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Recounting the history of Colfax veteran killed in action

Published: Friday, March 7, 2014 11:16 a.m. CST • Updated: Friday, March 7, 2014 11:45 a.m. CST

Norman Ellsworth was an American patriot, called to serve in the United States Navy just before worldwide tensions started to flare up in advance of World War II. He would ultimately give eight years of his life to the Navy and his country; the final eight years.

Norman was born in Colfax, the only son in a family of five children, to Earl and Ida Ellsworth. He graduated from Colfax High School with the Class of 1936, having moved ahead in his classes after a mid-year enrollment.

His enlistment would come soon after on Feb. 15, 1937. Norman was assigned to the USS Nevada for the majority of his eight-year career, with the first four years served in relative calm even as tensions mounted across the globe.

He left the Nevada for a stint though, sent to attend a special training at a Navy school in San Diego. It was during this stint that the attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into the conflict, and the USS Nevada sustained serious damage in the attack. The ship was struck by six bombs as well as one torpedo, leaving 60 of the crew members dead.

The Nevada was out of commission for nearly an entire year, receiving repairs at Pearl Harbor and then at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. After being equipped with a heartier anti-aircraft gun battery in the course of the repairs, the Nevada was deployed northward for the Battle of Attu, the only land battle in the war to be fought on United States’ incorporated territory.

Norman returned home after the battle. During his brief respite from the conflict, he married Louise Veronica Villaseno. His rest was not to last, though, and Norman soon found himself in Washington, D.C., where he received further training before being reassigned to the USS Whitehurst, a destroyer escort vessel.

The Whitehurst carried out a number of refueling and escort missions in relative safety  before being sent on to the Indonesian islands, where an active conflict raged with the Japanese.

The Whitehurst was engaged in a patrolling station, monitoring traffic through a channel between two Indonesian islands, when the crew received an urgent call for help.

A landing craft was sustaining fire from shore batteries, and when the Whitehurst arrived, she was able to assist in evacuating casualties from the beachhead before serving as an anti-submarine station in the conflict.

As things settled down, this would’ve been about the time Norman learned about his daughter. Named for him, Norma Louise Ellsworth was born on June 16, 1944. The two would never meet.

Routine escort and patrol duties continued between the South Pacific Islands, with the conflict moving readily forward as the Japanese were pushed from one island to the next before the Philippines invasion would ultimately begin.

The Whitehurst would play the role of anti-aircraft and anti-submarine screen during the invasion of the islands. While the ship escaped the conflict more or less unscathed, it was involved in the rescue mission of the USS Eversole which was ordered abandoned after sustaining two direct hits from torpedos.

The Whitehurst and its crew eventually received a short respite from the conflict, escorting convoys, as well as cargo, around Australia for five months before the ship was assigned to engage the enemy once more.

In April of ’45, Norman and the rest of the crew were patrolling the Kerama Islands, just southwest of Okinawa. On April 12, a low-flying enemy plane passed by and was brought under fire, but the plane veered off and flew out of range.

The plane heralded the coming of four Aichi D3As, Japanese Navy dive bombers.

One of the bombers separated from the pack and engaged the Whitehurst, circling the ship and commencing a 40-degree angle dive. Using the opportunity, two more Japanese bombers engaged, one starboard and one astern.

Anti-aircraft batteries attempted to dispatch the bombers, peppering them with 20 mm ordinance, but the first bomber successfully crashed into the bridge structure where a bomb jettisoned loose and exploded inside of the ship’s superstructure.

The entire bridge was enveloped in flames, and the USS Vigilance came to its assistance.

While medical care provided by the crew of the Vigilance would ultimately save 21 crew-members, Norman was not fated to be in their number.

He lost his life that day, April 12, 1945, the same day as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Norman’s remains were transported back to Okinawa for a period, but he found his final resting place at the Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.

His name, and his legacy, continued to live on through descendants and relatives named in his honor including daughter Norma Louise Ellsworth; nephews James Norman Van Elsen, Henry Earl Van Elsen, Rober Ellsworth Van Elsen and Norman Sutton.

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