By Jennifer Martin - email
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Don Rhinehart was drafted right out of high school in June 1944 and sent from his hometown of Marion, Indiana, to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center.
"Went from boot camp to Norfolk, VA, to Diesel School and then from Diesel School went to Tampa Bay, Florida, to pick up a new ship, Sutton."
The USS Sutton was a brand new destroyer escort ship.
"It was boring. We had 2 ships, four hours each, each day. It was just repetitious all the time but there was something going on all the time. We were assigned to a killer group, 2213, it was 4 ships. We operated separately, sometimes we operated as a group."
The Sutton provided escort service against submarine and air attack for navy vessels and supply ship convoys. They also did anti-sub patrols in the north Atlantic.
As the war drew to a close, the Sutton was relieved of patrol duties to accept the surrender of two german subs. One which was to be the last u-boat surrender of World War II, the U234 which was on its way to Japan.
"The war was winding down. The Germans knew they had lost. And it was a 6 or 7 month journey because they had to go around Africa. They couldn't go through the Suez Canal. It was just suicide really. They had made 3 attempts before, unsuccessful and this was the last submarine."
It was a mine laying submarine. But the U234 had been refitted to carry cargo, disassembled planes and bomb making material. The Americans used a confiscated German Enigma machine to decipher the sub's plans.
"They were talking about evading on the submarine, whether to go to Brazil, what they were going to do, who they were going to surrender to. They did not want to surrender to the French or to England. And they were not too happy about the Canadians. The skipper decided they would keep quiet until they were in the American sector where they could surrender to us.
That's when the war got real. We saw these German kids, some of them 14-15 years-old, with pictures of their family. And months ahead of that time, we were trying to kill them. And they were trying to kill us. Which is just stupid."
They transferred the prisoners to the Coast Guard. Then the Sutton went back to New York, got refitted and went out to the Pacific. After he left the Navy in July 1945, Rhinehart went back to school and got married. He went to work for the railroad in 1951, and moved to Jackson.
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