History Department
History Department

First class Radar Man from WWII visits Normandy Scholars as guest speaker

Sun, February 26, 2006

Recently Navy veteran and San Antonio native, Delmiro Isidro Elizondo, came to campus to share his story with the scholars. He told students that he had enlisted in the hope of flying airplanes with the Army Air Corps, as he loved flying and already had a pilot's license. But instead he ended up in the Navy assigned to be the top radar man on the USS Catoctin, the flagship of the U.S. Eighth Fleet, operating in the Mediterranean Sea under the command of Admiral H. Kent Hewitt. The Catoctin was a converted 800-ft liberty ship with a crew of 998 men.

Before starting on the two week journey across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, the ship, moored in the Philadelphia Navy Yard, waited six hours for Elizondo to arrive from California, where he received top-secret training in radar operations. It was only then that Elizondo, who was quickly to become known as "Chico", since no one could pronounce his Spanish name, realized that he had indeed been given an important assignment -- though not the one he had envisioned when he enlisted.

On board the USS Catoctin, he was immediately sent to the ship's Combat Information Center (CIC), which was right next to the JOR (Joint Operation Room), the only two places on the ship that were air conditioned.

Radar (Radio Detection and Ranging) had just barely been developed for use in detecting enemy ships and planes during WWI. But by the time the Second World War started, the British had a whole system of radar stations in place to give them an early warning when enemy planes were flying in for an air raid. Their network far exceeded that of the other major powers and played a large role in helping Great Britain survive the Blitz.

Elizondo had shown an aptitude for this new technology on tests he took during boot camp. The sensitivity, importance, and impact of radar operations affecting the entire U.S. Eighth Fleet cannot be overstated. His job as a radar man was to track everything from enemy ships, planes, mines, frogmen, and other possible threats, to planning land missions for the crew.

When told to plan a mission for his men in Southern France, he included himself. "I turned to my superior and asked how I could possibly send 10 men to risk their lives and not risk my own. I left my second in command in charge and went with the rest of the men ashore," said Elizondo.

He had many stories to tell, certainly some that were tragic, others funny and touching. It was aboard the USS Catoctin that Roosevelt stayed during the Big Three's Yalta Conference on the Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea in February, 1945, six months before the U.S. dropped the atomic bombs on Japan. The Big Three were the leaders of the major countries that formed the Allied Powers: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin.

The USS Catoctin briefly served during Operation Overlord off the Normandy coast in June, 1944 and, after the conclusion of the European war, in the Pacific theater under the command of Admiral Daniel E. Barbey. Elizondo was discharged on January 10, 1946 as a Radar Man First Class.

Photos by M.G. Moore; photo of ship by Delmiro Elizondo

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