Hamilton County

James Watt Jr.



James Irwin Watt, jr., of Williams, Iowa, son of James Watt, sr., is among those reported missing in action following the recent Java naval battle in which 12 United Nations warships were lost, including the U. S. S. Houston.

The father of the youth received a message from the navy department at Washington a few days ago stating was missing following the performance of his duty.

The youth had often written home and told of his close friendship with Marshall E. Crippen, Webster City, who has also been reported missing in action. Watt, Crippen and three other men from Des Moines served together on the same ship.

Enlisted in 1940

James, who is 21 years old, enlisted at Fort Dodge in June, 1940. He went to the Great Lakes Training station at Chicago, and later to San Diego, Calif., where he boarded the U. S. S. Houston.

The last letter received by his family was dated Jan. 14 and arrived at Williams last week. James reported in his letter he was getting along well, but there was no indication where the letter was mailed.

James was born on the Watt farm, north of Alden, Iowa, on April 18, 1921, and lived there until the family moved to a farm south of Williams four years ago. He attended the Alden schools and was graduated from the Williams high school in 1930,

Her Last Letter

The youth’s mother died in May 1941, and on the day she died she received a letter from her sailor son.

The father and two brothers, Henry and Gilbert, live on the home farm. Gilbert is soon to report for military service. Another brother, John, lives near Popejoy, Iowa. There are three sisters, Mrs. A. Pingel, Alden; Mrs. Ole Warwick, Kamrar, and Mrs. Dale Frayne, Williams.

Source: Daily Freeman Journal, March 19, 1942 (photo included)


Williams Sailor Has Been Missing for Past Two Years.

WILLIAMS—Although not a word has been received directly from him since he reportedly went down with the U. S. S. Houston nearly two years ago in the great battle of the Java Sea, friends and relatives of James Watt of this city now are certain that he is alive and well.

Last Friday evening, Henry and Gilbert Watt, and Mrs. Dale Frayne, brothers and sister of the missing sailor, were notified by telephone that a Jewell druggist, listening in on short wave, had heard Watt broadcast, reportedly from a Japanese prison camp.

In the broadcast he gave his name and address, said that he was a prisoner of war, was feeling well and he hoped someone hearing the message would notify his father, James Watt, Sr., at Williams, He didn’t know, however, that his father, still hoping that his son was safe, died several months ago.

The Hamilton county sailor, a fireman second class, will be 23 this coming April. As one of the casualties aboard the Houston—whose loss was shrouded in mystery—Watt was one of the first county servicemen to be reported missing in World War II.

Should the fact that he is a Jap prisoner be established and should he eventually be freed at the end of the current conflict, Watt will be one of the few county servicemen to literally “come back from the grave.”
Marshall Crippen, son of Mr. and Mrs. W. C. Crippen of this city, was also reported lost aboard the Houston and was the first county serviceman listed as missing. His parents also have never given up hope that somehow he was rescued and reports that some of the Houston’s personnel have been rescued strengthen their belief.

Source: Webster City Freeman, Webster City, IA - December 9, 1943

Request No Flowers Be Sent to Watt Memorial

Relatives requested Monday that no flowers be sent to the James Watt memorial to be held at the Methodist church in Williams Sunday, January 27.

Watt was aboard the Houston when she was lost in action in the Pacific. He had been listed as missing until just recently when his relatives received word that he was officially declared dead.

Source: Webster City Freeman, Webster City, IA - January 21, 1946


James Ervin Watt, son of Florence and James Watt, was born on a farm northwest of Alden, Iowa, April 18, 1921, and was lost at sea in the Java sea battle, Feb. 28, 1942.

James lived at Alden until his folks moved to a farm south of Williams in 1936. He attended the Alden public school for three years and graduated from the Ellsworth high school with the class of 1939.

James helped his father and brothers with the farming after graduating, and then he enlisted in the U. S. navy at Fort Dodge in June, 1940. He went to the Great Lakes Training station at Chicago where he took his boot training, coming home for a short leave in August, after which he returned to the Great Lakes. He then went to San Diego, Calif., where he boarded the USS Houston, the rest of his time being spent in the Pacific waters. They were stationed at Manila in the Philippine Islands Dec. 7 when we we were attacked at Pearl Harbor.

At Manila

In the months that followed, our fleet that was at Manila encountered the Japanese fleet several times on their flight to the south toward Australia. At one time the USS Houston was damaged and quite a number of the crew were killed when they were attacked by Jap planes.

They were ordered into port for repairs, but on the night of Feb. 26 the rest of the fleet sighted a Japanese fleet and they attacked. The Houston went into the battle with only the two forward turrets 8-inch guns in working order.

As the battle progressed and one ship after another was sunk, they were ordered to port. When they got into the Sunda straits the Japanese fleet was waiting for them.

The Australian cruiser, Perth, opened fire about 11:23 that night and the Houston about 11:31.

Had 3 Hits

The Houston had three torpedo hits, and the men were ordered to abandon ship; then the order was rescinded. It was believed the ship might be beached, but there were more hits on the topside and on the waterline. The steering apparatus was knocked out and the ship went around in circles.

James was seen in the water by other survivors, but they think he was hit by exploding torpedoes. If he could have gotten to shore, the native tribe on the islands were very friendly, so there is very little hope of his survival.

James was preceded in death by his mother, who passed away after he had gone into the service. His father died during the time James was reported missing.

James is survived by three brothers, Gilbert and Henry of Williams, and John of Dows, and three sisters, Mrs. Anton Pingel of Alden, Mrs. Ole Warwick of Chapin and Mrs. Dale Frayne of Williams, besides his nieces and nephews and a host of other relatives and friends.

At the time the navy department gave James up for lost, he had been missing for three years and 11 months. During this time he has been very sadly missed. We had hoped and prayed that maybe he could still be alive.

Source: Webster City Freeman, Webster City, IA - February 11, 1946


James Irwin Watt, Jr., Fireman Second Class U.S. Navy - MIA/KIA

James Irwin Watt was born Apr. 18, 1921 to James Edward and Florence Emeline Parks Watt. He died Mar. 1, 1942 and is memorialized at the Tablets of the Missing, Manila American Cemetery, Fort Bonifacio, Manila Philippines. He has a cenotaph at the Alden Cemetery, Alden, IA.

James served aboard the USS Houston (CA-30) and was listed as missing in action following the Battle of Sunda Strait (between the islands of Java and Sumatra) in which the Houston was sunk. He was later declared killed in action. James was awarded the Purple Heart.

Sources: Daily Freeman Journal, Webster City, IA
World War II Memorial
World War II Honoree