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Donald William Winter

"He fought for the freedom of his country and gave his live serving in the US Navy."

Inscription on the headstone of Donald William Winter

Donald William Winter was born on February 22, 1924, in Norton in the Roaring Creek District of Randolph County to Harvey and Socia Haymond Winter. According to the 1930 Federal Census, Mr. Winter was a teacher. Donald's sisters and brother were Marjorie, Lorraine, and Jackson in 1930. By 1940, the census recorded another sister, named Evelyn Rose. Mr. Winter was then a lamp man working in a coal mine, and Marjorie was working in an office for a school. By this time, Donald was known and being called by his middle name, William. He attended grammar school at Norton and then Coalton High School.

Donald Winter graduated from Coalton High School in 1941 at the age of 17. He immediately joined the Navy, entering service on October 23, 1941. According to U.S. Navy muster rolls, Donald Winter was on the USS Arcturus on December 31, 1941, transferred there from Norfolk Naval Operating Base. For the next several months, Seaman Second Class Winter was documented to be aboard the USS Arcturus, an attack cargo ship. ("USS Arcturus [AKA-1]," NavSource Online: Amphibious Photo Archive, last updated 16 October 2020, accessed 20 December 2020, However, he left the Arcturus before it was deployed to North Africa in the fall. Instead, Donald Winter appears on the USS Terror in July 1942. The muster rolls document that Donald Winter was promoted to Seaman First Class and was assigned to and on board the USS Terror for several months through the fall and winter of 1942 into 1943. The USS Terror was a mine warfare vessel, commissioned on July 15, 1942. ("Terror [MMF-5]," NavSource Online: Mine Warfare Vessel Photo Archives, accessed 20 December 2020, It appears that Donald Winter was among the first crew as the ship was commissioned.

The muster roll at the end of April 1943 recorded that Donald Winter had died by drowning at the NMD at Yorktown, Virginia. "NMD" in Yorktown refers to the Navy Mine Depot. It is also known as the Naval Weapons Station of Yorktown. The station has been used since World War I as the Atlantic seaboard's focus for the manufacture, storage, and transfer of ordnance, and as a place to train personnel who would engage in navy warfare specific to mines. ("Mine Depot," Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, accessed 20 December 2020,

The importance of eastern seaboard operations for the U.S. Navy during World War II cannot be understated because German U-boats were known to patrol the eastern seaboard.

According to an article published by the New England Historical Society,

On Jan. 13, 1942, German U-boat attacks officially started against merchant ships along the Eastern Seaboard of North America. From then until early August, German U-boats dominated the waters off the East Coast, sinking fuel tankers and cargo ships with impunity and often within sight of shore.

In less than seven months, U-boat attacks would destroy 22 percent of the tanker fleet and sink 233 ships in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The U-boats killed 5,000 seamen and passengers, more than twice the number of people who perished at Pearl Harbor.

While thousands of New Englanders looked to the sky for enemy airplanes, few had any idea about the carnage wreaked in the waters nearby. ("U-Boat Attacks of World War II: 6 Months of Secret Terror in the Atlantic," accessed 20 December 2020,

The attacks were meant to impede supply runs to Europe and heightened the tension of naval operations on the eastern seaboard because the enemy might have attacked the mainland as well. The attacks on ships in the North Atlantic were a very serious concern.

Since Donald Winter's death was recorded in the muster roll for the USS Terror, Donald Winter was still assigned to the ship at the time. No other details are available on the log. No news articles were found which described the circumstances of his death. A death certificate was issued from Yorktown that merely stated that the cause of death was drowning, so it is not known whether the incident took place during training or as a result of work he may have been doing at the depot or some other event, such as medical impairment or by accident during a swim for pleasure.

The news was documented in local newspapers. First came the announcement that Donald Winters had died while in service to the Navy. The announcement appeared in the Randolph Enterprise on April 22, 1943, and revealed that his body had not yet been recovered. The recovery of his body would not be announced until May 6, 1943 in the Elkins Inter-Mountain. SFC Donald Winter's body arrived in Randolph County shortly after and was interred in the Elkins International Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery (usually abbreviated I. O. O. F. Cemetery and today known as Elkins Memorial Garden). His survivors, according to the obituaries and news items published in the Randolph Enterprise, Randolph Review, and Elkins Inter-Mountain, included his parents, sisters, and brother. Marjorie Winter was employed by the Navy at that time in Great Lake, Illinois.

A search of news and history articles regarding the depot did not describe any events that would set Donald Winter's death in context.
The inscription on Donald William Winter's headstone in Elkins Memorial Garden reads:

The inscription on Donald William Winter's headstone in Elkins Memorial Garden reads: "He fought for the freedom of his country and gave his life serving in the US Navy." Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens
December 2020


Donald William Winter

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