Don Griswold, Jr - Ensign
- Distinguished Flying Cross
- Purple Heart
On April 28, 1943, the United States Navy commissioned the USS Griswold, an Evarts-class destroyer escort ship. Deployed to the Pacific theater that summer, the ship was named for a war hero from Clarinda, Iowa, who had himself given his life in the Pacific a little over a year before. Donald T. Griswold, Jr., was born in Bryan, Texas on July 8, 1917, the second of five children to Don Griswold, Sr. and Margaret North Griswold. In 1922, the Griswolds moved from Texas to a farm in Amity Township, Iowa, just outside of Clarinda, where Don’s father became the Page County Extension Agent. The elder Donald became well known around the community, traveling to every corner of the county, hosting demonstrations and sharing advice in pursuit of better local agriculture. Within a few short years, in fact, he had garnered so much respect from the community that, after a tornado destroyed the family home in 1926, his wide circle of friends came together to help the Griswolds rebuild.
As the son of an extension agent with a childhood on the farm, Don’s upbringing was closely linked with agriculture. Don started his schooling at a time of immense change in rural education in the Midwest, one in which a farm boy’s ability to attend high school was not guaranteed. Despite these limitations, and perhaps owing to his father’s prominent position in the community, Don entered Clarinda High School in 1931. There, he joined many other farm children in participating in 4-H vocational agriculture clubs, which combined agricultural instruction with individual summer projects. An article in the Clarinda Herald Journal in 1933 reported that the elder Donald, Sr., had served as both supervisor and father, overseeing both the younger Don and his brother North as they raised market hogs for the county agricultural fair that fall. Both ultimately took home medals. Besides his agricultural prowess, Don was a skilled athlete who ran on the track team and played football for the Clarinda High Cardinals.
Don carried his interest in agriculture to Iowa State College, declaring a major in Agronomy not long after enrolling in the fall of 1936. He took an active interest in the academic, social, and athletic life of the college, participating in numerous student activities during his time in Ames. Besides serving as a member of the local chapters of the American Society of Agronomy and the Society for the Advancement of Management, Don pledged to Adelante, an independent fraternity, in the fall of 1937. Don’s greatest fame while a student in Ames came, though, as a “backfield ace” for the 1938, 1939, and 1940 Cyclone football squads. His skills contributed to a ten-game Cyclone win streak his sophomore year, including victories over Kansas State, Kansas, and Nebraska. Although the “great Iowa State Cyclone … dried up to little more than a passing breeze” the following year, with only two wins in the 1939 season, the Bomb yearbook credited Don with scoring the only points against an otherwise dominant Oklahoma team. For his “outstanding performances,” Don received three varsity letters.
Agronomy is a discipline intimately connected to the land. As a farm boy, Don was no stranger to the special respect that all farmers develop with the ground that they cultivate year in and year out. Undoubtedly, he carried that respect with him to Iowa State as he pursued a more scientific understanding of the production and use of Iowa’s natural resources. As his college career came to a close, though, Don began a training program that took him far above the Iowa landscape. As the shadow of world war descended on the western world in the summer of 1939, President Roosevelt signed the Civilian Pilot Training Act. It authorized the Civil Aeronautics Authority to establish programs to quickly train a large number of civilian pilots. One such program was established at the airport in Ames. There, high above the rural farmland of central Iowa, Don Griswold learned to fly.
Earning his wings took Don far from central Iowa after he graduated with his Bachelor’s degree in March 1941. He enlisted in the Naval Reserve as an Air Corps cadet and reported for training at Fairfax Field, Kansas. Because of his previous flight training, though, he was instead ordered to report to Pensacola, Florida, for advanced training. After a “rigid course,” Don was commissioned as an Ensign and assigned to the USS Hornet. The Yorktown-class aircraft carrier, which was the precursor to the more well-known Essex-class carrier of the same name, was then under construction in Norfolk, Virginia and, at the time Don received his commission, was “so new” that it had “not yet been accepted by the government.” After a two-week furlough, where he returned home to Clarinda to visit family, Don reported to Norfolk and joined the crew of the Hornet as part of Scouting Squadron Eight.
The Hornet deployed to the Pacific in early 1942. After stocking up in California, she set out on her first mission, a bombing raid on the Japanese Home Islands that April which came to be called the Doolittle Raid. Both in this mission, and in the more monotonous points between the fighting, Don cultivated a reputation as a “fine officer, a fine gentleman, and a fine shipmate.” His dedication to his crewmates and to his mission brought him renown and spoke to the values inherent in someone willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for his nation.
In late May, the Hornet sailed to a position northeast of Midway with assignments to attack Japanese ships and aircraft headed for the island. From the first fighting of the Battle of Midway, which took place on June 4, Don was immersed in the action and “conducted himself in a manner worthy of the highest praise.” On June 6, Don and radioman-gunner Kenneth Bunch took off with thirteen other planes from Scouting Squadron Eight on a mission to “attack some enemy ships reported” near the Hornet. The squadron came under heavy anti-aircraft fire, which inflicted crippling damage on Don and Kenneth’s plane. With no regard for his own safety, Don put his plane in to a dive and dropped his bomb, which “scored a direct hit” on the Japanese cruiser Mogami. Unfortunately, though, with the damage to his aircraft, Don was unable to pull out of his dive and crashed into the ocean. His was the only plane lost on June 6, a day in which the Hornet sunk a cruiser, heavily damaged another, and nearly sunk a destroyer.
For his sacrifice, the Navy posthumously awarded Donald Griswold, Jr. the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross. The citation, signed by Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, commended Don for “heroism and extraordinary service” against the enemy. Acting “with utter disregard for his own personal safety,” Don had “pressed home his attack with calm courage and vigorous determination.” For his “fearless loyalty and uncompromising devotion,” he contributed “materially to the victory” and “gallantly gave up his life in the service of his country.”
In recognition of his sacrifice, the Navy commissioned the USS Griswold in April 1943. Sponsored by Don’s mother, Margaret Griswold, the family traveled to Massachusetts to christen the ship. The Griswold set out to the same Pacific theater where Don had given his life a year before, joining Admiral Chester Nimitz’s fleet prepared for an eventual invasion of the Japanese Home Islands. Just as Don’s service in the Battle of Midway had “helped start the victorious drive” in the Pacific theater, the ship that carried his name participated in the “very final movement[s]” of the conflict and “made a good record for herself.” The spirit of Don’s heroism, courage, and sacrifice lived on, helping inspire the final push that secured allied victory in the Second World War.