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First Name: William

Last Name: Whitford

Birthplace: Kaw City, OK, US

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)

Rating: Seaman 1st Class

Home of Record: CO
Middle Name: Franklin

Date of Birth: 12 October 1919

Date of Death: 25 November 1945 (Presumed)

MIA Date: 01 March 1942

Rank or Rate: Seaman

Years Served: 1
William Franklin Whitford

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


William Franklin Whitford was the son of Carl Clayton and Anna Sadie (Bennett) Whitford who were married on 12 Nov 1913 in Cowley county, KS. They were the parents of four other children, Lottie R., Charles Otis, Ruby Mae, and Harvey L. Whitford.

William had worked for Armstrong Linoleum Co., in Pueblo, CO for 2 yrs until 10 Oct 1938. He then worked at odd jobs in Pueblo until 23 Oct 1939 when he was hired by The Colorado Fuel and Iron Corp - Minnequa Works, as a laborer. He was laid off on 29 Aug 1940, but he was rehired on 13 Oct 1940 as a Foreman. He quit on 12 Feb 1941 to enlist in the US Navy.

William enlisted in the US Navy (NSN: 372-27-60) as an Apprentice Seaman (AS) on 17 Feb 1941 in Denver, CO. He was sent to recruit training at the Naval Training Station (NTS) San Diego. He completed that training in late April 1941. AS Whitford reported as a passenger on board the replenishment oiler USS Platte (AO-24) that departed San Diego on 01 May 1941 bound for Pearl Harbor. The Platte made a stop at the Navy Yard Puget Sound before continuing on to Pearl Harbor arriving on 22 May 1941. Whitford was then transferred to the S/M base, Pearl Harbor. From there Whitford was temporarily assigned to the light cruiser USS Richmond (CL-9) on 26 May 1941. While on board Richmond, AS Whitford was promoted to Seaman Second Class (S2c) on 17 Jun 1941. He was detached from the Richmond and transferred as a passenger to the transport USS Henderson (AP-1) as a passenger on 21 Aug 1941 for further transfer to the Asiatic Fleet for assignment. Henderson departed Pearl Harbor bound for Manila via Guam on 23 Aug 1941. Henderson arrived in Manila, Philippines on 16 Sep 1941. Whitford reported on board the USS Black Hawk (AD-9) where the Commander, Destroyer Squadron 29 assigned him to USS Edsall (DD-219) for duty. S2c Whitford reported on board USS Edsall (DD-219) later that day. S2c Whitford was advanced in rate to Seaman First Class (S1c) on 01 Feb 1942.

Ordered to comply with the Asiatic Fleet CINC Adm. Thomas C. Hart’s “defensive deployment” well south of Manila, units of the Asiatic Fleet, including destroyer tender USS Blackhawk (AD-9), USS Edsall (DD-219) and other ships of Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 57, got underway on 25 Nov 1941, and arrived on the morning of 29 Nov 1941 in Balikpapan, a major oil port on the eastern coast of Borneo.

On 8 Dec 1941, Edsall, an element of Destroyer Division 57 (DESDIV), was enroute to Batavia (Djakarta) when word of the attacks on Pearl Harbor was received. The division altered course to Singapore to act as ASW screen for Force Z. From Singapore, Edsall was sent to search for survivors of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, sunk off Malaya on 10 Dec. No survivors were found. It was learned later that other ships had retrieved the survivors. For the next month, Edsall and other units of DESDIV 57 were used to escort shipping to and from Australia. It was on one of these escort trips that Edsall participated in the sinking of IJN submarine (I-124) off Darwin. Several days later, Edsall was damaged during another attack on a suspected submarine. One of Edsall's depth charges exploded prematurely in shallow water damaging one of Edsall’s propeller shafts. This damage would play an important role in her eventual sinking about a week later.

On 3 February, Edsall and other American units of the American-British-Dutch-Australian Force (ABDA) moved up to Tjilatjap, Java in order to be closer to the combat theater and refueling facilities. She continued her service as a patrol vessel off southern Java. On 26 February, she steamed from Tjilatjap with her sister ship USS Whipple (DD-217) to rendezvous with the converted seaplane tender USS Langley (AV-3) carrying P-40E fighters and crews for the defense of Java. On 27 February, the Langley, along with Edsall and Whipple, came under attack by sixteen (16) Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" bombers of the Japanese 21st and 23rd Naval Air Flotillas and escorted by fifteen (15) A6M Reisen fighters. The attack fatally damaged Langley. She had to be abandoned and later scuttled by Whipple. Edsall rescued 177 survivors; Whipple, 308.

On 28 February, the two destroyers rendezvoused with the fuel replenishment ship USS Pecos (AO-6) off Flying Fish Cove, Christmas Island some 250 miles southwest of Tjilatjap. A sudden attack by land based Japanese bombers forced Edsall and the other ships to head for the open sea. They headed directly south into the Indian Ocean for the rest of 28 February in high winds and heavy seas. Early in the pre-dawn hours of 1 March, Whipple and Edsall transferred all the Langley survivors to Pecos. There were now close to 700 personnel on board the ship. Whipple then set off for Cocos Islands as protection for the tanker Belita sent to meet her there. The Pecos, carrying a large number of survivors was ordered to Australia. Edsall had retained 32 USAAF personnel from Langley needed to assemble and fly an additional 27 P-40E fighters shipped to Tjilatjap aboard the transport Sea Witch. Edsall was instructed to return these "fighter crews" to Tjilatjap. At 0830, she reversed course and headed back to the northeast for Java.

At noon that day, planes from Japanese aircraft carrier Soryu attacked Pecos and struck again an hour later. Finally, in mid-afternoon, third and fourth strikes from aircraft carriers Hiryu and Akagi fatally wounded the Pecos. While under attack, Pecos radioed for help. After Pecos sank, Whipple returned to the scene intentionally arriving after dark. She eventually rescued 232 survivors. Many other survivors, although visible to crewmembers on board Whipple, had to be abandoned at sea because Whipple made sonar contact with what was believed to be several Japanese submarines. It was just too dangerous for her to remain in the area.

Edsall may have heard Pecos’s call for help or she may have been complying with orders to reverse course and steam toward Australia. For whatever the reason, Edsall reversed course and was never heard from again. The US Navy Department simply said Edsall was lost due to enemy action. The US Navy Department declared all Edsall crewmembers “presumed dead” on 25 Nov 1945. This finding of presumptive death date was fixed in order to take care of settlements and claims. At that point no one suspected that survivors from Edsall were among many victims of war crimes on Celebes.

Because no known survivors lived to tell the story, the details surrounding the sinking of Edsall remained largely a mystery for more than a half century. Finally, after historians compiled bits and pieces of information from various allied sources over the years, Japanese records and eyewitnesses on the Chikuma recently became available. The new information points to a short but epic battle involving the aging Edsall and one of the world's strongest naval forces of its day.

After Edsall reversed her course on 01 Mar 1942 and steamed away from Java, she stumbled upon Admiral Nagumo's battle force, Kido Butai, that had been prowling the Indian Ocean in search of enemy shipping. Unfortunately, Edsall was spotted first. She was misidentified as a light cruiser of the Marblehead class. IJN battleships Hiei and Kirishima and heavy cruisers Tone and Chikuma were detached from the battle force to attack Edsall with surface gunfire.

The old four-stacker began evasive maneuvers frustrating the Japanese for the next hour and half. However, because of the damage done previously to one of her propeller shafts, Edsall was unable to make top speed or maneuver fully. At one point Edsall turned and launched her torpedoes narrowly missing Chikuma. The Japanese fired some 1400 rounds resulting in only one or two direct hits. The frustrated Admiral Nagumo called upon his carriers to finish off the Edsall. She was attacked by dive-bombers from two Japanese carriers (Kaga, Soryu,) and possibly a third (Hiryu) before succumbing to this devastating attack. The Edsall went down at 1900 hours, 01 Mar 1942, 430 miles south of Java.

Japanese eyewitnesses confirm that at least eight Edsall crewman from a large number of survivors were fished out of the water and brought on board the Chikuma. The rest of the survivors were left to their fate in the water. Chikuma and the rest of the battle force arrived at Staring Bay anchorage, Celebes on 11 Mar 1942. Three dozen POWs, 8 or more from the Edsall and the remainder from a Dutch ship, were turned over to the Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces based at Kendari where they were executed on 24 Mar 1942 near Kendari II airfield.

The Edsall's final muster report was completed after the war's end. S1c William Franklin Whitford was listed as missing in action on 01 Mar 1942. His remains were unrecoverable. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, American Campaign Medal, American Defense Service Medal with Fleet Clasp, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two battle stars, Philippine Defense Ribbon, and World War II Victory Medal. He may also be eligible for the Combat Action Ribbon (Est. 1969 and retroactive 07 Dec 1941).

Honoree ID: 169359   Created by: MHOH




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