movie stars, Betty Grable, The Dead End Kids, Lucille Ball and Rita Hayworth. After the California coast, he was stationed on the U.S.S. Porterfield, a destroyer DD-682, which took him back to the South Pacific, Pearl Harbor and then to the South Pacific. While in the South Pacific the ship was sent to take Ulithi, Atoll, in the Marshall Islands. From there they were sent to Saipan and Tinian. At Mendanao, in the Philippines, they fought the Japanese and this was the first time that Ernest saw a Kamikaze.
Ernest's ship was the first one into Okinawa. His ship was equipped with radar which the enemy did not have. The Kamikazes would fly in and they would get shot down by the hundreds. The well know news reporter, Ernie Pyle was killed in the Battle of Okinawa. The crew was in Okinawa for thirty two days and nights and only lost radar one time due to a Kamikaze hit. This was the last battle that Ernest was engaged in. Peace was declared and he was discharged at Great Lakes, Illinois, on February 12, 1946. When he left the service his classification was Chief Gunners Mate. Ernest's ship the destroyer U.S.S. Porterfield had to survive a typhoon that hit them on the 17th of December in 1944. The typhoon sank destroyers Spence, Hull and Monaghan. However, the Porterfield weathered the storm. Ernest says that it saddens him when he thinks of all of the friends that were lost at the bottom of the ocean floor in Pearl Harbor, but he is thankful that God allowed him to survive to be able to tell his story.
Ernest returned to Perry County and took a job as an underground miner at Hardburley, he then went to work for Harveytown Coal Company and he also worked for the Luke Walters Coal Company, along with his brothers, Bob and Mark. Luke is now deceased. He later went to work for the Bureau of Mines, as a mine inspector in Hindman. He retired in 1990.
Ernest and Nora Lewis, the daughter of Florence and Andrew Lewis have been married since August 3, 1945. They have three children, Michael Rodney, Glen Juan and Brenda Combs. They have two grandchildren, Michael and Travis. Ernest has a sister, Ruth, who is married to Rocky Hudson. Ernest and Nora attends the Dwarf Church of God. His hobbies are playing the guitar and he liked to fish and hunt when he was younger. He says that his mother and father made the biggest impression in life by teaching him the difference between right and wrong, and ship mate Carlisle who taught him to play the guitar. He would like to be remembered for liking people and being a peaceful person.
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