Thank you for your service
BY CINDY JONES
For someone who served in the military nearly 80 years ago, former Gunner’s Mate Third Class Sailor Donald Whiteleather has some captivating memories about his time in the service during WWII.
As a young man, Donald had worked cleaning railroad cars and also had a paper route, starting at age 13. He liked to keep busy and never minded hard work, so in 1943, as war had a grip on the hearts and minds of every American, he decided to enlist. Many young men enlisted before they had a chance to be drafted, as it meant they could choose their branch of service. Donald was only 17. He chose the Navy, hoping to stay close to friends and family who had done the same.
After attending boot camp, Donald attended a specialized Gunnery school, where he was taught how to maintain and repair weapons on ships. After his training, Donald was sent to the Philippine Islands aboard the USS Rushmore LSD 14. On the ship, Donald worked maintaining and repairing various types of weapons, including 40-millimeter mounted guns, the most effective anti-aircraft mounted gun to have come out of WWII.
The Rushmore’s purpose was to deliver supplies, weapons, and vehicles to various small islands, and in addition to his duties as a Gunner’s Mate, Donald and his company would help unload the supplies onto the beach, usually in preparation for battles.
The ship’s first stop was the Leyte Gulf on October 20, 1944. After unloading vehicles such as Jeeps, Sherman tanks, and LCM’s (large landing crafts designed to carry vehicles), the Rushmore remained offshore for a time in Leyte, acting as a repair ship for damaged landing craft.
As familiar as he was with the guns, Donald’s company was not given any weapons to carry. Working aboard the ship, Donald remembers seeing the splash of shells landing in the water and being fired on by Japanese soldiers on land. He said it was frightening, but all the sailors kept doing their best to carry out their duties, despite being under fire.
During the invasion of Tarakan, when the Rushmore delivered supplies, army-manned tanks, and approximately 300 Australian troops to the small city in Borneo, Donald also remembers that a Japanese torpedo came barreling directly toward the ship, while the company watched it approach under the water. Fortunately, the torpedo only grazed the hull without exploding or causing any damage.
Donald was still aboard the Rushmore at Pearl Harbor in 1945 when the news came that the war was over. Donald remembers the feeling of relief and gratitude that came over all the men on the ship, knowing they would get to return home to their families, when many men had not been so fortunate.
After returning from service, Donald got married, bought a home, and began a life on the other side of the war, with the exciting and terrifying details of his service time fading slowly with time. It wasn’t until he participated in the 2021 Cherry Days and Pleasant View Founders parades that he began thinking and talking with his family about his time in the Navy.
We’re so glad he remembers. Talking with Donald and other WWII veterans is a journey to another time and place and a true honor. Thank you, Donald Whiteleather, for your wartime service and your willingness to share your memories with the community.