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Remembering Pearl Harbor

Throughout 2020 we have reflected on the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII. As the year comes to a close, we wanted to take a look back at the moment that brought the United States into WWII – the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The attack by Japanese forces occurred 79 years ago this month, and more than 2,400 U.S. personnel lost their lives. There are countless stories of heroism from that day. Here are just a few:

Don Stratton

Navy seaman first class Don Stratton, 19, had just finished breakfast aboard the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941. He put some oranges in his hat to go visit a buddy in sickbay and made his way up on deck. Suddenly a Japanese bomb exploded, destroying a part of the ship. A fireball set his shirt on fire and caused 1st and 2nd-degree burns on his face and ear and 3rd-degree burns on his extremities. Despite his injuries, Stratton took up his station and tried to shoot down enemy planes, but the shells could not reach the Japanese aircraft. As the Arizona started to sink, Stratton grabbed hold of a rope and began to climb hand over hand. His hands were raw and burned, but he was determined to survive as he inched across the rope hanging above flaming water. He finally reached safety. Within 25 minutes, the Arizona sank to the bottom of the harbor.

Frank Emond

Frank Emond was a French horn player in the band aboard the USS Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania was in dry dock at Pearl Harbor at the time. On December 6, 1941, musicians from the Pennsylvania performed with 21 members of the USS Arizona band. The following morning Frank was getting ready to play for the morning flag-raising when the Japanese attacked. Trained as a stretcher-bearer, Emond went to work removing the injured and dead. Later he learned that all 21 members of the USS Arizona band that he’d performed with the previous evening died in the attack.

Vernon M. Matney

Brothers Vernon M. Matney and Claudie A. Matney both served in the Navy and were assigned to two different ships in Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack. Vernon was aboard the USS Arizona and Claudie was nearby on the USS Worden. Vernon served as a fireman first class and died in the attack. Claudie survived. The boys’ parents were not officially notified of Vernon’s death until February 1942, but an earlier letter from Claudie confirmed their fears. Navy censors prevented Claudie from directly telling his parents directly about Vernon’s death, so he relayed the information in a type of code. He wrote, “Tell Mildred (their sister) that she can name her last boy Vernon after Buddy.” In 1944 Vernon was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.

George W. Blake

George W. Blake was playing basketball with a local team on the morning of December 7th when he noticed an unusual sound, like a plane landing on a corrugated metal roof. He ran outside and realized the sound he was hearing was machine gunfire. “I came out and the air was full of planes,” he said. Pearl Harbor was under attack. Blake ran to the barracks where a sergeant ordered him to grab small arms and make his way to the gun park. He ran a half-mile across the base, taking cover under palm trees while firing his rifle at Japanese fighters. After arriving at the gun station, Blake was put in charge of a .30 caliber machine gun. He tilted it toward the sky and fired at attacking planes. “I didn’t hit anything,” he said. Across the harbor, he saw billowing clouds of black smoke. He later realized it was probably the Arizona. Blake said they expected the attack to be followed by a land invasion and he spent the next 24 hours manning a machine gun on the shores near the entrance to the harbor. Following that, he lived for several months in a sand cave dug out on the steep slopes of the beach, positioned with a machine gun facing the beach, waiting for another attack. Looking back at those that were lost, Blake says, “The first thing that comes to mind is they were kids.”

Lauren Bruner

Lauren Bruner was at his battle station in an anti-aircraft gun director, a metal box on the forward mast of the Arizona, when a Japanese bomb ignited the powder magazine. A fireball engulfed six men in the box and trapped them. A sailor threw them a line and the men crawled down the line. Their skin was charred and falling from their bodies. Bruner was the second to last man to leave the Arizona before she sunk. Burned over two-thirds of his body and shot in the back of his leg, he spent months recovering. After being released, Bruner went to work on another ship, the USS Coghlan. He served in the Aleutian Islands and the Battle of Komandorski before finishing out the war in the South Pacific.

To read more stories, see photographs, or leave a tribute, visit our Interactive USS Arizona Memorial and search Fold3 for additional Pearl Harbor records and Memorials.

114 Comments

  1. Terry Sirmans says:

    My uncle, Revis Stanley Sirmans, was aboard the USS Vestal, a repair vessel that was tied up to the USS Arizona on Dec 7, 1941. He was blown out of the gun mount that was his general quarters station. He was picked up by boat and returned to the ship to help treat his shipmates even though he was a Machinist Mate by rate. He and the crew of the Vestal helped save many sailors that day. His Commanding officer refused to abandon ship and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his efforts to save as many as they could.

    • Jenny Ashcraft says:

      Thanks for sharing your uncle’s story. That is amazing!

    • Teann Smallwood says:

      God Bless your Uncle, Revis Stanley Sirmans as well as ALL the Men and Boys that gave some and some gave all. I wish to thank you for sharing your Uncles story and may God Bless you and your Family.

  2. Patsy McLaughlin says:

    The tragedy of war is overwhelming. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

  3. Cynthia Wolfe says:

    Thank you so much for this treasured memorial to those who saved the U.S. WE are eternally grateful to these great soldiers.

  4. When I was 19 years old in 1969, I was in college and had just been accepted into the Naval aviation ROTC. I was on my way to Lakehurst, NJ to get sworn in and left my home in Farmingdale ny. My mother was crying and my father could not say a word. My father’s family was ravaged by ww2 and they were tired of war. Vietnam was raging and I was going to war. I made it to NYC and turned around. I regret not serving but I did become a FBI in nyc for 24 years.
    Before I got out of college, I worked as a bartender in a restaurant on the south shore of Long Island owned by a WW2 vet named Joe Hydrisko. He went through the attack on Pearl Harbor and never forgot the horrible experience. On the anniversity of the attack, he would fly his plane over the Pearl Harbor and drop hundreds of flowers over the water. He has since died but he will always be remembered.

  5. Mary Martin says:

    My mother, Janet Gill Perry’s brother, Lt./LCDR. Orin Francis Perry lll was a gunnery officer aboard USS Pennsylvania during attack. Went to Survivor reunions until age prevented it

    Mary Martin

  6. Nancy H Hughes says:

    My aunt Katherine was a nurse there at the time. She survived and spent the rest of her service working for UNRRA.

  7. Nancy Hughes says:

    I was always proud of her part. Her sister was also a military nurse, she was a WAAF.

  8. My Father, William H. Craddock was on BB46 The U.S.S. Maryland the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He served the entire war in the Pacific on her.

  9. Ted Fletscher says:

    TEARS. Five Brother in it. One did not return. RIP all.

  10. Vivian Johnson says:

    I turned 4 yrs old two weeks before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I lived with my Mother, Father, and two older sisters in Naval Housing on Ford Island where the ships were anchored.
    My mother was polishing my little white shoes because I was going to Sunday School for the first time. I was a big girl now.
    We lived directly across from the USS Oklahoma
    We heard the noise immediately. Smoke was everywhere, then fire . My father had to leave us and run for his ship the, Ogalala, which was on the other side of Ford Island. We hid and waited for someone to help us. It seemed like a very long time, to a four yr old, but the Marines came in an open stake truck, got everyone in the back and tried to find a place for us. Planes were still flying overhead and my sister said she could see their faces. My eyes were closed as I hid underneath my mother. Eventuality they dropped us off at the BOQ. My eight yr old sister and I are put in the hall and my mother and twelve yr old sister went to help with the wounded.
    I remember it was very dark and busy. We were by a door to one room were someone was moaning and being a very snoopy little girl I peeked into the room and saw a grown man with his arms and head covered in bandages. He hurt so much. I was so afraid and so ashamed for peeking in his room. We stayed there for one or two nights, I don’t know for sure.
    We finally went back home and then my father came home. A few days later we all walked down Battleship Row and viewed the damages still smoking.
    I remember our cat had to wear a bell or he might be shot by patrolling Marines at night. We had to keep the windows covered at night. I never got to Sunday School in Hawaii. My mother, sisters and I were evacuated from the territory of Hawaii Dec 30

  11. keith Johannes says:

    I’m looking to find info on A A Woodward, on the Arizona 12/07/1941. Status MIA etc>

    • Debbie Kelly says:

      Keith,

      Look on the USSArizona.org web page under casualties list page 47. He is one of the men that is still on board the USS Arizona.

      R/Debbie

    • Larry McKelvy says:

      Kieth there is a plaque on the memorial that is over the Arizona with the names of those who died aboard her that day. Maybe someone who is stationed there can check the names and send you a picture? I was aboard the USS Bryce Canyon AD36 and was on Ford Island when they started cutting the focal off the Arizona. Was back 11 months and was watching them start building the memorial. Went back several years later and took a tour there and was reading names. I’d one great memorial and very moving to those who ever served in the service. Good luck

  12. David banks says:

    Hello from the Uk I’m a disabled hobbyist writer of 74 May I put this story in my new A5 book called Wings of Freedom and putting Fold3.com in the bibliography. My website is http://www.jdbbooklets.org.uk you will read all about me and my testimonials and it will show you I’m a caring gentleman. I wait to hear from you .
    Yours sincerely
    David banks

  13. Barb Fornoth says:

    Truly our Greatest Generation, we need these stories to continue to be told. The sacrifices made by these brave soldiers should be forever remembered!
    December 7 should be a national holiday to honor these soldiers! May they all Rest In Peace.
    Thank you for your service!

    Barb Fornoth

  14. Rollie Bray says:

    My heart goes out to the many sacrifices made by all Americans during that war but especially the Armed Services and my Uncles Thomas and William.

  15. Russ Girsberger says:

    Thank you for these very personal and significant stores, and also for the wonderful photos of these servicemen.
    If I may make one small correction: Frank Emond did indeed play on December 6th in the “Battle of the Bands,” but the USS Arizona Band did not. They played on another day and were in the audience that night to watch their fellow bandsmen perform. This is a common misconception.
    Thank you again for sharing this information,

    • Jenny Ashcraft says:

      Thank you for the clarification Russ. I got that information from several old newspapers. I appreciate your comment.

  16. Michael Fitzsimmons HT 1 Ret. says:

    I have met one survivor of Pearl Harbor, my recruter at Ft. Schuyler when I joined the Naval Reserve. He didn’t say much about it. Now I say God bless all that died then and inWW 1. God bless all serving now and who have served.

  17. Andwele Gardner says:

    Why is there no mention of the Black sailor, Dorie Miller,(whose job was a cook) who manned an anti-aircraft gun during the invasion of Pearl Harbor??

    Miller’s heroics during the Pearl Harbor attack were initially forgotten—until the press got wind of the story. On May 27, 1942, Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, personally pinned Miller with the Navy Cross, the navy’s second-highest honor. Miller was the first black sailor ever to earn the award. Wikipedia

  18. My Uncle, Glenn L. Brasell was in the Navy. He told me once, that he was on shore when he heard the planes , and when he looked up, he saw the bombs coming down and hit the USS Arizona. He said it was one of the horrific sites and he could never forget it. He passed away about 6 years ago.
    My father, James S. Brasell, was in the Army and was in the battle of the Bulge.

  19. Very interesting stories. There are so many of them.

  20. Lillian porter smith says:

    Love these memories. I had two first cousins on different george Dewey porter jr. And john herman porter cant find them but their story but it made the news paper because one ship was hit and my uncle went a month before he knew they were alive they were from logan wv

  21. Gerald Bishop says:

    I was one month old when the attack took place,my father was at sea with the British Merchant Navy on Atlantic Convoys. It is history to me but I have never forgot it!! !I taught history to High School students.

  22. Ron Anderson says:

    My dad, Paul Anderson joined the US Navy the day after Pearl Harbor attack. He severed aboard the USS Washington until the end of the war. He served 7 years, then went into the Air Force reserve for four years then the Coast Guard Reserve for 32 years. He retired as a WO 4. He also was a police officer for Louisville Ky. and retired as a Lieutenant.

  23. Jody Garhart says:

    God bless these brave souls my Dad’s cousin went down on the Arizona, he was so right they were just kids. My Dad served in Germany. He was always my Hero. So young but so brave.

  24. Pam Taylor says:

    God bless our wonderful service people and their families. ❤️

  25. CALVIN DETRICK says:

    GOD BLESS EACH AND EVERYONE OF THESE BRAVE MEN!!! I HAVE 11 FAMILY MEMBERS WHO HAVE SERVED IN THE MILITRY AS FAR BACK AS THE THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR IN 1763, REVOLUTIONARY WAR….TO VIET NAM SERVICE

  26. Bill High, child survivor says:

    There were also the wives and children stationed at the military bases. We ran for cover or stood terrified as husbands and fathers ran to their duty stations. Sgt. Blakey’s wife stationed on Hicham field lay with their son in the bath tub seeking protection from the three bombs that fell across the street. Shrapnel and bullets flew in the air.

  27. malcolm stephens says:

    i didn’t anything 0n the news morning to day about it. i knew today is the seven day of december . you are the only one so far. maybe i turn on the tv news they may show a report.

  28. Carol says:

    God Bless them all. We cannot ever thank our veterans enough or express how grateful we are for every single one them and for their bravery and sacrifices they went through for our freedom.
    My father-in-law was a B29 pilot and stationed in Guam 316th Airborne, Army Air Corp. We love him and miss him.

  29. Nancy says:

    I lived in Hickman for several years with my husband. I was just four years old when Japan hit Hawaii bur I remember my mother crying and my dad saying he was going to join in the morning. However, he never got to do that. He worked at Gates Rubber Company for 56 years and at the time of the way he was told he was needed where he was. He made belts for the tanks and they needed all they could get. I am still so proud of my dad, he may not have fought but, he did his part. I remember mom had a victory garden and we raised Chickens and ducks for us and our neighbors.
    My husband served 24 years in the Air Force and served in Viet Nam, and the first desert storm. He passed away in June of this year. We had been married 50 years and boy, do I miss him. He was my love and my life. But I am proud of my hero’s.
    Bless all who serve our nation.
    Nancy

  30. Chuck Wisdom says:

    What a tribute to those who told the stories of that Day in infinaly.
    I was just a little too young to serve, but a few years later i did serve in Korea for 13 mo.
    yes I have memories of that time in my life, now at 86 years young.
    Last year I met a Veteran in Oregon who was a B17 Bomber Pilot, he was 96 and still walk with Pride, we spent a few minutes visiting, memories will always be there.
    Thank you for the time to share.

  31. Dallas says:

    Does anyone know of a place that recorded the names of those injured (but not died) in the Pearl Harbor attack? Specifically, I’m looking for records of those injured at Hickam Field. Wikipedia lists that 303 were wounded there, but no reference is given.

  32. Lena Taylor says:

    I’m Lena Taylor, day of Lonnie Gibby & stepdaughter of James Lovett Piland, both of Texas. My dad enlisted in the Navy but due to frail health was given an Honorable medical discharge. I had just been born Jan., 1944. My step-father was just as much my Dad. He was a Army, a foot soldier with Patton. He must have been with Patton before Patton was removed from command. But he told me he was somewhere in Italy when he was wounded. He allowed me to shoot his German Lugar. After he showed me how to use the sight I never missed a target.
    He told this story about Patton. Lovett & his squad were resting under a shade tree in front of a Red Cross refreshment station. Along comes a motorcycle courier who went inside, leaving it unattended. Then Patton comes along & see that. He stopped & with his driver loaded it in the back of the keep. Patton jumped in front with his driver. As they spun off he overheard Patton say to his driver, “Let him explain THAT to his commanding officer!!! I am trying to find which battle in Italy Lovett participated in & under whose command when he was wounded. I know he was in the Africa campaign because Lovett despised “Ike” as a “political animal”.

    • George Furst says:

      Ike lead the first US troops to arrive in North Africa. Many of the troops thought that the US had he best tanks and other equipment. This as not true they soon found out. I Nazarene Pass the Germans under Rommel destroyed most of our tanks and killed many U.S. soldiers. It was a hard learn for the U.S. I do not blame Ike for this debacle. Also all Service leaders at Ike’s level are to a degree political. It is part of the way all leaders of large organizations arise to that level. But Ike was a great diplomat and held everything together during the invasion of Fortress EUROPE. He also had to deal with Montgomery! For that I give him five stars!

  33. Robert E. Judd says:

    My uncle Duene ” Shorty” Allen, at 16 (lied) signed up for the U.S.N. after P.H. & spent the war in the Pacifice theater. He stayed in the Navy till after Vietnam. I never knew, until just before he past I saw a FULL page article about him & the things he did.I cry thinking , 1. I never told him ” thank you for your service”. 2. The thoughts of thinking this gentle uncle of mine, just a simple farm boy, from central KS, went to war at 16 yrs old. He got vetrens parades started in Ohio, & was a beloved P.D. officer for many years. He is greatly missed, as he was greatly loved. I & my whole family stand tall & salute ALL who has, who is & who will serve this great nation, we call home, Odin bless all you warriors men ,& women!!!!!

  34. Garland Jett says:

    War is HELL. I can only speak of Vietnam, but everyone that I talked too, said they were never the same when they came home. God bless all vets

  35. Clara Boland says:

    I was not quite 6 mo old the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. We had just returned from church and Mother turned the radio on. Daddy was holding me and when he heard the news he literally threw me toward Mother and took off to enlist. They always said afterwards that that experience was my “first Flight, without wings”.
    Daddy returned shortly. They would not let him enlist because of his job. He personal manager for Island Creek Coal Co. in WV, and they told him his role in keeping the coal flowing was more important (at that time) than going off to fight. Need less to say, Mother was very relieved.

  36. Sue Dickerson says:

    I am so grateful for all of our military. They are all valuable. Those who were in the Pearl Harbor attack were unbelievable heroes. I was just a baby then. I wonder how many of us now could be that tough. I surely hope we could be so courageous.

  37. Ron Oliver says:

    While Pearl Harbor was under attack, Wake Island was also. I knew two men who were employed by Morrison Knudson Co (heavy construction). Harry Morrison had just flown back to the States, but his men were captured (I think they helped in the fight). They spent the war in POW camps in Japan. Both were (functioning) alcoholics. Morrison wrote into his Co charter that they would always have a job when they wanted one.

  38. Mike Rasmussen says:

    My dad was a dirt poor kid growing up in East Grand Forks MN. When war was declared, all his buddies vacated the schools and streets and enlisted. No one walked the streets except my dad. He had a hip deformity which was discovered in his physical. He then went to work for Occident Flour Mill in Grand Forks ND for 16 hrs. a day, till he saved up enough money for a corrective surgical operation. He then passed the physical with flying colors and enlisted in the USN. Never, ever, ever talked about his experiences in the Pacific, North Africa, the Mediterranean and Italy. Never knew anything about his wartime experiences till his death when we cleaned out his USN Trunk. What an eye opener. Terrible experiences. Like most returning vets, went to college, got married and lived a full life. Funeral was hard, with taps and all, and of course the folded flag. I gave it to my oldest son (LTC Rasmussen). I served USAF (O3). Gotta quit, but just remember…..history is not being taught anymore, either in HS or College.

  39. Karen KP says:

    I think history is still being taught, but the people who experienced WWII aren’t around to teach it anymore, so the personal connection is lost. But worse, it’s the lack of Civics being taught that’s getting us into trouble nowadays. Civics is what teaches you what your role is, as a citizen (and a voter), in making sure that callous, cruel and inhumane history is never repeated.