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 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:
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 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 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 Tennesseand 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 Tennesse, 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. 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!