RALPH W. ELDEN, LT, USN
Ralph Elden '31
Date of birth: July 10, 1907
Date of death: June 6, 1942
From the 1931 Lucky Bag:
From Thomas Elden, Ralph's son, via email on March 29, 2018:
My father's ship USS Hammann (DD 412) was launched February 4, 1939. I was born Sept 11, 1940 in San Diego. So I was about one and a half when my father died June 6, 1942 and closer to three when the USS Elden (DE 264) was launched and christened April 6, 1943. My mother said we lived in 7 different cities while Hammann deployed back and forth from one coast to the other including from Iceland to the Pacific after Pearl Harbor. After my father died we went to live with my grandfather in Chicago.
My mother died in 2004. She never remarried. Their love was strong. My father and the Captain of the USS Hammann (DD 412) Arnold E. True were very close. CDR and later ADM True spent three hours in the water after the Hammann sank supporting two sailors in the water; when he was picked up he was unaware one was deceased - the other died shortly thereafter. One was an African American messman. (ADM True was an anti-war Admiral during Vietnam. He and his wife were Quakers. She picketed at my Stanford Law School Graduation). ADM True like my father also received the Navy Cross - Adm True for his work at the Battle of the Coral Sea.
I suspect my father was a by-the-book XO. There is a book about the Hammann, "Screened Her Going Down" by Norman Shaw. There is a great story in it about when my father was in a ship's boat with some enlisted men and the anchor got fouled he jumped in the cold water off Iceland himself to fix things. Shaw also contends my father's quick thinking and shouted voice commands to "abandon ship" to several areas of the vessel saved lives when Hammann was struck.
My father grew up in Central Point Oregon and always loved the sea and any body of water. My mother said on leave he would rent a boat if he could.
My mother said at the Battle of MIdway my father (a former gunnery officer) per Adm True, took over a gun crew and shot down an enemy plane. I found a reference in Norm Shaw's book to my father helping a gun crew change out a hot and jammed gun barrel with a live round in it at Midway.
(There is also a book about the USS Elden by Doug Leach "Now Hear This: The Memoir of a Junior Naval Officer in the Great Pacific War")
I was brought up in a family where when the Star Spangled Banner was played (TV came in while I was young) we always stood. We had a recording of the christening of the Elden and we would play it for friends and my grandfather and all of us stood. My mother's voice is strong on the recording: "I christen the Elden". This ceremony was at Boston Navy Yard and a priest with a strong Irish accent gave a powerful prayer. (I gave up a sole surviving son exemption and became a Navy JAG for three years, serving in the Philippines and Vietnam and eventually concluded my career in the reserves as a Commander. )
In May 2018 I sent a Linkedin communication to Paul Allen's director of sea discovery operations. Their ship had just located the Lexington (CV 2) (It was at Coral Sea the Hammann played a big role in rescue operations re the Lexington and was therefore tasked to be alongside Yorktown (CV 5) at Midway). Allen also located the USS Juneau (CL-52) and the USS Indianapolis (CA-35). I wrote to them about the Hammann. When Robert Ballard located the Yorktown years ago he made an effort to find the Hammann. He was following a debris field of unexploded depth charges from the Yorktown but had to call off the search because of weather and time. I think Ballard possibly had a relative on the Hammann.
There is a mystery as to how the underwater explosion occurred when the Hammann sank. The explosion killed randomly including good swimmers like my father. USS Strong (DD 467) during the war sank followed by an underwater explosion of depth charges. However Strong was in the middle of combat and not tied to another vessel. The conventional wisdom is Hammann's depth charges exploded. But ADM True always contended a couple witnesses saw a torpedo of the Hammann's running hot in its tube and that is what he thought caused the explosion by coming back around and detonating the depth charges. Moreover the ship was tied to Yorktown and the depth charges had been checked a half hour before. A torpedoman also went aft (he was lost) to make sure the charges were on safe after the Hammann was struck. It is possible a look at the ship might confirm why she sank. One book I reread the other day claimed (with absolutely no basis) the torpedoman probably took the charges off safe. Consider the Hammann sank in about four minutes and was essentially broken in two by the Japanese torpedo that sank her.
From Hall of Valor:
The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Lieutenant Ralph Waldo Elden (NSN: 0-70255), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and extreme disregard for personal safety while serving as Executive Officer of the Destroyer U.S.S. HAMMANN (DD-412), during action against enemy Japanese forces near Midway Island, on 6 June 1942. When the Commanding Officer was temporarily disabled, Lieutenant Elden immediately took charge and, with cool courage and unfailing presence of mind, continued to direct abandon ship operations aboard the rapidly sinking vessel until the decks were completely awash and he went down into the sea. A few seconds thereafter he was killed by an underwater explosion. While faithfully and efficiently performing his duties he gallantly gave up his life in the service of his country.
General Orders: Authority: Board of Awards: Serial 19 (October 14, 1942)
Action Date: 6-Jun-42
Company: Executive Officer
Division: U.S.S. Hammann (DD-412)
USS Elden (DE 264) was named for Ralph; the ship was sponsored by his widow, Margaret Newton Elden.
From his son, Tom, on March 29, 2018: "My father is honored by his name being listed at Memorial Coliseum Portland Oregon, the seawall at Depoe Bay Oregon and at the WWII memorial at the Oregon State Capitol."