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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
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Wilkes

 

Charles Wilkes—born on 3 April 1798 in New York City—served in merchant ships between 1815 and 1817 before being appointed a midshipman in the United States Navy on New Year's Day 1818. Following initial training in Independence, he transferred to Guerriere in July 1818 for a cruise in the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas. After a two-month assignment in Washington between March and May 1821, Midshipman Wilkes received orders to Franklin, in which ship he voyaged to South America. During that cruise, Wilkes briefly commanded Franklin's tender Waterwitch before being detached from Franklin on 3 March 1823 to command the American merchant ship Ocain on her way back to Boston, where he arrived on 15 October. From there, he reported to Washington for duty in conjunction with the court-martial of Capt. Stewart, his former commanding officer in Franklin. On 28 April 1827, Wilkes was promoted to lieutenant. Apparently at home awaiting orders between 1826 and 1830, Lt. Wilkes requested surveying duty in March of 1827 but withdrew his application in July 1828 in favor of one for duty with a proposed exploring expedition. Late that fall, he received orders to New York where he set about the task of procuring the necessary instruments for that expedition.

 

In April 1830, Lt. Wilkes resumed sea duty. Assigned to Boston, he made a cruise in her to the Mediterranean. On 15 November, he transferred to Fair-field in which ship he served until May 1831 at which time he was detached and ordered home to await orders. Late in the spring of 1832, Wilkes returned to active duty as a member of the team which surveyed Narragansett Bay. In February 1833, he received orders to duty in charge of the Depot of Charts and Instruments (forerunner both of the Naval Oceano-graphic Office and of the Naval Observatory). In August of 1836, Wilkes briefly took leave of that post when he sailed to Europe to acquire additional equipment for the exploring expedition. He returned to the Depot of Charts and Instruments after that trip; and, in March 1837, Secretary of the Navy Mahlon Dicker-son requested Wilkes to take a position in the astronomy department of the exploring expedition. That fall, he participated in an oceanographic survey of the Carolina coast.

 

The following spring, Wilkes learned that he had been chosen to command the South Seas Exploring Expedition. President Van Buren approved his appointment on 20 April, and Wilkes assumed command of Vincennes at Norfolk on 7 July. He received his final orders on 11 August and set sail in Vincennes—in company with Peacock, Porpoise, Sea Gull, Flying Fish, and Relief—on the 18th. After stops at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Tierra del Fuego located at the southern tip of South America, Wilkes took his expedition on its first cruise through Antarctic waters in February and March of 1839. He returned to Tierra del Fuego and then later headed through the south seas to Sydney, Australia, where he arrived on 29 November. On the day after Christmas, he embarked upon his second voyage to the Antarctic. In January 1840, he sighted the actual land mass which constitutes Antarctica, though it took later explorations to vindicate his assertions that the continent existed.

 

By late spring 1840, the expedition moved north again and began the exploration of the islands of the South Pacific. After surveying the Fiji Islands between May and August, the expedition departed those islands, bound for Hawaii on 11 August. The Hawaiian survey, conducted between 24 September 1840 and 5 April 1841, centered upon a study of the volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Wilkes completed his work in Hawaii in April 1841 and set sail on the 5th for the west coast. After surveys of parts of the coast of the Pacific Northwest during the summer of 1841, he brought his expedition into San Francisco on 14 August. Its arrival back in the United States, however, signaled no end to the work of the expedition. On 1 November, it put to sea once again, this time for a voyage to the western Pacific. During that cruise, Wilkes visited Manila in the Philippines, the British colony at Singapore, and Cape Town on the southern tip of Africa. Wilkes and his command concluded the expedition upon arrival at New York on 10 June 1842.

 

For almost 19 years, Wilkes worked with the data gathered by his expedition. During that period, he supervised the publication of the results of that exploration in a series of Narratives under the auspices of the Navy. He also received two promotions during that time—to commander in 1843 and to captain in 1855. The only break in this duty came in the second half of 1858 when the Secretary of the Navy sent Wilkes on a special mission to evaluate the potential for naval use of the natural resources—primarily iron, coal, and timber—of North Carolina's Deep River region.

 

The outbreak of the Civil War, however, brought an interruption to his scientific work. On 19 April, he was detached from his duty with the expedition publication program in order to help destroy the Norfolk Navy Yard before Union forces abandoned it to the Confederacy. In May, Capt. Wilkes received orders to take command of the steam-powered frigate San Jacinto. He arrived on board his new command on 27 August, at Monrovia, Liberia, just before she set sail to return to the United States. During the voyage home, he took her to the West Indies in search of the Southern commerce raider, CSS Sumter, under the command of Capt. Raphael Semmes—later commanding officer of the famous Confederate cruiser CSS Alabama. During that mission, his ship stopped at Cienfuegos, Cuba, for coal, and Wilkes learned that the South's commissioners to England and France, James Mason and John Slidell, had escaped from Charleston on board the fast coastal packet Theodora and were then in Havana awaiting transportation to Europe. San Jacinto quickly headed for Havana, hoping to catch Theodora when she embarked upon her return trip but arrived a day late. He learned, however, that Mason and Slidell were still in Cuba and planned to board the British mail packet Trent at St. Thomas for the voyage to Europe.

 

Thereupon, he concocted a plan to intercept Trent in Old Bahama Channel, some 230 miles east of Havana, and capture the two Confederate diplomats. On 8 November, the British ship steamed into sight, and Wilkes coerced her into stopping with two shots across her bow. A boarding party seized Mason and Slidell and their secretaries and then allowed the neutral ship to continue her voyage. San Jacinto then headed home with her prisoners. Upon his arrival in Boston, Wilkes was loudly acclaimed for his action, but soon the clouds of war with Great Britain over the incident began to darken the horizon. Ultimately, the dubious legality of Wilkes' action and the threat of war with Britain and France brought a complete disavowal of Wilkes' act by the Federal Government and the release of the prisoners.

 

On 30 November, Capt. Wilkes was detached from San Jacinto and ordered to duty with the Board of Naval Examiners. That assignment lasted until the following summer. He commanded the James River Flotilla briefly in July and August of 1862 and received his promotion to commodore at that time. On 29 August, Wilkes left that post and took over the Potomac River Flotilla. That assignment proved to be of short duration. On 8 September, he received orders to command the West India Squadron. Promoted to acting rear admiral, Wilkes directed the West India Squandron— primarily concerned with hunting down Southern commerce raiders and blockade runners—until the summer of 1863. On 1 June, he was detached from the squadron and, on the 30th, set sail from Havana for the United States in Roanoke.

 

Conflicts with the Navy Department, probably stemming from his treatment during the Trent affair negotiations, culminated in Wilkes' court-martial early in 1864 over the publication of a letter he wrote to Gideon Welles castigating the Secretary for statements made against Wilkes in his annual report. On 26 April 1864, Acting Rear Admiral Wilkes was found guilty by court-martial of disobediance of orders, insubordination, and other specifications and was sentenced to receive a public reprimand and suspension from the service for three years. President Lincoln reduced the term of suspension to one year, at the conclusion of which Wilkes retired from the Navy. On 6 August 1866, he was promoted to rear admiral on the retired list and, for the remainder of his life, worked for the completion of publication of the results of the Wilkes Exploring Expedition. He also took time out to do some writing, including an autobiography. On 8 February 1877, Rear Admiral Wilkes died at Washington, D.C. Initially interred at Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, his body was moved to Arlington National Cemetery in August 1909.

 

III

 

(DD-441: dp. 1,630; l. 348'3"; b. 35'4"; dr. 10'2"; s. 35 k.; cpl. 239; a. 4 5", 10 21" tt., 2 dct., 1 dcp., 12 .50-cal. mg.; cl. Gleaves)

 

The third Wilkes (DD-441) was laid down on 1 November 1939 by the Boston Navy Yard; launched on 31 May 1940; sponsored by Mrs. Bessie Wilkes Styer; and commissioned on 22 April 1941, Lt. Comdr. J. D. Kelsey in command.

 

Wilkes was ready for sea on 1 June 1941 and then conducted shakedown training off the New England coast. The destroyer arrived in Bermuda on 24 August and helped to screen North Carolina (BB-55) and Washington (BB-56) on their shakedown cruises in the Caribbean. She departed Bermuda on 9 September and, two days later, arrived back in Boston for a brief availability, setting sail on 25 September for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and four days of training. Wilkes left Cuban waters and, on 2 October, arrived at Hampton Roads, Va., three days later. During the remainder of October, Wilkes visited Gravesend Bay, N.Y.; Casco Bay, Maine; and Provincetown, Mass.

On 2 November, the destroyer arrived at Argentia, Newfoundland, briefly escorted Yukon (AF-9), and made rendezvous with Salinas (AO-19), which had just survived two torpedo hits, and escorted the damaged oiler to Cape Sable, Nova Scotia.

 

On 28 November, Wilkes departed Cape Sable escorting Convoy HX-162. During the destroyer's passage to Iceland, Japanese naval aircraft attacked the Pacific Fleet's base at Pearl Harbor, pushing the United States into full participation in World War II. The convoy reached its destination the next day, and Wilkes spent the rest of December escorting convoys from Argentia, Newfoundland, to Hvalfjordur and Reykjavik, Iceland. Wilkes returned to Boston where she refueled, took on provisions, and remained through the holiday season.

 

On New Year's Day 1942, the destroyer got underway and the following day arrived at Casco Bay, Maine, where she conducted exercise runs. On 5 January, Wilkes departed Casco Bay in company with Madison (DD-425), Roper (DD-147), and Sturtevant (DD-240), bound for Argentia, Newfoundland. She arrived two days later and, on the 10th, made rendezous with Convoy HX-169, accompanying it for the next eight days. On 18 January, she was relieved as escort, and she set course for Ireland with Madison, Roper, and Sturtevant. Three days later, she moored at Londonderry. On 25 January, Wilkes got underway and soon made contact with Convoy ON-59, taking station and relieving the British escort vessels. She arrived at Boston on 8 February, requiring docking.

 

On 12 February 1942, Wilkes received orders to depart Boston on 15 February and to proceed to Casco Bay, Maine, on a routine "milk run" in company with Truxton (DD-229) and to join Pollux (AKS-2) en route. Truxtun was delayed, so Wilkes went ahead and met Pollux according to schedule on 15 February; Truxtun joined up the following day.

 

While en route to Argentia, Newfoundland, at about 0350 on 18 February 1942, Wilkes' commanding officer was awakened by the navigator and informed that the ship was believed to be northward of the plotted track. Visibility was poor, and weather conditions prevented obtaining radio direction finder bearings. Continuous fathometer soundings were taken, and all were in excess of 30 fathoms except one sounding of 15 fathoms which was obtained just prior to grounding. The signal, "Emergency stop," to warn the other vessels was immediately given by searchlight, and the message "Wilkes aground do not know which side" was broadcast on the TBS. The words, "Wilkes aground," were also broadcast on the distress frequency. However, no message was received from Pollux or Truxtun until after these ships had also grounded. Wilkes found herself stranded to port of Pollux; Truxtun to starboard. About 0700, Wilkes succeeded in backing clear of the beach. After seeing that Pollux had received help from George E. Badger (DD-196), she left the scene. However, Pollux and Truxtun were totally lost, along with the 205 men who went down with them. The casualty list from the two lost ships was the Atlantic Fleet's largest list of the war up to that time.

 

No deaths occurred on Wilkes. She remained at Argentia for six days before beginning a voyage to Boston for repairs.

 

On 1 April 1942, Wilkes was assigned to Task Force (TF) 21 at the Boston Navy Yard where she conducted post repair trials and underwent a three-day availability. On 6 April, Wilkes got underway for Casco Bay, Maine, escorting Augusta (CA-31).

 

On the 8th, the destroyer sighted the British oil tanker SS Davila. One minute later, the two ships collided; Davila's bow struck Wilkes on the port side, abreast of her number one fireroom. After the two ships separated, the destroyer returned to Boston where she entered the navy yard for restricted availability which continued until 3 June. The next day, she conducted post-repair trials.

 

Following gunnery and antiaircraft practice and antisubmarine exercises at Casco Bay, Wilkes made a short escort mission screening Convoy BX-26. Three days later, she got underway for New York in company with Buck (DD-420) and Swanson (DD-443), arrived the following day, and anchored at the New York Navy Yard. On 1 July 1942, the destroyer sailed for Little Placentia Harbor, Newfoundland, where she performed escort and patrol duty before returning to New York where she remained until the 12th.

 

The next day, Wilkes got underway and joined Convoy AS-4, nine ships of American, British, Norwegian, and Dutch registry. On the 16th, the second ship of the first column of the convoy, SS Fairport, was torpedoed forward and aft and sank. Survivors got clear in four boats and several rafts. Kearny (DD-432) made depth charge attacks and rescued the survivors while Wilkes continued a sound search and released nine depth charges with no visible results.

 

At 1600 on 17 July, the destroyer made an underwater sound contact. Three minutes later, she delivered a modified "intermediate depth charge attack." Large amounts of air were seen to emerge at the scene of the attack in the center of which appeared the bow of a submarine, which then rolled over and disappeared, apparently out of control. At 1614, Wilkes delivered a deep attack, including three 600-pound charges at the scene of the air blows. More air broke the surface, and the whole area was covered with dark brown liquid and oil.

 

Three days later, Wilkes was detached from the formation and proceeded to Trinidad, where she refueled before sailing for the Virginia capes and arrived at Norfolk on 25 July. The destroyer then made two coastal runs to New York before getting underway from that port on 19 August and steaming for Halifax harbor, Nova Scotia, where she arrived on 21 August. She remained moored off Greenoch until 5 September. At that time, she proceeded to sea to escort USAT Siboney to New York. She then spent the remainder of September conducting various exercises in Casco Bay, Maine.

 

Wilkes sailed for Virginia on 30 September 1942 and, two days later, arrived at Hampton Roads. For the greater part of October, the destroyer conducted various drills and maneuvers, including amphibious operations with TF 33. On 24 October, Wilkes got underway from Norfolk and took station in a convoy steaming for North Africa.

 

On 8 November 1942, Wilkes participated in the assault on Fedhala, French Morocco. Operating with TF 34, she was assigned duty as a control vessel during the first phase and as a fire support vessel during the second. The ship made radar contact on the surface, and a short while later her fire control party reported a dark object in the water. Wilkes dropped a standard nine-charge pattern. Thereafter, sound conditions were unfavorable due to the depth charge turbulence which was extreme in the shallow water— 40 fathoms. After 15 minutes, the search was abandoned. No casualties or hits resulted from enemy action.

 

The next day, while steaming off Fedhala Point, Wilkes sighted a French destroyer emerging from Casablanca. She left her patrol station and proceeded toward the enemy ship. However, the shore battery on Pointe d'Oukach opened fire, and Wilkes was forced to discontinue her chase as the destroyer retreated back to Casablanca.

 

On 11 November, Wilkes received news that Casablanca had capitulated; and the destroyer then resumed patrolling the area around the convoy anchorage. At 1958, a rocket burst near the convoy area; and, one minute later, Winooski (AO-38) reported being torpedoed. At 2000, Joseph Hewes (AP-50) reported the same fate and sank in less than one hour. Bristol (DD-453) illuminated to open fire on a surfaced submarine and also made a depth charge attack with negative results.

 

The next day, Wilkes escorted Augusta into Casablanca. She then returned toward the patrol area and resumed patrolling her assigned station. Wilkes picked up a submarine contact at 2300 yards and made a shallow depth charge attack, expending four 300-pound and two 600-pound charges without success. Wilkes then abandoned her search and continued her patrol. Little more than an hour later, two shins in the convoy anchorage area were torpedoed. A U-boat hit a third ship after 26 more minutes had passed. The convoy was ordered to weigh anchor and proceed to sea. Wilkes got underway and took station in the convoy's antisubmarine screen off its starboard bow. The convoy changed base course 20 degrees every 15 minutes for almost two hours to avoid detection.

 

On 15 November 1942, Electro, (AK-21), a cargo ship in another convoy, was torpedoed. Wilkes made a submarine contact at 1800 yards and made a depth charge attack with negative results. The destroyer then screened the damaged ship as she was being towed into Casablanca.

 

Two days later, Wilkes rejoined the convoy as it steamed homeward and, on 30 November 1942, arrived at Norfolk. She spent the month of December conducting short escort and patrol missions in waters in New York and Casco Bay, Maine.

 

Wilkes began the new year 1943 with two voyages from New York to Casablanca and back, taking place between 14 January and 14 February and between 6 March and 5 April. The destroyer then made runs between New York and Norfolk through 14 May 1943.

 

The next day, she got underway escorting a convoy to the Panama Canal and arrived on 21 May at Cristobal, Canal Zone. Four days later, Wilkes returned to Hampton Roads. From 29 May through 9 June, the destroyer visited ports along the northeast coast of the United States and then devoted the remainder of 1943 escorting convoys to North Africa, making three round trips from 10 June until Christmas Day when she returned to New York.

 

On 7 January 1944, Wilkes got underway for the Canal Zone—along with Swanson (DD-443) and Marshall (DD-676)—transited the canal, and arrived at Balboa on 12 January. A week later, Wilkes escorted troop-laden SS Mormacdove, via the Galapagos, Bora Bora, and Noumea to Milne Bay, New Guinea, where they arrived on 20 February 1944. Five days later, the destroyer got underway for Cape Gloucester, New Britain, made rendezvous with an LST convoy en route, and escorted them to Borgen Bay, Cape Gloucester, Megin Island, Cape Cretin, and the Tami Islands.

 

On 1 March 1944, Wilkes was anchored in Oro Bay, Buna, New Guinea. Two days later, she embarked American Army troops, complete with equipment, and got underway with eight other destroyers and three high-speed transports and sailed for Los Negros Island of the Admiralty group in order to reinforce elements of the 1st Cavalry Division who were then holding the beachhead.

 

On 4 March, Wilkes arrived off Hayne Harbor, Los Negros Island, and disembarked all troops and equipment without incident. The destroyer remained there to operate as a fire support ship and received on board casualties evacuated from the combat areas. The next day, Wilkes bombarded Lemondrol Creek, just south of Momote air strip, and targets on the western end of Hayne Harbor. She continued performing such duty through 7 March when Wilkes proceeded to Seeadler Harbor, at Manus Island, Admiralty Group, to assist in the landings there.

 

After a two-day round trip to Cape Sudest and a brief patrol in Seeadler Harbor, Wilkes returned to Cape Sudest on 24 March for availability. On 9 April, she steamed back to Seeadler Harbor to escort a convoy from Los Negros Island to Langemak Bay, New Guinea. On the llth, the destroyer anchored in Oro Bay and underwent availability.

 

Wilkes arrived at Cape Cretin on 17 April and took on board Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger, Commander, Sixth Army, and his staff for transportation to combat areas to observe the landings in the Wakde-Sarmi area of New Guinea. Three days later, Wilkes made rendezvous with TF 77 and took station as a radar picket. On 22 April 1944, the destroyer participated in the landings at Tanahmerah Bay, New Guinea, and, after the troops had gone ashore, continued operations in that area.

 

D day for the landings at Wakde Island was 17 May 1944. Wilkes contributed fire support and served in the antisubmarine screen. On 26 May, after refueling and repair, the destroyer proceeded toward Biak Island and participated in the landings there.

 

On 5 June, Wilkes helped to escort a convoy consisting of nine LST's, three LCI's, four LCT's and escorts through the dangerous waters between the Schouten Islands. The destroyer then continued operations in the Humboldt Bay area and spent the latter part of June bombarding targets ashore on Aitape and Toem, New Guinea. During July, Wilkes participated in the landings at Noemfoor Island on the 1st and at Cape Sansapor on the 30th.

 

On 19 August, Wilkes departed the New Guinea area and set a course for the Marshall Islands, arriving at Eniwetok on 25 August. Three days later, she joined TF 38 and acted as a screen while the mighty flattops launched air strikes on Iwo Jima, Chichi Jima, Saipan, Yap, Ulithi, Peleliu, and Formosa. On 14 October, Wilkes accompanied the task force to the Philippines and that day made strikes against Luzon. She also screened them during a raid on Leyte on the 17th and during an attack against Samar Island on the 24th.

 

The next day, the destroyer—as part of Task Group (TG) 38.4—acted as a communication link between two task groups en route to intercept the Japanese Northern Force off Cape Engano. On the 26th, Wilkes and Swanson (DD-443) were detached and proceeded to Ulithi Atoll for upkeep and repairs.

 

On 3 November, Wilkes got underway with Nicholson (DD-442) for Apra Harbor, Guam, and arrived there the next day. After a brief round trip to Manus, Admiralty Islands, Wilkes and Nicholson escorted Convoy GE-29 to Eniwetok, arriving on 26 November.

 

Wilkes set sail for Pearl Harbor on 1 December and arrived seven days later. On the 15th, the destroyer arrived at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. Two days later, she entered Todd's Pacific Shipbuilding Co. yard at Seattle for an overhaul.

 

On 28 January 1945—after completing her availability and post-repair trials—Wilkes made rendezvous with Franklin (CV-13) and proceeded to San Francisco. Three days later, she was underway again with Franklin for Pearl Harbor where she arrived on 13 February. She then conducted routine operations and participated in various exercises and drills with Shangri-La (CV-38).

 

On 9 March, Wilkes got underway in company with New Mexico (BB-40) and Nicholson for Ulithi, Caroline Islands. After a brief refueling at Eniwetok, the destroyer arrived on 19 March at Ulithi. Three days later, she formed in the van of De Grasse (AP-164) and proceeded to Guam. While en route, Wilkes rescued four survivors of a PBM which had run out of fuel. On 26 March, she entered Apra Harbor, Guam, and was drydocked for repairs to the underwater sound equipment. On 1 April, Wilkes proceeded singly to Saipan. This was the first of two consecutive trips which lasted until 27 April.

 

At that time, Wilkes received orders to escort a six-ship convoy to Okinawa and arrived at Hagushi anchorage on 1 May. Three days later, she sighted a red flare fired from a downed PBM. Wilkes took PBM 93 V464 under tow to Kerama Retto and resumed patrol duty. On 6 May, the destroyer was ordered to return to Kerama Retto for limited availability and logistics. Four days later, she got underway and patrolled off the southern entrance to Kerama Retto. Between 12 and 22 May, Wilkes covered carriers for routine flight operations and strikes on Nansei Shoto.

 

On 22 May 1945, Wilkes escorted Makin Island (CVE-93) to Kerama Retto for provisions and ammunition replenishment. They departed the following day and, after making mail deliveries, Wilkes returned to her patrol station covering the carrier strikes on Nansei Shoto.

 

On 24 June, Wilkes and her task unit set course for Leyte and arrived at San Pedro Bay three days later. That day, she sailed for Ulithi, and she arrived there on 30 June for limited availability.

 

Wilkes sortied from Ulithi on 9 July 1945 and spent more than a month supporting TF 38. On 15 August, Wilkes received an official notice telling her that Japan had capitulated. Five days later, Wilkes was anchored at Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands, undergoing voyage repairs and routine upkeep. On 24 August, Wilkes got underway as part of the autisubmarine screen with Task Unit 30.8.9 patrolling off the Mariana and Bonin Islands.

 

Wilkes proceeded to Okinawa, arriving on 3 September. She then made rendezvous with TG 70.6 on the 7th in the Yellow Sea. On the 10th, the destroyer set her course for the outer transport anchorage at Jinsen (now Inchon), Korea, and arrived the next day. Three days later, she conducted fueling exercises, then spent the remainder of September and October, through the 20th, in the Ito-Jinsen area, delivering passengers and undergoing availability.

 

On 21 October 1945, Wilkes got underway from Jinsen, bound for the Marianas, and arrived at Saipan on the 27th. That same day, she pushed on toward Hawaii and reached Pearl Harbor on 4 November. Three days later, she headed for the west coast of the United States and arrived at San Diego on the 13th. Wilkes departed the west coast on 16 November, transited the Panama Canal, and reached Charleston, S.C., on 2 December.

 

The destroyer reported for duty in the Inactive Fleet, Atlantic, on 3 December. She was moored in the navy yard from 4 to 31 December undergoing preservation. Wilkes was placed out of commission, in reserve, on 4 March 1946. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 16 September 1968, and she was sold to the  Southern  Scrap Material  Co., Ltd., New Orleans, on 29 June 1972.

 

Wilkes received 10 battle stars for her World War II service.