This story was written by Ron Albers for Motts Military Museum and is reprinted here with permission.

 

It’s amazing that Milt can tell his story so matter-of-factly after all that he has endured the past 70 years. His true life experiences have been the stuff from which best-selling books and movies are created.

Milton Mapou was born on 15 Oct 1921 and raised in Rockaway Beach, right on the Atlantic Ocean in the southern part of Queens. His father was a chauffeur for an executive on Park Avenue, and his mother worked part time at a local bakery. Although Milt grew up during the Great Depression, it didn’t seem to affect him or his two sisters and a brother all that much. “We always had food on the table and a roof over our heads.”  Granted, they weren’t affluent either; but he was like most of the other kids he grew up with. When he attended public schools, he sometimes had to insert cardboard in the soles of his worn out shoes; but the schools often provided newer shoes that had been outgrown and donated for the students.

Milt recalls nothing unusual or noteworthy about his childhood or years at Rocka-way Beach public schools, where he also graduated from high school. There was a war going on and there were no jobs to be had, so a logical option was to enlist in the military. He volunteered and was inducted into the U.S. Navy on February 6, 1940, at the Federal Building in downtown New York City. From that swearing-in ceremony, he and others were marched down to the river for an all-night boat ride to Providence, RI. They were then bussed to Newport, RI, for a few months of basic training. Having been raised right on the Atlantic Ocean, Milt knew how to swim, and he truly pitied the recruits who couldn’t. Many were terrified as they were thrown in the water, but it was obviously a mandatory part of Navy basic training.

Following basic, Milt was allowed two weeks of leave, which he spent at home before being shipped to Boston. There he spent a week working aboard the USS Constitution while awaiting orders for his next assignment to Philadelphia. Milt felt quite fortunate to be assigned to the USS Dixie, a brand new destroyer tender that could repair nearly any vessel while out in the open sea. The Dixie and her crew had a leisurely cruise down through the Panama Canal and back up to San Diego. This trip took a few weeks, as they often stopped at various ports to show off the beautiful new ship. Milt remained in San Diego only for about a week while the Dixie was refueled and restocked before heading for Hawaii.

Upon arrival at Pearl Harbor, Milt was removed from the Dixie and given a job on an admiral’s staff for a period. In November of 1941 Milt was again assigned as part of the work deck force aboard the USS Detroit, a light cruiser which was docked at Fort Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor. Like the rest of his crew, Milt had a bunk where he lived aboard the ship. On the “day of infamy” most of the officers assigned to the Detroit were on weekend passes in Honolulu.

Just prior to 8:00 AM on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, Milt and a pal had  gotten their breakfast trays filled and were ready to sit down to eat when the Japanese attack occurred, totally without warning. They immediately rushed topside on the ship’s port and looked under the awnings to see what was happening. Suddenly, Milt saw a plane turning to dive at them and recognized at once the solid red ball painted in the fuselage. The Japanese were attacking us! In an instant the pilot released his torpedo, which skimmed across the bow, but missed and struck the island. The plane passed so low over the Detroit that Milt could see the pilot’s face and grin. Milt quickly moved to a large gun mount station, but it was pretty much worthless against a plane attack. From his vantage point Milt could watch the horrible destruction unfolding before him. He witnessed the nearby Raleigh & Utah being sunk and the Nevada being beached after she was struck. The whole melee took less than two hours, but the Detroit remained undamaged. After a brief wait to get the officers back aboard, the Detroit went to sea on patrol to search for enemy ships or subs but found none. After two days they returned to Pearl Harbor to refuel and restock.

Soon Milt & the USS Detroit were at sea again, this time escorting a Matsonia Lines luxury liner filled with wounded service men and family members back to San Francisco. Then it was back to Pearl Harbor., where a U.S. submarine had arrived from the Philippines filled with “gold and treasures.” Once they were loaded aboard the Detroit, she again headed for San Francisco with her valuable cargo.

This time, upon arrival, Milt and a half dozen other seamen were reassigned to Treasure Island, none of them knowing the reason. They were soon joined by others and bussed to a SF train station, where they headed eastbound. Before departing California, their railcar was hooked to an Army troop train headed for Chicago.  There Milt and the other seamen boarded another train that would take them to the Navy yard at Charleston, SC. Upon arrival, this experienced crew was assigned to a brand new Fletcher-class destroyer, the USS Pringle DD-477. This was a uniquely-designed ship that had on the stern a catapult of sorts with a single seaplane aboard. On New Year’s Day of 1943, the Pringle departed on its first mission, a trip deep into the Atlantic to search for German U-boats and to escort a contingent fleet from the European theater back to Halifax, Nova Scotia. There she was refueled & resupplied before returning to Charleston. While harbored in the naval shipyard, the Pringle’s captain let it be known that he wasn’t pleased with the seaplane apparatus aboard his ship, and he convinced the Navy to remove it and replace it with another large gun.

The Pringle headed for the Panama Canal, in January, 1943, where it met up with a British Aircraft carrier, the HMS Victorious (code-named USS Robin by the US Navy – after the infamous Brit, Robin Hood,) which Pringle then safely escorted across the Pacific to Pearl Harbor. Once again, the Pringle was restocked & refueled.

On 6 February 1943, she got underway for the battles in the Pacific. Arriving off Guadalcanal a few days later, the Pringle assumed patrol duties off the Solomon Islands, and she remained there until September. She had a number of sea victories and also shot down several Japanese planes. Her success was vital to blocking the Japanese resupply lines.

While escorting Task Group 31.7 into Empress Augusta BayBougainville, on 11 November, 10 days after the initial landing there, the Pringle shot down one Japanese plane and damaged another. With the exception of a run to Sydney in late January 1944, she continued to operate in the Solomons for the next few months. She swept the southwest coast of Bougainville during daylight in early March, bombarding enemy installations and beached barges.

The Marianas operation produced another long period of bombardment, screening, and anti-submarine missions for the Pringle. During the assaults on Saipan and Tinian, she conducted fire support operations. She then returned to San Francisco, California, for refit and to rest her crew.

After overhaul at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Pringle sailed for Pearl Harbor on 19 October 1944. She departed Pearl Harbor on 10 November for the Philippines to take part in the upcoming invasion.

Pringle came under her most intense air attacks while escorting a re-supply echelon to Mindoro. Several ships in the convoy were sunk, while Pringle shot down two planes. On November 30th, a kamikaze crashed into Pringle’s aft deckhouse, killing 11 men and injuring 20, totally destroying one 40 mm mount and damaging two 5 inch mounts.

Milton Mapou was manning one of the 5”/38 guns at the time. A piece of shrapnel pierced the mount and struck Mapou in the back of the head. Another man in the same mount was killed instantly. For a day or two, Milt thought his injury was serious enough to get him reassigned to safer duty on land somewhere, but he was treated aboard ship and allowed to heal before being assigned his duties once again. Meanwhile, the Pringle had to have extensive repairs to make her battle worthy once again.

Back in service in February of 1945, Pringle screened transports to Iwo Jima for the assault there on the 17th, then provided fire support for the Marines ashore. Returning to Ulithi on 4 March, she prepared for the assault on Okinawa.

Operating with Destroyer Division 90, she screened transport areas, covered minesweepers, and provided support fire. On April 15 Pringle was assigned to “Radar Picket Duty” (monitoring the skies and ocean for Japanese, not far from the coast of Okinawa.) The very next day she shot down two kamikazes before a third crashed into her bridge, and plowed through the superstructure deck, just aft of number one stack. A single 1,000 pound bomb (or two 500-pounders) penetrated the main and superstructure decks and exploded with a violent eruption, buckling the keel and splitting the vessel in two at the forward fire room. Six minutes later, 258 survivors watched Pringle slide beneath the surface. Another 80 men had perished.

Milton Mapou was fortunate to be among the survivors. At the time of the hit, he was manning a 40 MM mount, and everything around him was demolished. Death and destruction surrounded him. When he recovered from his daze he noticed the bone of his right femur sticking out, and his foot pointed backwards. A fellow seaman inflated Milt’s life jacket and yelled, “I’m sorry! That’s all I can do!” before jumping overboard. Milt couldn’t move. Perhaps fortunately, however, the bridge was rapidly filling with water, and he was able to roll into the water. Somehow, unknown to Milt, he was also able to get far enough away from the Pringle that he wasn’t sucked under when she sank.

A life raft appeared and Milt grabbed the side of it. Someone gave him a shot of morphine, and held onto him. The enemy planes were still overhead, but American planes quickly arrived to shoot down or chase away the Japanese warbirds. He was in the water for about 2 ½ hours before the life raft was picked up by the USS Hobson. Medics aboard did what they could to save his leg and life, while the destroyer headed for Okinawa. Upon arrival there, Milt was transported to the hospital ship USS Hope and underwent a lengthy operation. From there he was taken to an Army hospital in Sipan, where they put him in a body cast from his upper chest to the bottom of his feet. He remained at this facility for several weeks before they could airlift him aboard a C-47 back to Pearl Harbor and a Quonset Hut Naval hospital where he remained for several months.

Eventually, Milt was shipped back to the Oakland Naval Hospital in California – still in that same full body cast. Prior to his arrival, his parents had relocated from Rockaway Beach to California to be closer to his brother and sister who were now in the military and stationed on the west coast – his brother in the Air Corps and his sister an Army nurse. Seamen had to work in order to earn liberty, so Milt went to work in the hospital’s Catholic chaplain’s office, doing about the only work he could do. He still smiles today when commenting how he typed with two fingers. While still in the Oakland hospital, the Japanese surrendered; and WW II officially ended. Believe it or not, Milton Mapou wanted to reenlist. He wanted to make the U.S. Navy his career. Unfortunately, the medics deemed him “not seaworthy,” as he still wore a leg brace. He was honorably discharged from the military on August 28, 1946 - the same day he was released from the hospital.

Milt moved in with his parents at their house in Berkeley while trying to find a job in the area. After having no luck for about six months, he moved back to New York, where he finally found employment. For the remainder of his working years Milt held a variety of jobs in warehousing, shipping, and doing odd jobs. Unfortunately, it seemed that every time he had settled into a good job, he would have to be hospitalized when bone shards from his shattered femur caused episodic bouts with osteomyelitis. These hospitalizations would often last a couple of months. When released, the job was no longer there for him.

In 1949, Milt had married a gal in New York, and they had two children. That marriage ended in divorce in 1955. Milt later remarried, but that wife died from cancer five years after their marriage.

In the 1960’s he moved into a trailer park near his brother in Kissimmee, Florida, where he worked for a while at the newly constructed Disney World. Milton met a wonderful gal from Ohio, and he and Helen were soon wed. With the lack of employment opportunities in Florida, Milt and his new wife moved back to California, where he worked in the warehouse of a shoe manufacturing facility. Once again, however, because of leg problems, Milt also lost that job. Milt’s wife finally convinced him to simply give up trying to find employment. So in1983, at the age of 62, Milt filed for unemployment and then Social Security. He hasn’t worked since.  They moved back to Florida, but his wife yearned to return to Ohio. So in the mid-1980’s they moved up north to Columbus. Over the next two decades Milt and Helen used annual USS Pringle reunions and Pearl Harbor survivor conventions to travel the country, and they have seen nearly all of the United States. They also often travelled back and forth between Ohio and Florida and also made a few trips back out to California. Helen passed away in 2008.

In all, BM/2C Milton Mapou was aboard the USS Pringle for more than 30 months, mostly in combat. Among Milt’s numerous awards and decorations are The Purple Heart with Gold Star, American Defense Service Medal w/star, American Theater Medal, WWII Victory Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal w/9 stars, and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon w/star.

A soft-spoken gentleman with a ready smile, Milt is not bitter about the cards he’s been dealt. Something that does bother him, however, is that many schools today don’t teach much history. He recently started his Veterans Day presentation at a Columbus high school by asking for a show of hands from the students who had heard of Pearl Harbor. There were few hands raised, which Milt found both disheartening and disappointing. He’s proud to be a member of our museum, which exists to educate and keep alive the military history of our great nation and to honor our veterans. We’re honored to have him as a member and friend. He’s an inspiration to us all. And we thank him for his service and sacrifice.

Footnote: The author found the following at the USS Pringle website. Keep in mind that BM/2C Milton Mapou was aboard the destroyer during each and every one of these campaigns. That is why he also earned all ten of these battle stars.

 

Battle Stars Awarded
to the USS Pringle (DD-477) 
  

 


   

The USS Pringle earned 10 Battle Stars on the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal  for participating in the following Operations:
  

CONSOLIDATION OF THE SOLOMON ISLANDS: 
Consolidation of the Southern Solomons (8 February to 20 June 1943); and 
Consolidation of the Northern Solomons (27 October to 15 March 1945)

NEW GEORGIA GROUP OPERATION: 
New Georgia - Rendova - Vangunu Occupation (20 June to 31 August 1943); and 
Vella Lavella Occupation (15 August to 16 October 1943)

TREASURY-BOUGAINVILLE OPERATION: 
Treasury Island Landings (27 October to 6 November 1943); and 
Occupation and Defense of Cape Torokina (1 November to 15 December 1943)  

BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO OPERATION: 
Green Island Landing (15-19 February 1944); and Anti-shipping Sweeps and Bombardment of Rabaul and New Ireland (24 February to 1 March 1944)

MARIANAS OPERATION: 
Capture and Occupation of Saipan (27 October to 6 November 1944); and 
Capture and Occupation of Guam (12 July to 15 August 1944)                                

TINIAN CAPTURE AND OCCUPATION: (24 July to 1 August 1944)

ANTI-SUBMARINE ASSESSMENT: (27 November 1944)

LUZON OPERATION: Mindoro Landings (12-18 December 1944)

IWO JIMA OPERATION: Assault and Occupation of Iwo Jima (15 Feb to 16 March 1945)

OKINAWA GUNTO OPERATION: 
Assault and Occupation of Okinawa (24 March to 30 June 1945)

 

 

Mapou’s photo:

http://navymemorial.org/NavyLog/LogView/tabid/127/Default.aspx?&...

Possible photos of the USS Pringle: (None are very good quality)

http://www.usspringle.org/      http://www.navsource.org/archives/05/477.htm

http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/ships/DD/DD-477_Pringle.html

http://www.destroyersonline.com/usndd/dd477/

This picture can be found at:  http://911review.com/precedent/century/pearlharbor.html

 

 

 

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