John Joseph Wantuck, born on 23 November 1923 in Elmira, N.Y., enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on 6 January 1942. After basic training at the Marine barracks at Parris Island, S.C., he served at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from 30 June 1942 until late in the year.
By 5 December, Private Wantuck was serving in the Solomon Islands where, on 30 June 1943, he went ashore with other Marines at Zanana beach on the island of New Georgia. For two weeks, the troops tried to dislodge the Japanese defenders farther inland near Munda while Wantuck served with the beachhead and supply depot antiaircraft defense unit. On 17 July, the Japanese mounted a major offensive at the severed and disoriented American forces.
Though eventually stymied in their attempt, they managed to reach the perimeter of the beachhead and Private Wantuck's position. Using a light machine gun salvaged from the discard pile, Wantuck stuck to his position through the night. The following morning, after the enemy offensive had been repulsed, Private Wantuck was found dead at his gun with evidence in front of him that he had killed 18 to 20 of the enemy and had probably wounded many more. For his gallant defense and supreme sacrifice Private Wantuck was awarded the Navy Cross, posthumously.
Wantuck (APD-125) was laid down on 17 August 1944 at Quincy, Mass., by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Co.; launched on 25 September 1944; sponsored by Miss Mary Wantuck; and commissioned at the Boston Navy Yard on 30 December 1944, Lt. Comdr. Richard Bensen, USNR, in command.
Wantuck conducted shakedown training along the New England coast and then in the vicinity of Bermuda until 18 February 1945, when she arrived in Hampton Roads, Va. Three days later, she departed Norfolk, bound, via the Panama Canal, San Diego, and Pearl Harbor, for the western Pacific. She arrived at Oahu on 21 March but got underway again on 2 April. The high-speed transport stopped at Eniwetok on the night of 10 and 11 April and then resumed her voyage. She touched at Guam in the Marianas on 14 April and then pushed on to the lagoon at Ulithi. There, the ship joined a convoy bound for the Ryukyu Islands and arrived in Kerama Retto near Okinawa on 21 April. She remained at Okinawa screening the American ships there until the last day of April when she got underway in the screen of a convoy containing 16 other ships bound for Saipan in the Marianas.
However, after seeing them safely out of the Ryukyus, she returned to Okinawa and resumed her duty screening the ships remaining at Kerama Retto. On 4 May, she helped repulse an enemy air attack but claimed no kills or assists for herself. Later that day, when a kamikaze crashed Birmingham (CL-62), Wantuck went to the aid of the stricken cruiser. The following day, she departed Okinawa in company with damaged Birmingham and Rodman (DMS-21) and set a course for Ulithi. En route, however, the ships received orders diverting them to Guam in the Marianas and, for the next two months, the high-speed transport made regular shuttle runs escorting convoys between Guam and Okinawa. That particular routine ended on 5 July when she departed Guam for Leyte in the Philippines. She entered San Pedro Bay on 8 July and then headed back to Okinawa.
After more than a month of further service in the Ryukyus, during which hostilities ended on 15 August, she embarked troops for the planned occupation of Japan and joined the 3d Fleet on the 18th. The warship entered Tokyo Bay on the 27th and disembarked her share of the occupation force. On 30 August, she moved to the Yokosuka Naval Station where she began loading Allied prisoners of war from the hospital ship Benevolence (AH-13). During the first week of September, she made calls at various Japanese ports embarking former Allied prisoners of war. On the 7th, she transferred her passengers to Lansdowne (DD-486). On the 9th, Wantuck took several British prisoners on board and the next day transferred them to a Royal Navy destroyer. She continued to shuttle former prisoners of war between locations in Japan until 2 October at which time she headed for the Marianas.
The ship arrived at Guam on 5 October and remained there until the 19th when she headed back to Yokosuka. The ship reached Yokosuka on 22 October but got underway again on the 30th. Steaming via Guam, she arrived at Manus in the Admiralty Islands on 8 November but that same day headed for Rabaul where she arrived on 9 November. On the 18th she began a circuitous voyage back to the United States.
After stops at Manus, Guam, Eniwetok, and Pearl Harbor, the warship reached San Francisco on 21 December. On 3 January 1946, Wantuck entered the Mare Island Naval Shipyard for an overhaul which she completed on 10 March.
That same day, she sailed for her new home port, San Diego. For almost a year, the high-speed transport operated out of San Diego, primarily conducting amphibious warfare exercises at San Clemente Island. On 24 February 1947, Wantuck departed San Diego for a three-month voyage to the western Pacific. Her ports of call included Pearl Harbor, Kwajalein, Manus, and Guam. She returned to San Diego on 19 June and resumed normal operations out of that port which she continued until the beginning of the following year.
On 15 January 1948, the warship again stood out of San Diego for a voyage to the western Pacific. After stops at Pearl Harbor, Kwajalein, and Guam, she arrived in Tsingtao, China, on 15 February. For the next six months, she cruised along the China coast observing conditions during the latter stages of civil war in China and transported Chinese Nationalist troops to various locations in support of their efforts against the Chinese Communists. On 16 August, Wantuck departed Tsingtao to return to the United States. She made stops at Guam, Kwajalein, and Pearl Harbor before reentering San Diego on 9 September and resumed normal west coast operations.
Early in 1950, the warship made a round-trip voyage to Alaskan waters and back to San Diego before departing that port on 1 May to deploy overseas once more. She stopped at Pearl Harbor from 9 to 12 May and then continued her voyage west. After stops in the Mariana and Philippine Islands, Wantuck arrived at Hong Kong on 7 June.
While she remained at Hong Kong, war erupted in Korea when communist North Korean troops invaded South Korea on 25 June. Whether or not this event prompted Wantuck's unusually long stay, three months, in a liberty port for a warship is not clear from the documents. However, she did not leave Hong Kong until 6 September. From there, the ship moved to Sasebo where she arrived on 8 September.
Two days later, the high-speed transport was in the Korean combat zone at the port of Pusan preparing for the amphibious assault at Inchon. She departed Pusan on 13 September with elements of the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, embarked. Early on the morning of the 15th, the warship was off Wolmi Do, an island just off Inchon. Her troops stormed ashore on the island and quickly consolidated their position in preparation for the second phase of the operation, the invasion of Inchon itself scheduled for that afternoon. Wantuck remained at Inchon supporting the consolidation and expansion of the beachhead until 26 September at which time she returned to Yokosuka, Japan.
The high-speed transport returned to Korea early in October with Royal Marine Commandos embarked. In cooperation with Bass (APD-124) and supported by De Haven (DD-727), she executed a series of raids near Wonsan to disrupt North Korean transportation facilities, primarily rail lines, to support a scheduled amphibious attack on Wonsan. However, that operation was obviated by the fact that Republic of Korea (ROK) troops entered the city from landward on 11 October. The day before that event, Wantuck returned to Japan. She did not arrive back in Korean waters again until the 20th, once again at Wonsan. By that time, however, United Nations efforts to reopen the port were well advanced, and the transport saw no further combat duty during that deployment. She returned to Yokosuka on 25 November and, three days later, headed back to the United States. After stops at Midway and Pearl Harbor, the fast transport arrived in San Diego on 15 December 1950.
Wantuck spent almost eight months conducting normal operations along the west coast out of San Diego. On 23 July 1951, she pointed her bow westward once again and set a course for the Far East. Following calls at Pearl Harbor and at Midway Island, the fast transport arrived in Yokosuka on 22 August. By the time of Wantuck's return to the Korean conflict, that war had degenerated into a stalemate on land with the principals locked in armistice negotiations and jockeying for military advantage at the bargaining table. At sea, the naval war had become almost purely one of fast carrier operations with planes interdicting communist supply routes and hitting strategic targets in North Korea. Wantuck resumed duty with TF 90, the Amphibious Force, and consequently took little active part in the conflict from that point. In fact, during the 1951 to 1952 deployment, she did not even qualify for the Korean Service Medal, though she did visit Korean ports on occasion, particularly Inchon and Pusan. The fast transport departed Yokosuka late in March 1952; and, after a stop at Oahu along the way, she reentered San Diego on 19 April.
The ship remained on the west coast for almost a year. A paucity of movements on her part, limited to one move to San Francisco in September for a three-month stay before returning to San Diego in December, suggests a period of extensive repairs probably including an overhaul. In any event, she departed San Diego again on 7 March 1953 and steamed via Pearl Harbor to the Far East. The warship arrived in Yokosuka on 30 March and, though she patrolled extensively in Korean waters, her operations were essentially as peaceful as they had been during the previous deployment. That summer, the signing of the armistice made those conditions permanent, and Wantuck contented herself with patrols, training exercises, and port visits for the remainder of the deployment. On 9 November, she departed Yokosuka to return to the United States. En route home, the warship stopped at Midway and Pearl Harbor before arriving back in San Diego on 25 November.
Over the remaining four years of her active career, Wantuck made two more cruises to the Orient, one in 1954 and another in 1955. In 1956 and 1957, her zone of operations centered in two areas, the California coast and the waters around Alaska. The warship was decommissioned at San Diego on 15 November 1957 and berthed there with the Pacific Reserve Fleet. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 4 March 1958, and she was sold on 27 October 1958 to the Sundfelt Equipment Co., Inc., of Wilmington, Calif. Presumably she was scrapped.
Wantuck earned one battle star during World War II and five battle stars during the Korean conflict.