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SN/1c Robert “Red” D. Ehlenfeldt, USNR WWII
Red was born on Jan. 25, 1925, at the Lutheran Hospital in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, to LeRoy V. and Vesta B. (Livermore) Ehlenfeldt. He was a member of the graduating class of 1943 from Beaver Dam High School. He proudly served his country in the U.S. Navy during World War II from December 1942 until January 1946. On Jan. 11, 1947, he was united in marriage to Alice L. Steiner in Kingston, Wis. Red was a police sergeant in Beaver Dam for 31 years, retiring on Dec. 20, 1980. He also served as the City of Beaver Dam’s Civil Defense Director from 1973 to 1998.
Red was a lifetime member of American Legion Post 146 and VFW Post 1163, both in Beaver Dam, along with the Wisconsin Professional Police Association. He was also a member of the USS Heermann DD-532 Association, the Patrol Craft Sailors Association and the Tin Can Sailors. Red served as the secretary for 23 years for the Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie 1638 in Beaver Dam, and he was also a later member of Aerie 270 in Fond du Lac. Red was a member of First Ev. Lutheran Church in Beaver Dam.
Red Ehlenfeldt's service on the USS Heermann WWII:
USS Heermann (DD-532) was a World War II-era Fletcher-class destroyer in the service of the United States Navy, named after Fleet Surgeon Lewis Heermann (1779–1833).
Heermann was launched on 5 December 1942 by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Co. of San Francisco, California; sponsored by Mrs. Edward B. Briggs, wife of Lieutenant E. B. Briggs, USCGR, great grandson of the namesake; and commissioned on 6 July 1943, Commander Dwight M. Agnew, USN, in command. Heermann gained fame during the "last stand of the Tin-Can Sailors" in which she and several other destroyers of Task Unit 77.4.3 (Taffy 3) engaged a far superior Japanese task force during the Battle off Samar in October 1944. Heermann was the only American destroyer of Taffy 3 to survive the engagement.
Service history: After shakedown training out of San Diego, California, the Heermann joined the 5th Fleet on 21 October 1943 for Operation Galvanic, the assault on the Gilbert Islands, the second major offensive thrust in the Navy's plan of attack on Japan's far-flung Pacific empire. She arrived off Tarawa in Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill's Southern Attack Force 20 November. Her guns sank a small enemy craft inside the lagoon and the next two days assisted troops ashore with close-in fire support. With the island secured, she returned to Pearl Harbor for voyage repairs and training which ended 23 January when she sailed in the screen of an attack transport reserve force.
1944: The ships steamed east of Kwajalein while Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner's Joint Expeditionary Force landed on that atoll 31 January. In the ensuing two weeks Heermann patrolled off Kwajalein and operated in the screen of escort carriers which were launching strikes in support of troops ashore. Then she steamed to Eniwetok Atoll where she joined in the preinvasion bombardment of Japtan and Parry Islands, gave close fire support to the troops once they were ashore, and then patrolled off the atoll during mop-up operations.
Heermann reported to Commander 3d Fleet and Task Force 39, 18 March 1944 after visits to Majuro Lagoon and then Purvis Bay, Florida Island in the Solomons. For the next month she divided her time between protecting troop and resupply convoys which were occupying Emirau Island and hunting enemy supply barges along the coast of New Hanover.
Back in Port Purvis 3 June, Heermann participated in the bombardment of a tank farm on Fangelawa Bay, New Ireland, 11 June, and then searched for submarines along sealanes leading from the Solomons towards the Admiralty, Caroline, and Marshall islands until 26 June. The summer of 1944 found Heermann busy escorting Navy and merchant shipping to rendezvous where they joined convoys bound for various ports. This duty took her to Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides and Nouméa, New Caledonia.
Heermann cleared Port Purvis 6 September 1944 with Rear Admiral William Sample's escort carrier force that provided air support during the invasion of the Palau Islands. After replenishing at Seeadler Harbor, Admiralty Islands, she sortied 12 October 1944 with a fire support group for the liberation of the Philippine Islands.
Battle off Samar: October 1944: Heermann screened transports and landing ships to the beaches of Leyte under the command of recently promoted Commander Amos T. Hathaway, then joined Rear Admiral Thomas L. Sprague's Escort Carrier Group (Task Group 77.4) which was made up of three escort carrier task units, known as the "Three Taffies" because of their voice calls: "Taffy 1", "Taffy 2", and "Taffy 3". Destroyers Hoel and Johnston joined her in screening Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague's unit, "Taffy 3" which also included his flagship Fanshaw Bay and five other escort carriers.
Dawn of 25 October 1944 found "Taffy 3" east of Samar steaming north as the Northern Air Support Group. "Taffy 2" was in the central position patrolling off the entrance to Leyte Gulf, and "Taffy 1" covered the Southern approaches to the Gulf some 130 miles (210 km) to the southeast of Heermann's "Taffy 3". At 06:45 "Taffy 3"'s lookouts observed antiaircraft fire to the northward and within three minutes, were under heavy fire from Japanese Admiral Takeo Kurita's powerful Center Force of four battleships, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and 11 destroyers. The Battle off Samar was joined.
The only chance for survival of the little group of light American ships lay in slowing the advances of the enemy warships while withdrawing toward Leyte Gulf and hoped-for assistance. The carriers promptly launched their planes to attack the Japanese vessels, and the escorts set to work generating smoke to hide the American ships.
Heermann, in a position of comparative safety on the disengaged side of the carriers at the start of the fight, steamed into the action at flank speed through the formation of "baby flattops" who, after launching their last planes, formed a rough circle as they turned toward Leyte Gulf. Since smoke and intermittent rain squalls had reduced visibility to less than 100 yards (91 m), it took alert and skillful seamanship to avoid colliding with friendly ships during the dash to battle. She backed emergency full to avoid destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts and repeated the maneuver to miss destroyer Hoel as Heermann formed column on the screen flagship in preparation for a torpedo attack.
As she began the run, dye from enemy shells daubed the water nearby with circles of brilliant red, yellow, and green. Heermann replied to this challenge by pumping her 5-inch (130 mm) shells at one heavy cruiser, Chikuma, as she directed seven torpedoes at another, Haguro. When the second of these "fish" had left the tube, Heermann changed course to engage a column of four battleships whose shells began churning the water nearby. She trained her guns on Kongo, the column's leader, at whom she launched three torpedoes. Then she quickly closed Haruna, the target of her last three torpedoes, which were launched from only 4,400 yards (4,000 m). Believing that one of the "fish" had hit the battleship, she dodged the salvos that splashed in her wake as she retired. Japanese records claim that the battleship successfully evaded all of the torpedoes from Heermann, but they were slowed in their pursuit of the American carriers. The giant Yamato, with her 18.1-inch (460 mm) guns, was forced out of the action altogether when, caught between two spreads, she reversed course for almost 10 minutes to escape being hit. She successfully evaded the two spreads, but did not rejoin the battle.
Heermann sped to the starboard quarter of the carrier formation to lay more concealing smoke and then charged back into the fight a few minutes later, placing herself between the escort carriers and a column of four enemy heavy cruisers. Here she engaged the Japanese cruiser Chikuma in a duel which seriously damaged both ships. A series of 8-inch (200 mm) hits flooded the forward part of the destroyer, pulling her bow down so far that her anchors were dragging in the water. One of her guns was knocked out, but the others continued to pour a stream of 5-inch (130 mm) shells at the cruiser, which also came under heavy air attack during the engagement. The combined effect of Heermann's guns and the bombs, torpedoes, and strafing from carrier-based planes was too much for Chikuma, which tried to withdraw but sank during her flight.
As Chikuma turned away, the heavy cruiser Tone turned her guns on Heermann, which replied until she reached a position to resume laying smoke for the carriers. At this point, planes from Rear Admiral Felix Stump's "Taffy 2" swooped in to sting Tone so severely that she too broke off action and fled. The attacks of the destroyers and aircraft thus saved the outgunned task groups. For his skillful maneuvering and leadership Heermann's Commanding Officer, Commander Amos Hathaway, was awarded the Navy Cross.
1945: Heermann retired to Kossol Passage for temporary repairs before getting underway for Mare Island and overhaul, which was completed 15 January 1945. She then returned to the Western Pacific to join fast carrier task forces in raids against the Japanese mainland which helped to demoralize the Japanese people and to prepare them for surrender. During the Battle of Iwo Jima, Heermann supported operations ashore by radar and antisubmarine picket duty. On 20 March 1945 she sank a small surface vessel and rescued seven of her crew after she went down. Seven days later she took part in the night bombardment of Minami Daito Jima. During the Okinawa campaign she took several enemy planes under fire as she guarded carriers that provided air support for troops ashore. On 18 April with the assistance of destroyers Mertz, McCord, Collett, and Uhlmann and planes from aircraft carrier Bataan, Heermann sank the I-56, a carrier of the kaitens—human-guided torpedoes. She continued to support carrier operations off Okinawa until retiring to Leyte Gulf for replenishment and voyage repairs late in June. On 1 July she helped to screen the fast carrier force that devoted the ensuing five weeks to almost continuous air strikes and bombardment.
On 15 August 1945 Heermann was on radar picket station some 200 miles (320 km) southeast of Tokyo when, several hours after the announcement of the end of hostilities, a suicide plane emerged from a cloud bank and began to dive in Heermann's direction—only to be splashed by the destroyer's alert gunners in one of the final naval actions of World War II. In the following weeks Heermann operated in the screen of the fast carrier task force providing air cover and air-sea rescue service while General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz were preparing to occupy Japan. She entered Tokyo Bay 16 September 1945 and remained in the area to support the occupation forces until 7 October when she sailed for the United States. She decommissioned at San Diego 12 June 1946.
Awards: In addition to the United States Presidential Unit Citation, Heermann received the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation and nine battle stars for World War II service.