USS Whitehurst Logo by: Pat Stephens, Webmaster, DESA

Typhoon Doris


By Roger Ekman Captain USN Ret. CIC Officer in Whitehurst in Dec. 1953


LTJG Roger Ekman ca 1953

Roger Ekman Capt. USN Ret


Background.  A typhoon is a cyclonic storm.  Cyclonic storms are known by various names depending on their location.  For example, in the Western Pacific they are typhoons, in Australian, willi-willi, in the Atlantic, hurricanes, and over land tornadoes.  Further, the rotation of the cyclonic storm is counter clock wise in the Northern Hemisphere and clock wise in the Southern Hemisphere. 

Generally speaking, there are four stages of a cyclonic storm. Stage I (the formation) consists of a cyclonic circulation developing with increasing force of the winds in a relatively small area.  The atmospheric pressure begins to drop to about 29.53 inches of mercury.  This stage can last from 12 hours to several days.  Stage II (immaturity) has the pressure at the center continuing to fall.  The wind speeds increase, and the storm continues to be confined to a relatively small area.  Stage III (maturity) has the pressure about the same as stage II, but the winds speed increase to gale force, and the area expands to perhaps 150 to 200 miles in radius.  Stage IV (decay) has the area of the storm continuing to increase, but the pressure at the center rises and the wind speed decreases.  It tends to lose the characteristics of a cyclonic storm, and gradually dissipates over perhaps several days.


Wind Speed MPH

Effects observed at Sea

Under 1 (calm)

Sea like a mirror

1-3 (light air)

Ripples with appearance of fish scales; no foam crests

4-7 (light breeze)

Small wavelets; crests of have glassy appearance, not breaking

8-12 (gentle)

Large wavelets; crests begin to break; scattered whitecaps

13-18 (moderate breeze)

Small waves, becoming longer; numerous whitecaps

19-24 (fresh breeze)

Moderate waves, taking longer to form; many whitecaps, some spray

25-31 (strong breeze)

Larger waves forming: whitecaps everywhere; more spray. Wind speed of 30 MPH or less classifies the cyclonic storm as a “Tropical Depression.”

32-38 (moderate gale)

Sea heaps up: white foam from breaking waves begins to be blown in streaks.  Wind speed to 31 to 59 MPH classifies the cyclonic storm as a “Tropical Storm.”

39-46 (fresh gale)

Moderately high waves of greater length: edges of crests begin to break into spindrift; foam is blown in well-marked streaks.

47-54 (strong gale)

High waves: sea begins to roll; dense streaks of foam; spray may reduce visibility

55-60 (strong/whole gale)

Very high waves with overhanging crests: sea takes white appearance as foam is blown in very dense streaks; rolling is heavy and visibility reduced even more

60 and greater (typhoon)

Wind speed now classifies storm as a typhoon. Air filled with foam; sea completely white with driving spray; visibility reduced to near zero


Category 1 typhoon. Wind speeds of 60 MPH or greater classifies the cyclonic storm as a “Typhoon.”


Category 2 typhoon


Category 3 typhoon


Category 4 typhoon

150 plus

Category 5 typhoon






Very rough


High seas


Very high seas

40 plus

Mountainous and confused


The above two tables have been extracted from AMERICAN PRACTICAL NAVIGATOR, BOWDITCH, H. O. Publication No. 9. 

The data such as wind speed, sea conditions, and classifications used in this report were those in effect at the time of the incident.  Modern day classification and data differs from the standards in effect in 1953.


During this SAR event, Typhoon DORIS was to the East of the Northern Marianas Islands while moving in a generally Northern direction.  The Northern Marianas Islands are a chain of islands located in a North/South orientation between Guam and Farallon de Pajaros.  The eye of the typhoon was generally about 50 to 100 miles to the East of the islands resulting in the island chain being in what is normally considered the “Safe Semicircle” of a typhoon.


10 December 1953
Tropical Depression 6.2 N/163.2 E, Winds 30 MPH

As a normal training exercise, Rescue Coordination Center, COMNAVMARIANAS, directed USS Whitehurst to participate in a Search and Rescue (SAR) exercise.  This training exercise required Whitehurst to be underway from Apra Harbor, Guam, from 0600 till 1630 that day.  One should be careful about what is “wished for” or anticipated.  Things have a way of coming back to bite one!  By the way, Guam is located at 13.27 North, 144.45 East.

11 December 1953

Tropical Storm (now named DORIS) 8.1 N/159.4 E, Winds 35 MPH

12 December 1953
Tropical Storm, DORIS, 9.8 N/155.0 E, Winds 50 MPH
13 December 1953
Tropical Storm, DORIS, 12.4 N/152.1 E, Winds 65 MPH
14 December 1953
Tropical Storm, DORIS, 16.0 N/147.5 E, Winds 100 MPH
15 December 1953
Tropical Storm, DORIS, 18.5 N/146.2 E, Winds 95 MPH


During the period 11 December to 15 December, USS Whitehurst remained in Apra Harbor, Guam.  Fuel tanks and fresh water tanks were topped off. Typhoon Condition III was set.  There was a quiet undertone of excitement among the crew about the Typhoon nearing Guam.  Very few of the crew had first hand experience with storms of this magnitude.  Little did they know what was in store for them? 


16 December 1953
Typhoon, DORIS (category 2), 19.8 N/145.2 E, Winds 95 MPH
See Map of Northern Marians Map

At 1400 Whitehurst, a 305 foot destroyer escort capable of a maximum speed of 23.5 knots, was directed by Rescue Coordination Center, Guam, to get underway immediately and proceed at best speed, 23 knots, to the vicinity of Agrihan Island (18.7 North, 145.7 East) which is about 300 miles North of Guam.  A weather recon aircraft (PB4Y-S2 BUNO 59176) had failed to report as of about 1300 local time and was presumed down.  This aircraft was part of VJ-1/VW-3, and it was officially reported that this aircraft while making a low level penetration into Typhoon “DORIS” was lost with all 9 crewmen.  An intense air and surface search was carried out until 25 December 1953 without finding any trace of the aircraft or the personnel.  Additionally, there were unconfirmed reports of two other possible aircraft accidents associated with this SAR.  Further, details on these two possible aircraft accidents are not known.  However, on this day, a R4D out of NAS Agana hit the crater on Agrihan.  All were lost.  Typhoon “DORIS” was now classified as a Super Typhoon.  This was the 1953 nomenclature for this class of typhoon.  Today, it would be classified as a Category 5. 

Lt. Frank Day, a mustang officer with 16 plus years of service, commented that he had never seen a crew respond with such speed and enthusiasm when the announce was made about “the real thing.”  The radar gang in Combat Information Center (CIC) heard over the radios that the recon aircraft were penetrating the typhoon with wind over 100 knots at altitudes of between 200 and 300 feet.  Air currents over Agrihan were reported as being wicked and flipped the aircraft around like feathers.  Reports like these cause the excitement about the mission to turn to serious reality.  Ltjg. Jerry Johnston kept the crew informed of the progress of the SAR mission by addressing the crew periodically over the 1 MC ship’s announcing system. 

Whitehurst experienced heavy seas immediately upon departing Apra Harbor, Guam.  The seas battered the ship, and low clouds shrouded the skies.  Green water broke over the 02 level saturating everyone on the bridge.  Port lookout Sonar man Chung was reported to say that even though he could not see well without his glasses, he removed them because they were constantly covered with sea spray and because nothing was at sea in this weather.  Starboard lookout, Fire control man Max Crow, reported that he was soaked with seawater down to his skivvies.  During the night, the port side ready service ammunition box for mount 31 carried away.  There was extensive damage to the port side lifelines and the hatch leading to ammunition spaces in the area.  All hands were prohibited from going on the weather decks.  It was a rough night!

17 December 1953

Typhoon DORIS (category 2), 20.2 N/ 143.3 E, Winds 95 MPH

Abeam to the West of Pagan Island, the rough seas were approaching the category of being classified as “mountainous.”  During the rocking and rolling of the ship, Fireman Snyder's hand was caught in a hatch with a possible fracture.  Later that same day, Chief Houston’s right hand was caught in an out of control hatch.  Again, a possible fracture was the diagnosis.   

Concurrently, Rescue Coordination Center, Guam, directed Whitehurst sister ship, USS Hanna DE 449, to investigate another possible downed aircraft in the vicinity of Pagan Island.  Nothing was ever discovered or found.  Whitehurst continued to plow North to Agrihan.  

It had been reported that earlier this day that an Air Force B-29 (registration: 44-87741) with one engine out returned to Anderson Air Force Base, Guam. After attempting to make an emergency landing, it crashed into an officer’s housing area.  Reports are sketchy, but of the 16 crew members, there were possibly 11 fatalities with an additional 8 fatalities to others ground personnel.


18 December 1953
Typhoon DORIS (category 2), 20.8 N/141.6 E, Winds 95 MPH

Near the end of the mid watch, Whitehurst was directed to investigate a green flare sighted by a search aircraft.  An expanded square search was conducted until about noon that day, but nothing was discovered.  At this time a course for Alamagan Island was set.  After conducting a visual search of Alamagan in the early afternoon, Whitehurst proceeded to Pagan Island to investigate reported floating debris. 

19 December 1953

Typhoon DORIS (category 3), 24.0 N/141.8 E, Winds 110 MPH

Whitehurst continued to be battered by the heavy weather and rough seas.  It was about 0800 on this date that Radar man Seaman Parson started to experience the effects of “mal de mer.”  Knowing what would come next, he grabbed a wastebasket.  His shipmates shouted: “No, No!”  Parsons soon learned why; the wastebasket was made of wire.  Although as a result, CIC smelled a little “gamy,” the rest of the ship did also.  This was a time that tested the hearts and stomachs of the stoutest mariners. 

Throughout the remainder of the day, debris was sighted in the water, but nothing of value was recovered.  Early in the afternoon a Japanese fishing boats was sighted.  This sighting offered a slight bit of relief.  Assistance was offered to the crew of the fishing boat by one of the crewmembers that spoke broken Japanese.  No aid was required. 

In late afternoon a visual surveillance of Maug Island was made.  Maug Island is about 70 miles North of Agrihan Island.  At this time, Rescue Coordination Center, Guam, had directed the USS Hanna DE 449 to investigate the area-surrounding Pagan Island, and Whitehurst to concentrate on the area to the North.  Hanna put ashore on Pagan Island an investigation party and that spoke with the natives.  The natives reported that they experience 50 hours of acute danger and survived on canned milk and water.


20 December 1953
Typhoon DORIS (category 5), 24.7 N/148.2 E, Winds 150 MPH

Early this day, Hanna and Whitehurst joined to conduct searches.  No luck.  Later this same day, Whitehurst was direct to proceed to the vicinity of Agrihan Island to investigate another lost aircraft.  Agrihan Island was sighted at dusk and a rescue party attempted to land, but the surf was too rough and dangerous.  Visual searches in lieu of overland searches were conducted, but again, NO LUCK. 

Agrihan is a high volcanic cone island in the Marianas Islands archipelago located at 18.77 North, 145.67 East with an area of 40.0 square miles and approximately 14 miles of coastline.  Its highest point is 3136 feet above sea level.  The volcanic cone is about 4 miles in diameter with central calderas.  The last eruption occurred in 1917 and deposited close to 10 feet of ash on the village in two days.  Ravines radically dissect the cone. 

A letter written home by Gunner’s Mate Second Glen Anderson reported that the ship at times had been within 100 miles of the typhoon.  On one occasion it was 60 miles from the eye.  At this time, all hands were issued life jackets.  No one was allowed on the weather decks, spray made everything a dirty gray in color, and everyone was sick.  He added that he hoped the “old tub” would hold together.  Debris was everywhere as a result of palm trees being shredded.  Later, we learned that 112 people on Agrihan Island had suffered the effects of the typhoon for 72 hours, and except for a few minor injuries, everyone survived.


21 December 1953
Typhoon DORIS (category 2), 25.1 N/ 150.0 E, Winds 90 MPH in the morning
and 29.5 N/161.0 E, Winds 40 MPH in the evening

It was good news that Typhoon DORIS was starting to dissipate this date.  This relative moderation allowed Whitehurst to launch a LCRL (a light rubber raft) with 1 officer and 6 enlisted men to proceed to the island.  The personnel on the LCRL gained valuable information: the village had been decimated and all the palm trees leveled.  Based on the information gained, a rescue effort was initiated.  In mid afternoon the evacuation of all individuals from Agrihan Island was initiated.  By 2030 that night the rescue of all individuals with what few possessions they had was completed.  In passing, one of the valued possessions loaded on the ship was an old treadle operated sewing machine.  One can get a mental picture of the activity of loading this 80-pound machine by hand on a ship rolling in swells of 4 to 6 feet.  Nevertheless, all made it safely thanks to the heroic effort of the crew of Whitehurst.  In an over night voyage, all evacuated personnel were transported to Saipan Island.  Sleeping accommodations left much to be desired.  Women and children occupied crew’s quarters while others slept any where on the weather decks.  Fortunately, the sea had moderated and was beautiful with bright phosphorescence.  Only moderate swells remained.  There is a sad note to end this chapter.  Animals, chickens, and livestock could not be evacuated.  Since there were 110 dogs left on the island, it was decided that the dogs must be put down in order to preserve the other animals.  As a result, Gunners Mate 1 Mlynek, Gunners Mate 2 Moebus, and Gunners Mate Seaman Causey returned to Agrihan to accomplish this grim, unpleasant task. 

Later during the day, it was learned that one R4D (aka C 47, DC 3) with 10 souls onboard had crashed into Agrihan Island crater.  This information would result in future SAR duties.


22 December 1953

Tropical Depression DORIS, 30.0 N/165.0 E, Winds 30 MPH

At 0900 Whitehurst entered Saipan harbor and berth at a pier.  Passengers and their lot were discharged. 

 As an aside to the events of the typhoon, the crewmember of the Whitehurst, anticipating a trip to Japan, had several weeks earlier purchased many toys at the Navy Exchange in Guam.  These toys were earmarked for orphans in Japan.  However, seeing the misery of the survivors of the typhoon, the toys were given to the children of the victims.  The happy faces of the children touched the hearts of all the sailors on Whitehurst. 

With this task completed, Whitehurst proceeded to Guam arriving there at about 1700, and quickly refueled.  At 1840 1st Lt. Charles M. Schmidt, USMC, and an overland rescue team of 10 marines embarked.  Later, Captain Harold J. Cokely, USNMC, Lieutenant Kirbow, USN MC, and 2-hospital corpsmen from USNH Guam plus several native guides embarked.  With no time lost, the ship was underway again for Agrihan Island. 

In times of extreme happenings, a glimmer of humor often appears.  It was in the afternoon that USS Hanna reported fruit bats had discovered the ship and landed on the anchor windlass.  These bats are furry animals 8 inches long with a wingspan of approximately 3 feet.  The number of bats is not known, but rumor has it that none of the crew of the Hanna would go forward of mount 51.


23 December 1953
Sea and Weather Conditions Normal

With the rescue and medical team on board, Whitehurst returned to Agrihan Island in order to search for the reported lost R4D out of NAS Guam.  Upon arrival slightly after noon, the Marine Rescue Team was put ashore.  The rescue team conducted a ground search of the immediate area, but made no discoveries.  They remained on the island over night.

24 December 1953
Sea and Weather Conditions Normal

Over night, Whitehurst steamed slowly off Agrihan.  At 0700 a ship’s rescue team was disembarked.  The team consisted of: LTJG Plimier, Ensign Frank Harding, GM 1 Mlynek, GM 2 Howard Moebus, RM 3 Evans, and a hospital corpsman striker. The following is GM 2 “Swede” Allgren’s recollection of events, as told to him after the gunners mates returned to the ship: “The marines started directly up the mountain toward the crater where the wreckage was thought to lie.  The undergrowth was so thick they had to make their way with machetes while the Whitehurst party found natives and asked about the wreckage.  They learned of a route to the crater that provided a much easier access than the way chosen by the marines.  Though the sailors had to walk farther, they reached the rim of the crater first.  Ensign Frank Harding was the first to sight the aircraft in the crater about 600 feet below.  The point where the weather plane had struck the wall was clearly visible as were the fuselage and tail section lying on a ledge further down.  There was no sign of life.  When the marines arrived at the crater, some were sick, apparently from coconut milk they drank on the trek to the rim.  After descending into the wreckage and seeing the condition of the five bodies, it was decided not retrieve them.  Identification tags were recovered.  The search was an overnight expedition, during which time Whitehurst steamed slowly around the island.  The ship’s crew enjoyed Christmas dinner and a “lazy” day while thinking of the hardships of their buddies had to be enduring.  Prior to the trek to the crater, Captain Jones went ashore to confer with the rescue teams.  After about 1 hour, he returned to the ship and sent provisions (water and food) to the rescue team that remained on the island.  RDSN “Gene” Paquette and several others wrote the following ode:

Christmas on the Whitehurst 

Over the ocean, over the sea,
That’s where you’ll find the Whitehurst on Christmas Eve. 

Now it’s Christmas and all is calm,
But the Whitehurst is still raging on. 

The crew is full of Christmas joys,
As the Whitehurst sails with its boys.

Sailing on Christmas isn’t so bad,
But on the Whitehurst, Jarheads we had. 

So on we go to Agrihan,
And on the Whitehurst no one gives a damn. 

So it’s Christmas and all isn’t well,
So one the Whitehurst we fight the swell.

It was later learned that three other search aircraft limped back with engine trouble.  In order to ensure the safety of their return flight, rescue gear had to be jettisoned.  All three aircraft landed safely on Saipan Island because it was believed they could not make it to Guam.”

25 December 1953
Sea and Weather Conditions Normal

At about 1000 part of the ship’s landing party returned to the ship.  The LCRL then returned to the island with water and provisions that included turkey drum sticks.  That evening the Search and Rescue Mission for aircraft, PB4Y-S2 number 59176, was officially terminated.

26 December 1953
Sea and Weather Conditions Normal

Late in the morning the remainder of the ship’s rescue team returned to the ship.  Whitehurst continued to maneuver off Agrihan.

27 December 1953
Sea and Weather Conditions Normal

At 1100 the Marine Rescue Team returned to ship in the LCRL and the ship’s whaleboat.  Whitehurst then departed Agrihan for Alamagan Island in order to pick up SAR equipment and visually search the area one last time.  At 1800 Whitehurst proceeded to Guam.  GM 2  “Swede” Allgren wrote the following poem:

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all thru the barge,
Not a creature was stirring.  Not even the prisoners-at-large. 

The sailors were all nestled and snug in their sacks,
While vision of sirens danced ‘round their racks. 

Our stockings were hung on the pipe overheard,
In hopes that Chief Kessler would put in some bread.

Me in my sweatshirt, you in your jeans,
We’re still on the lookout for flying machines. 

When up on the bridge arose such a clatter,
I jumped from my rack and ran up the ladder. 

I looked thru the hatch and what could be seen?
There was old Agrihan, bearing 3 fifteen. 

When upon on the island a light could be seen.
It must be those “Jarheads” in a ravine. 

If the marines get up there faster,
We’ll get to Japan, that’s what we’re after. 

On Turner, on Connors, on Wilkins and Day,
If we get the job done, there’ll be no delay. 

From down on the deck to the top of the mast,
Dash away, dash away, might fast. 

When without warning I heard a loud noise,
It must the C. O. Jones snowing the boys. 

I drew in my head and was turning around,
Down the stack St. Nick came with a bound. 

He was all dressed in his B. V. D. s
For it was too hot in these high seas. 

With a blonde and a brunette, and sweat on his brow
I knew right then, no more trips to Palau. 

And the beard on his chin was white as you know,
That’s as close as we’ll be to getting snow. 

And the stub of a cigar held in his jaws,
We wondered right then if that’s Santa Clause? 

A round little face, his skin was so fair,
We wondered right then, “what’s with this square?” 

There he stood sweating a lot,
He said: “How does it get so damned hot?” 

With a turn of his head and a flip of his wrist,
We knew right then, we were on his list. 

Without a word he ran back aft,
Grabbed a paddle and threw over the raft. 

He sprang for the raft and gave a little wheeze,
We knew right then, he would be gone in a breeze. 



28 December 1953
Sea and Weather Conditions Normal

 After entering Apra Harbor, Guam, the Marine Rescue and Medical Team departed the ship.  Normal operation followed: refueling, topping off water tanks and provision, receiving mail, etc.  During the enthusiasm for these activities Fireman Cockrell injured his hand.  The injury was not so serious as to prevent him from remaining on board for the forth-coming trip to Japan.


29 December 1953 to 2 January 1954
In port

During this period of time, the crew was in a stand down mode with normal in port routine.

3 January 1954
Underway for Port Visit, Yokosuka, Japan

Normal underway at sea routine.

4 January 1953
Enroute to Japan

In the early afternoon, Captain M. D. Jones turned on the 1 MC and announced to the crew: “On the port side is Agrihan, Christmas Vacation Land of the Pacific.”


The ship’s hospital corpsman feels that all members of the crew of the Whitehurst lost on the average of 10 pounds during this event especially with the sea conditions being violent.

“Swede” Allgren, Whitehurst
Earl Beech, VJ-3 veteran
Elmer Causey, Whitehurst
Various Veteran Crew Members of VJ-1/VW-3
Max Crow, Whitehurst
Roger Ekman, Whitehurst
Nevins A. Frankel, Webmaster VJ-1/VW-3
“Gene” Paquette, Whitehurst
Various website links
Official Deck Logs of USS WHITEHURST DE 634
Various Internet sources
H. O Publication 9 (1962)

The Original posting of this story SAR Dec. 53
The Story from the Flyers Perspective Weather Plane Lost in Typhoon Doris

Detailed Data, Typhoon Doris   Typhoon Doris Data

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