I was born November 9, 1921 in Sumrall, Mississippi. We farmed cotton, and the usual food items.I often joked that I was born in Mississippi and raised in the Navy and saved by Jesus.The Navy was the best job I ever had.
I joined the United States Navy on October 2, 1940 and received training in San Diego, California at the naval Training Center.I was assigned to the USS California and stationed in Bremerton, Washington Naval Yard.In spring 1941 I was reassigned to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
On December 7, 1941 the US air units based in Hawaii were located at Naval Air Stations Ford and Kaneoke, Marine Corps Air Station Ewa, and Army Air Bases at Wheeler, Hickham, Bellows and Haleiwa. There were 94 US Navy ships in the harbor. As all US aircraft carriers were at sea, the battleships California, Oklahoma, Maryland, Tennessee, West Virginia, Arizona, and Nevada moored in "Battleship Row" was the focus of the aerial assault by torpedo and dive-bombers.The Pennsylvania was in dry-dock and was targeted only by dive and high-level bombers.
It was another beautiful Hawaiian Sunday morning about 7:55 a.m.I was serving on the USS California in Casemate 9 working mess duty.My station was Casemate 3.
At that time the dining tables in battleships were secured to the ceiling when not in use.My buddy and I were on KP duty (kitchen patrol) and had just finished securing the tables when the first attack wave came in.
First in Battleship row was my ship, the USS California which was moored with no ship alongside and received two torpedo hits below the waterline which inflicted large gashes in her hull.Her resulting list was restored by flooding but the influx of water was such that pumps could not keep up with it.She slowly sank in an upright position.Only the masts and superstraucture remained above the service.Almost 100 of her crew perished, with many others wounded.The Captain, who had been ashore, was able to return to the ship about 9:15 a.m.We had to abandon ship about 10:15 a.m.I was a very good swimmer. I swam to Ford Island where I remained until assigned back to the USS California.We spent the night on the deck by the 5-inch 25 guns.Because everyone was so scared many were testing and shooting their guns which created some panic and other shots were fired throughout the night. The California was re-floated in March 1942 and returned to action after modernization at Bremerton, Washington.
There was total confusion during most of this time. It has been told that on the island, men, women and children, were screaming at the bombers and were throwing anything they could pick up at the planes.
This was peacetime so all the ammo was locked up.We had to find the officer-of-the-deck to have the ammo unlocked.
Men were dying all around us.Or, worse, they were burning alive or dying with their insides all over the place.
I was so very scared.I thought about my parents and my 11 brothers and sisters who I had not seen since October 1940.Would I ever see them again?Was the continental United States being attacked too?I knew I was in serious trouble and wondered if I would get out of it.But, maybe because I was so young, I never really thought I was going to die.
In those days there was no CNN or television.Only radio, and most people didn't have one.I was reported missing in action by telegram to my family in Mississippi.After the attack, my family didn't find out I was alive until January 1941.
I spent about four months on Hickman Field training the Army to take over.I was then assigned to USS West Virginia salvage detail.This meant that we pulled bodies and debris out, put a cofferdam over the side of the ship to patch holes and slowly raise her up.We then put her in dry dock to clean and paint and get her back to the states.This took about 6 to 8 months.Then I was assigned to the Naval Mine Warfare at the Naval Weapons Station, Yorktown, VA.
I am a member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors group.Our motto is, "Lest We Forget."It is my strong believe that we must always remember the lessons we learn from life and apply them to ensure that in the future we did not repeat the same mistakes. We paid a terrible price for being unprepared.
In respect to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, it is my opinion this attack is worse than Pearl Harbor because it was made on innocent civilians.