WWII veteran recalls wartime

Donald Kaup avoided injuries at Pearl Harbor and potential health risks at Bikini Atoll during his service in the U.S. Navy.

Donald Kaup holds a raised-print map of Oahu.
Donald Kaup holds a raised-print map of Oahu.
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Seventy-five years later, Donald Kaup can still remember the announcement over the loudspeaker: “All hands man your battle stations. This is not a drill. The Japs are here.”

Donald Kaup was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on Dec. 7, 1941.
Donald Kaup was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on Dec. 7, 1941.

The U.S. Navy fireman first class was 25 years old and serving aboard the USS Medusa when the Imperial Japanese Navy bombed the naval base at Pearl Harbor just before 8 a.m. Dec. 7, 1941.

Kaup, who will celebrate his centennial birthday Nov. 21, will be in Ocoee on Nov. 11 as a special guest for the city’s Veterans Day program. He currently lives in south Orlando but has familial ties to Ocoee.

The World War II veteran grew up in Skamokawa, Washington. After high school, he had miscellaneous jobs at logging camps and on fish traps on the Columbia River. He enlisted in the military in January 1941, attending boot camp in San Diego and then machinist’s school in Michigan.

His first assignment was the Medusa, which was the Navy’s first purpose-built repair ship and where he worked in the lower machine shop.

“That’s where I spent most of my time on the ship,” Kaup said. “I was a lathe operator. Medusa was a repair ship, and we had ships come alongside that had problems. We sometimes patched ships, whatever needed repair.”

When Pearl Harbor was attacked, damaging a great deal of ships, his workload increased tremendously. His ship, which was moored off Pearl City Landing, was not struck, although there were many near misses.

He recalled going up on the bridge to relieve the lookouts about two hours after the initial attack. While there, he saw a man at Pearl City Landing taking photographs of the ships and the damage. A message was sent ashore, where the man was commandeered and brought aboard the ship for interrogation.

“I don’t know what happened after that, but he was of Japanese descent,” Kaup said.

The Medusa remained at Pearl Harbor until April 1943, when it traveled to the New Hebrides Islands, east of Australia, to continue working on ships. Kaup served there, as well as in Papua New Guinea and Admiralty Islands to the north.

After some leave time in the United States, Kaup was assigned to the USS Hecuba, at New Orleans. This is where he met and married his wife, Marie.

He still remembers the day, Jan. 1, 1945: “There were two girls who sat down in Walgreens drug store, and they said, ‘Do you want to sit with us, sailor? You were ahead of us.’ The place was full. So I said yes.”

He arranged another meeting at the local bowling alley, and by April 12, they were husband and wife.

While on the Hecuba, Kaup achieved the rank of chief machinist’s mate. When the ship was decommissioned at Pearl Harbor, he was reassigned to another ship that was scheduled to go to the Bikini Atoll. Kaup said he took emergency leave just prior to the nuclear bomb testing.

After serving on numerous ships — including the USS General H.W. Butner, USS Bottineau, USS Latimer, USS Sabine and USS Zelima — Kaup became an instructor at the naval base in Valejo, California.

He retired in 1960 and moved his family to Orlando, spending five years at Cape Canaveral, at the start of the Saturn space program.

He also worked as an air-conditioning machinist.

Donald and Marie Kaup have three children, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

He has returned to Hawaii several times to attend Pearl Harbor survivor reunions, including the 50th reunion. There, he met up with some of his buddies, with whom he served so many decades ago.


Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].



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