Harry Weis served aboard USS Santee at Battle of Leyte Gulf in WW II

This was Harry Weis pictured in his Navy uniform sometime during World War II. Note the campaign ribbon with several battle stars. Photo provided

Harry Weis of Punta Gorda, Fla. served aboard the escort carrier USS Santee. He took part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval engagement in World War II. It was the first time the Japanese Imperial Navy used kamikaze airplanes to attack the Allied fleet.

Weis was a Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class. While aboard the Santee he worked in weather observation.

The Santee, together with three other escort carriers: Sangamon, Suwannee and Chenango were designated Carrier Division 22. They sailed from Pearl Harbor on March 15, 1944 and headed southwest to Espiritus Santo in the New Hebrides Islands.

By the time the carrier group reached the Philippines and Leyte Gulf it was Oct. 20. Upon its arrival in the war zone gunners aboard the Santee shot down three Japanese planes.

This was Harry Weis’ boot camp graduation picture at the U.S. Naval Training Station, Sampson, N.Y. He is the tallest sailor on the back row. Photo provided

Five days later a Japanese suicide pilot crashed his plane into the wood deck of the 559-foot-long carrier detonating his 138 pound bomb that caused extensive damage.

“The kamikaze hit us amidship and minutes later we were torpedoed,” the old salt recalled more than 65 years later. “They claim it was the first kamikaze attack on an American war ship.

“The fire caused by the Japanese plane plunging through the wooden flight deck and exploding was brought under control quickly. Damage from the torpedo was more serious,” he said.

On Oct. 20 United States forces invaded the island of Leyte. The invasion was aimed at separating the Japanese from their oil supply. With most of its remaining capital ships in the battle the emperor’s navy was facing Adm. William Halsey’s 7th Fleet and Adm. Thomas Kinkaid’s 3rd Fleet.

Weis and the Santee were part of Adm. Clifton Sprague’s Taffy 3/Task Unit 77 that saw action at Leyte Gulf.

President Franklin Roosevelt met with Adm. Chester Nimitz and Gen. Douglas MacArthur to settle the question about landing American troops in the Philippines. The president sanctioned what MacArthur wanted, the Philippine invasion first.

In conjunction with the four sea battles off the Philippines, Gen. MacArthur’s forces invaded Leyte during which the sometimes imperial and very confident Supreme Commander in the Southwest Pacific announced to the world by shortwave radio when he reached the beach: “I have returned.”

Halsey’s carrier-based planes demolished their Japanese counterpart. When the shooting stopped the Japanese had 600 fewer carrier-based planes during a three-day shootout. The emperor lost the cream of his carrier pilots.

The Japanese strategy was to lure the American 7th Fleet commanded by Halsey away from Leyte. The bait was to be several aircraft carriers that were lacking sufficient pilots to protect them or the Japanese fleet from Allied air power.

When Halsey took the bait the Japanese sent two more enemy fleets into the Philippine Sea, to attack the Allied invasion of Leyte. What occurred was the Battle of Palawan Passage. It was a disaster for the Japanese navy.

The Imperial fleet lost 10,500 sailors together with 1 fleet carrier, 3 light carriers, 9 battleships, 14 heavy cruisers, 6 light cruisers, 35 destroyers and 300 aircrafts.

A Grumman F4F “Wildcat” fighter flies cover over the carrier USS Santee down below in October 1944 at the Battle of Leyte Gulf during World War II. Photo provided

American losses at Leyte Gulf and the other three major engagements totaled: 3,000 dead, 1 light carrier, 2 escort carriers, 2 destroyers and 200 planes.

Weis and the Santee sailed for Honolulu before the decisive battles were won by the U.S. Navy off the Philippines. After receiving temporary repairs she and its crew sailed for Los Angeles Harbor where the carrier underwent an overhaul.

It was at this point Weis got leave to go home to visit his family in New York City before returning to battle.

“I was coming back to Los Angeles after being home and the train I was on derailed in Ohio. As a consequence I missed the Santee. She sailed back to the war zone in time for the Battle of Okinawa and the surrender of the Japanese,” he explained.

“They put me in an aircraft repair shop where I worked the last few months of the war. We assembled airplanes and repaired damaged aircraft in the shop,” Weis said.

The Japanese called it quits and signed the surrender declaration on the deck of the Battleship Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945.

“I was discharged from the Navy and within a year married Carmen,” Weis said. “For the next 17 years I worked in the advertising department of Smith Corona Typewriter Co. He also spent time as the manager of a motel and an apartment complex before the couple retired to this area in 1985.

They’ve been married 65 years and have five children: Gary, Diana, Linda, Laura and Luanne.


                                                                                            Presidential Unit Citation

For extraordinary heroism in action against enemy forces in the air, ashore and afloat. Operating in the most advanced areas, the USS SANTEE and her attached air squadrons struck with sustained fury warships, aircraft, merchant shipping and shore installations in the face of frequent and prolonged shattering explosions of a suicide plane in her flight deck and torpedo hit in her side, stoutly continued flight operations and fighting her anti-aircraft guns throughout the period of emergency and unrelieved action. She sent out her planes to cover operations and land offensives and to destroy the enemy’s vital airfields and his camouflaged areas. The SANTEE’s illustrious record of combat achievement reflects the highest credit upon the officers and men and upon the United States Naval Service.

For the President,

James Forrestal

Secretary of the Navy

Weis’ File

Name: Harry Weis
D.O.B: 4 Oct. 1924
Hometown: New York City
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: July 1943
Discharged: March 1946
Rank: Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class
Unit: USS Santee
Commendations: Presidential Unit Citation
Battles/Campaigns: Battle of Leyte Gulf

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, Nov. 22, 2011 and is republished with permission.

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  1. My uncle Joe Klein second class torpedoman was killed in action on October 25, 1944 when he was running to his battle station. Shrapnel hit him from the Jap plane that crashed on the elevator on the USS Santee during the battle of Leyte Gulf.

  2. Hi Robert
    I am sorry your uncle did not survive the attack on the USS Santee….my Dad was fortunate to make it. He did suffer many years of PTS. which was never discuss years ago. I mean how could you live thru an attack like that & not have PTS. My Dad, Harry Weis, died this past April. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him. I wish he spoke about his experiences on the USS Santee but he never did. My Loss…..
    His daughter Laura

  3. My Dad was Lee Scott Ledgerwood, he was an Aviation Metalsmith Second Class on the USS Santee. He served from Jan 1944 to Jan 1946. On October 20, 1944 my Dad was on the flight deck on the USS Santee when the kamikaze hit. He and four other guys got behind the tractor(that moved the planes on the flight deck). I’ve got a picture of that of my Dad. The Santee shipmates started having reunions around 1987 in Omaha, Nebraska till the last one in Norfolk, Va in 2008. I attended 12 of those reunions and got to meet many of my Dad’s shipmates. My Dad did not talk much of his war experience either. Attending those Santee’s reunions I learned a lot about my Dad and and what his shipmates experiences were. I came to know and became very good friends with several of his shipmates. Most of them have passed over the last few years, I miss them every day. They are truly the Greatest Generation. Talking to the Santee shipmates they were closer to each other than their own brothers. Hats off to the guys of the USS Santee CVE-29. God bless them all.

  4. My dad, C. Richard (Dick) McDonald, was an Supply officer on the USS Santee when the Santee served in the North Atlantic and the South Pacific at Leyte. My dad passed in 1964 suddenly. But my brothers and I remembered he served on the USS Santee CVE-29. Our dad was very proud of his service and the crew he served with on the USS Santee. Although I did not serve in the U.S. armed forces, both of my two older brothers, Richard and Gerry, served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and carried on the tradition of serving their country.

    Dave McDonald.

  5. My Dad, Thomas E. Dumser, served on the USS Santee during the Battle of Leyte Gulf on 25 October 1944. He was a Radioman on one of the TBF Avengers (#99). They had just landed and told to stay by the plane while his pilot went down the elevator. His good friend Ralph Turner and Dad were by the plane when a Kamikaze hit. Both were were impacted by the explosion, Dad rolled over to Ralph who was bleeding from the head and neck areas and died in his arms. My father (91) is still alive but is battling Dementia. He is reliving the experiences he encountered that day. We are hearing things that he had not shared with us before. He did right his memoirs of WWII before this horrific disease affected him.

  6. The aircraft pictured, White 17, is a General Motors FM2, not a Grumman F4F. It had a bigger engine and a taller tail to compensate. Armament was reduced from 6ea .50 cal to 4ea .50 cal which allowed for larger ammunition capacity.

  7. My father, Warren G. Doesken, joined the Santee early 1945 as it made it’s way across the Pacific. He was a Radioman on one of the torpedo planes. He was positioned in the lower turret in flight. His gunner, Stan Ledebuhr, stationed in the upper turret. Warren sent 148 letters to his family during the war (49 from 1945). Not much was mentioned about combat because each letter was screened by the “Naval Censor” until the war ended. He included information about the typhoons and the search for a missing Admiral in Oct. 1945. He also had entries of picking up the Allied Prisoners of War. Warren enlisted in Oct of 1943 when he was 17 and was discharged late 1946 before his 21st birthday. Warren is residing in an Assisted Living facility in Anoka, Mn and will be 93 next Tuesday (12/18/2018). His memory is fading, but is still the life of the party. Stan is still living in his own home in Winona, Mn.

  8. My Dad, Gene Laughlin from New London Wisconsin, served on the Santee. I believe it was 1942-44. He was a signalman on the ship. He attended at least 20 reunions, very active even president one year. Kept in touch with many of the men. Today he is 93 today 6/6/2019. He was born 6/6/26. My father still goes to work M-F from 8-5.

  9. My father,John Collier Gransden, was a British Naval Officer who was captured by the Japanese on 18 February 1942 at Banka Island near Sumatra and interned in Japanese prison camps in Sumatra, Singapore and Formosa (Taiwan). it is particularly interesting for me to read the stories of men who served on the USS Santee because it was the USS Santee which evacuated my father from Formosa to Manila after the Americans rescued him and over a thousand Allied prisoners of war from the Japanese prison camps on Formosa in 1945. He too, like many of your dads, rarely spoke about the war but he did talk about how he was freed by the Americans, the huge debt of gratitude he felt to them for saving his life (he was 6 stone when he was rescued) and he was particularly grateful to the officers and men of the US Navy serving on board the Santee for the immense kindness and the care given to him and the POWS on their way to Manila, something which as he said was truly overwhelming after three and a half years of deprivation and brutality at the hands of the Japanese. I would love to hear from any of those men from the Santee who might still be alive or from anyone whose father was serving on the USS Santee and involved in the rescue and evacuation of the POWs on Formosa in 1945. It was such an amazing achievement when 32 armed US Marines landed on an island that had been a Japanese stronghold for almost 100 years to face some 30,000 still-armed Japanese and rescue 1,160 prisoners. The entire operation to get the POWs on to the escorts and carriers was carried out with precision and without a single incident in just 36 hours………..

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