The Battle of Midway
A Reunion In the Water, Part 2
E. R. “Bud” Quam on the Yorktown
at Coral Sea and Midway
by Ronald Russell
(The following originally
appeared in Veterans Biographies, distributed during the annual Battle of
Midway commemoration in San Francisco, June 2006)
At the age of 15, young Bud Quam
was severely injured in a hunting accident, and two years later he was nearly
lost in a blizzard that inundated the area near his home town of Willmar,
Minnesota. Consequently, when his
18th birthday rolled around in 1940, his parents had no reservations about
sending him off to the Navy—they thought he might actually be safer there!
After boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois, Quam was sent directly to the
deck force of the USS Yorktown (CV-5).
After toiling for some months with the usual drudgery experienced by
apprentice seamen on the deck force, he requested a transfer to the Engineering
Department and became a striker (trainee) in “E” Division, which was the ship’s
electricians and interior communications technicians. His battle station was in the
magazine for one of the five-inch guns, and it was a terrifying place to be when
a Japanese bomb hit the ship during the Battle of the Coral Sea.
In the Battle of Midway, the tensions mounted tenfold as the ship was
battered during two enemy air
attacks. “You didn’t feel too
scared when you only heard the five-inch guns firing,” he says. “That meant the enemy planes were
still pretty far out. Things got a
little more tense when the 1.1-inch mounts started up, and then when you heard
those machine guns chatter, you knew you were about to get hit.”
When the order to abandon ship came, Quam went into the oily water while
still wearing his heavy anti-flash coveralls, required for ammo handlers in the
magazine. He was struggling to stay
afloat with little success, when he was surprised to be pulled aboard a small
raft by ARM3/c Harold Wilger and EM3/c Peter Newberg, both former high school
friends from Willmar! Chance had
gotten the two men and their raft to Quam, one of nearly 2000 Yorktowners then
in the water, at precisely the critical moment.
The three were rescued by the destroyer USS Benham (DD-397) and
eventually returned to Pearl Harbor.
At Pearl, Quam was reassigned to the USS California (BB-44),
salvaged after the Pearl Harbor attack and undergoing repairs. He worked aboard the battleship
during its passage to Bremerton for major overhaul, then requested and was
granted a transfer to the submarine service.
He sailed on war patrols aboard USS Pilotfish (SS-386) until 1944
when he became available for assignment to another sub. An Electrician’s Mate Third Class at
the time, he was set to go aboard USS Seawolf (SS-197), when an EM2/c
abruptly pulled rank on him and took the billet instead. The Seawolf was lost on its
Quam then finished the war aboard USS
Segundo (SS-398), serving as the pointer on the five-inch gun during several
battle-surface engagements in the Yellow Sea.
He left the service in 1947 to begin a long career with the Sperry-Univac
corporation, with whom he helped develop computer systems for the Trident
Photo of Bud Quam
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