Fold3 HQ

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. lee scruggs says:

    One of the husband’s relative was on the USS Arizona. We did not know him, but saw his name listed on those that perished on December 7, 1941. He was listed as being a musician.

  2. Tracy Busyn says:

    What an amazing project. So many men at Pearl didn’t stand a chance and it’s wonderful that they are being memorialized like this. I had a dear friend who survived Pearl and I am one of the few people he was actually willing to talk about his experiences to. What these men went through is important to preserve for future generations. Thank you to the people who are putting this together and I hope there will be a way for all of us to read about them when they are finished. I would love to read about them all.

    • Allison Albert says:

      Hi Tracy, thank you for your kind words. I am one of the Co Directors on the Pearl Harbor project. Stories Behind the Stars will have a smartphone app available for free that people can use to enter a fallen’s name into, and their story will unfold across your screen. When you visit a memorial or grave, learning their stories makes the experience even more poignant.

  3. Alex Kufeldt says:

    Distant cousin, Hancel Nicholson, S1c, was serving on the Arizona. Was KIA that infamous day.

  4. Marie says:

    Thanks to all veterans who served.

  5. Alison S. Brown says:

    Stories behind the Stars is doing a great project. What a great article. Thank you

  6. Amanda Schoonmaker says:

    Please do a similar story about the men who died in the Bataan Death March … the Philippines was bombed by the Japanese the very next day, 08 Dec 1941 … my cousin, Elmer Cooper, died in that March… he was just a cowboy in WY who joined in 1939 to see the world … the Philippines was THE place to be sent to, at that time … sad …

    • Jeff Veesenmeyer says:

      The writers group… storiesbehindthestars.org has written over 10,000 of these memorial stories so far. The ultimate goal is to tell the stories of all 400,000+ Americans killed during WWII. We’ll need more writers, volunteers and donations to make it happen.

  7. Jon Weisner says:

    Thanks Fold3!! History shall not be erased and every soul shall be remembered. God Bless America!

  8. Nita Fandray says:

    My father’s brother was KIA in WWII. It was only a few months before the war ended. His name was Robert J. Fandray.

    Thanks everyone for all your hard work. We owe it to them.

  9. Judy A Perry says:

    My Uncle Loid Andersen was in the Army Air Corp stationed at Hickam Field. He was injured in the attack on December 7th. He was from Palmyra, Nebraska.

  10. Louise Carpenter Gaskins
    On this day, a Sunday, my father & I heard the planes go over our home in the naval housing. so he went outside and saw that they were the Japanease planes. My father had a radio that he built & listened to it, to hear calls for all naval service men to immediately, come to the base, leaving my mother, sister, Jane 7 months and myself, not quite 6. My father was with the PBY Squadrons. He lost many of his friends. Changed the way we lived. Father was sent to Europe shortly, thereafter, to protect the ships and to find and bomb the German subs. We came back to the mainland, in 1943 with other families on Matson Line, and there where German War Prisoners on board. Mother drove our car from San Diego to Norfolk, Virginia, her home town.

  11. Frank Gamel says:

    My ex-wife’s granduncle was killed in/on the Oklahoma that fateful morning and only in the last few years through DNA did their family have closure.

    https://www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/News-Releases/Article/1563977/funeral-announcement-for-uss-oklahoma-sailor-killed-during-world-war-ii-arickx-l/

  12. Philip Ethier says:

    My father was on WARD DD-139. They sunk a Japanese submarine before the aircraft arrived.

    Exactly three years later, WARD APD-16, the same ship, the first ship to have led the effort to retake the Philippines, was sunk in Ormac Bay. My father was the last man off the ship. No reflection on the skipper. He had no way of knowing that there 10 men still aboard who had no way to hear the command to abandon ship.

  13. Don Milne says:

    Thanks to the nearly 150 volunteers who have been working on all of these 2,335 Pearl Harbor fallen stories since July 2021. Everyone of them should have their own story and now they do.

  14. Lane Kidd says:

    To learn that many of the 66 sailors who were aboard the USS West Virginia went it sank, actually lived in their compartments, for as long as 16 days, is perhaps the most tragic story of all.

  15. My Hero, my beloved Uncle Clarence A. Gilbert, from his obituary:

    On December 7, 1941, a day that still lives in infamy for our country, Clarence A. “Bud” Gilbert was stationed in Pearl Harbor Hawaii. This day held strong in his memory as he would recount to his family, the public and the world what it meant to him to be there in one of our nation’s greatest times of need. True to his character, he forged on in the Navy and was deployed to both Japan and Korea. A fiercely proud man, it was not until later in his life that he divulged he was captured after his plane went down and held as a Japanese POW for over a year and a half. As WWII drew to a close, Bud was rescued and honored with an invitation by Admirals McCain and Nimitz to witness the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on the USS Missouri; this was a profound honor in his life and something he would reflect on often. The war and his service were a defining moment in his life and his family’s life, his sacrifice for our nation and our freedom knew no bounds

  16. Dean Marino says:

    My uncle was WT3 Francis Johnson and was on the West Virginia at time of bombing. He servived but sustained injuries after slammed into the bulk head. I also lived in Clayton, NJ where another West Viginia shipmate Harold Costell was listed as missing. His body was recently identified 2 years ago and returned to Clayton for proper burial. The Costell and Johnson families have been friends ever since.

  17. Ernie Peischel says:

    I was stationed with a Master Chief Gunners Mate on Treasure Island in 66 or 67. He was being transitioned out of the service after 35 years service. He was a Gunners Mate Striker on the USS Arizona, on shore leave with a couple of buddies and waiting for a barge to tale them back to the ship when the attack started. He talked about many things that happened to him before and during WWII, the Korean conflict and Vietnam War, but never much about that day.

  18. Elaine Oakes says:

    My father’s first cousin, Eliga T Autry, Jr. was on the Arizona. I have a photo (informal, taken on the base or ship). Can I upload it to the memorial?

  19. James J Evanoski Jr says:

    My Grandfather was at Hickham field on that day. Thank god he survived

  20. peter b pulman jr says:

    I was almost 6 years old at the time but remember the news and how it affected my family. My Dad was in the Navy in WWI and went on to serve proudly in the Army in WWII.

  21. C Jean Beatty says:

    These are amazing memories of that terrible day. My family were all army men and my husband was a Marine who fought in Vietnam. No matter when, where or why it is truly sad when a young life is cut short. The work you are doing is so important. Thank you.

  22. Sharon Pederson says:

    Thank you for the history lesson. May all who perished Rest In Peace. I was there 10 years ago it was very humbling.

  23. Sharon Martin Daley says:

    My father was a PhD. 1/C aboard the West Virginia when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was taking care of an injured ship mate in the infirmary when the planes came in. When the call to abandon ship came he was able to make it off the ship. When the ship was raised he was part of the team sent in to recover bodies. It was only during the last 10 years of his life that he would tell us about the events of that time.

  24. Capt Hal Raper says:

    My father’s first cousin was the last woman aboard the ARIZONA. Her new husband,Ens George Pittard, had the duty that Saturday nite and had Sally come to dinner in the wardroom as officers often did. she developed a “headache” and asked George to drive her home. He asked a buddy to stand in for him for a while and the friend said he wasn’t going anywhere and George just stay home. With Sally. Next morning www know and the officer was killed. George went on to make Admiral
    HAl S Raper Jr
    Captain DC, USN Ret

  25. Leslie Milloy says:

    My grandfather SSG. Orel E. Edwards signed up to become part of The United States Army Air Corps the day after Dec 7th. I never met him. He became a bombardier and was very good according to some records. He was KIA on Jan. 5th 1942 in Tunisa North Africa due to a German bombing mission. He is buried there. I keep wishing to bring him home son our family can visit his grave and bring him some flowers.

  26. Jean Nixon says:

    Thank you to the amazing people who are attempting this project. Should have been started long ago .On Dec. 7, 1941 we were assembled to watch Henry Kaiser’s wife christen the “Thomas Jefferson”. Suddenly the announcement of Pearl Harbor’s attack blasted from the loud speaker. and everyone’s life changed forever. ” Hero and heroism ” became something that we suddenly became more aware of. And our world would never be the same.

    • Don Milne says:

      This project has only really been possible in the last decade or so. Thanks to Ancestry.com and their Newspapers.com and Fold3.com divisions, it is pretty simple to take 2-3 hours and find enough relevant source documents to write an obituary length story about pretty much any of the 421,000 US WWII fallen.

      The goal of Stories Behind the Stars is to have all 421,000 stories done by the 80th anniversary of the end of WWII in September 2025. We are going to need many, many more volunteers writing stories to make this happen.

  27. Paul Moore says:

    Remember Pearl Harbor!

  28. Salvatore DeRosa says:

    Thank you Jenny Ashcraft and all volunteers! I read all of these comments, stories, and quietly wept as I read on. As a 68 year old, retired US Air Force member, I feel honored to have served and protect our great country in the shadow of these great heroes! I am part of a family that served this country from the War of 1812, Civil War and WWW II. The older you get the more meaningful stories become. Thank you everyone for sharing.

  29. Richard m allen says:

    I was their in 1951 on my way to Korea

  30. Beth Redmond Walsh says:

    I understand now much better why the Japanese were so deeply despised in America in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Both of my parents were WWII veterans and never spoke about Japan or anyone Japanese without using the epithets Nips or Japs. After reading this history of the attack on Pearl Harborn my questions about this have been answered.

  31. Barbara Salters Jenkins says:

    My father, Charles Raysor Salters Jr, was on the deck of the battleship USS Tennessee when the attack began, he survived and fought in the Korean conflict as well. Wrote a letter to my mom regarding attack on Pearl Harbor. Mailed letter from California, off base, so it wasn’t sensored. Very difficult to read and think of your dad at such a young age going through this battle. I have possession of the original letter. A real treasure. A great hero .

  32. Conrad Pedersen says:

    Unfortunately the Pearl Harbor attack was no surprised to FDR and military intelligence. FDR orchestrated the attack and was well aware of exactly when it would occur.
    Read “Day of Deceit” by Robert B. Stinnett.

  33. Carol Landrum says:

    This seems a good time to point out that Husband Kimmel, the Navy Admiral was unjustly scapegoated and blamed for not being prepared for an attack when in reality he did not know (and was not told) that American code breakers were reading Japanese code & knew that an attack was coming. If we are facing some of the ugly things that happened, this is certainly one of them.

  34. Melba Boney Wells says:

    In Honor of Boney Blount from Keith, Texas. I was a kid but do remember that day. Boney was named after my Father.

  35. M. L. Pursell says:

    My mother often told the story of the family listening to the radio on that Sunday, and the breaking news interruption telling of the attack. My father was in the Army, but in England at that time. He had second hand memories of that day. After WWII he was called up for the Korean conflict, and retired from the Natl. Guards with over 20 years of service.

  36. Judith Schafer says:

    I am missing some info. From what I remember from info passed down from family is that my uncle Luster Hollis was at Pearl Harbor. His ship was the Lexington I think. He spent months in hospital and rehab. He had bone from leg grafted to back. He lost and eye and had false eye. Luster Hollis grew up in Randlett, Ok. After the war he lived on Pudget Sound, Washington State. I think at one time during the war he played on a ship baseball game in Australia. He may have enlisted in Galveston, Tx. where he played on a minor league baseball team. He had no children but was married to Florence DeSpain.
    I wish I knew more and if above info is correct.

  37. ARTHUR STANSFIELD says:

    My Mother’s cousin had a daughter that married George F Fritschmann. George graduated from the U S Naval Academy in 1928. On 7 Dec 1941 he was a Lieutenant, Senior Gunnery Officer, on DD44, the USS California. He served as Executive Officer on the California while it underwent repairs at Pearl Harbor, rank Lt Commander. He later went to The Naval War College in Newport Rhode Island. He then served as part of The Naval Amphibious Staff during the invasion of southern France on 15 Aug 1944, rank Commander. He later retired as an Admiral.

  38. Madalene Carol Stace says:

    Beloved Uncle Frank Gast graduated from high school 1940. Wanted to go college and play football. His mom, my grandmother, didn’t want that as too dangerous. December 7,1941 he and buddies enlisted in the Navy. Was stationed on a destroyer that was sunk at Iwo Jima. Survived in the water, was rescued and rehab just as War was over.
    By God’s grace was a great Uncle to family. Despite the nightmare memories he was a wonderful man.

  39. Max Ward says:

    Imagine my surprise whe I read this and saw the photo of my mother’s cousin Jack Foth! I knew the specifics of his service but was surprised to see his photo. Thanks!

  40. Sharon Phelps says:

    My father, Emil Edward Mullins from West Virginia was 17 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He decided right then he would lie about his age and enlist in the Navy. He served in WWII, Korea and the Vietnam Wars. He died in 1983. He is my hero!

  41. Gordon Sinclair says:

    God love them

  42. John Leland says:

    My father-in-law Charles W. Catcher was serving on the American cruiser USS Chester on Dec.7, 1941. It was returning to Pearl Harbor after delivering supplies to Wake Island and was 100 miles out from Pearl Harbor when the crew heard reports of the Japanese attack over the civilian radio station (on which they had been listening to music). The ship was ordered to stay out of the harbor during the attack, but came in later that evening when the wrecks were still smoking and was sent out later that night to seek the Japanese fleet, which (fortunately) it did not find. It found them later at Coral Sea and elsewhere. Charles Catcher went on to serve 30 years in the US Navy, beginning as a seaman and rising to lieutenant.

  43. Beth Davis says:

    Thank you for this history and the work that you are currently doing.

    Did you realise that 6 weeks after Pearl Harbor was bombed, Darwin, Australia was bombed. And 6 weeks after that, Broome, West Australia was bombed.

    I need help with identiying the remains of a young American airman who crashed in Victoria, Australia in March of 1942. He was returning from a mission to Canberra (the capital) to deliver a message from General MacArthur to the Prime Minister John Curtin. Any suggestions would be most appreciated.

  44. Dianne LaFrance Reynaud says:

    My uncle William “Bud” LaFrance from Saginaw Michigan went down with the Arizona . He grew up in a Shanty Town in Saginaw. my father Louis Lafrance and bud used to fish all year around to help the family along even in the cold of winter they would fish before school and sell their fish my father was devastated when Bud was killed, he joined the army the minute he graduated from high school. the Lafrance family lost two more sons because of war in later years.

  45. Richard Benson Raborn MD says:

    My uncle Capt. Albert Raborn later a decorated submarine Captain was in Pearl Harbor and flew to his new command in the Philippines to try and repair the damage done on December 8th to the new submarine. He saved many sailors’ lives when the sub was attacked again. He then had to destroy his boat. I believe he lost a lot of his hearing during the Pearl Harbor attack saving a sub there submerging it under the water as able.

  46. David Huffman says:

    My Uncle Gene Cline was a Chief Petty officer on board the USS Medusa, a repair ship that day. The crew claimed 3 Zeros shot down and were credited with 2. He spent his entire career in the US Navy.

  47. Loren Boydstun says:

    Our family had two distant relatives that perished on December 7, 1941. R.L. Boydstun and Don J. Boydstun were cousins, neither having reached their 21st birthday. Both young men remain intombed on the USS Arizona.

  48. J. Heston Lloyd says:

    My grandfather, Thomas Bell Lloyd, was injured but survived Pearl Harbor. He was an anti-aircraft gunner with the 64th Coast Artillery (AA), Battery B, U.S. Army. After recovering, he was stationed at the gate at Oak Ridge, TN, which is where he met my grandmother, who worked at the Y-12 atomic weapons facility. I wish I had more photos of him from back then, but much of his time in the Army was classified for so long. He was a good guy I always think of on this day.

  49. Pamela Watts Coates says:

    Thank you volunteers for the huge patriotic undertaking. We must never forget the sacrifices made to maintain our freedom. Both my parents served. My Dad served in the Pacific but didn’t talk about it and my mom was a WAVE at the Brooklyn Navy Yard

  50. robert h good says:

    My Father was with Headquarters Battery, 98th Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft, Schofield Barracks. He was in downtown Honolulu that morning to meet his Japanese-American girlfriend.