World War II Veteran: Rudolph (Rudy) L. Cusson, Canton, CT
Active Service: August/1941 to February/1946
Reserves Service: February/1946 to August/1947
Campaigns: Malta, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, Eastern New Guinea, Iwo Jima
Branch: US Navy
Rank: 1st Petty Officer
Assignments: Aircraft Carriers - USS Wasp; USS Prince William; USS Thetis Bay
Duties: Aircraft Maintenance/Gunner; Aircraft Maintenance/Flight Deck Director
Tell me a Story.
On September 15, 1942, at 1444 hours, about 150 miles southeast of San Cristobal Island, while returning from New Guinea, a Japanese submarine fired 4 torpedoes at the Wasp and 2 hit the carrier below the waterline and in the vicinity of fuel tanks and magazines.
In quick succession, fiery blasts ripped through the forward part of the ship. Soon, the heat of the intense gasoline fires detonated the ready ammunition at the forward anti- aircraft guns on the starboard side and fragments showered the forward part of the ship.
Water mains proved useless, since they had been broken by the force of the explosions. There was no water available to fight the conflagration forward and the fires continued to set off ammunition, bombs and gasoline. The explosions and fire were so intense that Captain Sherman ordered us to, “abandon ship,” 34 minutes after the carrier was hit.
Being on the forward end of the ship in air crew quarters, I attempted to go down ropes as others were doing, but saw they were landing in flames – so I made a run across the flight deck with my life jacket on and jumped 57 feet into the ocean.
As I hit the water, my life jacket was ripped away and I went deep into the ocean. I struggled to get to the surface and when I finally did, thankfully, my life jacket was within reach. I was in the ocean for about 3 ½ hours before a destroyer, the USS Duncan, came along and threw me a lifeline.
As I was being hauled aboard the destroyer, she suddenly spotted a Japanese submarine and left me tumbling in her wake – ingesting salt water and gasoline. The destroyer returned later, brought me aboard and transferred me to the cruiser USS Helena. Both these ships were eventually sunk by the Japanese.
The Wasp lost approximately 300 officers and men – most of them trapped below decks.
Here’s the Deal:
For his service in the Pacific during World War II, Rudolph L. Cusson received the following commendations: Good Conduct Medal; American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign; European Campaign Medal; WWII Victory Medal.
The experiences shared in Vet Stories are generously provided by Bill Newman, Past Post Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Avon Post 3272.