|Name:||Kathy Ward <Kward01@mediaone.net>|
This is the story of my uncle, my mother's twin brother. His name was John Waldron Noonan, a farm boy from Iowa who enlisted in the Navy in 1942. He did his boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Station in Waukegon, IL. Shortly afterward he was attached to the freighter, the U.S.S. Puerto Rican. The Puerto Rican made regular trips through the North Atlantic carrying supplies to Russia. The Russian convoys were a dangerous mission. The German U-boats were like sharks in those cold waters, picking off stragglers one by one.
The convoy southbound from Russia 1 Mar 1943 departed from Murmansk with 30 merchantmen, 11 of them American, with about 25 Royal Navy escorts, 3 cruisers, and 11 destroyers. On the 5th of March the convoy was torpedoed by a U-boat which had targeted two of the Royal Navy ships, the Richard Bland and the Executive. The Executive went down but the Bland limped on. Later that day 12 Heinkel 111s came in for a shallow dive attack. The convoy threw up a terrific barrage which caused the planes to drop their bombs ineffectively.
The convoy ran into heavy weather and became separated. Twenty-one ships managed to get back together and reached Loch Ewe on 14 Mar but as the Richard Bland proceeded alone it was torpedoed on the 10th, never reaching the other ships.
Another straggler was the Puerto Rican. On 9 Mar it was hit by a U-boat about 287 miles off Iceland. She went down in 20 minutes and out of a crew of 38 and a Naval Armed Guard of 24, there was only one survivor, August Wallenhaupt, my uncle John's friend. Due to the severe weather and ice coating, 3 of the ship's 4 life boats were frozen and useless. When the 4th one hit the water, it's afterfall could not be released due to the ice coating and the boat capsized. Eight men swam to a cork life raft and 6 of them (one was John Noonan) later transferred to a larger raft. All except one, Auggie Wallenhaupt, froze to death or were washed overboard. Wallenhaupt, who was rescued on 12 Mar by the H.M.S. Elistin, related his story of survival on the raft and how he believed he had survived only because he had taken the time to put on a rubber lifesaving suit when the ship had been hit instead of immediately rushing out in his shirt and pants. He went up on deck and started to help several other men try to free #4 life boat from it's icy shackles. They managed to get it free and 20-30 men rode it to the water but couldn't get it free of the ship as the Puerto Rican began to heave over. The men that could threw themselves free of the boat and swam to a life raft. The Puerto Rican went down in 15 minutes.
The small donut raft came close enough for Wallenhaupt to grab. He pulled himself in and helped to pull other sailers in with him. A larger wooden raft floated near when the donut raft was crammed with 7 men and they grabbed it and made a bridge over to it. Five men made it to the larger raft. Through the long, freezing night, men on the raft froze to death. The seas were at least 30 feet high and about every 10-15 minutes a particularly vicious wave would send them flying and clawing to retain a hold. One after another were lost overboard unless they had already frozen to the raft. At around 11 the next morning, two of the other sailers were gone and shortly after that a third man washed over. During the second night, Wallenhaupt slept in fitful stretches and woke once to hear, "Auggie boy." It was spoken almost in a whisper but Wallenhaupt recognized the voice of his best friend on the ship, the young navy gunner, John. He called back, "John, boy," but there was no answer. In the morning, he saw that his friend was gone.
John Waldron Noonan was washed off the life raft and lost at sea 10 Mar 1943.
He was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously and the story of the Puerto Rican was well documented first in the 24 Jun 1944 issue of Liberty magazine and then reprinted in the July 1944 issue of Readers Digest.
I would like to hear from anyone who has knowledge of the Puerto Rican or might remember John Waldron Noonan.
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