Lest We Forget: Peter Williams; Trathen (DD-530)

By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, USN (Ret.), and Eric Werthiem

As the battle wore on indecisively, Peter Williams continued working the Monitor 's helm in response to Worden's calm orders. At one point, as they maneuvered around the Virginia 's stern, over Worden's shoulder Williams could see the enemy ship through the forward window slit. He realized he was looking right into the muzzle of the Confederate's stern gun only 20 yards away. Suddenly, there was a great flash and a thunderous crash as an enemy shell slammed into the pilothouse. Williams was thrown from the helm to his hands and knees. Miraculously, the young quartermaster was not seriously injured, but his captain was less fortunate. Worden had taken much of the blast and staggered back with his hands to his face, blood pouring from all the pores of his forehead. Blinded, he was taken to his cabin.

Trembling violently, his ears ringing from the concussion, Williams climbed to his feet and steadied the Monitor . Until the executive officer could get to the pilot house, Williams was in sole command of the ironclad, maneuvering her as he had under Worden's command.

After several hours, it was evident that neither ironclad was going to prevail, and with exhausted crews, the ships retired from battle. For his courage under fire and for taking control of the ship in the midst of battle, Quartermaster Peter Williams was awarded the Medal of Honor.

—Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired)


Launched on 22 October 1942, the Fletcher (DD-445)-class destroyer USS Trathen (DD-530) was commissioned on 28 May 1943. In late summer 1943, she assisted with the capture and reoccupation of enemy-held Baker Island. On 2 February 1944, the Trathen provided fire support off Kwajalein Island. Several days later, she and several other warships provided gunnery support to three battalions of Marines assaulting Gugegwe Island.

She joined the Seventh Fleet on 3 May and sailed for New Guinea, where she provided naval fire support to forces landing on Wadke Island. Several months later, as part of Task Group 32.5, the Trathen screened U.S. aircraft carriers launching attacks against enemy positions on Palau. During October 1944, the destroyer downed a Japanese fighter and captured its pilot.


Thomas J. Cutler is a retired lieutenant commander and former gunner's mate second class who served in patrol craft, cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers. His varied assignments included an in-country Vietnam tour, small craft command, and nine years at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he served as Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Seamanship & Navigation Department and Associate Chairman of the History Department. While at the Academy, he was awarded the William P. Clements Award for Excellence in Education (military teacher of the year).

He is the founder and former Director of the Walbrook Maritime Academy in Baltimore. Currently he is Fleet Professor of Strategy and Policy with the Naval War College and is the Director of Professional Publishing at the U.S. Naval Institute.

Winner of the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Naval Literature, the U.S. Naval Institute Press Author of the Year, and the U.S. Maritime Literature Award, his published works include NavCivGuide: A Handbook for Civilians in the U.S. Navy; A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy [one of the books in the Chief of Naval Operations Reading Program]; The Battle of Leyte Gulf; Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal & Riverine Warfare in Vietnam; and the 22nd, 23rd (Centennial), and 24th editions of The Bluejacket's Manual. His other works include revisions of Jack Sweetman's The Illustrated History of the U.S. Naval Academy and Dutton's Nautical Navigation. He and his wife, Deborah W. Cutler, are the co-editors of the Dictionary of Naval Terms and the Dictionary of Naval Abbreviations.

His books have been published in various forms, including paperback and audio, and have appeared as main and alternate selections of the History Book Club, Military Book Club, and Book of the Month Club. He has served as a panelist, commentator, and keynote speaker on military and writing topics at many events and for various organizations, including the Naval History and Heritage Command, Smithsonian Institution, the Navy Memorial, U.S. Naval Academy, MacArthur Memorial Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, U.S. Naval Institute, Armed Forces Electronics Communications and Electronics Association, Naval War College, Civitan, and many veterans' organizations. His television appearances include the History Channel's Biography series, A&E's Our Century, Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor, and CBS's 48 Hours.

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Events and Conferences

Guest Lecturer
12:30pm, “Shifley Lecture Series,” U.S. Naval Academy Museum, 118 Maryland Ave., Annapolis, MD /... Read More
Videotape Interview
10:00am, “Veterans Oral Histories Series,” American Veterans Center, 1100 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington,... Read More


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