Forest M. Jones
A gunner's mate and boatswain mate from the gun crew division were working to get the guns in operation. I detailed two of my crew to man the fuse setting mechanisms of two of the guns. Two other crewmen worked with me removing 5" ammunition stored in the topside ready service boxes. By this time torpedo damage and fire forced the abandonment of the guns and adjacent ready service boxes on the port side of the ship. When removing ammunition from one of the ready service boxes, a large bomb struck the top of the ship's cage mast and would have struck the ready service box where we were removing ammunition, but it was deflected by the heavy metal coaming of the signal bridge.
I then went to the navigation bridge to see if there had been any communications from the many shipmates that were trapped below-decks without any means of escape except for the long escape tube between Central Station and the Navigation bridge. Along with a couple of shipmates, we helped at least thirty shipmates up and out of the escape tube. Captain Bennion was still alive but fatally wounded from bomb shrapnel that hit the No. 2 turret of the inboard battleship, the Tennessee.
At 0750 the bugle call "Guard of the Day" sounded and I could hear the squad on the Quarterdeck immediately above as the Sergeant of the Guard called out commands. The 1903 US rifle bolts cracked sharply as he inspected each member. "First Call" sounded denoting 0755, and on the deck above the cadence of the squad moving to the fantail gave every indication that the "Holiday Colors" would float gently at the stern in the soft tropical breeze at 0800.
At that instant the call "Fire and Rescue" came over the announcing system. That was the last squeak from those loud speakers. Almost immediately First Sergeant Willoughby came rushing down the ladder by my post, ran past me and into the executive officer's cabin. I believe he said, "The Japs are attacking." He came out and ran aft into the captain's cabin. Very shortly the Captain and the Exec emerged and rushed up and forward.
Edmonds accompanied the captain. I remained outside the cabins according to my orders. Apparently there had been some petty pilfering from the after cabins, and the commander ordered that the orderly provide security there.
It was about that time that the first torpedo struck along the port side somewhere forward. Similar explosions then occurred in quick succession. Very shortly the ship began to list to port and soon water was covering the port side of the compartment to about a quarter of the way across the deck, achieving a depth of about four feet on the far bulkhead.
I believe that Lt. (jg) Harold Stark, Jr. was Officer of the Deck. He came down the ladder by my post and then went down the amidships hatch to the third deck. He ordered me to close and dog the hatch after him.
Suddenly through an amidships ventilation hatch that was still open flaming pieces of material were falling. I thought they were from some kind of incendiary bomb, but they were actually five inch gun powder grains, cylinders about 3/8 inch in diameter and an inch long. . They had blown from the magazine of USS Arizona moored at the quay northwest of West Virginia.
A fire broke out in a starboard side cabin where a port was open. Some burning powder grains had ignited the curtains. I extinguished the fire with a fire extinguisher and with the help of one or two sailors in the general area closed the port.
From time to time explosions, probably torpedoes, shook the ship with a dull roar. I could hear machine-gun and antiaircraft fire from above. The war was going along without any help from the four or five of us sitting or standing around in the officers' country passageway.
Eventually a young ensign, I believe his name was Smith, came down the ladder and asked or ordered some of us to come topside with him. Upon reaching the main deck the effects of the attack were visible all around. It appeared that almost everyone had deserted Wee Vee. To starboard Tennessee was very active with guns manned and teams fighting small fires on board and on West Virginia. To our stern Arizona was burning fiercely as was oil on the water alt around her. The most shocking sight was the bottom of a huge ship hull off our port bow where shortly before floated USS Oklahoma. Fires were burning throughout the harbor and on Ford Island.
Across the harbor, in the sky to the East of Hickarn Field, some huge dark aircraft soared slow and ominously westward under heavy anti- aircraft fire. I was frightened to think that we were being attacked by such confident monsters. I don't recall when I realized that they were US B- 17's attempting to land.
The ensign told a couple of sailors and me to go up into number 3 turret and bring out the wounded. The entry to the turret was a hatch about two by two feet almost 12 feet above the main deck approached by a steel ladder fastened to the barbett. Climbing the ladder and entering the hatch I saw several dead or wounded men and a small blaze. With the help of a sailor I picked up a wounded man. At the hatchway I supported the man completely by myself, worked him through the hatch and held him in my arms as I inched my hands down the ladder. On deck I carried him in my arms across to a 35 foot motor launch (of the USS Minneapolis) which had nosed over the port lifeline, now under water, and onto the deck that was canted about 15 degrees. The man was crying and saying that he could not see. As I boosted him to the launch's gunwale some water splashed his face and his eyes opened. He smiled while crying and said, "I can see. I know you." I recognized the seaman. We had been messcooks at the same time and had worked together carrying beef quarters from the third deck refrigeration compartment in early morning ration breakouts.
I went back to the turret to help a sailor carrying a man down the ladder, but we dropped him about three feet. The body struck the deck with a dull thud. I felt sure he was dead. We loaded him into the launch too. By then the turret had been evacuated, and there was no one around. Beyond the stern Arizona was burning. No one else was on the fantail so I went back to the launch and climbed into it.
The coxswain backed the boat into the stream and then went alongside another launch and announced that he was going to Hospital Point. The other coxswain said he was going to the bow of the WEE VEE to pickup people so I got into his boat. He took the boat to the port side of the forecastle that was about nine feet above the water, and I climbed back aboard the ship.
During the period I had been topside there had been practically no enemy activity, but just as I got on the bow action picked up considerably. USS Nevada from astern of Arizona had gotten underway and was moving past Wee Vee at a good speed. At the same time the fleet came under heavy dive bomber attack. Several planes came at our ship or the Tennessee which was moored to the quay on our starboard side. As the string of bombers came down I hit the deck under the edge of turret 1. I could see the bombs as they dropped free of the planes and watch them fall as one could watch a fly ball coming out to center field. I could tell those I watched were not coming directly at me but would be close. Actually none of the explosions from them were very close. I believe most missed Tennessee and none struck Wee Vee, but it was a frightening experience to be so directly attacked for the first time.
Then I noticed that most of the planes were directing their efforts on Nevada as she was then steaming southwest in the channel. Fifteen or twenty aircraft, dive bombers and fighters, streamed at her. She was firing gallantly, but one, another and more bombs struck with bright yellow explosions. Within a couple of minutes that courageous ship became a mass of fires. She lost headway and turned indecisively from her course. Last I recall she was moving slowly along at the west end of Ford Island.
I went down the starboard ladder into the large crew's compartment on the main deck. Here about 20 men were standing around talking and wondering what was going on. Sgt. Bill Seely was there, but I don't remember any other marines. There were a couple of wounded men lying in stretchers. After about 15 minutes, someone shouted, "There is a fire coming."
Everyone rushed topside and was shocked to see a great wall of fire moving along the port side toward the bow igniting the oil covering the water around the ship. Some men went over to the starboard side and onto Tennessee. I made a terrible mistake in jumping off the port forecastle into the water. I climbed into a small life raft lying alongside the ship with another man. A 26 foot motor-whaleboat carrying about eight men pulled alongside, and I reached out and grabbed its starboard gunwale. It kept moving, and I had a hard struggle to pull myself up and over its side. One or two of the occupants tried to push me off as they shouted to the coxswain to go on. The rapidly approaching flames had caused them to panic, but the coxswain maintained control. I got into the whaleboat and looking back toward the ship saw the other man still in the life raft waving his arm as the flames covered him.
The coxswain took the boat across the harbor to a small landing by the Submarine Base that I did not know of. I got out and walked toward the shore when I saw 2d Lieutenant Howard York of our Marine Detachment. He was trying to get out to the ship after apparently being on overnight liberty. At first he did not recognize me because thick black oil covered me completely. I spoke to him and gave him some information about the ship.
A truck was waiting and took those who had landed to the Receiving Barracks, a four or five-story brick building in the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard. I took a good shower and put on a set of sailor dungarees. While showering I again heard machine-gun fire, but things were quieting down. Before long a CPO mustered me and some others and gave us '03 rifles, cartridge belts, ammunition and helmets. He instructed me in the use of the rifle making a mistake in identifying the safety. Of course I did not argue with him. I was told to patrol around the building. That is what I did all of that day and the night. I don't recall being relieved, though I must have been.
I ran to my battle station, which was the starboard shaft alley, and found that it was locked, which was standard practice when in port. I turned around and noticed that both hatches to the two after motor rooms were open. The port motor room was flooding. These motors were our main propulsion for the ship since it was all electric drive. I closed the hatch to the motor room and helped the damage control crew counter flood the ship so it would sit down even and not roll over on its port side. When we had finished this job we proceeded to look for disabled shipmates and carried them up to the main deck and out through the forward deck hatch, onto the weather deck and over to a tug which came by.
On one trip we were using a blanket to cradle and move a shipmate, when a Japanese plane dove down and strafed our ship. I pulled the other two back behind the Number One gun turret, or the poor shipmate in the blanket might have been shot. I do not remember the number of shipmates we carried off to the tugs that came by. After all our injured shipmates were off the ship, twenty of us sat down to have a smoke. The reason I say twenty is because a Chief opened a pack of cigarettes and it was emptied. We sat for about fifteen minutes and then proceeded to leave the ship. A shipmate and I removed a forty man life raft from the Number One gun turret. We managed to get it into the water even though it normally takes several men to perform this task.
When I saw how quickly the oil fire was spreading around us, I told my shipmate it wouldn't be wise to try to make it on the raft. I suggested we swim underwater as far as we could, break the surface of the water to clear a spot, get some air and go on again until we were clear of the fire. I did this, but I don't know if my shipmate made it or not. A tug picked me up in clear water and dropped me at 1010 Dock.
Second alarm given was for general quarters, and I went to my damage control station. There was no one else there, and after waiting a while, went forward on second deck to see if I could work with any other group. It was mostly deserted, and the ship shuddered occasionally as torpedoes or bombs hit. Went back to the post office area and found that it had mostly disappeared, and there was only a gaping hole where it had been.
Again I made a tour of second deck, and don't recall seeing anyone. Then decided to go topside and get under a turret overhang and see what was going on. Saw some launches moving in the harbor, picking up personnel in the water. As I recall, it was about that time that I heard order to abandon ship. Went to port side along with a couple of other sailors, as I recall; a launch came alongside and we climbed into it. The WeeVee had already settled to the bottom of the harbor, and the forecastle was not very high above the water.
Launch took us to some facility across the harbor, where we had an opportunity to shower and were given clean dungarees. For a while we manned machine guns on the roof of that building.
By this time, all enemy activity had ceased.
It seems to me that word was passed for personnel of VO squadron 4 to return to Ford Island. We were taken over by launch, and we all then reassembled in one of the hangars still standing on Ford Island. A new squadron, made up of all the former personnel and aircraft of BatDiv Four (and possibly others) were formed into a new scouting squadron, to operate out of Ford Island and designated VS3D14.
There, while awaiting a motor boat, I found six sailors with '03 rifles. I organized them into three groups of two to fire at Jap planes on their torpedo runs, with one, two and three plane length leads, as in the AA handbook. Then the W. O. Wee Vee communicator and a Maryland officer and I got one of our boats to the ship. (Dropped the Maryland officer off). I got back aboard about 0835 or 0840.
Helped shipmates where I could was all I did. Abandoned ship with a motor launch. The brass plaque on it says capacity 79 or 84, or some such. I counted 124. Our free board was pretty slim. We started from the port bow to port around the Okie stern. A ten foot wall of flame was coming, so we reversed course and passed between the Ok and Maryland. Our Cdr. Navigator jumped nude off the starboard bow. We yelled for him to come with us, but he ignored us.
Went to Aiea landing. Red Cross served coffee. I joined a party to hunt ammo for our ships AA. In one of our boats we hit the Helena (or Honolulu) near 1010 dock, and one other ship. No one wanted to give up a round. Then back to Aiea. Finally to the Receiving Ship for odds & ends. Clothes and toothbrushes etc.
I held school on the Lewis M. G. A bunch were found still in WWI cosmoline. I took a 12 man squad with a Lewis .30 MG and we mounted it on the gravel tower at Hickham main gate. Also I had a truck full of sailors with rifles to go repel Japs on Nanahuli Beach. While I was trying to recruit one more sailor someone stole truck and all.
I first heard alarms and bells sounding off and over the loud speakers came "Away fire and rescue parties." We all had our duties and it wasn't long before the lights were flickering on and off. Torpedoes (6) and bombs (2) were hitting us. The Wee Vee shimmied, rose up, settled down, rose up, and went through all kinds of motions causing the sailors sliding back and forth, knocking them down anything horrible you can imagine.
By now the alarms and loud speakers were blasting "All hands, man your battle stations." In spite of the ship's listing, pipes bursting, water rushing in, explosions all around, putting us in the position of sitting ducks, some of the sailors were able to man the guns. They did a bang up job of scoring hits too.
When I did make it to top side, I saw the U.S.S. Oklahoma on her side and the U.S.S. Arizona bottoms up. I will never forget that scene as long as I live. Fire was everywhere, but through it all motor launches came and took the wounded plus the others to the bases and/or depots at Pearl Harbor. The real heroes still are the ones who gave their lives that morning.
Now I am in the pointers pit, which is as far forward in the turret as one can go. I'm right against the gun barrel so I can look through the telescope that is along side it. I am in charge this time, with the phones on and sitting on the seat. There are two men with their hands on my shoulders. The Wee Vee is being shook by torpedoes and bombs. I have no idea how long we have been there, when a bomb came down through the top of the turret. It glanced off to the side of the starboard gun slide, then tore off two counter recoil cylinders. By this time, it must have been traveling at a 45 degree angle when it hit the deck and slid into the forward corner. It must have been damaged, so when the fuse fired, it caught fire, otherwise it would have blown the three of us out through the face of the turret alongside the gun barrel. Instead, it burned us. Hot gases rushed past us, out through the face of the turret alongside of the gun barrel. The fast moving gas burned my upper and lower right arm. My hair was singed and I could not smoke for a week or so. Now I don't remember what happened to those two men who were with me. They did not follow me out of the pit and into the gun chamber. Now I am in the gun chamber, there is no movement. There must be twelve officers and men in the loading crew. It is too dark to see anything. With the hole in the top of the turret, there should have been some light. Anyway, I am trying to find that little counter balanced hatch, to open. I find it, and there is someone on it. I take hold of him, and his arm slides out of my hand, due to burned skin. About that time, someone opened the hatch from outside. Beware now, that I may not have been in too good of shape, especially mentally. I had been breathing those gases for maybe five minutes. I climb down out of the turret, alone. Why didn't those two men with me in the pointers pit follow?
There is a seaplane catapult on top of turret three. The plane there is on fire. The ship is sinking. The water level is not yet at my deck level (main deck). I have lost track of time. The next thing I remember is that I am being awakened. Someone says "they are abandoning ship on the forecastle". I go there and step into a motor launch which lands us on Ford Island. Some Wee Vee sailors may remember this better than I. We went to a kind of barracks that I believe belonged to the marines There were sleeping quarters, a PX, small stores, mess hall etc. It was four stories high built around an open space guessed to be about 40 feet square with a balcony for each floor. There may have been two hundred or more of us standing or laying on stretchers. Maybe he was the last Japanese bad guy and didn't know what to do with his armor piercing bomb, so he dropped it on our building. It landed in one of the corners of the opening, busted a hole in the concrete deck. Hard telling how deep it went, but when it exploded, the dirt gushed out of the hole and then settled back into and around it, hurting no one, I believe. I have no idea what time it is, because my burns don't hurt YET. The upper burn is about 3" by 4" and the lower is 5" by 1 1/2". There are no blisters, just red wet places. The skin is gone. Sometime in the afternoon, the wounded are moved to a tent area where a hospital is to be built. Now my burns start hurting, and bad. They put a thick liquid on them and they would stop hurting for an hour or so. Then it would begin again. That must have gone on for two days, before a scab formed. I just wonder about those with burns over 1/2 the body, endure the pain. I stayed at the hospital for ten days or so and was then assigned to the U.S.S. Salt Lake City, (CA-25)
That night I was transported to the U. S. Marine Base Hospital. After about 5 days & was assigned to a destroyer the U. S. S. Lawson & we headed for the South Pacific 7th Fleet. We was in the Coral Sea Battle & Midway when we returned to Pearl Harbor.
The word was passed along to abandon ship. There was access to the Main Deck midships and forward of the transmitter room. The wounded from the machinery spaces were passed up and an orderly line followed up the ladder. I headed aft and came out on the Quarterdeck just in time to see the bow of PENNSYLVANIA lift up with the woosh of explosions and settle down. The concussion knocked me down and I slid under the #3 turret as bombs hit the turret and the aircraft parked there upon.
The sliding continued until I went over the port lifeline, which was underwater, and into the oil and water. A motor launch was adrift close by and I got aboard. The first man I pulled out of the water was a Coxs'n. I started the engine and we moved in toward the ship on a SAR mission. The next man aboard was a boat engineer. We loaded the boat, crossed the harbor, came back and took some OKLAHOMA people on board she had turned over. Japanese aircraft were still making strafing runs. One passed overhead and crashed on Ford Island.
Our boat crew was relieved on the next trip. We were taken to the Receiving Station for clothing and treatment. By this time I had acquired some skivvies, shorts, and a pair of moccasins which were too small. After being fitted out, but not scrubbed off, we were taken back to the ship to fight fires. There being no fires for me to fight, I reported to the transmitter room of TENNESSEE which was alongside WEST VIRGINIA. There were more than enough hands to do nothing so somehow I wound up as an engineer of a motor whaleboat which passed people and messages around the harbor. Sunset put an end to that career. We wound up at the Receiving Station.
Sometime during that eventful night, the word was passed for all Radiomen to report to the OD's desk. About six of us were loaded onto a truck and we hauled out. Our destination was the 14th Naval District Communication Office.
On December 7, 1941, three of us all Lt. (jg)'s that is (myself), Nicholas, Sears, and Lombardi left the ship about 0630 to meet a young 14 year old Portuguese boy who would be our guide on a wild pig hunt at Aiea Landing. Upon our arrival at Aiea Landing, we departed immediately to hunt wild pigs in a canyon about 1/2 mile NE of Pearl Harbor. Deeply involved in hunting about 0755, I heard several loud explosions and knowing that the U. S. Army had been on maneuvers the previous week, I made the remark "Boy the Army is really getting realistic today." Our guide the young Portuguese boy spoke up at said "That's not the Army it's the Japanese!"
We immediately climbed out of the canyon to the ridge with shells exploding and throwing dirt all around us. It appeared that some of the aircraft after making their attack on the ships would fly up our canyon to get away. Upon reaching the ridge we could see the attack on the ships and Ford Island. At about 0810, I took the attached photograph as we ran down the ridge back to Aiea Landing at the left of the photo (PH021)
At Aiea Landing we finally caught a motor whale boat that was making the rounds of the ships in the harbor. Seeing that the West Virginia was sunk and burning, Sears and I got off and went aboard the cruiser USS Phoenix which was getting underway. I went below decks and reported to Aviation Division since I was certain that Sunday being a holiday they would be short of pilots. Sears was a gunnery officer so he went to the gunnery group. The cruiser Phoenix got underway and made it out of the harbor to the open sea while I was below decks helping to arm the aircraft on board. Later that day we joined up with the USS Enterprise Task Force which had been scheduled in Pearl Harbor on the 7th. We proceeded to cruise at sea south of the Islands (?) until late Thursday when our group finally returned to Pearl Harbor. This was the first time that I had to observe the sunk and damaged ships left by the Japanese raid.
Dad came to the door and said he hoped we wouldn't be disappointed about missing our favorite radio programs. A tube had burned out in the radio and he could not get another until the next day. Then he asked Mother to come into the living room to read an article in the newspaper. I was busy with Janice and his request was not unusual so I paid no attention.
A neighbor who was a nurse stopped on her way to church. Mother met her at the door and she quickly asked about Janice. That wasn't unusual because she had shown me how to take care of a baby. The telephone began to ring. Mother or Dad answered, but didn't talk long. My best friend, Theresa, came over and she had a problem with watery eyes. Especially every time she looked at Janice and when she helped me wrap a Christmas present for Earl.
I was busy all day. So much company, so much to do and I was so tired that night that although I felt uneasy, I fell asleep.
Janice woke up early the next morning. I changed her, nursed her and she went back to sleep. The unease I had felt the night before was growing stronger so I went outside to get the morning paper. It wasn't on the lawn. It wasn't in the house. Was it the first time in years it hadn't come? I didn't think so. Both of my parents were asleep so I decided not to wake them. Instead I ran to the garage and hunted through Dad's car. The paper was tucked under the front seat. As I tore off the rubber band I walked into the driveway. The headline was: "Japanese Attack Pearl Harbor. U. S. S. West Virginia Sunk With Only Two Survivors."
I began to yell. I swore words and phrases I didn't even know I knew at the top of my voice. I was mad. Damn mad. My parents came out and helped me into the house. Janice was awake, frightened and crying. My seven year old brother was consoling her. I sat on the divan, still angry. Mother and Dad talked to me. They told me that headlines are often wrong, especially after a disaster. My anger began to fade and I began to say that if there were only two survivors from that ship, Earl was one of them. I had to be strong for myself and especially for Janice. A deep coldness settled on my emotions. I did not cry. I was determined that he was allright. Dad plugged in the radio for more news. He had hoped that good news would come before I learned about the attack and had disconnected it. The news was confusing. Commentators guessed, but had no information.
Monday and the following Wednesday broug[h]t letters dated before December 7th. The ship was due to return to the states for drydock and Earl was sure he would be discharged and home for Christmas. By then newscasters were sure the ship was on the bottom of Pearl Harbor. The number of survivors and dead were not known or passed off as information that could not be told because of the enemy. No messages came, good or bad.
The following Friday night, Mother, her friend Nora, Theresa and I sat at our dining room table drinking tea. (Dad was not there because he worked nights) The pot was empty just after ten o'clock, but they lingered for a few moments. One outstanding person in Inglewood at the time was a man who delivered telegrams. Not because he was different, but because he drove the loudest, noisiest Model T Ford in town. We hear rattle, bang and clatter. It stopped in front of our house and we knew why he was there. I answered the doorbell, but could not take the message even though he insisted it was good news. Mother took it and read "Everything OK, Wester Wood". By then neighbors who recognised the Ford came including the two nurses who were there to revive me, but were happy about the good news. Nobody knows who Wester Wood was, but was my best friend at the moment.
A few days later a Christmas postcard came from Earl. No news, but it was dated after the attack so I knew he was allright. (Luckily he was not hurt and was able to go from the West Virginia to the Tennessee which was tied up inboard and walk ashore.)
Earl came home February 8th. He had been assigned to new construction. We packed up and left for Boston where he went aboard the U. S. S. San Juan. By July he was in the South Pacific and in combat.
We flew to Hawaii in 1986. As the plane approached the airport in Honolulu the pilot announced that we would fly over Pearl Harbor. I looked out the window while Earl described what had happened. All the tears I had not cried in 1941 began to flow.
Before I could get to the ladder going topside, the General Alarm went off and General Quarters was sounded.
I immediately started to run forward and got to the ladder going down to Main Control and Central Station. As I waited my turn to go down to 3rd deck, someone very casually said "Well the Japs have finally come." That was my first knowledge of what was happening.
I got down to 3rd deck and ran all the way forward to the "Forward S E air compressor compartment". This was my battle station.
On my battle station, I reported to Electrician's Mate 2nd Class "Stan" (I think) Dixon. Just about that time the lights went out and I held a battle lantern to light up the electrical panel so Dixon could check for power to the air compressor.
By that time we had received a number of torpedo hits and I had been thrown against the bulkhead, and hurt. We had taken on a list and had started to flood, so some of the men were climbing the ladder. Without letting go of the wire cage, built around the air compressor, I worked my way around to the ladder and climbed up to 2nd deck.
I climbed the starboard ladder to the main deck and ran forward. As I ran, a bomb hit on the U. S. S. Tennessee and the shrapnel (the same that killed Captain Bennion) came across and hit George Reid, a Shipfitter 1st Class. I helped him get under the overhang of #2 turret where a Corpsman took care of him.
By that time the U. S. S. Arizona had blown up and the U. S. S. Oklahoma had capsized and the Wee Vee had a bad list. I stayed under the turret long enough to take off my shoes and then went all the way forward to the bow, where along with many others I jumped over the side with "Stew" Jackson, (Whose brother was killed in the steering engine room) and swam to Ford Island.
I went below, got dressed and relieved the watch. The first inkling that anything was amiss was when the word was passed "AWAY FIRE AND RESCUE PARTY". The quick thinking officer of the Deck was going to rescue the pilot of that plane skimming low of the water who "obviously" was going to ditch. Below, we, of course, knew nothing of this. Shortly after that the word was passed "GENERAL QUARTERS" and about then the first of the 9 torpedoes hit.
The night of December 8th I went back to sea on the Destroyer U. S. S. Worden.
In May or June 1942 I was ordered back to the W. Va. in the salvage crew. The Navy decided to raise the ship and put her back in commission. I was a divers' tender. "Real" divers were getting lost in the wreckage below so they gratified two of my shipmates, both Machinist Mates First Class who had been aboard for 4 or 5 years too, as Salvage Divers.
One of the divers encountered difficulty in one of the enginerooms, 5 decks down and almost died. The Master Diver proposed to replace him with me, so I went over to the Sub Base, took pressure for 90 ft and I was a diver!
Pacific Bridge made the 484 ft of port side watertight and Ralph Hooton and I opened the ship up and put 11 pumps on the centerline. During the dewatering of the ship, she took on an alarming list to port, so we flooded the high side firerooms and righted the ship. We were very concerned that we would have enough water under the keel to enter the drydock. But we did on the first try.
We took everything - and I mean everything - off the ship, cleaned what we could or requisioned new parts and sailed the ship to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton arriving in May 1943.
Even tho our Captain was mortally wounded, his thoughts were the safety of his men and the ship. He told Abe & I to go below and close watertight doors and hatches. One of the ships doctors told me the next day that Captain Benion passed away about 1/2 hour after he was hit.
Abe took the port side and I took the starboard. That was the last time I saw Abe. I found out 2 days later that he had been killed.
I worked the starboard side forward closing watertight doors and hatches. Word was passed to abandon ship. I jumped in and swam to Ford Island (the Naval Air Station) about 100 yards away. Someone gave me a pair of shoes and some clean clothes.
I and 2 other fellows got hold of a motor whale boat and spent the day transporting the wounded from Ford Island to the Navy hospital. I don't know where I spent the night. We were completely exhausted.
By the time I reached the bridge area, more torpedoes and bombs had hit the West Virginia and the ship was listing heavily. I did not continue to my battle station as I thought we were going to capsize like the Oklahoma just forward of us.
I found out later that some ships personnel had counter-flooded the starboard side, which by doing so made the West Virginia settle to the bottom straightly.
During the attack, Captain Bennion was hit in the stomach by I presume, a piece of shrapnel from a bomb explosion. An Ensign, a black officers steward, another sailor and myself tried to carry him to safety, but the fire under the ladder prevented us from carrying him down. We tried to take him to a vertical ladder by the ship's conning tower. He was a tall and large man, so we were unable to get him through the hatch. We were hurting him by moving him around. We placed him in a sitting position by a bulkhead. Just at that time, abandon ship was called. Captain Bennion was mortally wounded and told us to save ourselves. I was terrified and didn't need to be told again.
I went down the vertical ladder that we tried to get the captain through. I worked myself down to the forcastle deck which was above water and jumped into the water which was between the U. S. S. West Virginia and the U. S. S. Tennessee which was inboard of us. I swam around the bow of the Tennessee to Ford Island.
I helped some sailors up the slope to Ford Island for awhile, I then headed for shelter of a mess hall where we were told to go. We took shelter under the tables of the mess hall.
It was 6:30 a.m. when reveille was sounded and I rolled up my bedding, folded my canvas cot and stowed them in the place provided in each compartment.
Since it was my misfortune to have the job of Division Police Petty Officer, it was my duty to check on each man in the mornings, and after determining their presence or absence, make the report to the executive officers office. After this was finished, I sat down to a breakfast of ham and eggs - a breakfast that was very special aboard this vessel.
I had just finished eating and was standing in front of my locker when the general alarm, away fire and rescue party, was sounded over the speaker system. Upon hearing this, I got a hat and started on the double out to the quarter deck where my fire and rescue station was. At this moment a terrific explosion rocked the ship so violently it was difficult to remain standing. This was the first Japanese torpedo that struck the ship. Before I had time to reach the top deck, another general alarm was sounded. This time it was for all hands to man their battle stations. Everywhere, men were shouting, "General quarters. The Japs are attacking." Just then another gigantic explosion rocked the ship, bringing to me the first realization that the "supposedly impregnable" naval base at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, and almost the entire Pacific Fleet, anchored in Pearl Harbor, was being attacked by a heavy force of Japanese torpedo planes and dive bombers. The attack was begun at 7:55 on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, and lasted for more than two hours. This act of aggression by the Japanese served to bring the United States and almost all the remaining non-belligerent countries into the world wide conflict that was started by Germany more than two years previous.
After recovering from the momentary shock of the exploding torpedo, I hurriedly continued my hasty trek to the main radio room located below the third deck. Upon arriving there, I found the deck covered with glass from the broken light globes and most of the receiving antennas broken down.
A very few moments after I entered the radio room, an officer shouted down the hatch from third deck for everyone to clear out, because the ship was flooding fast and taking a heavy list to the port side. Then the order was given for everybody to abandon ship. At this command, everyone in the radio room started up the ladders leading to the top side.
By this time, the hatches on the port side of the ship, opening from the third deck to the second, had been closed, so, I had to cross over to the starboard side in order to reach the second deck. A number of men were already filing up through the hatch in quite an orderly manner, with no sign of fright or semi-hysteria that would seem to accompany such an attack.
After arriving on the second deck, I went forward into the next compartment where a ladder afforded passage up to the main deck. The bursting of bombs and torpedoes, the chatter of machine guns, and the roar of many airplanes could be heard. We knew that the attack must just be reaching the height of its fury so an officer at the ladder leading up to the next deck suggested that we wait until the attack had abated before we went out on the top deck.
By this time the ship was listing so heavily toward the port side that it was very difficult to stand, so, there being nothing else to do, I sat down on a bench along the outboard side of the compartment to wait until it was safe to go outside. One of the radio strikers sat down on the bench beside me. That was the last time I ever saw him.
From this time until I came to my senses again some time later is one of the blankest periods of my memory. When I came to I was on land and was being put into a truck to be carried to the Navy Yard dispensary to be treated for shock.
Quite some time later I learned that along with a number of men in the same compartment, I had been rendered unconscious by the concussion of an exploding torpedo that had entered the ship on the second deck a short distance aft of the compartment we were in. However, I am inclined to believe that we were overcome by fumes from gas, oil and batteries being covered with salt water. Perhaps, though, it was from the surprise and bewilderment of an air raid on so peaceful a locality when one was unexpected by everyone.
Even before the raid was over, men who were still able to move about started carrying out those men who were below the decks. I was carried from the second deck and put aboard a Navy Yard tug by L. L. Langley, a radio striker and a very good friend. To him, I am certain that I owe my life because many of the men in the same compartment with me never regained consciousness. When the ship flooded they drowned in oil and salt water. I shall forever be very grateful to Langley for rescuing me.
Out in mid-stream I was transferred from the tug to an officers motor boat and carried to the beach where a truck picked up survivors and carried them on to the dispensary. There, I was put to bed on a cot and was cleaned up a bit. I was the most "gory mess" anyone has every seen. I was covered from head to foot - completely drenched - with fuel oil.
Later in the day, all men who could walk were transferred from the Navy Yard dispensary to the Marine hospital. After staying there a short while, I was carried to Mobile Hospital Ward Number Two where I remained the rest of the day and night.
Just as I was starting to the Radio Room, one of the men came running from top deck shouting, "They're just bombing the whey out of the place over yonder." This was the first inkling that we were under attack. As we turned to look out the porthole and confirm his claim, the Officer of the Deck ordered "Away the Fire and Rescue Party." He too had seen the explosion on a ship over by the dock and was going to send help. So, with that, we got the war started in confusion.
We had no monopoly on the confusion, though. At 6:45 a.m. the destroyer Ward, patrolling off Pearl Harbor entrance, sighted a small cigar shaped submarine with the conning tower about two feet out of the water. Opening fire, their second shot struck it at the water line, then they depth charged it. This action was reported to the Commandant, 14th Naval District. A PBY on patrol saw what had happened and reported it to Kaneohe Naval Air Station. At 7:03, the Ward depth charged another contact and saw a huge oil slick appear on the water. Duty Officers and CincPac were still trying to get a clear idea of the situation and decide what action to take when the Japanese struck at 7:55.
On board a Naval vessel, every man is assigned a certain place to go and a certain job for every event that takes place. While everyone was hurrying to his station for "Fire and Rescue Party", the first torpedo struck the ship. With that, the Officer of the Deck realized we were under attack and ordered everyone to MAN YOUR BATTLE STATIONS". Also on board a Naval vessel, that command is an electrifying one and everyone really gets in a hustle.
It is very difficult to describe the feeling of a torpedo exploding against the ship you are standing on, but it's a sensation you'll never forget. And, if you've never felt it before, it's not hard to recognize.
My "Battle Station" was in the main radio room, way down in the bottom of the ship, below the third deck. So, off I ran to get there before all the hatches and doors were closed. Everyone was hurrying to his battle station as torpedoes were striking frequently. They were moving in an orderly manner without any sign of panic - a little hurried anxiety maybe, but no panic.
The ship had taken three or four torpedoes by then and the side I was on had been ripped open. Water was gushing so far into the ship through the holes that I got wet as I crossed third deck. The fuel tanks had been torn open and thick, black fuel oil was spreading over the water as it rose higher and higher.
When I reached the Radio Room, the place was a shambles. About five or six men on watch were struggling to keep things right. Typewriters were falling out of the radio operating positions; light globes were shattered all over the place; receiving antennae were broken down around the room. Two men in the Communications Office were struggling to hold in place the code safe which was sliding across the deck. They were even more bewildered than I because they didn't know what was going on. We could tell the ship was in danger of capsizing, because there is a limit to what a ship can recover from when it leans over, and we knew that one was just about to the point of no return. The ship's public address system didn't reach into the radio room, but someone suddenly shouted down the hatch to, "Abandon ship! Get out of there!" Now you talk about hurried anxiety! We didn't need a second invitation.
After seeing that everyone was out of the Radio Room, I came up the ladder to third deck. By then the hatches on our side of the ship had been closed and dogged down, so we had to cross over to the other side to get out. As I stepped out onto third deck and paused for the men to move on, I could hear a frightened little voice calling, "Somebody help me! Somebody help me!" Looking around, I saw one of the radio strikers out in the center of that big room clinging for dear life to a stanchion. He couldn't stand up without holding onto something and it was impossible to walk up that slanted, oily deck, so, he was trapped there. I tried every way I could to reach that boy and pull him to safety but we just weren't long enough. He was already standing in water and oil up to his knees. There was nothing I could do, for if I turned loose, there would be two of us out there to save. So, I told him to let go of that post, wade down to the lower side of the room, then come around the wall where he could pull himself up to the hatch. I then hurried across the ship and up to second deck. I was happy to learn later that he made it to safety. On second deck our way out was blocked by an officer who explained that the attack was at the height of it's fury, and we might get killed on topside, so we would just wait there until it was over and then go out. Well, the attack ended for me then and there, for I passed out cold as a wedge!
Later I learned that about twenty-five men had been knocked out in that one compartment. It was concussion from a torpedo exploding on that same deck, one room aft and across the ship from us. It was one of my friends who rescued me. He didn't even know it was me until he got me on top deck. I was loaded onto a Navy Yard tug from which I was later transferred to a motor boat and taken to the dock. When I started regaining consciousness, I was lying on the deck of that motor boat. I felt as though something was around my neck choking me to death, and I was fighting for dear life to make my way back up out of that blackness. I could hear the men in the boat crew talking. One said, "Here they come again!" Another said, "There goes the Solace getting under way!" Then the voices faded out as I sank back into the blackness. I didn't really come to until they lifted me from the boat and put me into a truck to be taken to the Marine Dispensary in the Navy Yard. Talk about a mess! I was completely covered with a thick coat of that black fuel oil. Since I had floated in it a while, I had swallowed some along with some salt water. It makes a bitter dose and made me pretty sick. The oil in my eyes was quite painful, and my ears were even full of it. Undoubtedly I was the luckiest fellow there that day, for I didn't have a scratch or bruised place on me. When I started coming out of shock, however, I took a chill and was shaking uncontrollably. They put me to bed and tried to get me warm. As I lay there I could hear planes roaring overhead, machine guns firing and dull booms of exploding bombs and torpedoes. Men were continually being brought in - some with severe wounds and burns - others with minor or no wounds.