Spring Valley resident Jan Poldervaard and Rochester residents Kathleen Smith, Bryan and Dennis Dormady never met their uncle, Robert Franklin Dormady (fondly known as Frank). Though the four siblings never got to know their uncle in person, they know him thanks to the letters he sent his family members while serving in the Army during WWII. Dormady’s letters were transcribed by Poldervaard and saved along with photos and memorabilia. Included in the collection is a 1935 Silver Certificate dollar bill that was returned from the county courthouse after Frank’s mother sent the dollar along with a letter requesting a copy of his birth certificate. The county did not charge her and returned the dollar bill.
Poldervaard shared the following exposé of Dormady’s life from his letters and her extensive research on the internet.
Dormady’s parents, James and Lua Dormady, were pioneer homesteaders and moved to North Dakota. Dormady was born on December 7, 1912, in Sweet Briar, N. Dak. The family experienced tough times in North Dakota and decided to move back to Minnesota, returning to the Dormady family home one mile south of Sumner Center. As the family moved often, he attended school in Sumner Center, Washington, and then Pleasant Grove. He worked at the Ed Hale farm five miles southeast of Stewartville for ten years before joining the Army in April 1942. He had four brothers, Clarence, Herb, Edward, and Gordon; and four sisters, Rena, Ruby, Ruth, and Mildred. Two of his brothers served in the Army, one in the Navy. One sister joined the Air Force, one the Navy, another sister married a colonel in the Army.
One year prior to joining the Army, Frank moved to Seattle, Wash., and worked for the Boeing Aircraft Company. On April 7, 1942, he joined the Army, as the United States had entered WWII. His one brother was already serving overseas. It was out of a sense of patriotic duty and the feeling of serving our country and making a difference to “end this war” that compelled him to join up. He left Preston with 119 men. He was housed in barracks with all North and South Carolina men. He adapted well to Army life, never complained and was always positive. He wrote in his many letters that he liked his work and the men in his company, as well as the many experiences he encountered and the people of Australia. He could not explain in detail his work but expressed the future hope of coming home and sharing his experiences. He wrote to all his family and also a special girlfriend whose letters gave him hope and encouragement.
Robert Franklin (Frank) Dormady, Private 1st Class, was in an Army overseas unit stationed in Australia. He was on the gun crew of a supply ship. He was killed in action on March 28, 1943, on a ship in the Southwest Pacific, Oro Bay, New Guinea, just under a year of service. He was 30 years old. Twenty-two days later, the family was notified by telegram stating only that he was killed in action. It would be another seven years before the family was notified that all efforts to recover and identify his remains have failed and that his remains were not recoverable. At the Manila American Cemetery in Manila, Philippines, Frank’s name is on the wall, a tablet of missing soldiers. His name is also on the Fillmore County Veterans Memorial Monument in Spring Valley as well as on the Veterans Memorial Monument in Rochester.
The family had little information on the events surrounding Frank’s last days. Searching the internet in March 2004 lead to information of the facts surrounding his death, the attack, and the eventual sinking of the ship. It was through the efforts of an expedition aboard the TIATA that the Masaya was found after a 27-year search beneath 165 feet of murky green, shark-infested waters off the east coast of New Guinea.
The ship built as a destroyer during WWI. Later, it was converted and reconditioned into a banana boat that could carry as much as 25,000 stems of bananas. It was registered under the American flag and was in service from Central American countries to New Orleans, Galveston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.
Early in 1942, General MacArthur pleaded that aid is sent by means of blockade runners directly from the United States. In the quest for suitable vessels, the Masaya, along with two other banana boats, attracted the personal attention of three Generals and President Roosevelt. These boats were taken over as US Army Transports. They were given Army gun crews and loaded with supplies of the highest priority. She became an inter-island transport for troops and supplies for General MacArthur. Dangers from the sea or the enemy were expected on every voyage. The defensive armament on the Masaya was negligible. Members of the troop constructed a dummy 6-inch gun on the forward deck in the faint hope of frightening any adversary who might be encountered during the voyage. The fake gun constructed by the troop aboard Mayasa was made of coconut tree logs. At 9:16 a.m. on March 24, 1943, Mayasa sailed from Milne Bay carrying troops and cargo. Within days S.S. Mayasa steamed into Tufi and took aboard supplies, equipment, and a small base force, then sailed into history. The plan called for the ship to unload her cargo of 500 drums of 100 octane avgas, a portable radio, and other base equipment under cover of darkness.
Ensign Galloway and his men were to swim the 500 drums of gas ashore after they were dumped overboard by Mayasa. The heavy battery aboard the ship was a 3” X 50 Cal. A dual-purpose gun mounted near the stern and the ship also carried four 50 Cal. Browning machine guns. When the Mayasa was still about six miles off Oro Bay, a flight of 18 enemy dive-bombers and 40 fighters swept in to raid Army installations ashore, port facilities, and shipping. As soon as the pilots saw the old banana boat, whose destroyer lines had not changed with the years, they pounced on her thinking that they caught a warship out alone. Six bombs were dropped, three were direct hits in the stern area, and three were near misses. The three direct hits took out the gun crew and engineering. None of the 500 drums of avgas was set alight in the attack, which saved many lives. Some of the men had life vests on, and others did not. A rescue craft came out and rescued some of the survivors. The Mayasa went down stern first at 1313 hours and hit bottom hard. There were 11 fatalities. All survivors and casualties were rescued and brought to Oro Bay. Frank was part of the gun crew on the stern of the ship. One of the first bombs struck the stern area and killed not only the gun crew but also some others a distance away. The ship sank in less than an hour. It is presumed that the fatalities went down with the ship, and no remains were recovered.
Frank’s death was of great distress to his family. All his other siblings who entered the service returned home without injury, and for that, the family was truly grateful and proud of their service to the country.
Dormady’s nieces and nephews are excited to share their uncle’s story with his hometown, as his story has never been published. Dormady’s story reminds us of what patriotism meant to his generation. His story contains many lessons that we all can learn from, especially to remain positive in the face of adversity. Thank you for your service, sir!