Charles Francis McDonald Jr. USN
Charles F. McDonald Jr. (left) and Homer McDonald
In wrote this biography about my uncle, Charles F. McDonald Jr., the end result I hope to leave you with is an appreciation for the sacrifice and the void that is caused when sacrifices are made, whether it be by nobility, very well known men or women, or more so by common individuals acting out of devotion to God, Country, and American ideals. In short, when you hear the National Anthem, repeat the pledge of allegiance, or salute our grand flag I hope you'll remember a man I never met, yet have a deep love and appreciation for, he is part of my family and I part of his.
Charles Francis McDonald, Jr. was killed in action on July 24, 1944. He played a role in the quest to conquer a small island in the Marianas chain known as Tinian. This small island would be the atoll that the famed Enola Gay would depart from just a little over a year after Uncle Charles' death thus bringing the despised Japanese to surrender and relinquish their one-thousand year regime. The island was vital in the plan to conquer Japan, we had to have it. Our true hero helped ensure the victory over a foe who threatened the free world.
Uncle Charles served aboard the U.S.S. Colorado, known to the navy as BB-45. The Colorado's construction was authorized by congress as early as 1916, yet it was not until May 19, 1919 that the keel was laid and almost two years after that before this mighty " Maryland class", "super-dreadnought" (this is a term modern battleships were referred to as) slid into existence on March 22, 1921. At this time Uncle Charles was just a little over two months old. The Colorado was commissioned on August 30, 1923 and her first commander, Captain Reginald Rowan Belknap took the helm of what would become a very famous and revered Battleship of the United States Navy. Today her surviving crew still care for and nurture the spirit this mighty ship would give everlasting life to.
Prior to the start of World War Two, BB-45 would become famous in many ways. This 32,600 ton 27 million dollar investment in freedom, would sail to Australia, New Zealand, the channel at Cherbourg, Italy, Spain and France, she was truly a world traveler. In July of 1937 she became the lead ship in search of the famous aviatrix known as Amelia Earhart. Though Ms. Earhart was never found the Colorado further added to her own history in the effort, thus making the vehicle that binds us to Uncle Charles' death so much more interesting as we remember his great sacrifice.
Uncle Charles enlisted in the United States Navy on August 15, 1942 at the young age of 21. What Uncle Charles did and experienced between the day of his enlistment and the day of his death, is for the most part
About 8 years ago, shortly after I put a life long interest of my Uncle's experiences into action, I met (over the phone) a man by the name of Leo Crawford. I had posted a letter in the newsletter of the U.S.S. Colorado Alumni Association asking if any of the surviving veterans might know my Uncle. The request would pay great dividends, and I'm forever grateful that I asked before it was too late.
Mr. Leo Crawford of Redwood, California contacted me with a very hesitant posture. He was caught off guard and almost couldn't believe that after over fifty years he finally heard something of the family of "Mac". Mac is what he referred to Uncle Charles as. Mac! I thought how fitting but it'd never crossed my mind that Uncle Charles would have a nickname. Right away I was so impressed at the clarity with which Mr. Crawford recounted his relationship with Uncle Charles. He started out with their introduction at Pearl Harbor where they were both introduced to the already famous battleship Colorado, and he somehow translated the excitement that surely they were on an adventure together. They were new friends to each other, and you could tell it in his voice all these years later.
Mr. Crawford told me of times that they would share an ice cream cone because they hadn't enough money between them to buy two. He told me very candidly that they got their ears pierced when they crossed the equator for the first time, this was performed in a ceremony ritual that all Navy hands would experience when crossing the equator for the first time, among other antics designed to make the crossing an unforgettable experience.
Fate would bring their lives together for just a short time, but it was for life that they were intertwined. Mr. Crawford was from a small town in northern California and his family were strawberry farmers, boy what a coincidence this gave them much to talk about. Mr. Crawford and Uncle Charles were assigned the same duty, shared bunks one over the other, held the same GQ watch (g q is short for general quarters which would be a sailors battle station). Uncle Charles and Mr. Crawford became best friends. Many times in my almost three hour phone interview Mr. Crawford broke down in tears, I knew I was speaking with someone who really knew a man I'd never met, yet this was a real emotional experience, and one that leaves me with tears in my eyes once again when I reflect on that interview.
You may wonder, "why didn't we ever hear from this man after the war?" Well the answer is sad, yet wonderful and one we should all take great pride in. It starts out early on the morning of July 24, 1944 and the need to expose and destroy Japanese shore batteries that were known to exist on the island of Tinian. A Marine invasion was on the verge of landing and yet the guns hadn't been found, if they were not located and destroyed the Marines efforts would be for naught. The island had to be taken!
At 07:40 (7:40 AM) the U.S.S. Colorado was dead in the water 3,200 yards off the coast of Tinian Town when heavy fire from enemy shore batteries hidden in the hills back and South of town opened up. At this time the crew had been at General Quarters since 4:45 AM that morning. Mr. Crawford and Uncle Charles were in their
All of a sudden the Japanese opened fire and before the Colorado could get underway she took 22 direct hits from a 7.7 MM land based gun, and was narrowly missed by 43 others. The Colorado erupted in her return fire pouring in almost 600 rounds of 6-inch shells and in about 10 minutes, that enemy was silenced, and in time to ensure a successful Marine landing already underway on the North shore of the island. But the damage to the Colorado was done, and 49 men lost their lives and over two hundred were wounded. Uncle Charles, "Mac", was one of the 49 and Mr. Crawford, "Leo", was one of the over two hundred.
Mr. Crawford's recollection of the minutes immediately after that were tough for him to share, but it was at this juncture in our meeting that I realized just how long he had carried the loss of Uncle Charles in his heart. With tears almost nonstop at this point, Mr. Crawford explained to me that he had been knocked over a rail and landed two decks below, his injuries would be disabling, and the next year would be the most challenging he would ever face as he tried to recover from his wounds.
Lying on the deck among the others being treated for their wounds he asked if Mac had been found, "any body seen Mac?" He asked several shipmates who knew Mac if they'd seen him. In vain he tried to find out about his friend. He told me lying on that deck as the pain was setting in on his on wounds he thought of Mac and was he okay, surely he'd be here with me if he was. "I feared the worst", he said. "I prayed for everything to be all right." And as he sobbed so did I.
It was some time before Mr. Crawford would know of his friend's fate. As the Colorado maneuvered through Japanese air strikes and continued to engage the enemy she was given orders to proceed to the island of Saipan and transfer casualties to the U.S.S. Tyron in berth 56. It wasn't until then that Mr. Crawford learned of Mac's fate. The war was over for both young men.
Mr. Crawford had no idea how to contact our family, and being so distracted and disabled with his own wounds he was limited in his ability to do anything. It took the next five months for him to recover, he was then discharged and sent home in January of 1945 to Redwood City , California. He thought of Mac often he told me as he began to speak again after a long silence, only broken by his sobbing.
Mr. Crawford would go on to live as if living for two in spite of his disability. He entered the College of San Mateo and in the next three and a half years he would also complete his high school education. He was actually awarded his college diploma before his high school diploma. Mr. Crawford became very active in and helped start a new chapter of the American Legion "Adobe" post #828, he would later be elected commander of the state chapter, presiding over 150,000 members. All this and only 29 years old, the youngest to ever hold such a position. He would serve his community well, promoting the boy scouts, polio vaccination drives, was recognized as man of the year by the Lions club, worked with the Red Cross, became a member of the Redwood City Chamber of Commerce, and on the way became president of the company he worked for. And as if that wasn't enough, Mr. Crawford fought the Federal Aviation Administration to earn the right to try and get a pilots license. "Being disabled and confined to a wheelchair had something to do with it", he said. He would defy all odds, not only would he get his license, but he would eventually earn an instrument rating, and later multi engine rating. He loved to fly he told me.
I answered many questions he asked of me that day, about our family and he was so proud that he finally talked to someone after all these years. He said, "I think of your Uncle Mac quite often. I miss him when I eat an ice cream cone, he was a good friend to me, and quite funny too. Please give your family my best". And with that we said our good byes and ended the call almost three hours after it began.
I kept in touch with Mr. Crawford by mail, and on August 22, 2001 I received a letter from his wife informing me that he had died on the 5th of that same month. A long bout with diabetes struck him especially hard on March 6th of 2001 and he suffered with the pain of that until his death. Mrs. Crawford took him a letter from me and photograph of Uncle Charles that I had sent that July 4th, up to the hospital and she wrote me saying that he said, "Mac looked exactly as I remembered."
I can't help but think that he lived and achieved for more than one.
During this same time I met another man who remembered Uncle Charles, and he was from right here in Louisiana. Mr. Russell "Rock" Latino of Tickfaw, La. called me and said he knew Uncle Charles. It wasn't but a week or two and my brother and I were sitting at his kitchen table listening intently as he recounted his experience aboard the Colorado. He and Uncle Charles came home on leave together, in fact he said Uncle Charles dated one of his sisters.
Mr. Latino has a strong appreciation for his country, he served in three branches of the military, the Navy, Air Force, and the Army but his 38 months aboard the U.S.S. Colorado and the 10 major battles he was party to during that time are etched in his mind. His appreciation for his friend, as he referred to Uncle Charles, is evident from the pictures he shared with me. One was taken of him one memorial day in downtown Baton Rouge at the wall where Louisiana Veterans who gave their life in service of their country bears their names. In the photo Mr. Latino is pointing to Uncle Charles' name. This was taken well before I'd ever met him. I so appreciate knowing him and his family.
Today at 80 he still remembers, in fact the Daily Star printed a front page interview complete with photos of him just this past Veterans Day. In this interview he mentions losing his "friend", my Uncle Charles, Mr. Crawford's "Mac", my grandmothers brother, my great grandmothers son, a brother to my other uncles. But to Mr. Latino Uncle Charles was his "friend", wow what a statement after all these years, and what a testimony to the power and strength of true friends.
Uncle Charles had friends and it was through their experiences that I got to know this man I'd never met, my Uncle.
I continued to search for the exact resting place of Uncle Charles' body. It was unclear where exactly he was buried. Some would say, "somewhere over there in California" some veterans I talked to would say on the island of Saipan, and some even said they'd buried them all at sea. During this time I ordered a government headstone in memory of Uncle Charles and placed it by his Mother and Father in Red Oak cemetery in Doyle, La. Additionally I placed a memorial brick in his honor at the D-Day Museum in New Orleans. I wrote the Naval records office almost two years ago, and only recently received a copy of Uncle Charles' death certificate and medical records, yet no real proof as to where he was buried. I tried to contact someone on the island of Saipan and get them to check and see if they could find his grave in the National cemetery located there, no luck.
I've read what I think was probably Uncle Charles' last letter home, many times. It's dated July 2, 1944 just 22 days before his death, and in it he expresses concern for his mother. When I began to read his medical records I noticed that a tattoo was recorded being on his left arm and not surprisingly it said "mother". Then in the records I found what I was looking for, at least part of it anyway. A letter from the Department of the Army, Office of the Quartermaster General, the subject...final burial of remains. In this letter were the names, ranks, and serial numbers of about 30 men whose bodies were returned to the United States on May 14, 1948 for final burial. The last name on the list reads; McDonald, Charles Jr. F1C 6448739.
This new found information lead me to the discovery of Uncle Charles' final resting place. In conversation with my Aunt Irma Lee Booth the subject of my search came up. Being interested in genealogy also, she searched the world wide web and found what had eluded me all these years, she found Uncle Charles. The Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno California is the final resting place of thousands of Army, Navy, & Marine soldiers including Charles F. McDonald, Jr. of Doyle, Louisiana, the son of Charles and Allie McDonald.
Uncle Charles' body was returned to the United States in May of 1948 and on June 6th 1948 he was laid to rest in plot C vault 469 with full military honors.
Among all those buried there along with Uncle Charles is the great Admiral Chester A. Nimitz. Admiral Nimitz was instrumental in bringing defeat to the Japanese, and his history is one I encourage you to explore. Admiral Nimitz is only buried a few rows away from Uncle Charles, right in and among the men he fought with!
This past January my Aunt Irma's nephew, Paul Booth, (other side of the family) made the over 100 mile journey from his home in that region of California, to locate and photograph Uncle Charles' headstone for me, and to my great surprise he and his wife placed a bouquet of red roses on his grave... just in time to recognize what would have been Uncle Charles' eighty-third birthday. I'm so thankful to him for taking the time and effort to do that, and I know you all are to.
My Hero, Charles Francis McDonald, Jr. born January 8, 1921 and killed in action aboard the U.S.S. Colorado on July 24, 1944, is not forgotten, for his absence will always be a reminder of his sacrifice and the freedoms we enjoy as a result. He is my true hero, and in this day and age when people look to sports figures, movie stars, or musicians as hero's, I am so proud to report that every time I hear the Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America, or just simply say the pledge I think of men like Mr. Leo Crawford, and Mr. Russell Latino, real life hero's, and I especially like to think of my Great Uncle Mac, my families true hero! God Bless you all!
Dennis Neal 2004
Page created Feb. 9, 2008