According to Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison, the Aleutians in World War II could easily be termed "the Theatre of Military Frustration. . . . Sailors, soldiers and aviators alike regarded an assignment to this region of almost perpetual mist and snow as little better than penal servitude." But for a Navy aviator named for a famous ancestor, the remote northern island chain would be the setting for an exciting "Aleutian Adventure" that included eluding Japanese planes and flying 600 nautical miles to base.
Raphael "Rafe" Semmes Jr., the great-grandson and namesake of the commander of the Civil War raider CSS Alabama, grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, the son of a banker. After graduating from high school, he attended the Marion Military Institute for a year before entering the U.S. Naval Academy in 1934. Although not known for his academic prowess at Annapolis (his lowest grade was in navigation), Semmes graduated in 1938 and was commissioned an ensign in the Navy. His first assignments were in the USS Louisville (CA-28) and Somers (DD-381), but in 1940 he reported to Pensacola, Florida, for flight training.