Madera County Historical Society
Dr. Dow Ransom Jr. served on the USS La Vallette, a Fletcher class destroyer, during World War II.
Seventy-five years ago today, more than 150,000 Allied troops charged onto the beaches of Normandy. They stretched out for 50 miles along the heavily-fortified French coastline to begin the fight to take Europe back from Nazi Germany. One month later that number had risen to one million soldiers.
Through it all, Madera was watching, but not everyone followed the action from home. One Maderan heard the news over the radio and recorded the event in his diary from aboard a Navy destroyer in the middle of the Pacific.
Dr. Dow Ransom Jr., graduate of the Madera High class of 1934, was aboard the USS La Vallette on June 6, 1944 when he received word that the invasion of Europe had begun. He recorded the news in his diary:
“Heard a brief flash over the radio that our troops had invaded Europe — hope so.”
Ransom didn’t have time to write much more about the invasion, for he was in the middle of his own fight. While the Allies were fighting the Germans on the beaches of Normandy, he was part of the force that was fighting the Japanese in the Pacific.
The La Vallette had just taken part in the battle over Hollandia, a port on the northern coast of New Guinea. Now their battle group was organizing again to pursue the enemy even further. The day before D-Day, Ransom recorded that La Vallette returned to Hollandia early in the morning. By evening it had new orders to proceed up western New Guinea and rendezvous with a cruiser task force that was operating around Biak in the Schouton Islands. While the Allies were invading Normandy, Ransom were headed for the Battle of Biak, part of the New Guinea campaign of World War II, fought from May 27 to August 17, 1944. It was all part of the plan for the invasion of the Philippines.
The Day before D-Day, Ransom’s ship rendezvoused with 14 other destroyers and 3 cruisers. He wrote, “Might see some Japs this time.” On D-Day, La Vallette refueled, took on more ammunition, and awaited further orders. On D-Day +1, Ransom wrote, “Finally got the dope on the invasion of Europe and it was read with great enthusiasm by all hands. Surely hope they move right ahead over there.
At 4:45, Ransom’s ship got orders to steam to the site of a plane crash about 45 miles at sea to pick up survivors. When they got there, the plane was still afloat. Everybody survived. From there, they steamed back towards the Battle of Biak.
On D-Day+2, June 8, 1944, Ransom continued to steam for Biak. At 3 o:clock p.m. the lookouts spotted a Japanese torpedo bomber (a “Betty”) flying low over the water. Ransom watched the plane through the “long glass” and was struck by the size of the red circle on its fuselage. He wrote that it looked like the enemy plane was “snooping and relaying back our speed and course.” The La Vallette continued on course, and at nine that night they picked up a Japanese night bomber on radar. They were just north of Biak at the time.
As the enemy plane flew over Ransom’s task force, all of the ships opened up on him. The pilot dropped a bright flare over the formation and dropped his bombs. They all missed, but one came within 100 yards.
While the flare was floating down, the La Vallette picked up five enemy ships on radar coming toward them. They were destroyers, carriers and cruisers and got within torpedo range. After firing them, they turned tail at full speed. One torpedo just missed one of the U.S. cruisers.
Ransom’s task force immediately opened their throttles wide open and took after them. He wrote that it was “one of the most exciting nights we have ever spent.” They chased the enemy ships for 140 miles but were finally called off and ordered to return to the formation. Before they did, however, they hit 0ne Japanese ship with a five-inch shell. The sea was rough and water was crashing over the bow, but they could still see the big flash that came from the enemy ship when it was hit.
By June 9, 1944, D-Day+3, the La Vallette rejoined the task force and steamed in circles east of Biak supporting the invasion of that island. The next day it had to return to Hollandia for more fuel and ammunition.
And thus it went. While the Allies were fighting the Germans to set Europe free from the Nazis, American forces were fighting Japan to free the Pacific from its tyranny. Now, 75 years later we remember D-Day, and we also remember Lt. Dow Ransom Jr. who put his life on the line for almost three years to help keep America free.