top of page

Doc Ransom’s Turning key

Madera County Historical Society

Dr Dow Ransom Jr.


I held his thoughts and emotions in my hands. I looked at the ink stained pages on which he had poured out his story 74 years ago. I was holding his diary in my hands while his son sat just a few feet away. I almost felt the explosion that sent him flying through the air on February 14, 1945.

I felt him trying to make sense of what had happened and sat stunned with him as the deathly quiet set in. Then I heard the groans and yelling. Some were hurt; some were dying, and then we understood that his ship had struck a mine.

I went running with him seeking the wounded. We found one of the signalmen with a smashed face. One young sailor, who had been dragged out of the fire room alive, had 2nd and 3rd degree burns over his entire body.

Another had a compound fractured skull and was in a coma. Yet another had a ten inch abdominal laceration while his buddy had a deep laceration of the scrotum and perineum.

By morning, we had taken the count — five killed outright, one had died during the night, and 23 young sailors had been injured.

I closed the diary on the next morning, February 15, 1945 and left Dr. Dow Ransom Jr. on his ship in the Pacific. I came back to Madera, his hometown. Somehow I felt like I wanted to bring him with me. His father died here; his grandfather Ransom died here. He had decided to become a doctor here. His roots were here.

As I set his diary aside, I poured over the rest of his life story: photographs, letters, school papers. With all of these documents I was able to follow him from birth to death, and all of the salient points in between.

I don’t know exactly where he was born, but I do know that in the year after he made his appearance, his father, Dr. Dow Ransom Sr. opened the Madera Sanitarium.

One of his school papers told me that Mark Twain was his favorite author, and another told me that he got an A on a report on Abraham Lincoln.

The bottom line is this. Dow Ransom Jr. grew up in Madera. His father was the town’s most successful physician. He went to grammar school here; he graduated from Madera High School, and we have the turning key to his life — his diary, maintained over two years aboard a destroyer in the Pacific. I say turning key because he brings us right with him as he writes.

Consider this 1943 entry:

“I was on the bridge watching the dive bombers peel off from out of the sun when I noticed one plane keep diving and not pulling out. It crashed and exploded in the water 300 yards off our starboard quarter! I yelled to the Captain and we immediately turned around searching for any possible survivors, but from the floating organs it was apparent no one survived. Can’t figure out what happened, but the plane never budged out of the dive and he must have been going 500 m.p.h. when he hit.”

Or listen to “Doc” Ransom relate this raw episode of history.

“Continued underway with the carriers. Another can came out and relieved us and we returned to the lagoon. An officer from another ship came aboard tonight, and told us what he saw on Roi and Namur. He said there are 3,800 dead Japanese and that approximately 2,000 of them were still alive at the time of the invasion, but about half were crazy from the bombarding. Said the enemy still pulled his trick of jumping in a pile of his dead and lay there and did sniping from there, so Marines routinely shot guns in the dead bodies to be sure one isn’t there. Many of the bodies have no ears or fingers now because of souvenir hunters etc.”

How appropriate it is that the Ransom family decided to bring Dr. Dow Ransom Jr.’s papers back to Madera and give us a chance to tell his story. It is a riveting ,epic saga, and at the center of that story is that diary of a Madera man who went to war.

It must be told.

bottom of page