RALPH W. ELDEN, LT, USN

From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

Ralph Elden '31

Date of birth: July 10, 1907

Date of death: June 6, 1942

Age: 34

Lucky Bag

From the 1931 Lucky Bag:

Loss

Ralph was lost when USS Hammann (DD 412) was sunk by a torpedo from the Japanese destroyer I-168 during the Battle of Midway on June 6, 1942. He was the ship's executive officer.

His wife was listed as next of kin; she passed away in 2004. A son, Thomas, also survived him.

Remembrances

From Thomas Elden, Ralph's son, via email on March 29, 2018:

I was born Sept 11, 1940. So I was about one and a half when he died June 6, 1942 and closer to three when the USS Elden (DE 264) was commissioned in 1943. I was born in San Diego. My mother said we lived in 7 different cities while my father's ship deployed - esp. from the Atlantic 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 (Captain) and later ADM True spent a couple 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.

I suspect my father was a by the book XO. There is a book about the Hammann, "Screened Her Going Down" by Norman Shaw. I think there is a great story in there when my father was in a ship's boat with some enlisted men and the anchor got fouled he jumped in to the cold water himself to fix things.

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 the Coral Sea my father, per Adm True, took over a gun crew and shot down an enemy plane. The Hammann was heavily engaged.

(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 a teenager) we always stood. We have a recording of the commissioning of the Elden and we would play it for friends and my grandfather and all of us stood up. (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. ) 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 recently sent a Linkedin communication to Paul Allen's director of sea discovery operations. Their ship as you know just located the Lexington (CV 2) (It was at Coral Sea the Hammann played a big role in rescue operations etc. and was therefore tasked to be alongside Yorktown (CV 5) at Midway). Allen also located the Juneau. I wrote to them about the Hammann. When Robert Ballard located the Yorktown years ago he made an effort to find the Hammann. They were 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. I think USS Strong (DD 467) during the war also sank followed by an underwater explosion of depth charges. 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. 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. At a reunion I attended I was told the explosion killed randomly. 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.

Navy Cross

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
Service: Navy
Rank: Lieutenant
Company: Executive Officer
Division: U.S.S. Hammann (DD-412)

Namesake

USS Elden (DE 264) was named for Ralph; the ship was sponsored by his widow, Margaret Newton Elden.

Memorials

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."


Class of 1931

Ralph is one of 50 members of the Class of 1931 in Memorial Hall.