Sunday, December 07, 2008

Pearl Harbor Remembrance

Lieutenant (JG) F.H. White was on board the USS West Virginia when it was attacked and sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The following is from White’s action report written on December 11, 1941:

At 0756, approximately, I was in the wardroom when the Fire and Rescue party was called away by bugle. I ran to the quarter deck.

The first thing I saw, on reaching topside was a Japanese plane over a ship, ahead of the West Virginia, from which a column of water and smoke was rising. As I ran forward, I stopped at the Deck office and sounded the general alarm just as the first torpedo struck the ship.

In route my battle station in secondary forward I noticed no one in charge of the AA battery on the boat deck where the crews were manning the guns, so I remained there and took charge of the battery, breaking out the ready service ammunition, forming an ammunition train and getting the starboard guns firing, local control.

The ship had received three or four torpedo hits which threw oil and water all over the decks, which combined with the list to -- approximately 25° -- made footing very precarious. Due to the list of the ship, the port gun crews were brought to starboard as their guns would not elevate sufficiently. The air to the guns had gone out, which necessitated depression for hand loading. While the guns were in action, several bombs dropped on or near the ship, but the discipline on the guns was excellent. ...

Lieutenant Commander J.H. Harper saw me and told me to go to the bridge and bring down the Captain who was wounded.

Lieutenant C.V. Ricketts, Ens. V. Delano, C.S.M. Siewert, D. Miller, M.Att.2c. and several signalmen were on the signal and flag bridges, in the immediate vicinity of the starboard admiral's walk where the Captain was lying.

The Captain's abdomen was cut apparently by a fragment of bomb, about three by four inches, with part of his intestines protruding. The Captain deserves the highest praise, for although he was in great pain, his only concern was for the ship and crew. ...

A serious oil fire from the galley spread to the mast structure, with flame and thick black smoke preventing our lowering the Captain forward of the conning tower although an unsuccessful attempt was made. The smoke and flames prevented us from seeing more than a foot or two, and the heat was intense. ...

The life jackets stowage and signal bags were burning by this time and Lt. Ricketts, Seiwert and I threw burning flags over the side. A fire hose was sent up by heaving line which I used to try to fight fire but the pressure was insufficient. By this time the bridge was burning to starboard, and the signal bridge all over.

Ens. Graham went up the starboard boat crane and sent over a line which we secured to the rail on the bridge and used to cross to the carne and thence to the boat deck. From then until relieved fought fire. ...
And this from a history of the West Virginia
The ship's commanding officer, Capt. Mervyn S. Bennion, arrived on his bridge early in the battle, only to be struck down by a bomb fragment hurled in his direction when a 15-inch "bomb" hit the center gun in Tennessee's Turret II, spraying that ship's superstructure and West Virginia's with fragments.

Bennion, hit in the abdomen, crumpled to the deck, mortally wounded, but clung tenaciously to life until just before the ship was abandoned, involved in the conduct of the ship's defense up to the last moment of his life. For his conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, Capt. Bennion was awarded a Medal of Honor.
The West Virginia was later raised from the bottom and repaired. It took part in actions off the Philippines, Okinawa and Iwo Jima. By the war's end, it had earned five battle stars.

On August 31, 1945 the
West Virginia sailed into Tokyo Bay. It was thus a "witness" two days later to Japan's formal surrender aboard the USS Missouri.

West Virginia's website is here. It's well worth a visit.

I can never find the right words to properly express my admiration and appreciation for our military men and woman and their families. Their services and sacrifices make our freedoms possible.

History Matters has the text of FDR's address to Congress asking for a declaration of war.

There's an outstanding remembrance post at Volokh Conspiracy. It contains film footage and narration of the background and attack on Pearl Harbor as well as photos, film and reactions of visitors to Pearl and the Arizona memorial site. The post is informative, moving and inspiring.