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Attack on Pearl Harbor: December 7, 1941

Eighty years ago this month, a surprise attack by Japanese forces occurred at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The attack killed more than 2,000, injured 1,178, and led to America’s entry into WWII. During the attack, six U.S. battleships were sunk, and more than a dozen others were damaged. The Japanese also destroyed 300 airplanes. The attack lasted less than two hours, and the following day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan.

The USS Shaw explodes after a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

The volunteers at Stories Behind the Stars are working on an ambitious project to tell the story of each Pearl Harbor casualty. As we mark the 80th anniversary of that fateful day, here are a few stories they’ve gathered:

Theodore Q. Jensen

Radioman 3rd Class Theodore Q. Jensen was born in a small Utah farming town. His father was an immigrant from Denmark and instilled a love of country and patriotism in his children. After graduating from high school, Theo and seven other young men from his tiny community enlisted together. Theo served in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Oklahoma. On the morning of December 7th, he was granted a day pass and was gathering his gear aboard the ship when it was hit by several torpedoes and capsized. Theo was among those killed. There were mass casualties that day, and many of the fallen were buried without proper identification, including Theo. Back home, Theo’s family and the entire community mourned his death. They named the local American Legion post in his honor. In 2015, Congress authorized an initiative to exhume unidentified remains, and properly identify them through DNA analysis. On December 17, 2020, Theo’s remains were identified, and last June, he was reinterred in Delta, Utah.

Jack G. Smalley

Jack G. Smalley grew up in Toledo, Ohio, in a family that had a love for the sea. All four Smalley brothers served in the U.S. Navy. One died of an illness in 1932 during active service, but the tragedy did not keep Jack from enlisting. Shortly after his 18th birthday, Jack enlisted in the Navy in Detroit, Michigan. For a time, both Jack and his brother Bud served on the USS Arizona. Their reunion lasted nearly a year until Bud was reassigned to a ship in the Atlantic. Jack stayed on the Arizona and was near the portside anti-aircraft gun when the Japanese attacked. Eight armor-piercing bombs penetrated the ship. One fell on the deck near turret No. 2, causing a large explosion that sent Jack into the rolling waters of Pearl Harbor. News of his death did not reach his parents for five days. Jack’s body was recovered, and he was laid to rest at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Jack’s mother, Gladys Smalley, channeled her grief by immersing herself in wartime efforts. She sold war bonds, stitched chevrons on sailors’ uniforms, served sandwiches at the USO, and knit blankets for servicemen. She was also the director of a mother’s club that provided money for poor sailors to buy basic provisions. Her husband, Vern Smalley, said, “I guess that doing all the work she can for servicemen and organizations, and for the bond drives, is her way of showing how she feels about Jack.”

Jack Foth

Jack Foth served as Electrician’s Mate 1st Class. He was born in 1919 in Kansas City, Missouri, and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1938. On the morning of December 7th, he was serving aboard the USS West Virginia. The West Virginia was tied alongside the USS Tennessee and absorbed much of the damage from the attack. The ship was struck by torpedoes a total of nine times. As water flooded in and the ship began to list, Lt. Commander John Harper ordered counter flooding to keep the vessel from capsizing. Fires broke out across the ship, and eventually, her crew sought safety aboard the Tennessee, where they continued to fight the flames. The fire burned for 30 hours before the hull finally crinkled, and the ship sank to the bottom, taking 66 sailors trapped below deck with her. Later, officials decided to salvage the West Virginia and return her to service. During salvage operations, crews began to work through the compartments, removing the remains of the 66 sailors. In one compartment, they found marks on the wall indicating that some sailors survived for as many as 16 days. They had access to food and water but died when their oxygen supply ran out. Jack’s cause of death was drowning. After the war, his remains were buried on Oahu. In 1947, his remains were reinterred in Kansas City, Missouri.   

To read more stories about those who died at Pearl Harbor, see Fold3 Memorials created by volunteers from Stories Behind the Stars here. Stories Behind the Stars volunteers are also researching the story of each of America’s WWII fallen heroes. See those Memorials here. If you would like to join their ranks of volunteers as they try to document all of America’s WWII fallen, visit Stories Behind the Stars here. Search additional WWII records on Fold3® today!

76 Comments

  1. Larry Dean McDonald says:

    Three of my Emery family ancestors still lie aboard the USS Arizona, most likely they didn’t know each other, or that they were distant relatives. John Emery Sr., and his brother Anthony and their families arrived on our shores in 1635 and they and their offspring have been defending our democracy long before we were even a nation. As militiamen, at Bunker HIll, with John Paul Jones on the Ranger, Lt. David Emery serving under American generals Benedict Arnold first and as a “lifeguard” for George Washington later, and pretty much every battle since. Even the Aroostook War! The Emery’s of America, a family who did much for our country, while taking very little, and often, no credit for their deeds. Who is Joseph Stickney Emery, besides being the grandfather of Jack Mandeville Emery, a junior officer on the Arizona. How about Joseph’s brother Matthew Gault Emery? Really? I’m only beginning to discover my ancestral roots, and it is unbelievable!

  2. Sondra F Wagner says:

    Amazing stories, Thanks to all who put this together.I have been to the memorial at Pearl Harbor twice, seeing the oil that is still coming to the surface is very powerful. I hope America never forgets. We can unite today as we did than. All who died that day and those who survived are in my prayers.
    God Bless
    Sondra Wagner

  3. Linda says:

    Thank you for sharing these stories. It is nice to read about the men who died that day. A good reminder that they were just like us, but sad that their lives were cut short .

    • Harry says:

      My father was one of the fallen men, it’s indeed a horrible experience I can’t forget it in a hurry, I have lost everything after the death of my dad, and it made made me grow through rough and edgy path. This was never the life I anticipated, life has made me a shadow of my true self. I need Love and Help.

  4. Jim Young says:

    I have been doing family research for at least ten years and have found out I have a relative that died at Pearl Harbor, He is Martin Daymond Young (fourth cousin once removed). He was aboard the USS Oklahoma and died. I recently read that a few years ago his remains were identified and that he was bought back to Lewisport for burial beside his twin sister .

  5. Alison Linnen says:

    This is such a wonderful project and so interesting to read about each hero. My grandfather was in the Navy and I heard about his time in WWII. I am so grateful for all that are and have served.

  6. Sandra Carr Marks says:

    Thank you for doing this project. It’s beautifully done! My dad was in the Navy in the 1930’s. Returned to active duty within a month of Pearl Harbor after the during the war was assigned to the USS Fuller when the war ended you joined the reserves until his death in 1954. In our short time together 8yrs I became and avid Navy supporter and still. I don’t know how he did it but I’still a Navy supporter. If I can be of help with this project I would be honored to help!

  7. I was so happy to see the picture and story of my father’s childhood friend, Theo Jensen. I was privileged to be present this past June when Theo was honored and reinterred in the Delta Cemetery in Millard County Utah.
    My thanks for the military records on Fold3 where I began research about Theo and the USS Oklahoma. It helped answer my question, “Who is Theo?” after seeing my father’s entry in his army diary in February 24, 1942 when he wrote, “…got card back from Theo.”

  8. Gary Sands says:

    What a great project. Both of my parents served in the Pacific during the war. My father was a Pharmacist Mate seeing action around many of the islands and my mother was a clerk at Pearl Harbor, arriving shortly after the attack. I remember her telling me and my six siblings that she worked her regular job for 8 hrs and then went to one of the hospitals to help the wounded for another 8 hrs. They are both gone now but left us an incredible legacy. They were truly the greatest generation. My oldest brother and I are both Navy veterans, my brother a Yeoman and I a corpsman both serving during the Vietnam era. I now proudly serve on the Honor Guard at Fort Custer National Cemetery and recently participated in the reinterment of a sailor from the USS Oklahoma.

  9. Sharon Cobb says:

    My farther law was at Barbers Point, Oahu. During the Strafing of our military bases there . He said they jumped under the barracks to get away from the planes that were there, On that January Day.

  10. Charles Dupree Moore says:

    Day That Made The World see What America Was and how strong it could be. I will always remember it.

  11. Mary J Watson (Bialy) says:

    My Father Edward Bialy, from Akron, Ohio joined the Navy 1940 served 20 years, His first ship was on the USS Tennessee when Pearl Harbor was attacked. As he recalls in his interview with the San Diego Newspaper some 40 years ago. His rank Seaman 1st Class and was a Gunners Mate in the number 1 Turret. The crew had been though several exercise and he was just finished with one and headed toward the canteen when they sounded general quarters. “Were at it again” he thought as he was heading toward Turret #1. An unidentified sub was spotted 10 miles from shore. Then the bombing started. The ship lost Turret #2 and 3. The crew had to leave #1 to help fight fires. They returned to #1 but scattered couple more times due to the fly over and bombing. Once the bombing started, they had to get the ship in repair so they could take it to Bremerton, Washington. He claims there was rumors a German Battleship was close. So course was set the ship to zig zagged along the coast. During the entire trip he and the crew was at Battle Station, day and night until the reached Washington.
    Father states he was not injured but suffered from mental anguish, as we know today as PTSD.

  12. Mary J Watson (Bialy) says:

    Just submited a reply comment on my Father Edward Bialy. How can I send you a picture of him.

    Thanks Mary

  13. Roberta says:

    My father was a sailor and was on the Oglala in Pearl Harbor. His name is Robert Martion. His ship was hit and he was sent in the hot oil ridden water. It was five ships later after being blown off four that he survived. He came home after the war to Castro Valley, where he met my mom.

  14. Gwendolyn R. Cheney says:

    My grandpa Karl Dannemiller was the photographer that took the picture of the USS Shaw as it exploded. My grandpa took over 480 pictures of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

  15. Sandra Golz DeLopez says:

    My Uncle Earl Paul Baum was among the 429 killed on the USS Oklahoma. He was 19 years old, 2+ years in the Navy. Born in Chicago, he joined the Navy in 1938 to have a job. The DNA match was made with his three sisters in 2017; my Mother and I were notified of the great news on September 21, his Mother’s (my Grandmother’s) birthday.
    Earl was brought to Tallahassee National Cemetery for interment in March 2018, with great ceremony and fanfare. He’s buried near my Mom (his sister) and my Dad ( his childhood friend, also a WWII vet, Seabees). My husband (a Vietnam Era veteran) and I will also be buried there (no rush!).

    • Bonnie Barker says:

      Sandra, thank you for sharing your Uncle Earl’s story! I loved reading it. My father’s friend Theo was also on the USS Oklahoma and his remains were identified a year ago. Thank heavens for DNA!
      You might be interested in reading: “Battleship Oklahoma BB-37”. I bought my copy on Amazon. It really fleshed out the story of this great battleship. The author is Jeff Phister and two other men.