Born: October 14, 1925
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Deck Cadet
Date / Place of death: December 28, 1944 /
between Leyte and Mindoro Islands
Date / Place of burial: December 28, 1944 /
Lost At Sea between Leyte and Mindoro Islands
Cadet-Midshipman Donald J. Kannitzer, a graduate of the San Mateo, CA Basic
School, signed on aboard the SS John Burke as Deck Cadet on October 5, 1944 at
Honolulu, HI. The ship sailed on October 10 loaded with ammunition bound for the
Philippines. It is unknown how Donald Kannitzer came to be in Honolulu as this was
not a normal port for taking new crew.
By December 28, 1944 the John Burke and its crew were part of a convoy of merchant ships and landing craft enroute from Leyte to Mindoro loaded with ammunition for the new air bases to be built there. According to the Deck Log Book of the USS Bush (DD 529),
one of the convoy’s escorts, the convoy came under a Japanese kamikaze
attack at about 1012 (Local Time). At 1020 Val (Aichi D3A) dive bombers crashed into the SS John Burke and SS William Sharon. The After Action Report of the Commander, LST Group Forty Three, who was in charge of all of the LST’s in the convoy stated,
“Within two minutes after the JOHN BURKE had been hit she exploded
and left no evidence. Debris from this ship killed 3 Army personnel and 1
Navy, wounded 23 Army and Navy on ships in the vicinity. LST 750
suffered heavily with several serious casualties and some ship damage.”
When the attack began, the Medical Officer of the USS Bush Lieutenant George Johnson, MC, USNR began filming the attack with his 16mm movie camera. This film captured
the last moments of the SS John Burke. The SS John Burke was one of two ships with Kings Pointers aboard that were lost with all hands in the Mindoro invasion. The other
was the SS Lewis L. Dyche, whose Third Assistant Engineer was Kings Point graduate Peter Chung Ying Chue.
War Shipping Administration press release in October of 1945 called the invasion of the small Philippine island of Mindoro “the most expensive Pacific operation for the men of the U.S. Merchant Marine.” More merchant seamen lost their lives in the invasion of Mindoro than did members of the Army or Navy.
Admiral Richard R. McNulty, Superintendent of the Cadet Corps, saw a classified Navy movie of the attack in February 1945, and described the explosion as complete disintegration. “Not a particle left of her,” he noted to LCDR John Everett of the WSA.
“They have brought us our lifeblood and they have paid for it with some of their own,” General Douglas MacArthur would later say of the merchant fleet’s contribution in the Pacific theater. “I saw them bombed off the Philippines and in New Guinea ports. When it was humanly possible, when their ships were not blown out from under them by bombs or torpedoes, they have delivered their cargoes to us who need them so badly. In war it is performance that counts.”
Cadet-Midshipman Donald J. Kannitzer was posthumously awarded the Mariners Medal, Combat Bar, Philippine Liberation Ribbon, the Pacific War Zone Bar, the Victory Medal, and the Presidential Testimonial Letter.
Donald J. Kannitzer was the youngest of Julius S. and Marie L. Kannitzer’s three sons. His twin older brothers, Lyle and Clyde, were four years older than Donald. Donald’s father was a baker at the Ballard Baking Company.
According to his uncle, Ernest Frey, Donald was an excellent student who was well known for his good citizenship qualities. He applied himself with determination in the pursuit of high marks in his scholastic studies. Donald’s favorite form of relaxation was to go fishing. He was sought out by his classmates because of his character and flawless conduct record. He was a source of pride to his family. Ernest Frey offered the following about his nephew.
“The aim of every man should be to secure the highest and most harmonious development of his powers to a complete and consistent whole.”
Photo SS John Burke hit by Kamikaze
Photo USS John Burke Exploding one minute later