Aboard the USS West Virginia
Dempson Arellano had just suggested to his friend Gleason that they visit their girlfriends in Honolulu, when somebody burst through the door and shouted, "The Japanese hit!" Arellano had the jumper he wore on liberty pulled halfway over his head when he felt the battleship shake violently. "I finally got my head out of the blouse and said, 'What the hell was that?'"
Just then, a second torpedo struck the ship, peeling open a hole in the hull. As brown water came rushing down the passageway, Arellano said, "Gleason, let's get the hell out of here." When they reached the deck, a Japanese plane was spraying the deck with machine gun fire. "We had just brought potatoes aboard and there was a stack about 8 or 10 feet tall," says Arellano, who now lives at the Antioch Care Home, "so we ducked behind that and the Japanese plane strafed all those potatoes."
Aboard the USS San Francisco
For three months, Ed Silveira did nothing but peel potatoes. "On Dec. 7, I was mess cooking on the second deck. On Saturdays and Sundays, you rack out, you don't do nothing. At about five minutes to 8, I'm looking up and seeing all these airplanes. I thought they were our people practicing. They were just peppering the bay. And I was thinking, 'Gee, what a good mock battle this is!' About that time, I saw a plane hit the West Virginia with a torpedo bomb, and I realize this ain't no drill."
Aboard the USS Arizona
At 8:06 a.m. -- 12 hours after Van Hauser made the fateful choice not to stay with his friends on the ship -- they were dead. A 1,760-pound armor-piercing bomb flew into the Arizona's ammunition magazine, igniting a fire so hellish it would burn for two days.
Aboard the USS West Virginia
Arellano had just started to heave himself up onto his assigned gun turret when another seaman stepped on top of his head. "It seemed like he was in a hurry to get out of there," Arellano recalls. The sailor had just seen a bomb whistle past him, drop through the turret, and descend into the depths of the ship. Arellano found out a year later that the bomb had landed in the powder handling room, but failed to explode.
The Japanese had built a limited number of armor-piercing bombs, and the West Virginia took two of them. One disemboweled Captain Mervyn S. Bennion. "He didn't die right away," Arellano says, his eyes glistening. "He managed to man the loudspeaker and he said, 'All hands, abandon ship. God bless you.'"
The West Virginia was sinking. But to prevent it from rolling over on its side as the Oklahoma had done just a few berths away, a damage control team dived into the oily water -- which was on fire -- and blew the ballast tanks, causing the ship to right itself before settling to the bottom. "The ship was sinking right under me," says Arellano, who scrambled off the ship just as the second wave of Japanese bombers arrived with their deadly cargo.
Aboard the USS Tennessee
Almost as soon as he stepped onto the Tennessee, Arellano was handed a fire hose and ordered to fight a major fire on the fantail. He attacked the the fire until his breathing apparatus ran out of oxygen and he passed out. "The next thing I knew, I was looking up at the sky up on deck," he says.
The Arizona lay in front of him. "Even on the Tennessee, there were guys with flash burns from when the Arizona blew up," he says. "It actually cooked their eyeballs. Some of them were running blind on the deck of the Tennessee. Their flesh was hanging down off their face, and their eyeballs were burned out. A lot of them just ran a few feet and collapsed. That's what I remember more clearly than anything."
Aboard the USS St. Louis
By 9:30 a.m., Tait heard the command to cast off lines. The St. Louis was going to make a desperate escape through the south channel, where the sinking USS Nevada might block other ships from getting out.
The speed limit through the channel was 5 knots. "By the time we got to the mouth of the channel, we were doing 28 knots," Tait says. The ship's anti-aircraft guns would bring down three planes, but the light cruiser's troubles weren't over as it neared open waters.
"There was a two-man submarine waiting for us," Tait says. "They fired two torpedoes at us, but the torpedoes hit a reef and exploded." which led to the ship being dubbed the "Lucky Lou." Tait's crew spent Christmas at Pearl that year, and on the menu for the ship's dinner, Capt. George Rood congratulated his men.
"The good ship has had her first test...and came through with flying colors," he wrote. "Every officer and man took his station at once and the whole ship functioned as smoothly as though it were a drill. We...know now what we can do, and nothing can bother us in the future."
Contact Bruce Newman at 408-920-5004.
Pearl Harbor survivors will be honored at two events in the area on Dec. 7. At the USS Hornet Museum (707 W. Hornet Ave., Alameda) Ed Silveira will share his memories of that day as a crewman on the USS San Francisco. The ceremony begins at 1 p.m., and will conclude with chaplain John Berger performing a service of remembrance. At Moffett Field in Mountain View, two survivors of the attack will be honored guests at the Moffett Museum's art exhibit of Hangar 1 paintings, beginning at 2 p.m.
The United States suffered 2,459 casualties during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. More than 50 million people are believed to have perished during World War II, the deadliest conflict in human history.
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