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Franklin Van Valkenburgh (right) was proud of his ship, the USS Arizona.
The largest of the huge battleships in the Navy's Pacific Fleet, it
was an impressive example of the US Navy's might.
It was a privilege to command such a vessel.
Admiral Isaac Campbell Kidd (left) was equally proud of the Arizona,
as well as rest of the Pacific Fleet. A career Naval officer, Rear Admiral Kidd was commander of
Battleship Division 1. Both
officers were aboard the Arizona on the morning of December 7, 1941.
Neither had any inkling of what was about to occur.
No one could have imagined that on this day the heavens would rain
death upon not only the Arizona, but upon the entire Island of Oahu
in the Paradise of her homeport.
When the first wave of
Japanese airplanes swooped down on battleship row, no one was overly
concerned. Most of the men on
the ground or in the ships in the harbor mistook them for American aircraft.
Even when the first bombs began hitting the water it was more logical
to assume that some kind of practice drill was occurring than to believe
that the Pacific Fleet was under attack from a country 4,000 miles away.
When American airplanes
parked on the runways at Ford Island and nearby Hickam airfield began
exploding where they sat, when balls of fire mushroomed across the skies
from hits on the Utah and Raleigh on the northwest side of
Ford Island, and as flaming oil poured from the ruptured sides of the Oklahoma
and West Virginia on battleship row, any doubts about what was
Rear Admiral Kidd and Captain Van Valkenburgh quickly command of the
increasingly dangerous situation from the bridge of their impressive
battleship. From their position
at anchor behind the Nevada and inboard of the repair ship Vestal
they couldn't yet see the pool of oil spilling from the ruptured sides of
the Oklahoma and West Virginia.
Within seconds however, they knew Pearl Harbor was under attack.
They knew for they heard the scream of Japanese Val dive-bombers
swooping down on the Arizona. From
distances as close as twenty feet above the decks the Japanese pilots began
unleashing their warheads. The
USS Arizona quivered with their impact.
sailors aboard the Arizona manned the big guns, only to find that
there was no ammunition. In
1941 the American Navy was at peace with the world, expecting no reason for
armaments other than training rounds. While
the bombs crashed on deck and as Japanese zeroes dove in to strafe the
running sailors with their lethal machine-guns, determined men ran below
deck to retrieve ammunition from the Arizona's magazines.
Admiral Kidd and Captain Van Valkenburgh stood their post though
fully exposed on the bridge, taking reports, directing resistance, and
trying to restore order in unbelievable chaos.
the wardroom below deck Captain Samuel Fuqua had just finished breakfast
when the first sounds of air raid sirens reached his ears.
He phoned the bridge to learn what had happened but no one
Quickly he headed topside, expecting to find some kind of
practice drill in progress.
When he emerged from the hatch he heard the sounds of incoming
aircraft, not necessarily an unexpected noise for a practice drill.
Then the Arizona shook with the force of several violent
explosions, throwing Captain Fuqua against the metal deck of his ship.
Suddenly his world went black.
Captain Fuqua regained consciousness he found himself lying next to the ragged
edges of a gaping hole in the Arizona's deck.
Debris was everywhere, smoke filled the skies, and there were cries of
agony all around. For the first
time he heard the sounds of return fire as a few of the battleship's big guns
started firing back at the invading aerial armada.
He picked himself up and continued towards the bridge where Admiral Kidd
and Captain Van Valkenburgh were trying save their ship and its crew. Across the
litter-strewn deck he could see wounded sailors, many of them blinded as they
emerged from below. In the chaos
men in pain were running for the railings, intent on plunging into the water
below. More rational comrades were
forced to knock many of them unconscious to keep them from leaping to what would
have been certain death. All around
the Arizona the waters burned with the searing heat of a blast furnace.
Even the metal bulkhead of battleship itself was becoming too hot to
Fuqua heard the roar of more enemy planes diving on the Arizona and
witnessed the bombs raining from high above. One struck the Arizona next to the bridge, penetrating
the deck to explode amid a million and a half pounds of gunpowder in the forward
magazine. The bridge vaporized
along with Admiral Kidd and Captain Van Valkenburgh.
The battleship itself was broken in half.
Captain Fuqua looked towards
the place where the bridge had stood moments before.
He knew that Rear Admiral Kidd and Captain Van Valkenburgh had vanished
into eternity. He also knew that
the Arizona too, was beyond salvation.
Quickly he assumed command and gave the order to abandon ship. Then he
began moving through the fires that burned all about to find what few survivors
might remain. Calmly and
deliberately he set to the task of seeing the wounded loaded on lifeboats to
ferry them to shore. Less than 300
of the ship's crew survived, most of them wounded and many burned beyond
Fuqua refused to give in to the fires and explosions that were consuming the Arizona
until he had reached and rescued all who could be found.
Finally he boarded the last life raft to Ford Island.
As he looked back the Arizona finally slipped beneath the sea,
taking with it the bodies of more than 1,000 American sailors and Marines.
The repair ship Vestal
was moored between the Arizona and Ford Island and had already been
taking its own share of hits from the enemy bombs.
Standing exposed on its deck was Commander Cassin Young, ordering
resistance and seeking to organize his crew.
The violence of the explosion on the USS Arizona was so intense
more than 100 crewmen on the nearby Vestal were thrown into the air and
hurled into the oil-covered waters of Pearl Harbor.
Commander Cassin Young was among them.
Immediate panic set it.
The Vestal appeared to be done for with water flowing into the
engine room from an earlier bomb hit. Bulkheads bowed and buckled inward.
The ship's commander vaporized along with 100 others in the explosion
that destroyed the Arizona and Japanese airplanes kept coming.
In a last-ditch effort to save the crew the ship's executive officer
issued the order to abandon.
Men were streaming over the
sides when an apparition clambered aboard.
His uniform drenched with water and his entire body covered with oil,
the figure presented an eerie sight standing completely exposed on the Vestal's
gangplank. "Where the
hell do you men think you are going?" shouted the voice of Commander
Cassin Young. Unbelievably he not
only survived the blast that hurtled him into the air but also the flaming
waters of Pearl Harbor. Determinedly
he swam back to save his ship. Looking
down at the water, now filled with crewmen who were racing towards shore, he
shouted, "Come back here! You're
not going to abandon ship on me yet!"
Then he strolled the litter-strewn deck, heedless of enemy strafing and
bombardment. "All hands back
to your battle stations and prepare to get under way," he shouted.
steam pressure for moving the Vestal was 250 pounds.
Damaged pipes spewed hot steam into the air and only 50 pounds of
pressure could be achieved. On
this day, it was enough. Mooring
lines to the doomed Arizona were cut and slowly, miraculously, the Vestal
moved into open water under the fearless guidance of Commander Cassin Young.
Two tugs were commandeered to help the stricken vessel continue its
escape from the burning Arizona, but water continued to pour in and it
was apparent that the Vestal was sinking.
To prevent the loss, Commander Young ran his ship aground on a coral
reef at Aiea. The Vestal would sail again, after some repair work,
thanks to its fearless skipper's sheer guts and determination.
four months after the attack at Pearl Harbor the USS Vestal was
well on its road to recovery. On April 18, 1942 Admiral Chester W.
Nimitz was piped aboard the repaired Pearl Harbor veteran to
present the Medal of Honor to Commander Cassin Young.
following November as commander of the USS San Francisco,
Captain Cassin Young was killed in action during the Naval battle
of Guadalcanal. He was buried at sea
Samuel Fuqua received his Medal of Honor March 19, 1942, one month
before Cassin Young.
Fuqua served a full Naval career, retiring as a rear
admiral in 1953.
He died on January 27, 1987 at the age of 87 and is buried
in Arlington National Cemetery.
Posthumous Medals of Honor were awarded to Rear
Admiral Kidd and Captain Van Valkenburgh.
The citation for their award is a simple one, recognizing
them for discharging their duties courageously.
So simple a citation could easily have been applied to many
other sailors on that day.
Perhaps in its own way, just as the Arizona came to
memorialize the sacrifice of ALL Naval personnel on December 7,
194, the Medals of Honor awarded its top commanders can
memorialize the valor of all the other sailors and Marines at
Pearl Harbor at Pearl Harbor as well.
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