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USS Arizona

USS Arizona

 

 

Franklin Van Valkenburgh

Captain 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.  

Rear Admiral Isaac Campbell KiddRear 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 occurring vanished.

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Both 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.

Frantically 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.

Samuel Fuqua

In 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 answered.  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.

 

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When 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 touch. 

Captain 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 recognition. 

Captain 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.

 

Commander Cassin YoungUSS Vestal

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.

vestal.jpg (45086 bytes)Normal 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.

 

 

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Just 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.

 

The 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

Captain 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.

 

 

Welcome to Paradise - Home Page

 

Paradise Lost - The First Attack

 

Tora, Tora, Tora

 

When the Seas Burned

 

The Struggle for Survival

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Doing the Impossible

 

Rising Up From the Ashes

 

Medal of Honor Tribute

 

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