Donald Francis Welch

Posted on Tuesday 3 July 2012


Donald Francis Welch
Fire Controlman, Second Class

Age: 22
Birthplace: Springfield, Massachusetts.
Marital status: Married
Acknowledgements: Donna Francess, daughter; Laura Tasse and Deborah Stone, granddaughters; Mike Plaisance, The (Springfield, MA) Republican; Claire Cummings, The Boston (MA) Globe

Donald Francis Welch was born on September 17, 1919 in Springfield, Massachusetts, son of Catherine M. (Varney) and John T. Welch. He enlisted for four years on May 3, 1938 at the Navy Recruiting Station, Springfield, Massachusetts. After four months of specialized training in Ordnance School at the Naval Training Station, Newport, Rhode Island, he graduated on June 2, 1938 with high marks in Electrical Theory, Ordnance Theory, and Hand Tools, with a recommendation that he work towards ratings of Gunner’s Mate, Torpedoman, or Ordnanceman. Although he initially requested an assignment as Torpedoman, he was assigned to the light cruiser U.S.S. Nashville (CL-43) as Fire Controlman Third Class. He served there until February 20, 1942, when he transferred to Submarine Base New London, Connecticut and was assigned to the U.S.S. Grunion Detail. At the Arma Corporation, Brooklyn, New York, he received training in the upkeep and repair of the Torpedo Data Computer, the Dead Reckoning Analyzer Indicator, and the Gyro Compass. He also received training in the upkeep and repair of the Pitometer Log (the naval equivalent of an odometer) at the Pitometer Log Corporation, New York, New York. He returned to the Grunion for its commissioning on April, 11, 1942. He reenlisted on May 19, 1942 for four more years.

From July 1939 until February, 1942 he was on the Brooklyn-class light cruiser U.S.S. Nashville (CL-43) stationed at Mare Island, San Diego, California, where this light cruiser provided escort duty to Bermuda and Iceland until February, 1942. Don and Doris Evelyn (“Dot”) Terrell were neighbors when he was sixteen and she was twelve. The day they met he said to his mother, “I just met the girl I am going to marry.” They were married on Valentine’s Day in 1942. After they were married, for those short months until Grunion left for Pearl Harbor, Doris lived with his parents in their family home in Springfield, Massachusetts. When Grunion left New London, Donald’s wife, his mother, and his sister saw Grunion off on her way to Pearl Harbor. He knew she was expecting their first child and his letters showed his deep concern for her. In late June, 1942 in one of his last letters to his wife, he said, “When does the doctor say you will have the baby? I got to stay up all night that night. Boy Dot, if anything happens to you I think that I would go out of my head. Take care of yourself. Remember that I love you very very much.”

In a June 24, 1942 letter to his folks he wrote, “You needn’t worry about me Ma. I am much safer here than if I were still on the cruiser. You see, every day I get more respect for these submarines. I guess that the nicest place to be during an air attack is at the bottom of the ocean.”

After receiving the telegram on September 29, Donald’s mother wrote a letter to the Navy dated October 2, 1942, “I understand that a submarine can be out to sea four months and then it is another month before they are considered missing. I had a letter from Donald three months ago, June 29. Is it possible that there has been a mistake. I would appreciate it if you could be more helpful than the telegram was.” In a letter from her brother stationed in Australia, he wrote that Donald was alive and well, but that he wasn’t able to write. Another rumor from a submarine sailor was that Grunion had come into port, but he wasn’t free to say where.

In Don’s last letter to Doris, dated, June 27, 1942, he said, “I received your letters, but you didn’t tell me how you were feeling. I don’t want anything to happen to you!! I was figuring baby. This war ought to be over in a year or two. (At least I hope so.) And then we will just grab us a spot in California’s sunshine and raise a slew of kids. (One anyway.)”

In 1994, Don’s wife wrote a letter to the U.S. Submarine Veterans in Groton, Connecticut regarding the memorial of WWII submariners who lost their lives. She wrote, “My husband Donald Francis Welch was one of those men. He departed the submarine base in Groton in May 1942. Little did I know as I watched his boat go down the river that I would never see him again. We were married in February 1942 and I became a widow and mother before the year was out at the age of 19. We who lost our loved ones to the sea have felt the pain for many years. I am in poor health and may never see this memorial but it will mean so much to his daughter and granddaughters who did not have the privilege of knowing him. Sincerely, Doris Welch Capper.”

A memorial marker for Donald has been placed at the St. Michael’s Cemetery, in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Copyright © 2012 Mary Bentz. All Rights Reserved


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