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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. Thank you for your service to all the WWII veterans deceased and alive. All American soldiers since WWII are also appreciated for their service. God bless all of you!

  2. Arlene Thompson says:

    My uncle, Thomas Charles Thompson, was stationed aboard the submarine, USS Triton, out of Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack. They were not in port at the time, though, they were already out on a patrol. The Triton is credited with the first torpedo hit on a Japanese ship after the attack. She was sunk in April of 1943 with all hands lost.

  3. Catherine Garcia says:

    My daughter is currently serving at Pearl Harbor. Her workspace has bullet holes in the walls which have been preserved from the 1941 attack. Just as the physical reminders remain, we must also remember those who paid the ultimate price.

  4. Jamie Staples Larsen says:

    Thank you so much for this info. My father is Harold DeVere Staples. He was a freshman at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah studying to become a doctor. When he received word of Pearl Harbor attack, he immediately enlisted in the Marine Corp and fought the Japanese in the South Pacific in the Pelelieu Islands . His brother, Alton Crane Staples, also joined the Marine Corp and fought in the battle of Hirojima. Both survived their years of service but suffered from PTS Syndrome the rest of their lives.

  5. Ardis J Ehrenberger says:

    I had a friend in the Marines, Bob Alsup, who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, only to die on Iwo Jima.

  6. Julie Tenhoff Lyons says:

    I don’t have the words to convey my sadness for our losses and my anger towards the Japanese government and Hitler.

  7. Mary Davis says:

    Robert Berry, Jr. was my cousin who was in the U. S. Navy. All I know is that family stories say that he was probably drowned when Japanese planes were over his ship, and he jumped (probably trying to go to another deck) and he was never seen again. I have other family information which is available to other family members.

  8. Mary Davis says:

    The man above was son of Robert Berry and Lura Moore. I have been researching the Moore family for over 40 years.

  9. Rosalind Heck says:

    I was privileged to work on a commercial Pearl Harbor Tour boat out of Kewalo Basin for a year in 1969 to 1970, during the Viet Nam war. Besides other tourists many of our passengers were couples on R&R leave. Every day going to the Memorial was a solemn portion of the cruise. While I was privileged to work with many men who were there on that day of infamy reading these stories of heroism and bravery brings even more humanity to my experience. Thank you to all the good men and women who serve and their families.

  10. betty jean franck says:

    I was only 10 years old and remember so much of that time. I was riding my bicycle when a neighbour came out and told us what had happened. One thing I do remember was that there were sever things we couldn’t buy and no one ever complained. Like tires, some meat , sugar, shoes, ladies stockings just a few. But no one complained. There was a house in Pacific Beach and when I visited my aunt and Uncle I said what happened to that house. My Uncle said an old Jamanese lady lived there and the authorities took her away because they found radio equipment in her walls of the house. She was used as a spy. Another lady lived next to my Cousin and we went to vivit her one day. My Cousin said she did not like people going around inside her house so I should just sit. She was nice. but later on she was taken away also because she had shortwave equipment in her house,.

  11. Ken Mabey says:

    I was four years old when Pearl Harbor happened and can recall listening to the news on the radio with my parents. In later life I would teach students in my history classes about the “Day that will live in Infamy,” as FDR called it. The blog is poignant in telling individual’s stories, and particularly how young many of the men were.

  12. Suzanne says:

    I was 4 1/2 years old? I was on the sidewalk of my grandparents house making
    Mud pies…..Water and dirt….would let them harden in the sun. A way of keeping me busy.
    My grandmother came to the kitchen door and said “If you hear Airplanes come in the house right away”. We had radio, but no TV in 1944.
    Sunday nights we always listened to a radio show “We. the People”. That’s how I learned
    About Pearl Harbor and what had happened, and why my grandmother told me to
    come in the house right away if you hear Airplanes…….

    • Jenny Ashcraft says:

      That is an incredible memory. It kind of reminds me of 9/11. We didn’t know what would happen next. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Rosemary Eden says:

    As a child, born during WWII, I was often told of the terrible loss of lives at Pearl Harbour and the bravery of those who died and survived. People should read history and learn from it … you can’t possibly go forward in life WITHOUT knowing where you came from, and by that I mean people from all parts of this world should know their background and the people who walked on earth before them. Lest We Forget

  14. Rosemary Eden says:

    Lest We Forget relates to those who died in WWI and WWII. It is an ANZAC tradition

  15. Mina says:

    Never Forget

  16. Anthony Jioia says:

    My dad was a survivor of Pearl Harbor.
    I asked him, “where he was when The Japanese Attacked?”. He said, “in the Mess”. I asked him, “what did he do?”. He said, “I went up and got on one of the guns”. I asked him, “did he shoot down any planes?” He said, “I don’t know but we were sure putting them up”.
    He went on to serve in the Korean War and served 20 years in The Navy. He retired as Chief Petty Officer Antonio Jioia.

  17. Gary says:

    My dad was a BM3 in WW2 was not at PH but served in the Pacific theater with CASU 1. 1943-1946

  18. R. Michael Donovan says:

    Does anybody have any questions about saying “I thank you for your service”? These young men are stellar examples of what heroes really are.

    Thank you for remembering these men and their unbelievable bravery. They and many others need to be remembered for the horror they endured and the sacrifices they made. In addition, their devotion to their fellow service members should never be forgotten. Heroes they are.

  19. Thank you for running this story. I was born in February 1940 so I was almost two years old when Pearl Harbor was hit. My earliest memories where of World War II. My dad was in the US Army Air Corps (later the US Air Force). My mother’s brother was in the Army medical corps, he would never speak of the experience. My dad’s first cousin was in the Infantry shooting heavy artillery-he was deaf because of it. My dad’s best friend was killed flying the Hump-he brought me a grass skirt from Hawaii. It was a very scary time for this small person-I had a nightmare that is stillm vivid today. I tell my grandsons about rationing, the news reels, and a trip to my dad’sbase over Raton Pass with no brakes and the lights having a non-functioning dimmer switch. Of course, they don’s understand but they do listen-one of them is in the Air Force today and just returned from six months in a “desert somewhere in east Asia” flying old, old planes.
    I am so very grateful for the men and women that do serve and have served this country. It is very difficult to know that a lot of people today will never know how much the people of that era loved this country. I love the USA.

  20. Virginia Veloz Rogers says:

    My father served as a Liet. JG as a flight instructor in the states. He never saw combat but some he of the instructor were killed with the men they were teaching. To all of the men and women who have given their lives then and now God bless and thank you. My dad’s name was Nicolas Francisco Veloz.

  21. V L Evans says:

    Remembering with tears in my eyes. Not enough thank you’s can be said and somehow don’t seem appropriate to thank someone for giving their own lives or surviving the loss of a loved one. God Bless….
    My Dad……101st airborne over France….survived and never spoke of the horrors he saw.

  22. Carole Neale says:

    They were so very young; God Bless them all for their service.

  23. Bil Sidwell says:

    God Bless them….heroes all

  24. Maren Junk says:

    Thank you for offering this information. It really helps me understand what the war was about & the sacrifices our soldiers made.

  25. John N. Englesby says:

    My father, Philo Nelson Kelley (P. N. K., “Pinky”) Englesby, originally from Mondovi, WI, and later Augusta, WI, where he served as Chief of Police for 22 years, was a Navy Pearl Harbor survivor. He was a medical corpsman, a pharmacist’s mate in Navy rank terminology, serving ashore with the US Naval Mobile Hospital No. 2, one of the first MASH-type medical units, later of movie and TV fame, in all of the military. He had been transferred from the USS West Virginia to the mobile hospital located on Aiea Heights in the mountains above the harbor only ten days before the attack. Since the hospital was not fully set up yet, the mobile hospital had to house the many patients, most of whom were horribly burned, in its own barracks, which were the only buildings erected when the attack came. Dad would tell how he looked at the Japanese planes over the harbor and said to Captain Stone, “What’s that, sir?!” And Captain Stone replied, “That’s war, son, that’s war.” He also described how as the Jap planes rose following their bombing and strafing of the ships, their bullets would go right up the mountain to where his unit was. Between the bombings, dad would relate — only infrequently and when pressed a bit to talk about it all — that they would go down the mountain to retrieve the wounded and the dead. And some time after the attack, dad and his fellow pharmacist’s mates would go onto, and even down into when possible, the sunken ships in the harbor in order to retrieve the dead, if they could do that without the bodies coming apart into too many pieces. He would say that he could never forget the smell of the decomposing bodies. Some years later during the war, the entire unit was decorated by Admiral Nimitz and President Roosevelt for its service before, during, and after the attack. Dad later volunteered for the submarine service and served in the Pacific first and then the Atlantic towards the end of the war. He had become a Chief Pharmacist’s Mate, invariably called “Doc” on his subs, as the only qualified medical provider for the 70 plus men aboard. I’ve searched many years trying to find information about the Naval Mobile Hospital No. 2 and the men who served in it at Pearl Harbor. Does anyone out there reading this have any information on this mobile hospital or its staff? I sure would appreciate hearing anything you may have. So far, I’ve run across online only two other descendants of men who served at Pearl Harbor with the mobile hospital. Those men who were also there with Pinky Englesby are Thomas Tippin and Whit Bryan. Is there anyone else who has a connection, too? I’d sure like to hear from you! Oh, one more thing: I recall that around 1970 when the movie about Pearl Harbor, “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (meaning “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!”, the Japanese code for having achieved total surprise in their sneak attack) was on TV at home, Dad suddenly became very agitated, and he yelled, “Yeah, and we tora, tora, tora, your ass off!” Thanks very much.

  26. Cheryl Konz says:

    my great great uncle was at Schofield Barracks when the Japanese attacked. Mel Mc Kinney died at 100 years of age in 2018.

  27. John Threet says:

    My mom’s older brother, then Sgt. Waldemar Hobratsch, was standing on the front porch of Schofield Barracks when the Japs dropped the first bombs. He ran to the arms locker and broke the lock with a fire extinguisher. He was the senior NCO present and ordered the men who gathered around him to grab .30 cal. machine guns, BARs, and ’03-A3 Springfields. They set up a defensive position on the roof and tried to bring down enemy planes. After the attack ended, they were ordered to set up defensive positions on the beach to prepare for an anticipated land invasion. Sometime in January, 1942, he was sent to OCS at Ft. Benning. He hadn’t been home to Texas in 4 years and was given a weeks leave enroute. He was commissioned as an Infantry 2nd Lt. in the Big Red One. He was in Operation Torch, Operation Husky, and Operation Overlord.

  28. Martha says:

    Every year we recognize the lives lost on the Arizona and other ships at Pearl Harbor. This is a good thing to do.

    My Father was stationed at Wheeler Air Base on December 7, 1941. This at that time was a Army/Air Force base. There was over 1,000 lives lost between the bases and civilians. The bases were hit first so planes would not be able to get in the air. Fortunately some did get air born and helped in the fighting.

    Have you ever over the years remember to acknowledge the lives lost at the 2 Army Air bases, Wheeler Army Air Base and Hickam Air Base along with the civilian lives that were lost on that day.

    I think it is past time to include them in the remembrance of December 7, since they were the first hit and some of the pilots that did get a plane up perished in the flight. There were others that returned to the bases.

    This is my thoughts on the remembrance of December 7, because I had a Father that was based at Wheeler Field and survived to tell us about what happened. We attended the 50th Anniversary on Hawaii, with my Father, and was able to see the bullet holes left in the buildings on that eventful day.

    I hope future December 7 remembrances will talk about the beginnings of the shooting prior to heading for the ships. Along with the reasons why they targeted the bases.

  29. Cheryl Pelham says:

    We salute you all with our hearts….thank you….

  30. Barbara Jenkins says:

    My father, Charles Raysor Salters, jr, was on the deck of the Tennessee when the bombing started. He said in a letter to my mother ,but didn’t mail until he reached California so as to not censored, that he saw the plane’s overhead and knew we were under attack so headed to his battle station. I am in possession of the letter.

  31. Janice Rhoades says:

    I believe you have the stories of Don Stratton and Lauren Bruner mixed up. Stratton was the sailer inside the gun director with the other 5 boys when the attack started. He was not a gunner. After the massive bomb explosion they were engulfed in fire and they went hand over hand to the Vestal which was tied up alongside the Arizona.

  32. Lan Evenson says:

    My home town of Hanska Minnesota was Home of Herb C. Johnson Furniture and Funeral Home. Herb was a Navy Corman at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and that he helped with all the casualties that followed the attack at Pearl Harbor.
    Lan Evenson

  33. You have the stories of Don Stratton and Lauren Bruner mixed up. Don Stratton was one of the six men inside the towering gun director when the attack occurred. He was not a gunner. He climbed the rope over to the Vestal tied up alongside the Arizona. He is still alive and lives in Northen California. God bless him.

  34. Jill L Bryant says:

    My Father Machinist Mate Vernon “Wick” Davis was stationed on the U.S.S Medusa, a repair ship docked between Pearl Island and Pearl Harbour right next to the U.S.S.Curtiss.

  35. Sue Arwood says:

    My father in law was also there when Pearl Harbor was attacked. His name is Arnhold Schwichtenberg.

  36. Diana Cox says:

    May God bless each and every one of them and they will not be forgotten thank you for those serving our country

  37. Herb C. says:

    Wish we really remembered Pearl Harbor , so that the 911 catastrophe would not if happen.

  38. Frank 'Tony' A. Siegmund says:

    My Father, Jacob Oliver Siegmund, was an Aircraft Sheetmetal Mechanic and Forward Port Machine Gunner aboard the USS Enterprise, the most decorated ship of WWII. They were a few hours at sea, heading for Pearl harbor when the bombing started, but they were very involved in recovery of bodies, etc. immediately after the bombing, and transporting survivors to other ports for treatment of their wounds, etc. The USS Enterprise was involved in multiple other battles with the Japanese during the war and I of course do consider my Father a Hero as He and his crewmates definitely played a very decisive part in the U.S. Victory of WWII. He was nearly burned to death when trapped in his machine gun port for several hours after a Kamikaze Japanese Zero crashed onto the deck above his gun port during one of the battles; I believe it was either the Battle of Saipan or possibly Midway. He was ultimately Honorably Discharged after the war and went on to live a rewarding life until he reached the age of 93 years 7mos. and died on June 23, 1993; the day after My Birthday! I was fortunate enough to be at His bedside that last night!!!

  39. JimH says:

    These stories need to be told to today’s young people. This could happen again but with more devastating effect by an enemy with nuclear weapons . There are enemies in overpopulated countries out there that salivate at taking over our land.

  40. Eric Huen says:

    Very interesting.

  41. Donna M. Brown says:

    These men were just “kids” when they signed up to defend our American way of life, but they rose up to be not just men, but giants. As an American, I can never repay the debt of gratitude I owe to all the men and women who served so honorably during WWII.

  42. Suzane Koch says:

    Thank you for posting about these heroes! What history, bravery, and legacy.

  43. Deborah Miller says:

    What about the soldiers stationed at Scofield Barracks, as my father was? He recalled that the Japanese planes flew so low he could see the faces of the pilots. Dad served the rest of the war in Europe where he was at the Battle of the Bulge.

  44. Tracy Walter says:

    I just cannot begin to imagine what these young men endured. We must never forget the sacrifices they made and how determined they were to overcome the enemy. They truly loved their country and they truly are our heroes.

  45. Linda George says:

    Such senseless killings thank you for your service to our country

  46. James Willis says:

    I visited the Memorial in 2008. It’s beautiful.

  47. Yvonne Woods says:

    Thank you for that message and sharing the names of those young men who lost their lives fighting to keep America a strong and free Nation.

  48. Edward Myers says:

    They were just kids. I was 9 at the time my dad came and told us. Two months later my brother was on his way over.

  49. Donald H Crum says:

    Awesome Stories. My Father was a Staff sergeant in the Army, after being mistakenly confused with another fellow by the same name, as a private serving in the Battle of the Bulge. His ability to talk of those days was very limited, just bringing up a few good memories he had with the fellow soldier friends he made.
    We owe these patriots more than we could ever repay. May God Bless them all.
    don c.

  50. Haxo Angmark says:

    thanks for this. Not yet seeing anything at all elsewhere to remember 7 December 1941. But I don’t blame the Japs for attacking: Roosevelt and Co. cornered Japan – by cutting off the fuel supply – and forced the Pacific War in order to backdoor America into the larger World War. And, given the state of that war in the summer and fall of 1941 – it looked to all concerned that the the Germans were about to knock Russia out of the war again, as in 1917/18 – I don’t much blame FDR for doing what he did.