Donald Raleigh oral history interview
World War II veteran Donald Raleigh is interviewed about his wartime service with the United States Navy. He discusses his gunnery officer assignments aboard the USS Maryland (BB-46) and USS Wilkes-Barre (CL-103), circa 1941-1946. He particularly highlights his experiences during the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. Standing watch aboard the Maryland that morning, he was a first-hand witness to the Japanese attack on Battleship Row. He also describes his later assignments in the Pacific Theater during the campaign against the Japanese home islands. Topics discussed include his personal background, his training and service history, the situation onboard the Maryland during the Pearl Harbor attack, his experiences aboard the Wilkes-Barre just prior to and after the Japanese surrender at Tokyo Bay, and his postwar education at the University of Washington School of Dentistry.
Table Of Contents
Donald Raleigh was a World War II veteran who served with the United States Navy in the Pacific Theater. He was born on June 15, 1918 in Tacoma, Washington to Percy Griffin Raleigh and Allison Longstreth Raleigh. As a young boy, Raleigh’s family temporarily relocated to Paso Robles, California, where his father worked in farming and construction. The family returned to Tacoma in the early 1930s.
During his teenage years, Raleigh attended Mason Middle School and Stadium High School. He graduated in 1936 and enrolled at the College of Puget Sound (later to become the University of Puget Sound). He received a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1940. While in college, Raleigh decided to join the Tacoma Naval Reserve, as he wanted to avoid being drafted into the Army should the United States enter World War II. He entered the V-7 program, an expedited naval officer training program, and embarked on a training cruise to New York onboard the USS Illinois (BB-7). He afterwards received orders to the USS Maryland (BB-46), then based in California, where he underwent gunnery training. In 1940, Raleigh deployed aboard the Maryland to Naval Station Pearl Harbor (Hawaii), its new base of operations.
On the morning of December 7, 1941, Raleigh was on watch on the Maryland’s quarterdeck and witnessed the first Japanese airplanes on their approach to Battleship Row. During the attack, Raleigh manned the ship’s antiaircraft guns while other servicemen helped rescue people from the capsized USS Oklahoma (BB-37), moored alongside the Maryland. The Maryland received comparatively minor damage compared to the rest of Battleship Row and, in late December, was able to put in to Puget Sound Navy Yard (Bremerton, Washington) for repairs.
In mid-1942, Raleigh deployed aboard the repaired Maryland for the Pacific Theater, where he participated in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands Campaign. In late 1942, he reported to Philadelphia Navy Yard (Pennsylvania) for preconditioning detail on the USS Wilkes-Barre (CL-103). He deployed to Trinidad for the ship’s shakedown cruise, then to California for additional exercises. From 1942 to 1946, Raleigh served aboard the Wilkes-Barre during its Pacific cruises. His assignments included providing escort for aircraft carriers and making carrier strikes on Japan. He was present in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945 and used a rangefinder to watch the formal surrender of Japan onboard the nearby USS Missouri (BB-63). Afterwards, Raleigh participated in early occupation actions, such as demilitarizing naval bases in Northern Honshu and disposing of submarines and explosives.
Raleigh left active duty in 1946 and returned to Washington State with his wife, Alison, whom he married in 1944. He enrolled in the newly established School of Dentistry at the University of Washington, graduating in the top-five of his class in 1950. He operated a dental practice for over forty years in the Seattle area and raised three children with Alison. Following her passing in 1991, he married his second wife, Alda. Raleigh passed away on September 9, 2019.
Biographical information derived from interview, from additional information provided by interviewee, and from online sources.