Jean Carter Witter, Ensign, USN
Witter was born in San Francisco on 31 January 1921—matriculated at the University of California at Berkeley in September 1938. He graduated in the spring of 1942 and was commissioned an ensign in the United States Naval Reserve on 13 May 1942 as a result of his completion of the NROTC program at the university. On 25 May, he reported to the Commandant, 12th Naval District for temporary duty while awaiting transportation to permanent duty in San Francisco (CA-38) then active in the Pacific. Once on board the heavy cruiser, Ens. Witter participated in the assault on Guadalcanal and Tulagi early in August. He was present when Wasp (CV-7) was torpedoed, and he fought in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Ens. Witter was killed during the brutal night action off Cape Esperance on the night of 12 and 13 November 1942 as a result of one of the more than 45 shell hits suffered by his ship.
He was awarded the Navy Cross in the Night Naval Action at Guadalcanal, November 12-13, 1942.
The information below was sent to the Foundation by Clifford Spencer. A special thanks goes out to him for his continued support to the USS San Francisco Memorial Foundation.
In 2001 I was the principal speaker for the Memorial Service at Lands End.
I picked two young officers that were in the battle on Nov 13, 1942. Ensign Jean Witter and Lt. Jg. Jack Bennett, to eulogize.
The attached remarks about Witter were cleared and approved at the time by the family of the fine young officer so they will be OK with having it inserted under his name.
When I last read his inserted info it was bare bones and didn’t give enough credit to this fine young man. I saw him a lot before his death when he came to our gun tub to talk to Earl St. John and Sammy Samuelson.
GOOD AFTERNOON LADIES AND GENTLEMAN.
YOU KNOW THAT THINGS ARE TOUGH WHEN SAILORS CALL UPON A MARINE TO SPEAK FOR THEM!!!!!
I HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE DISTINCT PRIVILEGE TODAY TO ASSIST IN HONORING TWO OF OUR SHIPMATES.
TWO YOUNG OFFICERS WHO SERVED WITH US ON THE SAN FRANCISCO DURING THAT NIGHT SURFACE ACTION THEN CALLED THE “THIRD BATTLE OF SAVO ISLAND”, NOW CALLED THE “BATTLE OF GUADALCANAL.” THE BATTLE THAT FLEET ADMIRAL KING SAID WAS “THE MOST FURIOUS SEA BATTLE EVER FOUGHT”
THESE VALIANT YOUNG MEN WERE LTJG. JOHN E. BENNETT AND ENSIGN JEAN CARTER WITTER JR.
LAST YEAR WE HONORED CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR WINNER, BOATSWAIN’S MATE, REINHARDT J. KEPPLER, AS THE FIRST HONOREE IN WHAT WILL BE AN ANNUAL EVENT.
THE FIRST OF THESE YOUNG OFFICERS WE HONOR HERE TODAY IS;
I WOULD LIKE NOW TO HAVE THE MEMBERS OF THE WITTER FAMILY STAND AND BE RECOGNIZED.—– (LIST OF INTROS)
THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE IN SUPPORT OF OUR EFFORT TO HONOR AND RENEW MEMORIES OF THIS YOUNG MAN. JEAN WAS MORE THAN A SHIPMATE OR FRIEND. HE WAS AN EXCEPTIONAL HUMAN BEING THAT IN HIS SHORT STAY WITH US LEFT ONLY POSITIVE LESSONS ABOUT THE CONSTANT CHALLENGES OF LIFE AND THE COMPETITIVE SPIRIT NEEDED TO SUCCEED AND EXCEL.
AS A MEMBER OF THE CLOSE KNIT WITTER FAMILY, JEAN HAD MANY ROLE MODELS IN THE PERSONS OF FATHER, GRAND-FATHERS, UNCLES AND AUNTS THAT WERE LEADERS IN THEIR COMMUNITIES, AND MEMBERS OF THE MILITARY WHEN NEEDED. HE LEARNED EARLY IN LIFE THAT NOT ONLY WAS HE EXPECTED TO BE COMPETITIVE BUT TO LEAD AND BRING OUT THE BEST EFFORTS OF OTHERS. THAT HE LEARNED HIS LESSON WELL IS REFLECTED IN HIS HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGIATE ENDEAVORS—TO FURTHER REFLECT ON HIS OUTSTANDING QUALITIES PIEDMONT HIGH SCHOOL’S BEAUTIFUL FOOTBALL STADIUM IS NAMED “WITTER FIELD” AND IN 1943 THE U.S. NAVY NAMED A DESTROYER ESCORT IN HIS HONOR, U.S.S. WITTER-636—JEAN WAS LOVED AND HONORED ACROSS THE SPECTRUM OF SOCIETY!!
JEAN WAS BORN JAN.31,1921, THE OLDER BROTHER OF NANCY AND TWO YOUNGER BROTHERS THOMAS AND WILLIAM, A BAY AREA RESIDENT FOR ALL OF HIS FORMATIVE YEARS, HE BECAME A STAR QUARTERBACK FOR HIS HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL TEAM AT PIEDMONT HIGH, JUST ACROSS THE BAY! AND AT CAL-BERKELEY HE WAS A RIGHT GUARD ON CAL’S FIRST TEAM. WHILE PLAYING AGAINST ARCH-RIVAL STANFORD, JEAN BLOCKED A LATE KICK THAT ALLOWED CAL TO WIN A GLORIOUS VICTORY OVER STANFORD’S HUMILIATED INDIANS!!
HE WAS ALSO CAPTAIN OF THE BEAR RUGBY TEAM— HIS TEAM WON THE NORTH AMERICAN CHAMPIONSHIP FOR 1942! IT WAS SAID OF HIM THAT AND I QUOTE “JEAN WITTER, JR. IS THE BEST RUGBY PLAYER EVER DEVELOPED IN CALIFORNIA, WHICH MEANS THE BEST IN THE WORLD!!”
IN ADDITION TO HIS ACADEMIC STUDIES HE WAS A DISTINGUISHED OFFICER CANDIDATE IN THE NAVAL ROTC. IN MAY 1942 HE RECEIVED HIS DEGREE AND WAS COMMISSIONED AS AN ENSIGN IN THE U.S.NAVY.
ON MAY 14,1942 HE WAS MARRIED TO BEATRICE CHURCH ALSO A U. C. GRADUATE, SOON AFTER HIS COMMISSION WAS GRANTED, AND HAD A BRIEF TEN DAY HONEYMOON WITH HIS “BEADIE” IN CARMEL BEFORE REPORTING ABOARD THE SAN FRANCISCO.
MY PERSONAL CONTACT WITH HIM WAS WHEN HE WOULD STOP BY OUR GUN MOUNT, JUST ONE DECK UP FROM HIS DUTY STATION, AND CHAT WITH ALLEN (SAMMY) SAMUELSON AND EARL ST. JOHN ABOUT THEIR COLLEGE DAYS, AND FOOTBALL, FOOTBALL, FOOTBALL!! HE WAS A VERY FRIENDLY AND UNASSUMING YOUNG OFFICER THAT YOU LIKED IMMEDIATELY WHEN YOU FIRST MET HIM!
HE EXPERIENCED ACTION DURING THE GUADALCANAL INVASION, SEVERAL MONTHS OF BOMBARDMENT SUPPORT, SUBMARINE ATTACKS, INCLUDING THE DISASTROUS SINKING OF THE CARRIER “WASP” ON SEPT. 15, 1942, THE VICTORIOUS NIGHT SURFACE BATTLE OF CAPE ESPERANCE AND THE FIERCE AIR TO SHIP BATTLE AGAINST TORPEDO PLANES AND ZEROS ON NOV. 12TH. FROM ALL REPORTS HE WAS COOL UNDER FIRE AND HIS CONDUCT WAS EXEMPLARY!
THAT FATEFUL NIGHT BEGAN AS MANY OTHERS WE HAD EXPERIENCED IN THOSE PERILOUS WATERS. THE SEAS WERE CALM WITH ONLY A SMALL RAIN SQUALL OR TWO DRIFTING ACROSS THE BAY. FROM THE LAND CAME A HEAVY SMELL OF GARDENIAS AND NOW AND THEN A FAINT WHIFF OF SMOKE, TO REMIND US OF THE EMBATTLED MARINES WE WERE THERE TO PROTECT. WE WERE PROCEEDING ON A WEST-NORTHWEST COURSE JUST OFF THE NORTH SHORE OF GUADALCANAL.EVERYONE KNEW THAT WE WERE GOING TO MEET A JAPANESE TASK FORCE VASTLY SUPERIOR IN FIRE POWER TO US BUT WE HAD BEEN ORDERED TO STOP THE “TOKYO EXPRESS” AND WE WERE GOING TO DO OUR BEST.
THE TASK GROUP HAD BEEN AT GENERAL QUARTERS SINCE EARLY EVENING AND JEAN, AS ASSISTANT NAVIGATION OFFICER WAS AT HIS BATTLE STATION IN THE CHART HOUSE, WHEN THE OPENING SALVOS SHATTERED THE QUIET NIGHT. THE SAN FRANCISCO’S 8 INCH GUNS WERE POURING BROADSIDE AFTER BROADSIDE INTO A KONGO CLASS BATTLESHIP HIEI— THE JAPANESE LIGHT CRUISER NAGARA ALONG WITH THE BATTLESHIPS HIEI, AND KIRISHIMA RETURNED A DEADLY HAIL OF SIX AND FOURTEEN INCH SHELLS.
THEY RAKED THE ‘FRISCO’ FROM THE QUARTER DECK TO THE BRIDGE AND IT WAS AT THIS TIME THAT THE CHART HOUSE WAS HIT BY A SIX INCH SHELL KILLING ENSIGN WITTER, ALONG WITH ALL OTHERS IN THE CHART HOUSE. THE SAME SERIES OF HITS STRUCK THE BRIDGE KILLING ALMOST EVERYONE INCLUDING ADMIRAL CALLAGHAN AND MORTALLY WOUNDING CAPTAIN CASSIN YOUNG. THE COST IN LIVES WAS VERY HIGH ANYWHERE NEAR THE BRIDGE AND FORWARD SUPER- STRUCTURE THAT NIGHT. SEVEN MARINES ALSO DIED JUST ABOVE THE BRIDGE, AND INCLUDED IN THE DEAD WERE JEAN’S FRIENDS SAMMY SAMUELSON AND EARL ST. JOHN…
ENSIGN WITTER WAS ONE OF MANY PATRIOTIC YOUNG MEN THAT GAVE THEIR LIVES THAT NIGHT, NEAR A FARAWAY SCRAP OF LAND THAT FEW HAD EVER EVEN HEARD OF. HE GAVE HIS FINAL FULL MEASURE OF LOVE FOR HIS COUNTRY, SO THAT THE WORLD COULD REMAIN FREE!!
(PLEASE STAND AND OBSERVE WITH ME, A MOMENT OF SILENT PRAYER, AND GIVE THANKS FOR SUCH MEN!)