The Battle of Midway
Escaping the Yorktown
Bryan A. Crisman
by Ronald Russell
(The following originally
appeared in Veterans Biographies, distributed during the annual Battle of
Midway commemoration in San Francisco, June 2006)
As an economics student at the University of
Pennsylvania in 1940, Bryan Crisman was intrigued by a notice posted at the
university’s school of finance. The
solicitation from the U.S. Navy’s Supply Corps promised college graduates a
commission in the Naval Reserve.
That sounded fine to Bryan, so he signed up and found himself called to active
duty only a few months after graduation.
After training at the Navy’s Supply Corps school, he initially served
aboard USS Ranger (CV-4), then in September 1941 became the disbursing
officer and “S” division officer on USS Yorktown (CV-5).
The Yorktown’s first major test in combat came in May 1942 in the
Coral Sea, in which it suffered bomb damage from a Japanese air attack. But there was no respite upon
returning to Pearl Harbor from that battle—the men worked feverishly to repair
the damage and reprovision the ship for a another major operation. As the Yorktown left port,
the crew was informed that they were going to take on an enormous Japanese
invasion fleet headed for Midway.
As disbursing officer, Ensign Crisman’s assignment before leaving port
had been to ensure enough cash was on hand to pay the crew upon arrival at
Bremerton, Washington after the forthcoming action at Midway. The ship was slated for an overhaul
to permanently repair its Coral Sea damage, and after more than three months
away from the states, the men would have a lot of money due at Bremerton. Thus, before departure for Midway,
Crisman had under his control over $500,000 in cash that was destined for the
bottom of the sea. (That would be
the equivalent of more than four million dollars in today’s money!)
Ensign Crisman’s battle station was at Flight Control in the island,
which shook violently from three bomb hits as the Battle of Midway commenced. One of the bombs hit at the base of
the island, sending billowing smoke into Flight Control. The ship came to a halt as the crew
furiously worked to repair damage to the flight deck and get the boilers
restarted. Crisman left his battle
station at that point to retrieve the vital pay records from the disbursing
office, deep in the ship. He bagged
and secured them with 200 feet of line to prepare for lowering into a boat, then
moved them to his stateroom, which was more accessible in an emergency. (Saving the crew’s pay records was
deemed more important than saving the cash!)
He returned to Flight Control, but the ship
was struck again by aerial torpedoes, prompting the captain to give the “abandon
ship” order. Crisman gathered the
bagged pay records and proceeded toward his abandon ship station when he noticed
three Marines isolated at their gun mount due to damage to the catwalk at the
edge of the flight deck. The
catwalk had been peeled up by a torpedo blast, leaving the men no way to exit
their battle station. Sacrificing
the vital pay records, he threw his 200-foot line to the Marines, tying off one
end so that they could free themselves.
Now without his pay records or his line, he encountered an unconscious
sailor in a squadron ready room, still alive.
We the aid of another officer, the two carried the sailor to the fantail
and lowered him into the sea where a third rescuer got him aboard a raft and
eventually to safety on a destroyer.
Crisman finally lowered himself into the oily water, and after four hours
of swimming in a life jacket that was gradually losing its buoyancy, he was
taken aboard the USS Anderson (DD-411), along with about 200 other
Yorktown survivors. He
eventually returned to Pearl Harbor aboard USS Fulton (AS-11). And as for his all-important pay
records? The salvage crew aboard
the Yorktown wisely rescued them two days later, transferring them for
safekeeping to the destroyer USS Hammann (DD-412), tied up alongside. A short while later the Hammann
and the Yorktown’s pay records slipped beneath the waves, the result
of a Japanese submarine attack!
Crisman continued to serve in Supply Corps billets for the rest of the
war and at its end was the supply officer for the U.S. embassy in London. Eventually promoted to lieutenant
commander, he left the Navy in 1956 to commence a long career in real estate.
Photo of Brian Crisman
Return to top