The Battle of Midway
Aboard USS Aylwin
Commander Richard C. Epps, USNR-Ret
by Ronald Russell
(The following originally
appeared in Veterans Biographies, distributed during the annual Battle of
Midway commemoration in San Francisco, June 2006)
Young Dick Epps had wished there was a radio
in his home during the Great Depression, but that would have been an expensive
extravagance for his family.
Undaunted, the teenager gathered some parts and built a crystal set that would
receive one local station. Later he
built a more capable shortwave radio, and learned Morse code in order to copy
the abundant amateur and commercial signals that he heard on the airwaves. That background got him into the
U.S. Naval Communications Reserve while attending the University of Kansas in
1940, and within a few months he was ordered to active duty with the regular
Navy. His initial assignments as an
apprentice seaman involved radio and radar technical training, followed by
orders to the USS Aylwin (DD-355) at Pearl Harbor.
The Aylwin saw action in February 1942 while escorting USS
Lexington (CV-2) in raids near Bougainville, and again in May in the Battle
of the Coral Sea in company with USS Yorktown (CV-5). The Lexington was lost in
that battle, and the Aylwin rescued 129 of its crew.
While returning to Pearl Harbor from the Coral Sea, the Aylwin’s
fathometer failed. The fathometer was very necessary when approaching port, so Apprentice
Seaman Epps was ordered to fix it—the captain thought Epps’ prior training in
radar repair qualified him to work on the fathometer. He got it fixed, inspiring the
captain to immediately promote him three pay grades to Radioman 3/c!
Upon arrival at Pearl Harbor, the Aylwin immediately went into
drydock due to minor damage sustained from a near miss in the Coral Sea. While repairs were being made, Epps
took notice of the carrier Yorktown in the adjacent drydock, on which the
repair activity seemed to be especially frenetic. The reason for that soon became
clear as both ships were quickly floated and promptly proceeded on their next
mission, the defense of Midway Atoll.
The Aylwin’s assignment in the forthcoming battle was to serve as
screen and plane guard for the USS Enterprise (CV-6) in Task Force 16.
Aylwin was largely a spectator to the dramatic events of the first
day of the battle, as the Enterprise launched and recovered its planes
and the Yorktown fought for its life on the distant horizon. On the second day, an SBD dive
bomber returning from a mission ran out of gas and ditched well astern of the
came to the rescue, bringing aboard a pilot and gunner from Scouting Squadron 8 who
would live to fly another day.
Throughout the battle, RM3/c Epps manned his battle station on the
Epps served on destroyers throughout the remainder of the war, advancing
rapidly through the ranks as an electronics specialist. He transferred to the Naval Reserve
at war’s end and saw further active service during the Korean War.
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