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Rising From the Ashes


7_view_from_zero.jpg (61831 bytes)By 9:45 A.M., less than two hours after the first wave had commenced the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the pilots of the second wave had finished their job and turned to fly back to their carriers north of the island.   In their wake they left Pearl Harbor in ruin, black smoke filling the blue sky.   The surface of the harbor's normally calm waters was covered with a thick layer of burning oil.

The USS Arizona was a total loss, still burning with only a small portion of the bridge appearing above the water's surface.  The Oklahoma had capsized to port, sinking into the mud of the harbor "bottom-up" and carrying more than 400 men to a watery grave.   Likewise the California sank at its moorings, 100 sailors and Marines dying with their ship.  Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, who had led the raid, returned to Japan a hero.  Below is the map he presented to Emperor Hirohito in his after action report.  The long red arrows show the torpedo strikes. One slash indicates minor damage. Three slashes represent major damage.   An "X" marks those ships that were sunk.

6_fightingfires.jpg (117814 bytes) Fire crews worked feverishly to extinguish the flames around the Tennessee.  The big battleship's guns had fought throughout most of the nearly two-hour battle, and her engines were at last running.  But the USS West Virginia listed heavily, pinning the giant battleship against the two concrete quays to which Tennessee was moored.  Unable to move, the Tennessee was trapped and surrounded by a burning sea in addition to the fires aboard ship from damage sustained in the battle.  Because the Tennessee was one of the least damaged however, the wounded were taken to her galley where emergency treatment was being administered on every table.

Nearby the USS Maryland had suffered similar serious damage, but was still afloat.  Next to her was the upturned hull of the USS Oklahoma, the giant warship now a total loss.  Despite later salvage attempts she would never sail again.  The USS Pennsylvania in dry dock nearby was also damaged, but would sail again.  Incredibly so would the USS California which was raised from a sunken position that left little showing but her superstructure at the end of the day on December 7.

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USS Tennessee and USS West Virginia USS Maryland and USS Oklahoma USS California

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On the northwest side of Ford Island, the USS Utah had sunk up side down; it's mast digging into the mud to keep the barnacle-covered hull above water. Inside was trapped the bodies of 54 men. Survivors huddled in trenches a short distance away on the island. 

As the din of battle quieted between the waves of enemy airplanes, two of the survivors heard tapping from inside the up-turned hull. Machinist Stanley Semanski and Chief Machinist Mate Terry Mac Selwiney realized someone had survived and was trapped in an air pocket. From the nearby USS Raleigh they obtained a cutting torch and returned to the over-turned ship to locate the exact point of the noise's origin. On the other side of the thick metal Fireman Second Class Jack Vaessen struggled to remain conscious in a pocket of stale air. He used the last of his ebbing strength to beat on the hull with a wrench. When at last the torch cut through the metal he saw daylight. Soon several hands were reaching into the upturned hull and pulling him to safety. His was the first such rescue at Pearl Harbor that day.

6_oklahoma_salvage.jpg (107682 bytes)Six additional sailors were similarly rescued from the overturned USS Oklahoma later in the afternoon. On December 8 as the rescue efforts continued, two groups of eleven and thirteen men each were pulled to safety from holes cut in the hull of the Oklahoma. Sadly, when the big battleship was righted, raised and towed into dry dock six months later, the bodies of 20 more sailors were found inside. Scratches on the bulkhead showed that some had survived for two weeks while awaiting the rescuers who were never able to reach them. 

6_nevada.jpg (90621 bytes)The badly damaged Nevada was aground near Hospital Point, water filling its metal hull. She had made a valiant run to escape the inferno at Battleship Row before she was grounded to keep her from sinking. After repairs the valiant Nevada would return to the war to serve in both theaters. She was one of the Navy ships that supported the D-Day invasion at Normandy in June 1944. 

In her old age the Nevada was assigned the inglorious role of target ship, a task similar to that of the USS Utah prior to the attack at Pearl Harbor. On July 31, 1948 US Navy submarines and aircraft finally did what the Japanese had failed to do a Pearl Harbor, sending the now old and worn battleship to the bottom off the coast of Hawaii. 

6_cassin_downes.jpg (117314 bytes)The repair ship USS Vestal was also aground at Aiea Landing, the same area where crewmembers from the Nevada had planned on an afternoon swim before their world was turned upside down. Throughout the harbor other American ships sat in ruin, smoldering into the night sky. In addition to the loss of all seven battleships on Battleship Row, the damage to the dry docked battleship Pennsylvania, and the total loss of the battleship-turned-target-ship USS Utah, six cruisers were damaged along with four destroyers. Among the hardest hit were the destroyers USS Cassin and USS Downes. Both were damaged beyond salvation. Only a few parts were salvaged to help the Navy rebuild its other ships. 

Beyond a doubt however, the saddest and most shocking sight at Pearl Harbor was the burning hulk of the pride of the Pacific Fleet, the USS Arizona. The fatal blow that had crashed through the mighty battleship's decks to penetrate and ignite the forward magazines had been struck with such force that few men were able to find shelter or safety. She sank quickly, precluding any opportunity for escape but for a very few fortunate survivors. On December 7, 1941 a total of 1,511 sailors were assigned duty on the Arizona. Only 334 survived the Day of Infamy. As many as 945 went down with their ship and remain entombed within to this day. (One hundred and twenty-four members of the crew are buried as "Unknowns" at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.)

Though mostly submerged from the gaping hole where a Japanese bomb had nearly split her in half, fires from the USS Arizona burned into the night, and in the days afterward.

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USS Arizona (BB-39) 


When the sun finally went down on The Day of Infamy, the sky continued to be lit by the fires across the harbor. Sailors worked into the night fighting fires and seeking for survivors, all the while preparing defenses in the event of another attack. 

There would be no second attack, just as there would be all too few survivors. The surprise at Pearl Harbor had been complete...and deadly. In addition to the sinking of 21 ships in the harbor, on the ground nearly 200 planes had been destroyed where they were parked. The most tragic loss, however, was the loss of life. More than 2,400 Americans were killed including 2,001 sailors, 109 Marines, 231 Army personnel, and 54 civilians. In addition, 960 more Americans were missing, 1,272 wounded. 




When the sun arose on the morning of December 8 the smoke had begun to clear. Across the harbor the devastation could be seen, the sunken West Virginia pinning the Tennessee to shore, the upturned hull of Utah, and the tangled wreckage of the USS Arizona. In Washington, DC President Franklin D. Roosevelt appeared before Congress to address the American public by radio. He referred to the unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor as "a date which will live in infamy." It took less than 7 minutes for Congress to respond with a declaration of war against Japan. 

The image of a battle torn flag flying over the devastation of Pearl Harbor became the symbol of a Nation's grief. It also galvanized the American people to a cause, the struggle to meet aggression in the Pacific and crush it. No one had to call for volunteers, across American young men stood in line to volunteer their services to the American cause.


At Pearl Harbor, rescue parties and salvage crews worked around the clock. It required a monumental effort, everyone working beyond the point of exhaustion and pausing only when another body was brought past the work area. It was a final salute of respect to men who had given everything they had on a day of unimaginable horror and death. 

The effort also demanded the highest degree of leadership from the more experienced of the Navy's senior enlisted men and officers. For two and a half days one Warrant Machinist sat on the dock directing the rescue and clean-up operations. Speaking into the phone from time to time, issuing orders as necessary, he helped to bring order to the chaos around him. He never strayed far from his station...he couldn't... for he was blind. It was Warrant Machinist Donald Kirby Ross of the USS Nevada. Upon being sent to shore for treatment after collapsing the second time, he refused to seek aid for himself. Instead he stubbornly persisted in seeing that the rebirth of the Navy's Pacific Fleet in those first critical hours proceeded. His lack of vision didn't keep him from continuing to serve as a seasoned leader. Only when he was recognized by two officers from the Nevada and given a direct order to seek treatment, did the intrepid sailor report to an aid station. 

Despite the damage, the Pacific Fleet rose from the ashes of Pearl Harbor to valiantly meet the Japanese throughout the western seas. The USS Utah and the USS Arizona were beyond salvage and were left where they fell, a permanent reminder to future generation of the high price of freedom. Attempts were made to salvage the USS Oklahoma, but they were unsuccessful. After being raised and moved a short distance, she sank beyond recovery. All of the other ships were ultimately raised, repaired, and returned to service.




Slowly, Warrant Machinist Donald Ross began recovering his eye sight.  On December 17th, his vision still somewhat blurry, he returned to his station on the USS Nevada which was undergoing repairs.  On January 7, 1941, just one month after the attack, Don married his girlfriend Helen.  On April 18, 1942 Admiral Chester W. Nimitz presented Ross with the Medal of Honor. 

Don Ross retired from the Navy as a captain in 1956, and settled with Helen in their comfortable home on Puget Sound in Washington.  Many of his post- retirement days were spent speaking to children in schools, reminding those who guard America's future that, as President George Washington once said, "If we desire peace, it must be known at all times that we are ready for war."

 John Finn and Donald Ross 

On May 27, 1992 Donald Kirby Ross passed away.  After cremation, his ashes were scattered at sea, over the USS Nevada.  Helen Ross has done more than almost any other woman to remind others of heroes like her late husband, authoring several stories and books about Medal of Honor recipients.



Welcome to Paradise - Home Page


Paradise Lost - The First Attack


Tora, Tora, Tora


The Day the Seas Burned


Into the Inferno


Doing the Impossible


Rising Up From the Ashes

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Medal of Honor Tribute

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The 8 pages in this special series of stories has been
prepared in a special .pdf format that can be downloaded and printed
in an attractive 36-page book (with cover).  Click on the icon above to print your own
copy of DAY OF INFAMY.  Print a second copy as a gift for a friend or local school.

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The two images above were specially created for this series of stories.  You can click on either image to access a larger version that will print as a letter-size poster.

Click Here to read a very unique and little known  story about the Pearl Harbor Flag. bn_red.gif (971 bytes)Click Here to read the full text of President Roosevelt's "Day Of Infamy" speech.
A very special thanks to those who have made this series of stories possible, among them Mr. John Finn, Helen Ross (widow of Donald Kirby Ross), and the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.  I wish also to extend a very special thanks to Mr. William Hughes who has preserved much of the history of that "Day of Infamy" in a well done website.  We encourage you to visit him at USS UTAH.
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Unless otherwise noted, all materials by C. Douglas Sterner

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