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Natoma Bay Crew Updates
William H. Baumfalk

The following material was submitted in Spring 2009 by Terry L. Baumfalk.  Terry compiled many pages of material in support of his father's Purple Heart awarded in April 2005 for injuries suffered in battle on January 5, 1945.  Thanks to Terry for allowing us to include excerpts of those documents here.

Road to the Purple Heart Manning AA gun

Letter to Senator Hagel

Following are excerpts from Terry L. Baumfalk's letter (dated February 8, 2005) to Senator Charles ("Chuck") Hagel regarding the Purple Heart medal for his father, William H. Baumfalk.  The Purple Heart was awarded to William H. Baumfalk on April 24, 2005.  Supporting photos and photos of the ceremony can be seen at the Natoma Bay Photogallery.

Battle and Injury

William (Bill) H. Baumfalk was injured on January 5, 1945.  On January 1, 1945, the USS NATOMA BAY CVE-62 became part of Task Group 77.4 enroute to the objective area via the Surgio Strait, Mindanao Sea, Sulu Sea, and the Mindoro Strait.6 Their mission was to provide fire and bombardment support for troops in the area.  During this period of 4-5 days, the ships in this Task Group were constantly engaged by Japanese Navy ship bombardment and Kamikaze attacks.  In the area of Lingayen Gulf, Philippine Islands, on January 4, 1945, the USS OMMANEY BAY CVE-79 was hit by a Kamikaze. The ship had to be abandoned and sunk that night.7 The ship burned quickly because the flight deck was constructed of wood and the many gallons of aircraft fuel and ammo it was carrying.  The USS NATOMA BAY CVE-62 assisted in the recovery of survivors from the USS OMMANEY BAY CVE-79.  On January 5, 1945 at 1645 hours, the USS NATOMA BAY CVE-62 went to General Quarters (battle stations) because they received reports of a large group of bogies (enemy planes) bearing 100 degrees (T) distance 25 miles and closing in on their formation. At 1748 hours, the USS MANILA BAY CVE-61 was hit by a Kamikaze and caught fire.  At 1749 hours, two suicide planes, identified as  “Zekes” (Kamikaze) attacked.  One Kamikaze overshot its target, the USS SAVO ISLAND CVE-78, and crashed into the water. The other Kamikaze selected the USS NATOMA BAY CVE-62 as its target. The Kamikaze approached at almost water level from the port quarter.  The pilot put his plane into a climbing vertical turn from 1,000 feet away so he could line the plane up with the fore and aft axis of the ship. As the Kamikaze pilot prepared to dive and crash into the flight deck, my Dad’s 5-inch 38-caliber gun mount was firing on the Kamikaze. Because one of the crewmembers was huddling in fear next to the breach of the gun, my Dad’s gun was temporarily put out of commission, and did not fire again at the approaching suicide plane.  In the meantime, the Kamikaze made his dive from the starboard quarter.  Other guns, the 40mm and 20mm anti aircraft guns, kept on target as the plane dove. At point blank range, these guns shot the left wing off the attacking plane.  The plane spun out of control and crashed into the water a few feet astern, almost under the starboard side of the 5-inch 38-caliber gun mount on the fantail.  Because it was such a near miss from the impact of the plane crashing and exploding into the water, pieces of the plane’s fuselage and the bomb it was carrying sprinkled the flight deck with debris.  A distinct jolt was felt throughout the entire ship and gasoline was observed burning in the ships wake.

When the Kamikaze hit the water and the explosion occurred, my father stated that he was blown off his Gun Captain’s platform and hit his back on the splinter shield (heavy metal shield protecting the gun mount).   He said he had burns on his right arm and bruises every place.  After regaining consciousness, he saw some of his men knocked down and others were using their own bodies to cover powder charges and shells to prevent them from exploding in case of a fire.

In recounting his story, he recalled how close the Kamikaze plane was to the ship before it crashed under his gun mount, by saying he could see the expression on the Japanese pilot’s face.

In talking with other shipmates of the USS NATOMA BAY CVE-62, it was a common feeling that during an attack, the Sick Bay area (medical facility) was not always a safe place to be.  For this reason, the crew was reluctant to go there and report some injuries.  Because all compartments were sealed during attack, the lack of watertight integrity of these compartments, and because they were not supposed to be opened until the attack was over, it was the feeling amongst the crew that this was the last place you wanted to be.  You would find yourself trapped in the inner part of a ship sinking extremely fast. Dad said, “If he was going to die, he would rather die fighting than to be in Sick Bay and drown.”  After watching the USS OMMANEY BAY CVE-79 getting hit by a Kamikaze the day before and watching it burn and sink, he chose not to report his injuries to Sick Bay or to other officers.  He just resumed fighting. His thoughts were more on doing what he could do to save the ship and looking out after the men he was in charge of. They resumed firing their 5-inch 38 caliber gun at other Kamikaze planes in the area.

At 1941 hours the USS NATOMA BAY CVE-62 secured from GQ (battle stations). The combat action report for January 5, 1945 noted that the ship expended 8 rounds of 5-inch 38 caliber shells AAC (special projectiles), 448 rounds of 40mm shells, and 1,153 rounds of 20mm shells.

In addition to my father’s other duties, he asked to be a part of the “motor whaleboat” crew to help retrieve downed pilots that had to crash land their planes into the ocean.  What is remarkable about this fact is that he never learned how to swim as a youth or in the Navy.  

Family and Service History

My father, the only son of Herman and Johanna Baumfalk, only completed his education to the 8th grade level. He was not able to attend high school because he was needed to work on the family farm near Cortland, Nebraska. To earn extra money to help support his family, he traveled with a wheat harvest crew throughout the Midwest.

In September 1942, my father received his notice to report for military service. He chose to enlist in the U.S. Navy and his first regular duty assignment on July 8, 1943 was serving  aboard the USS CASABLANCA CVE-55.  My father is proud to be a ”plank owner” for that ship and being a part of the original crew involved in the ship’s commissioning.  He received most of his training on the 20 mm, 40 mm, and 5-inch 38 caliber guns on the USS CASABLANCA. He also served as a part of the crew that tested the sea worthiness of the CASABLANCA class of CVEs, Escort Aircraft Carriers. 

William H. Baumfalk reported to the USS NATOMA BAY CVE-62 on October 14, 1943, the day of this ship’s commissioning. He is a “plank owner” for this ship as well.  His duties included manning a 40 mm anti-aircraft gun during Normal Watch and manning the 5-inch 38-caliber gun mount as Gun Captain during GQ (battle stations). The 5-inch 38-caliber Gun mount was located at the fantail (rear) of the ship about 20-30 feet below the flight deck.

My father served his country honorably from September 1942 to December 1945.  His service number was 6485848.  During this time, he gained the rank and rate of Boatswain Mate 3rd class.

After being honorably discharged from the Navy in December 1945, my father returned home and went back to helping on the farm doing the only occupation he knew, being a farmer.  His back continued to hurt preventing him from lifting and doing other strenuous work that he had previously done before entering the Navy.  He saw many doctors for his back pain, but they all agreed the injuries were too severe and surgery was not an option.

Through all the years of pain suffered by my father because of his injury, never once did he say he wished he had not enlisted in the Navy.  During times when he could barely stand up and wondering how he would support his family, he always remained proud of his service to his country.  When he speaks about those war days, he speaks with pride. At a WWII 50th. veteran’s anniversary recognition event at Christ Lutheran Church in Pickrell, Nebraska, my father spoke with pride and showed off his Navy memorabilia.  When he spoke of that fateful date, January 5, 1945, he began to cry for those that died and because he could still remember the look on the Kamikaze pilot’s face.

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War Diary

[This excerpt from the official War Diary of the U.S.S. Natoma Bay (CVE62) was included as supporting evidence for William H. Baumfalk's Purple Heart.]


c/o Fleet Post Office

San Francisco, California.


Serial: 20020


Subject: War Diary.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

4 January 1945

[this excerpt continued from previous pages-LD]

[. . .]illuminated the entire formation momentarily, all fires went out and the OMMANEY BAY presumably sank. At 2020 received "Flash Red" report from station on Mindoro Island. At 2246 all engines were stopped and formation stood by while destroyers transferred survivors to larger ships. This ship received 3 survivors from U.S.S. U.M. MOORE, 2 being stretcher cases. They were transferred via small boat to our starboard gangway, lowered for the purpose. The names of the survivors taken aboard were: Beighley, Lloyd Errol, S1c, 757-54-18 and Williams, Warren Lee, PhM3c, 552-78-02 (both bad1y flash-burned and admitted to Sick Bay); and Kurnath, Joseph Thomas, TM2c, 224-06-64 (ambulatory). By 2355 the transfer had been completed and the formation again resumed movement toward Lingayen Gulf.

2. Positions:

0800 Lat. 09° 54.9'N, Long. 121° 48.0'E

1200 Lat. 10° 28.5'N, Long. 121° 43.0'E

2000 Lat. 11° 32.2'N, Long. 121° 14.1'E

5 January, 1945


C.T.U. 77.4.2 Rear Admiral F .B. STUMP, USN, in U.S.S. NATOMA BAY, Flagship.

1. En route Leyte Gulf to Lingayen Gulf area, via Inland Seas and Mindoro Strait into South China Sea. At 0235 observed AA fire over Ambulong Island, off the starboard beam, with numerous friendly planes reported in the vicinity. At 0327 went to General Quarters, low flying bogies being reported off the starboard beam, distance about 8 miles. At about this time a plane was observed to crash into the sea and burn, about six miles, bearing 220° (T) from this ship. Bogies did not close and at 0422 secured from General Quarters. At 0521 and again at 0527 AA fire was observed by ships in the screen. At 0647 launched 4 VF for local Combat Air Patrol. At sunrise this ship was emerging from Mindoro Strait into the South China Sea, and during the forenoon the formation passed northward, off Manila Bay. The morning was featured by numerous alerts and reports of bogies, but no attack developed on the formation. At 0837 scrambled 4 VF to reinforce CAP, upon report of large bogie approaching. Two planes of this last flight were dispatched to Mindoro as escort for one VF plane from U.S.S. MANILA BAY, which had been hit in dog fight over Lubang Island and could not get his tail hook down. At 0916 and again at 1415 launched 4 VF for local CAP. All patrols were dispatched on vectors none of which developed into interceptions. At 1455 the U.S.S. HELM came along side, transferring 18 survivors of U.S.S. OMMANEY BAY via breeches buoy to this ship. Their names were as follows: Lieut. Douglas J. KRAMM, (SC), 110573, USNR; Lieut(jg) Jay M. GREENE, (C), 221765, USNR; Lieut(jg) James R. SPRAGUE, A-V(N), 156658, USNR; Lieut(jg) Leonard W. TOWNER, S(A), 238102, USNR; Lieut(jg) James Francis WHITE, A-V(RS), 245338, USNR; Ensign Henry H. HENDERSON, A-V(N), 354445, USNR; ANDERSON, Thomas Wilson Jr., 283-62-47, S1c, USN; SMUCK, James Ruddy, 664-70-93, AMM2c, USNR; BROWN, Floyd Franklin, 650-79-98, Cox(T), USNR; CARLSON, William Calvin, 386-82-19, USNR; GRAVENSTEIN, Merton Leo, 366-79-45, S1c, USNR; ELLIS, Jack Leroy, 382-97-48, PhM1c, USN; NELSON, Nels Kenneth, 701-68-96, ACM3c, USNR; THOMAS, Robert Joseph, 820-30-65, MM3c, USNR; WHITLOW, Floyd (n), 316-82-77, AMM1c USN; ROLOFF, Leroy Frank C., 725-10-92, WT1c, USNR; SEGEBRECHT, Laverne Leo, 868-19-77, Y2c(T), USN; and TOWNER, George Edwin, 565-90-99, SF2c, USNR. At 1542 the last of the 18 men was transferred and U.S.S. HELM cleared the side. At 1641 launched 4 VT, 4 VF for SNASP. At 1645 went to General Quarters upon receipt of report of large bogie, bearing 100°, distance 25 miles, closing the formation. At 1650 launched 4 VF to reinforce LCAP. At 1652 enemy planes were observed coming in from starboard beam. At 1653 one plane was bit by AA fire from U.S.S. COLUMBIA and crashed in names. A second was taken under fire by a destroyer. As the plane approached it made a sudden wing-over into a suicide dive on the destroyer, passing over its stem from starboard to port, crashing very close aboard, but apparently without damage. At 1656 another large bogie was reported, bearing 020° (T), distance 50 miles. At 1658 the bogie had closed to about 42 miles, and was designated Raid 3. At 1700 the bogie was reported at 010° (T), 25 miles, at 1702 it was dead ahead, 18 miles. At 1704 AA fire was observed off the starboard bow, in the Van Group. At 1707 U.S.S. RALPH TALBOT reported a friendly pilot in the water and was ordered to pick him up. At 1713 observed a large explosion bearing 065° (T) in Van Group. At 1714 received report of one enemy plane splashed by Van Group. At 1715 intercepted TBS report that U.S.S. LOUISVILLE had been hit on bridge by a suicide dive bomber and that Number l turret was afire. At 1716 bogies were reported closing this formation, bearing 210° (T), 18 miles. At 1721 intercepted TBS report that H.M.A.S. ARUNTA, in screen of Van Group had been hit in the stern, affecting her steering. At 1734 enemy aircraft were sighted astern and taken under fire by screening ships. From 1739 to 1741 landed 4 VF from LCAP. At 1743 U.S.S. NEW MEXICO reported Vals and Zekes on her starboard side. At 1745 low-flying planes were observed off our port beam, circling the disposition. At 1746 an emergency turn to 095° (T) was executed as a large group of planes attacked the formation from the port side. All ships commenced firing, and one plane flamed and crashed. At 1748 two suicide divers hit U.S.S. MANILA BAY, bearing 233° (T), 2400 yards from this ship, the first reported to have gone through the flight deck aft of the forward elevator into the radio and radar spaces, the other smashing against the base of the bridge structure. This latter plane, in Exploding, caused a sheet of flame to momentarily engulf the bridge, but when the smoke had cleared the bridge was observed to be intact. At 1749 another suicide plane, identified as a Zeke, painted black, dived at U.S.S. SAVO ISLAND, off the starboard beam of this ship, overshot and crashed into the water on the starboard side. This Kamikaze had apparently aimed at the bridge, and came close enough to shear off the Sugar George Radar Antenna. While this suicider was diving, another, Kamikaze, flying a Zeke, selected this ship as a target. He made his approach from low on the port quarter, then made a climbing vertical turn to about 1000 feet in order to line his plane up along the axis of the flight deck. In doing so he overshot and made his dive from the starboard quarter. The after 40 mm and 20 mm batteries kept on target as the plane dived at them and at point blank range shot the left wing off. The plane spun out of control, and crashed in the water a few feet from the stern, almost under the starboard side of the 5 inch gun mount on the fantail. The plane was such a near miss that pieces of the exploded fuselage sprinkled the fantail, and as the ship turned, gasoline was observed burning in the ship's wake. At the time of the crash a distinct jolt was felt throughout the ship. However, there were no casualties. At the same time, 1750, another plane made a suicide dive on H.M.A.S. AUSTRALIA, bearing 260° (T), distance 2600 yards from this ship. The plane struck the target amidships, knocking the stacks out of line and putting one 5 inch gun out of commission. At 1752 low-flying planes were reported coming in on our starboard bow, but no attack materialized. At 1808 intercepted TBS report that U.S.S. STAFFORD, in the Van Group, had been hit by a suicide diving plane, which had penetrated to her engine room and it was doubtful if the ship would remain afloat. A tow was requested. At 1816 more bogies were reported and at 1824 twin-engined planes were sighted visually, but they did not press home an attack. At 1843 (dusk) landed 4 VT, 4 VF from SNASP, 1 VT from message drop mission and 2 VF from U.S.S. MANILA BAY. After dark received report that MANILA BAY'S flight deck would be out of commission for a day or two, but it was believed she could be placed in condition for limited operations, sufficient to justify her remaining with the formation. At 1905 bogies were reported bearing 127° (T), distance 28 miles, closing the formation. At 1906 AA fire was observed off the starboard bow. At 1915 Army P-61's were reported overhead for dusk CAP. Bogies were reported at 1926, bearing 020°, 20 miles, but by 1930 had turned away. At 1941 secured from General Quarters.

2. Expended 8 rounds of 5 inch 38 caliber AAC (Special projectile), 448 rounds of 40 mm and 1153 rounds of 20 mm ammunition in combat.

3. Positions:

0800 Lat. 13° 12.3'N, Long. 120° 05.2'E

1200 Lat. 13° 44.7'N, Long. 119° 33.5'E

2000 Lat. 15° 22.9'N, Long. 119° 07.7'E

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