Pearl Harbor Survivor Stories – December 24, 1941


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On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1941, the Abilene Reporter News carried a short article under the headline “Pearl Harbor Survivors Tell Stories of Courage.”  It was a United Press article out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii a few days earlier.

The first story told of two Japanese submarines that managed to enter the harbor but were sunk before they could do more damage.  One was fired on by an aircraft tender and then rammed by a Navy destroyer.  The enemy sub turned over and rose to the surface, bottom side up, before sinking.  The second sank just after it was hit by fire from ships in the harbor.

We now know that as many as five submarines were involved in the attack.  Full sized submarines could not navigate the harbor unseen.  These were midget submarines and some of them were actually sighted hours before the air attack.  Please see link below.

An unnamed senior officer aboard a hospital ship, USS Solace, recounted his experiences as he watched the enemy planes approach “battleship row” and begin to drop their torpedoes.  One aircraft headed toward his ship but exploded after being hit by fire from the U. S. ships trapped in the harbor.  In one of the few bright spots of the day, he remembered cheers going up around him when the enemy plane went down.  He said that overall, he was stunned by the sheer terribleness of the attack and remembers wondering why so many planes got through the return fire.  He witnessed at least one hit on the USS Arizona.

We now know that the USS Solace was a converted passenger ship.  She was constructed in 1927 and served during the entire war.  After she was decommissioned, she was sold to a Turkish maritime company and operated by them until she was retired.  As she was being dismantled a lead lined room (the ship’s x-ray room) was discovered.  The lead was salvaged and used to build a dome of a mosque in Istanbul.

Another survivor, an unnamed commander who was on the deck of the Arizona directing return fire remembered just having finished breakfast at 7:55 AM when the alarm sounded.  A voice over the loud speaker informed the listeners that they were under attack from Japanese aircraft and directed the personnel to go to battle stations.  Fires were beginning to spread.  The Arizona shook and quickly began to list to one side.  He recalled the ship’s captain being mortally wounded.  He tried to get the captain off the bridge, but the captain refused to leave.  Two other officers remained with the captain until he died.  The survivor’s final recollection was to tell the story of an unnamed Negro mess attendant who came to the deck and manned a machine gun until his supply of ammunition was exhausted.

We now know that the ship’s captain was Franklin Van Valkenburg and that the unnamed mess attendant was Waco’s own, Doris “Dorie” Miller.


For further reading: – Japanese Mini Submarines at Pearl Harbor – Hospital Ship USS Solace

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