Branch: U. S. Navy
Rank: Chief Machinist’s Mate
Status: Lost at sea
Date of Service: WWII
Home Town: Pine Lake Township
Palmer Oliver Soderlund was born May 15, 1918 in Clearwater County, Minnesota to Andrew and Marie Monsen Soderlund. Andrew Soderlund had been born in Finland and immigrated to the United States around 1896. Maria was born in Sweden and immigrated from Denmark around 1890. The pair met and married in Grafton, North Dakota on August 8, 1894. By the turn of the century Andrew and Marie owned a farm in Pine Lake Township in Clearwater County, Minnesota. Andrew and Marie had ten children: Hilda, Anna, Magda, Andrew (John), Milla, Lena, Clara, Myrtle, Palmer and William. In later years Andrew still farmed but the family lived in a house within the city limits of Gonvick.
Palmer enlisted in the U.S. Navy on September 12, 1939 when he was 21 years old. After boot camp in the U S Naval Training Center Great Lakes, Illinois, Palmer was assigned to the USS Philadelphia, a Brooklyn-class light cruiser and received aboard on December 2, 1939. The Philadelphia left Los Angeles on April 2, 1940 bound for Pearl Harbor, where they engaged in fleet maneuvers. The Philadelphia was headed back to Boston for repairs so Palmer, who had since been promoted to Fireman 3rd class, was assigned to the USS Turkey (AM-13), a minesweeper operating out of Pearl Harbor.
The Turkey was moored amid her sister ships at the Coal Docks in Pearl Harbor when the unsuspecting Pacific Fleet came under surprise attack by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. The crew quickly ran to battle stations when the general quarters alarm sounded and manned its two 3” guns. Some of the crew armed themselves with bolt-action 1903 Springfield rifles and fired at the attacking planes. Later the Turkey helped to salvage the partially sunk battleships off Ford Island and did this until April 1, 1942. Palmer had by now been promoted to Fireman 1st class.
In February of 1942, Palmer attended five days of Fleet machine gun school at Puuloa Point, Oahu. The Turkey was put to work towing targets for naval aircraft and recovering practice torpedoes.
Palmer rose quickly through the ranks. He was promoted to Machinist’s Mate 2nd class in December of 1942, then to Machinist’s Mate 1st class in April of 1943. He married Louise May Muirhead, a woman from Swift, Minnesota, on July 26, 1943 in California.
On November 27, 1943, Palmer was transferred to the USS Callaghan, a newly-launched destroyer named for a hero of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. The Callaghan joined the 5th Fleet defending Western Pacific islands against air attacks, and it supported the invasions of Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Formosa and Okinawa. The Callaghan contributed to the victory in the Battle for Leyte Gulf, then participated in more air strikes on the Central Philippines. Palmer was promoted to Chief Machinist’s Mate on December 1, 1944.
Throughout the following months the Callaghan screened carrier strikes shelling Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the Tokyo area.
On July 28, 1945, the Callaghan was stationed on the radar picket line when a wood and fabric Yokosuka K5Y biplane, a training plane popular for kamikaze attacks because proximity fuses were ineffective against its wooden fuselage, crashed into the starboard side of the Callaghan. The plane exploded and one of its bombs penetrated the aft engine room. The destroyer flooded and its exploding antiaircraft ammunition kept nearby ships from rendering aid. The Callaghan sank at 2:35 a.m. with 47 members of her crew.
The Callaghan was the last Allied ship to be sunk during the war. In fact, the attack took place less than two hours before the Callaghan was to be relieved by another ship so it could return stateside for an overhaul.
Chief Machinist’s Mate Palmer Soderlund of Gonvick was one of the 47 crew members lost. He is memorialized on the tablets of the Missing in Action or Buried at Sea at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was 27 years old.