Friday, December 7, 2007

Pearl Harbor Day

Today we remember the attack on Pearl Harbor that occurred December 7, 1941. My grandfather was there aboard the battleship U.S.S. California. The California was sunk that day, but was raised, repaired and returned to the fight. Let's all remember the brave men and women who gave their lives for freedom that day and let us also remember to be vigilant for threats to our freedom in the future.

Just before my grandfather passed away, my dad got him to talk about Pearl Harbor a little. Here is the account:

The first hand account of 22 year old, John B. Smith, Gunners Mate 2nd Class:

“ I was in turret #1 -1st Division. We lived in those turrets. Slept on folding cots which we stored in an immersion tank, a pit in a 14” gun turret with 16 inches of space.

We had a crazy 1st Lt. who was always holding drills. I was pressing some whites to go ashore. General Quarters sounded. We all thought it was that crazy Lt. holding those drills.

My battle station was the upper powder handling room in Turret #1. Deck hands and other gun crew members were coming in, it takes 75 guys to fire a 14” gun. 10 were on the training deck, we thought it was a drill. By the time we got our phones on and checked in with the turret Captain the first torpedo hit. It felt like the ship ran aground. She felt pushed aside then another torpedo hit.

We were tied to a Quay on Ford Island. We were the battle force flag ship and had a four star Admiral aboard. We got a couple of bomb hits aft.

We had a mechanical cow on board and it made ice cream. Worst ice cream I ever tasted. We called it the Geedunk stand. One of the bombs hit the room it was in and blew it up. It was the best thing about the whole raid.

Fire and damage control people were fighting fires. The ship was listing to port. We made a mark on the water immersion tank and sure enough, the ship was listing to port.

The Captain and Staff and the OOD, (Officer of the Deck), said to train all turrets to starboard to counter-balance the list. Turret #1 tore right thru the canvass covering at 17 degrees. The turret relief valves were at maximum and they yelled for me to dog, (tighten) them down but the power went out and the guns never went any further.

The Chief Ship-Fitter went down and opened the flood valves to counter flood the list and it did so.

During this week and next we were going to have a landing force inspection. All the man hole covers were off. That’s why we ?? and sank like a rock. A battleship is a maze of water tight compartments, all were open.

About this time the word came to take my crew down four decks below the water line to a 5” AA magazine to hand pass the ammo as the electrical hoists were out. Water was slopping around us when we went down.

I had 12 men when we started out and arrived with 8. We nearly had the magazine emptied when they said Abandon Ship. We started up but then they said go down again. We finished the magazine. No others would come. I said to go back to our battle stations. I went out by a hatch near turret #2 with the rest of my men. 50 to 75 guys who went the other way were trapped below and drowned when the 50 ton main hatch cover was closed and locked. It was made of 5 or 6 inches of grade A steel.

Norman E. Scott was a machinist mate and a friend. He later got the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was supplying air to the 5” AA guns from an air compressor. I said to him, “Scotty get out of here, he said no. as long as they want air to the guns I’ll stay here. That was the last I saw of him, he died at his post.

The old 5” AA shells had to have the fuses set by hand. Some of our shells were landing in Pearl City and exploding. They reported they were being bombed, some shells hit like bags of sand.

We jumped out of the hatch by turret 2 and I landed on a pile of wooden Church chairs. Banged up my knees and legs. A bunch of our guys lay dead on blankets on the deck. I took ?? guy burned all over with crisp ??? to the turret. We had ?? tubs of grease and I covered him with it. I went back to get another but they had removed them.

The ships Doctor came along and took me to a large bomb hole in the deck and we pulled out the torso’s only, arms and legs of the guys killed. Then they said abandon ship. I ran forward to turret #1. Jessie Pike, turret Captain said, “where have you been, they are all gone. I have been waiting for you. Get your shoes off and lets go.”

I jumped over the side. The water had oil on it, some of it burning. Boats were nearby but I waved them off and swam 50 yards to the beach on Ford Island. Pike and I had oil all over us. Some Hawaiian girls on the beach had buckets of kerosene and helped us get the oil off.

They took us to a hangar and we got clean clothes. Jessie and I got 2 browning machine guns from a plane and we set those guns up with plenty of ammo. 3 or 4 sailors helped us.

I was bleeding when I came ashore and they sent my parents in Beaver Crossing a telegram that I was wounded and then killed.

The dumbest thing those Jap guys did was sink the ships in shallow water. If they had waited until we were underway they could have gotten everything.

We stayed with the machine guns a couple of hours. A Coke machine was nearby as we were getting thirsty but we had no money. We opened it with an iron bar and I had a Dr. Pepper but I have never had one since.

The Arizona blew up behind us, the Oklahoma rolled over.

As soon as it got dark they said anything coming down the channel will be unfriendly. Two planes came down and we shot them down.

They hauled us over to Honolulu and fed us baloney, sardines and beans. When we went to chow there were powder grains lying all over the island from the Arizona. She blew up so fast these grains did not have time to explode. There were pieces of iron and angle iron blown three to four miles.

A man on the Oklahoma escaped through a 14 inch porthole. He was a lot larger than a 14 inch port hole.

The ships Chaplain, (Lt. William J. Kergaly), a good friend – a great cribbage and checker player was the bravest man I ever saw. He had a set of phones and described the attack like a football game to the crew below. The men idolized him. He survived.”

The image at the top of the post is from the National Archives. It provides a dramatic picture of what was going on that day.

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