|Frank Del Rocco Served in the Navy in World War II.|
He was involved in many of the Major Battles in the Pacific against the Japanese
|Frank was assigned to The USS Astoria.
Launched in 1933 The ship was a "heavy cruiser". It was 588 feet in length.
Could sail at 37 MPH. It held a 900 man crew.
It had a variety of guns designed to fire at both enemy ships and aircraft.
|Frank Del Rocco, one of the five Del Rocco brothers who served in World War II, fought against the Japanese in the
Pacific theater of operations in the US Navy. His ship, the USS Astoria, saw action in several now legendary naval battles.
This includes The Battle of the Coral Sea, The Battle at Midway, and The Naval Battle at Guadalcanal. |
He just missed the attack at Pearl Harbor as the USS Astoria was docked there two days before the attack on December 7th. On December 5th the ship had been sent to re-supply the strategic outpost of Wake Island. Upon hearing of the attack the Astoria was immediately ordered to return to Pearl Harbor to search for the enemy. After several days of patrol where no enemy contact was made, the Astoria returned to Pearl Harbor where the sailors saw the devastation done by the sneak attack that launched America into World War II.
|Battle of the Coral Sea|
|A few months into the war on May 4th – 8th 1942, the U.S Navy would engage the Japanese Navy for the first time in what historians call the Battle of the Coral Sea. This was the first sea battle fought by airplanes launched from aircraft carriers where neither side’s ships sighted or fired directly upon each other. No surface ships engaged directly, the battle was fought entirely from the air.
The Japanese were attempting to expand their empire in the South Pacific by invading New Guinea. Through intelligence, the U.S. learned of the Japanese plans. More important, the Japanese did not know that their plans were known by the Americans who were setting a trap for the advancing Japanese fleet. The U.S. Navy formed a task force of ships that had survived the Pearl Harbor attack to block the Japanese advance. Frank’s ship the USS Astoria was one of these ships in the task force.
The Battle of the Coral Sea was the first U.S. battle after Pearl Harbor against the Japanese fleet. In this battle, numerically the Japanese came out on top as the U.S. lost several ships, including the aircraft carrier Lexington. In turn, the Japanese only had a few ships damaged. However strategically, the U.S. could claim a victory as the Japanese withdrew from their attempt to occupy New Guinea. This was the first time in the war that a Japanese invasion force had been turned back. During the battle, the USS Astoria put up intense anti-aircraft fire against the attacking Japanese planes which were aiming at the U.S. aircraft carriers - The Lexington and The Yorktown. The Astoria’s gunners claimed to have shot down at least four enemy planes in the attack.
|Battle at Midway|
|A month later, The USS Astoria took part in what has come to be known as The Battle at Midway. Again, U.S. intelligence had broken the Japanese Naval code and learned of the Japanese plan to take Midway Island, a strategic outpost in the Pacific manned by U.S. Marines and ground based fighter planes.
The Navy again formed a task force that included the USS Astoria to rendezvous with the Japanese fleet and defend Midway Island. In the ensuing engagement, the Astoria used their anti-aircraft guns to protect the aircraft carrier Yorktown. The Astoria took damage as the Japanese aircraft bombs found their mark. Frank Del Rocco recalled in a newspaper interview (while home on leave during the war) – that it was a close call for him as he was stationed below in the boiler room when several near misses rocked the ship.
At one point in the battle, several enemy torpedo bombers converged on the damaged Yorktown. In a creative use of defense, the antiaircraft guns on The Astoria and other ships shot their guns into the ocean to throw up curtains of water into the path of the attackers to obstruct their vision and bombing accuracy. Despite their best efforts, the Yorktown suffered more hits and the order came to abandon ship. In response, the Astoria launched several lifeboats to rescued a number of Yorktown survivors.
The Battle of Midway was a decisive U.S. victory as four Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk by airplanes from the U.S. aircraft carriers. As a result of the loss of so many aircraft carriers, the Japanese Navy was never able to attack the advancing U.S. forces again and could only try to defend their pacific outposts from the relentless U.S. onslaught.
Historically, the Battle at Midway was the turning point in the war in the Pacific. It was the Allies’ first major victory against the Japanese.
|Battle of Savo Island (off Guadalcanal)|
|The next offensive battle in the Pacific was for control of the sea around the island of Guadalcanal which was the first U.S. invasion of a Japanese held island in the war. Again, Frank Del Rocco and the USS Astoria would be part of another now legendary battle in the Pacific. Initially, the U.S. surprised the small Japanese garrison on the island and captured Guadalcanal and its vital airfield. The Japanese responded by bringing ships loaded with men and material to retake Guadalcanal. The U.S. also set out to bring men and supplies to the island. The Astoria accompanied the troop and supply transports to protect them from Japanese planes and ships as the men and material moved from sea to land to supply the hard pressed Marines. On the night of August 8th – 9th, a large Japanese task force came to challenge the U.S. fleet defending the island. They faced off at a small nearby island off Guadalcanal named Savo Island. The ensuing battle became known as The (First) Battle of Savo Island. It took place in the dark of night. The opposing ships fired intensely at each other even though it was difficult to distinguish friend from foe. (This was before radar and sonar that we have today.) At one point in the battle, the Astoria stopped firing as they thought they might be firing on a friendly ship. After confirming it was the Japanese, the attack resumed. Unfortunately, the Astoria took a direct hit which set her ablaze. With the Astoria lighting up the dark night, she quickly became the preferred target of the enemy. She took many additional hits with the resulting fires and dense smoke filling the beleaguered ship.|
|During the battle, Frank’s duties were two fold. He alternated between helping the battle stations and keeping things rolling in the engine room. Frank was in the engine room when the order to evacuate the engine room was given. With the power out and smoke obstructing his vision and breathing, it was a challenge to find his way out to the relative safety of the deck. To add to the confusion, several bodies lay in his path to safety. Fortunately, the sailors had been trained for this situation. In training, sailors starting from the bottom of the ship had to find their way up to the deck blindfolded. Frank’s brother Steve related that Frank had always said that this training undoubtedly saved his life.
With the ship ablaze in the night, silhouetted on the horizon, the Astoria was spared as the Japanese choose to suspend their attack and withdrew from the fight. This gave the crew a chance to save the ship. Frank and several shipmates made an attempt to return to the engine room to get the power restored, but the smoke was too intense. A bucket brigade was started to fight the raging fires. But in the midst of these efforts to save the ship many troubles mounted. A group of wounded sailors who were placed on the deck had to be moved as the heat underneath became too intense. And as a result of the shelling, the ship began to list to port. Some holes on the port side of the ship that were initially above the water line now were below the water line and the ship began to take on water. As more water moved in, the list increased. Over the next several hours, explosions were heard below deck as the fire spread. Finally, the order was given to abandoned ship. Several hours later, and after a last ditch effort to save the ship, the USS Astoria at just a few minutes past noon on August 9th, 1942, sunk outside Guadalcanal. This area would eventually have so many sunken ships from both sides that it became known as “Ironbound Sound”.
In this battle, 235 of the 900 men on board the USS Astoria were killed. While the U.S. lost a number of ships and sustained many casualties in The Battle at Savo Island, the Navy did achieve their objective which was to provide protection to allow men and supplies to move onto the island and that the transport boats would survive to be used in other battles.
|After The USS Astoria was sunk, Frank was assigned to The USS Manatee - tanker|
|With his ship sunk, Frank was sent home on leave. This gave him an opportunity to tell his story to the local newspapers. He would return to the Navy and later be assigned to The USS Manatee. This was a tanker that delivered fuel to the fleet in the Pacific.
While the above retelling of Frank Del Rocco’s battle experience seems to be complete, it actually it is not. A 1968 article about the 5 Del Rocco brothers states “Three of the vessels upon which Frank served, including the heavy cruiser Astoria and an aircraft carrier, were sunk by the enemy.” Since we know that his last ship the USS Manatee survived the war that leaves two other ships and their sinking unaccounted for. And there is more evidence about another ship sinking as related by Frank’s sister Anna (who is still alive today) who said that it was part of the family lore that Frank did not like General Douglas McArthur. This was because Frank said that his ship was sunk when they needlessly had to wait around for General McArthur. It would be highly unlikely that Frank would be referring to the sinking of the USS Astoria as that ship was in the midst of an intensive battle when sunk.
Some experiences in one’s life become good old stories that are preserved and told over and over, while others are, as the phrase says, “lost to history”. Perhaps the story of Frank’s other ships being sunk may someday come to light. If the information becomes knows, this author will be glad to write about it.
After the war, Frank eventually settled in the U.S. Virgin Islands and became a successful businessman. He had always been a competitor – he was a boxer in his youth and even boxed in the Navy. Frank started the first frozen food business in The Virgin Islands. His nephew recalled on one trip to the islands that everyone on the island knew Frank as he provided much of the meat and fish to the restaurants and hotels on the island. He never married. Frank Del Rocco passed in 1978.