IRVING D. WILTSIE, CAPT, USN
Irving Wiltsie '21
Date of birth: November 14, 1898
Date of death: November 24, 1943
From the 1921 Lucky Bag:
Irving was lost on November 24, 1943 when USS Liscome Bay (CVE 56) was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine. He was the ship's commissioning commanding officer, and was "last seen scouring the ship for survivors."
His wife, Helene, was listed as next of kin.
Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Wiltsie graduated in the United States Naval Academy class of 1921. He then served at sea in a succession of ships, including Arizona (BB-39), Wyoming (BB-32), Raleigh (CL-7), and Cleveland (CL-21). Next he underwent flight instruction at NAS Pensacola, Florida, from 1925 to 1927 and was designated as a Naval Aviator. He subsequently served in seaplane aviation units embarked aboard Milwaukee (CL-5), Memphis (CL-13), and Texas (BB-35) before he returned to NAS Pensacola as an instructor. After another tour of sea duty—in Louisville (CA-28)—Wiltsie commanded the Naval Reserve Aviation Base at Minneapolis, Minnesota, from 29 June 1935 to 4 June 1937. He later commanded the bombing squadrons attached to Saratoga (CV-3) from June 1937 to June 1939, before he served at the Naval Air Station San Diego, California. He subsequently joined Yorktown (CV-5) as navigator on 27 June 1941 and received a promotion to commander on 1 July.
Wiltsie remained in Yorktown until her loss at the pivotal Battle of Midway from 4 to 6 June 1942. During the early stages of the action, Wiltsie displayed "outstanding professional ability" as he provided complete and accurate navigational information to air plot, thus enabling the carrier's air group to pinpoint their targets.
During the Japanese torpedo attacks on 4 June, when "Kates" from the carrier Hiryū located Yorktown and carried put a successful attack against her, Wiltsie, on instructions from the captain, conned the ship from his battle station in the conning tower and was later deemed directly responsible for the ship's evading a pair of torpedoes. When injuries sustained during the attack incapacitated the carrier's executive officer, Commander Wiltsie assumed these duties and directed the organization of a salvage party which fought valiantly to save the ship.
When Yorktown eventually succumbed to her damage and the coup de grace administered by Japanese submarine I-168, Wiltsie coolly and calmly directed the salvage party and the wounded to rescuing vessels alongside the doomed carrier.
Wiltsie promoted to Captain in September 1942 and commanded the seaplane tender Albemarle (AV-5) from 6 October 1942 to 12 June 1943. After this tour, he supervised the fitting-out of escort carrier Glacier (CVE-33) at the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Company and went on to supervise the same kind of activities of Liscome Bay (CVE-56). Wiltsie would command this escort carrier until the ship's loss off Makin, in the Gilbert Islands, in the autumn of 1943.
In the predawn darkness of 24 November 1943, I-175 torpedoed Liscome Bay—the flagship of Rear Admiral Henry M. Mullinnix—and started fires among bombs and ammunition. Fed by aviation gasoline, the flames spread rapidly, and the carrier rocked with explosions. Wiltsie immediately left the bridge and proceeded along the starboard gallery deck level to ascertain the damage to his ship, as communications had been severed early-on. Despite the tremendous structural damage and raging fires, the captain bravely headed aft to determine the full extent of the damage. Damage control efforts failed, however, and the carrier sank soon thereafter, carrying the intrepid Wiltsie, Admiral Mullinix, and 644 officers and men down with her.
The citation for Captain Wiltsie's posthumous Navy Cross noted his "calm, courageous action and valiant devotion to duty" which inspired the surviving members of the crew.
From Hall of Valor:
The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Captain Irving Day Wiltsie (NSN: 0-57209), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the Escort Carrier U.S.S. LISCOME BAY (CVE-56), during operations at Makin Island in the Gilbert Islands on 24 November 1943. Captain Wiltsie's ship was struck by a Japanese torpedo in the predawn darkness, igniting fires among bombs and ammunition. Fed by aviation gasoline, the flames spread rapidly, and the carrier rocked with explosions. Captain Wiltsie immediately left the bridge and proceeded along the starboard gallery deck level to ascertain the damage to his ship, as communications had been severed early-on. Despite the tremendous structural damage and raging fires, the captain bravely headed aft to determine the full extent of the damage. Damage control efforts failed, however, and the carrier sank soon thereafter. The conduct of Captain Wiltsie throughout this action reflects great credit upon himself, and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
General Orders: Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 327 (June 1944)
Division: U.S.S. Liscome Bay (CVE-56)
From Hall of Valor:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Commander Irving Day Wiltsie (NSN: 0-57209), United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy while serving as Navigator on board the Aircraft Carrier U.S.S. YORKTOWN (CV-5), in action during Battle of Midway, on 4 - 6 June 1942. Commander Wiltsie supplied air plot with such complete and accurate navigational information that the YORKTOWN Air Group units achieved complete success in making contact with their objectives; his expert control of the ship under the Captain's direction was responsible for avoiding two of the enemy's torpedoes. He also assumed the duties of Executive Officer when the latter was injured, and directed salvage operations. Commander Wiltsie's gallant actions and selfless devotion to duty, without regard for his own safety, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
General Orders: Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 312 (March 1943)
USS Wiltsie (DD 716) was named for Irving; the ship was sponsored by his widow.