World War II Honor Roll

Rocco Louis Vitelli

Seaman, First Class, U.S. Navy



Entered the Service from: Pennsylvania
Died: May 6, 1945

Honolulu Memorial
Honolulu, Hawaii

SEAMAN SECOND CLASS ROCCO LOUIS VITELLI was born on March 28, 1926 to Joseph and Ida Vitelli. His father was a blacksmith. Rocco Vitelli was named after his paternal grandfather. The 1930 Census shows the family living in Chester, Pennsylvania, they later moved out of Chester but remained in Delaware County. Rocco Vitelli died on May 6, 1945 as a result of injuries suffered when a Japanese kamikaze aircraft struck his ship.

Shea was laid down on December 23, 1943 by Bethlehem Steel Company yard at Staten Island, New York, as DD-750, an Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer and launched on May 20, 1944; sponsored by Mrs. John J. Shea. The ship was modified to be a destroyer minelayer and redesignated DM-30 in late 1944; and commissioned at the New York Navy Yard on September 30, 1944, Commander Charles C. Kirkpatrick in command. Seaman Second Class Vitelli was one of the original crew, having completed training at Norfolk, Virginia/

Shea spent 15 more days completing her fitting-out. She then loaded ammunition at Earle and Bayonne, New Jersey, returned briefly to New York and departed for her shakedown cruise on October 21, 1944. She completed shakedown training at and around Great Sound Bay, Bermuda, and was underway for Norfolk, Virginia, on November 16. Shea's crew underwent a month of further training in the Norfolk area before embarking, December 13, for Brooklyn, New York, arriving the next day.

From Brooklyn, Shea moved on to San Francisco. Sailing with Task Group 27.3 (TG 27.3), she transited the Panama Canal, December 20-22, and made San Francisco on the last day of 1944. Four days later, she was underway for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and 13 more days of training exercises. Another round of training complete, she steamed out of Pearl Harbor bound for Eniwetok Atoll in the western Pacific, arriving on March 2. After 17 days in the vicinity of Eniwetok, her crew engaged in still more of the perennial training exercises. Shea departed for Ulithi Atoll on the first leg of her cruise into the real war at Okinawa.

On March 19, 1945, she sailed from Ulithi and joined TG 52.3. By March 24, Shea was off Okinawa helping prepare the way for the April 1, invasion. While her primary mission was to protect and assist the minesweepers clearing the area of mines, she also stood radar picket duty all around Okinawa. During the period March 24 to May 4, she was constantly fending off Japanese air attacks and guarding against enemy submarines. Moreover, she probably sank or severely damaged at least one submarine and, on April 16, in the space of ten minutes, downed seven planes.

On the morning of May 4, 1945, Shea was en route to radar picket duty 20 miles northeast of Zampa Misaki, Okinawa. She arrived just after 06:00, having encountered two Japanese aircraft along the way, firing on both and possibly downing one. Upon receipt of reports indicating the approach of large Japanese air formations, Shea's crew went to General Quarters. Soon thereafter, a “considerable smoke haze blew over the ship from the Hagushi beaches” and “visibility was at a maximum 5.000 yards.” At 08:54 a single Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" bomber was sighted six miles distant; and, four minutes later, one was shot down by Shea-directed CAP. At 08:59, five minutes after the initial sighting, a lookout spotted a Japanese Yokosuka MXY-7 Ohka, a purpose-built, rocket powered human-guided anti-shipping kamikaze attack aircraft, on Shea's starboard beam, closing the ship at better than 450 knots (830 km/h; 520 mph). Almost instantaneously, the Ohka crashed into Shea "on the starboard side of her bridge structure, entering the sonar room, traversing the chart house, passageway and batch, and exploding beyond the port side on the surface of the water. Fire broke out on the mess deck, and in CIC, the chart house, division commander's stateroom, No. 2 upper handling room, and compartment A-304-L."

Shea lost all ship's communications, 5-inch gun mounts numbers 1 and 2 were inoperative; and the forward port 20-millimeter guns were damaged. The main director was jammed and the gyro and computer rendered unserviceable. One officer and 34 men were killed, and 91 others were wounded to varying degrees.

With repair parties and survivors from damaged areas scurrying about, helping the wounded and fighting fires, Shea, listing 5 degrees to port, began limping off to Haeushi and medical assistance. She arrived there at 10:52; her most seriously wounded crew members were transferred to USS Crescent City; and the bodies of the 35 dead were removed for burial on Okinawa. Seaman First Class Vitelli was transferred first to the USS Crescent City and then to the USS Solace AH-5, a hospital ship. He died aboard Solace on May 6 as a result of "Multiple Burns". His remains were first buried on Tinian, then moved to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii were he was interred on November 9, 1949 and now rests.

Rocco Vitelli was survived by his sister, Mrs. Anna DeFillippo, of 929 Fern Street in Camden. New Jersey; his father, and several other siblings.

Interment Record