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Foibles of the “Willie Dee”

The USS William D. Porter, a naval destroyer, sank on June 10, 1945, with Seaman First Class Ted LaDoux, now a longtime resident of The Dalles, aboard.

All 300 sailors made it to safety, but the Willie Dee, as she was known, settled 2,400 feet to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, another victim of World War II’s famous Battle of Okinawa.

LaDoux is awaiting long overdue campaign medals from his service in Okinawa and other Pacific battles. (See related story).

The Willie Dee had a long series of goofs in its not-quite-two-year run. LaDoux’s son, Ted LaDoux Jr., researched the ship and described the “follies” of the Willie Dee in information he provided to the Chronicle.

Its very first orders in November 1943 were to escort the USS Iowa, carrying President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the secretary of state and the admiral of the navy, along with other top brass, to the crucial “Big Three” conferences of Allied leaders in Cairo and Tehran.

While backing up at Norfolk, Va., The Willie Dee demolished a sister ship and tore down her dock railings, life raft and captain’s gig and other important equipment.

Just 24 hours later, while escorting the USS Iowa and under orders to keep complete silence, the Willie Dee accidentally dropped a depth charge that exploded, causing other ships to initiate anti-sub maneuvers.

Shortly thereafter, a freak wave inundated the ship, stripping everything that wasn’t lashed down and washing a man overboard who was never found. Next, the engine room lost power in one of its boilers.

But the big goof came when the Willie Dee accidentally fired a live torpedo at the USS Iowa, barely missing it during practice exercises on Nov. 14, 1943. The USS Iowa in return trained its main guns on the Willie Dee.

Had the torpedo hit the Iowa and her precious human cargo, “It would’ve changed the history of the world, with the president and admiral of the navy aboard,” Ted LaDoux Jr. said

Since President Roosevelt, a Democrat, was aboard at the time, from then on, whenever the Willie Dee went she was greeted with the infamous saying, “Don’t shoot, we are Republicans!”

The person responsible for the error was court-martialed, but, in an act of mercy, Roosevelt pardoned him.

On its next assignment, in the upper Aleutian Islands, the ship accidentally lobbed a life five-inch shell from one of its main guns onto the front yard of the American base commandant.

“It’s had a captain or two that got replaced,” Ted LaDoux Jr. quipped of the ship.

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