Veterans Voice: Donald F. Pulley
Veterans Voice: Donald F. Pulley
Mike Hanscom, grandson
Donald Fay Pulley joined the Navy during World War II as a cook. This wasn’t by accident. He had given it much thought. First, he was a mid-west boy who wanted to learn how to swim. Never happened. Until the day he died he couldn’t swim a stroke. Which I thought was rather funny given his love for fishing and owning boats. Second, he was sure if he was a cook, he would always be near food and water. He gave that same advice to every young man entering the service. His recipes required a bit of math if you were feeding a family of four. His chili recipe starts with half a steer. Evidently to feed a full ship’s complement you need at least half a steer in your chili. One day noticing his unmarked arms, I asked how he managed to go the entire war without coming home with a tattoo? He told me while on shore leave in Long Beach, California he was in the beer line. He said the tattoo line became shorter than the beer line, so he got into the tattoo line. Before he could get a tattoo, the beer line became shorter than the tattoo line. He claimed his thirst for beer is the only reason he didn’t get a tattoo that day. An interesting side note, for as long as I knew my grandfather, he never drank alcohol of any kind.
On October 24, his Fletcher-class destroyer the Albert W. Grant DD 649 was tasked with making a torpedo run on a Japanese battleship in the Battle of the Surigao Strait in Leyte Gulf. This battle would go down in history books as the last battleship to battleship action in history. Days earlier while his ship was providing close artillery support for a marine landing my grandfather was shot in the arm by a Japanese sniper. So, when they were sent into action, he was sporting a bandaged arm as he manned a 40 mm gun. They were in the center position of a three-ship attack with Newcomb and Richard P. Leary. Each ship released five torpedoes at a range of three nautical miles from the Japanese fleet. The Grant was alone in proceeding forward to release five more. Upon turning to return to their lines the Grant was hit damaging her rudder. Caught in a turn she was trapped between both lines. She was hit 22 times. Fires broke out and steering control was disabled. The order was given to abandon ship. Oh, the fear my grandfather must have experienced being told to get in the water not knowing how to swim. This young sailor had already witnessed terrible things. The doctor who had just checked his bandage minutes earlier was hit by a shell leaving nothing but his boots with his feet still in them at the base of the ladder he was about to climb. My grandfather’s best friend was on galley duty running sandwiches and hot coffee to the men at their battle stations when the galley took a direct hit killing him. My grandfather lost his best friend and best man from his wedding in that moment. The two of them had made plans to open a restaurant after the war. He was gone. And so were their dreams. So, into the cold dark water grandpa slid. The boat was listing heavy to one side with the hand rail in the water. He didn’t need to jump, just simply slide off. In the few moments between shells going off men could be heard screaming for help. Oil was in the water all around them. The oil was in their mouths, in their hair, and on their clothing. They were later ordered back aboard and began stuffing mattresses in holes and carrying unexploded shells from below deck through oily water and up slick ladders to throw them overboard. The Grant was the only American ship damaged during that battle, but the Japanese lost two battleships and three destroyers. The Grant lost thirty-eight men that day and 104 were wounded. The senior medical person performing amputations on deck was a surviving pharmacist’s mate.
While being towed for repairs, the Grant would be hit by a typhoon. My grandfather shared with me how he got down on his knees and prayed for God to save him. He swore if God would save him, he would serve him all the days of his life. And I can say as a witness, he lived up to his promise. It took being shot, sunk, and almost drowned at sea for my grandfather to finally realize he couldn’t do it alone. And from that day forward he served God with all his heart. He and my grandmother would go on to serve missionaries cooking at banquets. He would treat them like kings and queens. Nothing was too fancy. He would put on his chef’s hat and carve the roast just like in a five-star restaurant. And over the course of his life he gave up smoking, drinking, and cussing. My uncles will tell you he would whistle instead of cuss. And if you heard him whistling you went the other direction and gave him plenty of space. I didn’t learn that until much later. I thought when he was whistling, he was happy to see me. Was he perfect? No! But he was never prouder than when people would see his hat with the Albert W. Grant on it and would ask for his story. Sometimes, he would meet a Marine who was on that shore his ship was protecting. Grandpa would sometimes cry comparing notes with other men knowing all too well the sacrifices that were made.
I’m reminded of a scripture found in John 15:13. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Grandpa saw plenty of men do just that. I’m forever grateful and indebted to those men. And very appreciative that when so many of America’s finest didn’t come home, my grandpa did. To say they were a selfless generation is an understatement. So many have passed with their stories untold. My grandfather waited until much later in life to finally share his.