The cruise book contained in this article was owned by my father-in-law Erwin Hilliard. I photographed the pages of the book in its entirety to share with family, others who may know someone whom was on the USS Denver during WWII or anyone interested in history. The Denver has a storied history. One story conveyed to me by Erwin entailed an attack by a plane on the Denver. He told me that he was awoke to hear the call for “battle stations”. Based on my research, I think this attack happened in November 1943 and was probably a torpedo dropped from a plane. 20 men died in this attack and the ship was taken to dry dock, which he did state. However, he had conveyed the incident as a Kamikaze attack. The Denver was attacked by a Kamikaze, however they seem to have prevented a direct hit. However, a bomb from the plane blew close to the ship and there was damage and casualties but apparently no fatalities so I am unsure when the attack occurred 100%.
In any case, he had to run from his bunk in whatever he had on, which it sounded like he had no chance to get fully dressed. He told me, “I ran to the 5″ gun I was assigned to. While I was running to get there, something hit the ship and exploded. It was a big explosion and the ship rocked hard. The explosion happened where my rack was and it blew the hell out of everything I owned. I ended up borrowing clothes until we got someplace where I could get more issued.”
Erwin recounted this story and conveyed the luck he had experienced and the sorrow of lost ship mates. He said, “if I had not left when I did, I would have been blown to bits”. Then his demeanor changed and with watered eyes and a broken voice, he told me, “It was only about 2 minutes after that the ship exploded. Some of the guys I lived with were not so lucky, they were just gone, that could have been me”.
While the ship itself, and unfortunately Erwin are gone, their memories will live on in story and artifacts. Erwin was laid to rest in his longtime home town of Hooper, Nebraska in 2017. I had the honor of knowing him and honoring him by attending his funeral with his daughter, who is my wife. We are losing more and more WWII veterans by the day.
Here are some videos that show how life on the Denver was.
If you have the opportunity to listen to the stories of a man or woman who experienced war, you will not regret the experience. If a veteran of any war shares their experiences, they are also sharing a piece of American history with you. As a US Navy veteran, I am thankful for him sharing his experience with me and I will remember it forever.
As for the Denver, she was sold for scrap. However, the contents of the Denver’s bridge is located at the Pacific War Museum in Fredericksburg Texas.