In His Own Words: A Narrative From the IMMF November 2001 Midway Veteran of the Month, BM2c Rollin Schwirtz, USN (Ret.)
"I am Rollin Schwirtz and this my story. I was born November 20, 1923 in Wabasha,
Minnesota. My parents were second and third generation German farmers. When I was
seventeen, two of my friends joined the Navy and another was drafted into the Army. I
convinced my parents to let me join the Navy.
"After being sworn in on November 14, 1941 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I was sent to Great
Lakes Training Station. Twenty-three days later the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. I was
assigned to the USS HAMMANN 412 and one month later found myself travelling through the
Panama Canal with the USS NEW MEXICO, MISSISSIPPI, MORRIS and ANDERSON. On January 22, 1942
we arrived in San Francisco and three days later passed under the Golden Gate Bridge and
headed out to sea. I would not see the shores of the United States again for nine
"Upon reaching Pearl Harbor, this eighteen year old boy fresh off the farm could not
believe what his eyes were showing him. The massive destuction and carnage was more than
the heart could bear: ships sunk, some on their sides, oil and trash in the water. It was
unbelievable. The HAMMANN was to leave Pearl Harbor on February 16, 1942 with Task Force 16
bound for the South Pacific. We made various stops in Noumea, New Caledonia and the New
"In March we patrolled the Coral Sea and were out to sea for over 104 days without
seeing land. Fuel, food and mail were brought to us by other ships. During the night of May
4, 1942, the HAMMANN was ordered to Guadalcanal to pick up two fighter pilots (Lieutenant
E. Scott "Doc" McCuskey and Ensign John P. Adams from the USS YORKTOWN) who were forced
down in the Battle of the Coral Sea. After rescuing the downed pilots, the destroyer
rejoined Task Force 17.
"Three days later, the detached destroyer USS SIMS and oiler USS NEOSHO were sunk by
enemy attacks. The next day, while still patrolling the Coral Sea with the carriers
LEXINGTON and YORKTOWN, crusiers ASTORIA and PORTLAND and destroyers HUGHES, MORRIS,
ANDERSON and RUSSELL, word came in that Japanese planes were at thirty miles. The U.S.
carriers launched their fighters to intercept the oncoming planes. Several enemy planes
were shot down by the ships' gunfire and others by the fighters. However, the LEXINGTON was
hit by three direct bombs and two torpedo hits and set on fire. The explosions violently
shook the ship and ultimately led to her demise that evening. The HAMMANN was the remaining
destroyer and picked up 478 survivors.
"The YORKTOWN received one direct bomb hit on her flight deck, six feet starboard of the
center line of the ship. Damage control got her fires out and she returned to Pearl Harbor
"Back in Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nimitz gave the Navy Yard three days to repair the
YORKTOWN! Sure enough, three days later, we headed for Point Luck to join the USS HORNET
and ENTERPRISE. On June 3, 1942 word was received of 11 enemy ships steering east 700 miles
southeast of Midway. However, this body of ships did not include any carriers. At 0534 on
June 4, word arrived of a sighting of two Japanese carriers and battleships. Task Force-16
sent off air attacks at 0700. Task Force-17 launched their planes about an hour and forty
minutes later at 0840. At about 1200, our planes began returning. Also at this time,
Japanese planes were reported to be coming in from a distance of twenty-six miles. Fighter
planes had taken off from the YORKTOWN to intercept them and shot down fourteen enemy
planes. The HAMMANN fired 120 rounds of 5" shells and 900 rounds of 20mm shells.
Nevertheless, five bombers eluded the Combat Air Patrol and the YORKTOWN sustained three
direct bomb hits.
"During this time the HAMMANN picked up several pilots and crew who could not make it
back to the carrier due to running out of fuel or being too shot up.
"Engineers got the YORKTOWN back to 10 knots and then 15 knots. At about 1430, enemy
torpedo planes came in and she received two hits. The HAMMANN was ordered to stand by the
YORKTOWN. She was drifting so fast that the HAMMANN was tied to her. Two days later, all
was going well until I saw three torpedos coming at us from the Japanese submarine I-168
(four were reported). Two torpedoes struck the YORKTOWN and one torpedo hit my own HAMMANN;
she sank in two or three minutes.
"I was at my battle station when we were hit. There was water and oil everywhere. I got
under the Number Two 5" mount gun. I could feel the ship settling in the water. I put my
life jacket on but it had no ties, so I put on another one. I then proceeded to jump off
the ship. I swam out to a life raft. A chief on it said not to get into the boat, but hang
on and swim with it. About that time there was an underwater explosion. Concussions hit
those in the water. I was knocked unconscious and I felt as if I was turning over and over
and going down. The only thought that went through my mind was of my mother. I then saw a
bright light. It was whiter than any light I had ever seen. It felt like I was in a tube or
a tunnel. When I came to I had drifted away from the life raft but someone had pulled me
back to it. I saw a man across the raft spit up blood, so I tried it and I also spit up
"I don't know how long I was in the water before the destroyer BENHAM picked us up. I
had to have help getting up the cargo net and over the life line. I passed out agian but
when I came to, I was on a wire stretcher on the fantail. As it got dark, they took me
below deck and gave me a bunk. I have no memory of any of this. When I came to again, an
officer's attendant was there with water. If I remember correctly his name was Crawford. On
the way back to Pearl Harbor several of the men that had been picked up died, and were
buried at sea.
"At Pearl Harbor they took me by ambulance up Red Hill to Mobile Hospital Number Two.
The rough ride up the hill hurt like hell. The first thing they did was start an IV and I
passed out again. When I came to, they pulled the curtains around me, it kind of scared me.
Of course, when I arrived at the hospital, all I had on were my dog tags and a lot of oil
from the wreckage. Then the Red Cross arrived. It was comical. They had a tooth brush but
no toothpaste; a pencil but no paper; a towel but no soap. When the people of Hawaii came,
they gave us everything we needed.
"I was in the hospital for two months and then I finally transferred to Oakland Naval
Hospital, California for two additional months, and then received a thirty day leave.
Having no money, I hitchhiked back to Minnesota.
"On October 13, 1942, I was transferred to Goat Island for re-assignment. A man named
Jack L. Hunter and I were sent to Bremerton Washington Receiving Station to be assigned to
the USS COOS BAY AVP 25. We did what they called 'dumbohops'--picking up air crews with our
PBYs that had run out of fuel or were too shot up to make it back to their carriers. This
period covered from Guadalcanal in 1942 to Saipan in 1944. The COOS BAY received a
Presidential Citation signed by Preident Truman for saving one hundred and twenty-one
crewmen. While on the COOS BAY, I received the Purple Heart for injuries I had received in
the Battle of Midway and the sinking of the USS HAMMANN.
"My minority enlistment was up, so I extended it for two more years. My name came up
with a man by the name of Willard N. Dimmig for landing craft school in San Diego,
California. My service record was not in order so I was unable to go. Two weeks later I
came up again for landing craft school, but this time my record was not in order so once
again I could not go.
"On January 15, 1945, I was transferred to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for duty on the
USS FALL RIVER CA 131. We were on a shakedown cruise when the war ended. We went to the
West coast and on to Pearl harbor where we became the flagship for the atom bomb test at
Bakini. I received word from home that my mother was dying from cancer and I was sent back
to the states for thirty days of emergency leave.
"After first being sent to Minnesota for discharge and then to the Great Lakes Training
Station, I finally received my discharge from the U.S. Navy in Philadelphia on November 18,
"This is the end of my story."
***All Autobiographical Accounts by Midway veterans of the Month Are Edited for Content
and Historical Accuracy***