A Reunion In the Water, Part 2
E. R. “Bud” Quam on the Yorktown at Coral Sea and Midway
by Ronald Russell
(The following post is from the Battle of Midway Roundtable and originally appeared in Veterans Biographies, distributed during the annual Battle of Midway commemoration in San Francisco, June 2006)
At the age of 15, young Bud Quam was severely injured in a hunting accident, and two years later he was nearly lost in a blizzard that inundated the area near his home town of Willmar, Minnesota. Consequently, when his 18th birthday rolled around in 1940, his parents had no reservations about sending him off to the Navy—they thought he might actually be safer there!
After boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois, Quam was sent directly to the deck force of the USS Yorktown (CV-5). After toiling for some months with the usual drudgery experienced by apprentice seamen on the deck force, he requested a transfer to the Engineering Department and became a striker (trainee) in “E” Division, which was the ship’s electricians and interior communications technicians. His battle station was in the magazine for one of the five-inch guns, and it was a terrifying place to be when a Japanese bomb hit the ship during the Battle of the Coral Sea.
In the Battle of Midway, the tensions mounted tenfold as the ship was battered during two enemy air attacks. “You didn’t feel too scared when you only heard the five-inch guns firing,” he says. “That meant the enemy planes were still pretty far out. Things got a little more tense when the 1.1-inch mounts started up, and then when you heard those machine guns chatter, you knew you were about to get hit.”
When the order to abandon ship came, Quam went into the oily water while still wearing his heavy anti-flash coveralls, required for ammo handlers in the magazine. He was struggling to stay afloat with little success, when he was surprised to be pulled aboard a small raft by ARM3/c Harold Wilger and EM3/c Peter Newberg, both former high school friends from Willmar! Chance had gotten the two men and their raft to Quam, one of nearly 2000 Yorktowners then in the water, at precisely the critical moment. The three were rescued by the destroyer USS Benham (DD-397) and eventually returned to Pearl Harbor.
At Pearl, Quam was reassigned to the USS California (BB-44), salvaged after the Pearl Harbor attack and undergoing repairs. He worked aboard the battleship during its passage to Bremerton for major overhaul, then requested and was granted a transfer to the submarine service. He sailed on war patrols aboard USS Pilotfish (SS-386) until 1944 when he became available for assignment to another sub. An Electrician’s Mate Third Class at the time, he was set to go aboard USS Seawolf (SS-197), when an EM2/c abruptly pulled rank on him and took the billet instead. The Seawolf was lost on its next patrol.
Quam then finished the war aboard USS Segundo (SS-398), serving as the pointer on the five-inch gun during several battle-surface engagements in the Yellow Sea. He left the service in 1947 to begin a long career with the Sperry-Univac corporation, with whom he helped develop computer systems for the Trident missile submarine.