The Battle of Midway Roundtable



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 carrier.  Aylwin 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 Aylwin’s radar console.


            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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