Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor: Dorie Miller

Doris Miller, known as "Dorie" to shipmates and friends, was born in Waco, Texas, on 12 October 1919, to Henrietta and Conery Miller. He had three brothers, one of which served in the Army during World War II. While attending Moore High School in Waco, he was a fullback on the football team. He worked on his father's farm before enlisting in the U.S Navy as Mess Attendant, Third Class, at Dallas, Texas, on 16 September 1939, to travel, and earn money for his family. He later was commended by the Secretary of the Navy, was advanced to Mess Attendant, Second Class and First Class, and subsequently was promoted to Cook, Third Class.

Following training at the Naval Training Station, Norfolk, Virginia, Miller was assigned to the ammunition ship USS Pyro (AE-1) where he served as a Mess Attendant, and on 2 January 1940 was transferred to USS West Virginia (BB-48), where he became the ship's heavyweight boxing champion. In July of that year he had temporary duty aboard USS Nevada (BB-36) at Secondary Battery Gunnery School. He returned to West Virginia and on 3 August, and was serving in that battleship when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Miller had arisen at 6 a.m., and was collecting laundry when the alarm for general quarters sounded. He headed for his battle station, the antiaircraft battery magazine amidship, only to discover that torpedo damage had wrecked it, so he went on deck. Because of his physical prowess, he was assigned to carry wounded fellow Sailors to places of greater safety. Then an officer ordered him to the bridge to aid the mortally wounded Captain of the ship. He subsequently manned a 50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition and was ordered to abandon ship.

Miller described firing the machine gun during the battle, a weapon which he had not been trained to operate: "It wasn't hard. I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about fifteen minutes. I think I got one of those Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us."

During the attack, Japanese aircraft dropped two armored piercing bombs through the deck of the battleship and launched five 18-inch aircraft torpedoes into her port side. Heavily damaged by the ensuing explosions, and suffering from severe flooding below decks, the crew abandoned ship while West Virginia slowly settled to the harbor bottom. Of the 1,541 men on West Virginia during the attack, 130 were killed and 52 wounded. Subsequently refloated, repaired, and modernized, the battleship served in the Pacific theater through to the end of the war in August 1945.

Miller was commended by the Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox on 1 April 1942, and on 27 May 1942 he received the Navy Cross, which Fleet Admiral (then Admiral) Chester W. Nimitz, the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet personally presented to Miller on board aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) for his extraordinary courage in battle. Speaking of Miller, Nimitz remarked:

This marks the first time in this conflict that such high tribute has been made in the Pacific Fleet to a member of his race and I'm sure that the future will see others similarly honored for brave acts.

On 13 December 1941, Miller reported to USS Indianapolis (CA-35), and subsequently returned to the west coast of the United States in November 1942. Assigned to the newly constructed USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56) in the spring of 1943, Miller was on board that escort carrier during Operation Galvanic, the seizure of Makin and Tarawa Atolls in the Gilbert Islands. Liscome Bay's aircraft supported operations ashore between 20-23 November 1943. At 5:10 a.m. on 24 November, while cruising near Butaritari Island, a single torpedo from Japanese submarine I-175 struck the escort carrier near the stern. The aircraft bomb magazine detonated a few moments later, sinking the warship within minutes. Listed as missing following the loss of that escort carrier, Miller was officially presumed dead 25 November 1944, a year and a day after the loss of Liscome Bay. Only 272 Sailors survived the sinking of Liscome Bay, while 646 died.

In addition to the Navy Cross, Miller was entitled to the Purple Heart Medal; the American Defense Service Medal, Fleet Clasp; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal.

Commissioned on 30 June 1973, USS Miller (FF-1091), a Knox-class frigate, was named in honor of Doris Miller.

On 11 October 1991, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority dedicated a bronze commemorative plaque of Miller at the Miller Family Park located on the U.S. Naval Base, Pearl Harbor.

Source: Naval History and Heritage:


Pearl Harbor: Herb Weatherwax

Herb Weatherwax was born in Honolulu, Hawai'i on June 3, 1917. He was drafted into the United States Army on June 6, 1941. After basic training, he was assigned to the 298th Infantry Regiment located at Schofield Barracks, O'ahu, Hawai'i. On December 7, 1941, Private Weatherwax was on a weekend pass when he heard an announcement over a local radio station that Pearl Harbor was under attack by Japanese forces. The announcement instructed that all military personnel should immediately report to their duty stations. On his way to Schofield Barracks, he witnessed the destruction at Pearl Harbor and Wheeler Army Airfied near Schofield. In 1944, Herb left Hawai'i for training in the Signal Corps. He was reassigned to the 272nd Infantry Regiment, 69th Division, stationed at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. The 69th Division was sent to Europe, and in early 1945, entered combat at the Eifel Forest in Belgium. From there, his regiment moved inland to join up with Russian troops at a town called Torgau, which was located on the west bank of the Elbe River in western Germany. When the two Allied armies linked up, there was a sense of joy among them, knowing at the end of the war in Europe was near. Herb joined the National Park Service volunteer program in 1996. He enjoys haring his war stories with many of the USS Arizona Memorial visitors. Herb has been active in the Pearl Harbor interview series, part of the Witness to History Teleconference Educational Program. The series allows American school children from all across the country to learn about the Pearl Harbor attack by communicating directly with the survivors of the attack.

Pearl Harbor: Clark J. Simmons

I came from a family – my mother & four of us…I was the only boy. I had three sisters, and I was the oldest. My father was killed at a very young age, and so I thought…by joining the navy I’d be able to help my family…

Well, I really didn’t understand the depths of the segregation that went on in the navy...when I first went in. In training there were World War I stewards and cooks who were our instructors…and they instructed us as to what our duties would be once we got aboard ship or in the station…and they instructed us (as to) what it would be to work with officers-or work for officers – rather than with them. And it was a very intimate situation between the officers and the steward mates of the mess attendants at that time, because you took care of all of their personal needs: their shoes, their bedding, their laundry. You made sure of their food and, and all of those things. And you knew everything there was to know after a while…

[When you joined the navy] there was only one branch…open to you, and that was serving the officers. You…started off as a mess attendant, and if you were fortunate, you worked up to be a steward, or a cook, officers’ steward or officers’ cook…

Well, we went through the training and…they outlined that our job was essential, because if the officers were happy, then the rest of the crew were happy. So…it was just a job…and as odd as it may seem, it was a lot of white sailors who would have loved to have been able to…serve in that capacity.

I had been aboard the Utah a little better than 2 years…and...we used to run a 6-week cycle of training. We drew personnel from the fleet and trained them in gunnery, flag control…

We also were a mobile target, and there were planes that would do night bombing on us and daylight bombing…and bombs would physically drop on the ship. And once that 6-week cycle was over, we would come into port, discharge those men back to their ship, replenish the ship, repair it for all the damages that was done during the bombing, and we’d start a new class.

(The weekend of December 7)…we had just finished the 6-week cycle. We came in early afternoon on Friday, and we went into what we call Fox 11, which is on the west side of Ford Island. The Lexington, the carrier Lexington, had moved out that morning and we moved into the berth where they were originally. So apparently when the, the reconnaissance plane for the Japanese had taken that picture that Saturday, they had penned in carriers…on the west side of Ford Island, which was the Lexington.

So…that Friday, I had gone out from the ship, tied up…gone to the beach to Honolulu, did some shopping for the officers, shopping for myself, came back; and Saturday morning I did the same thing and then came back and then went back on the beach for that Saturday evening. We had what we called Cinderella Liberty, which meant that we had to be aboard ship by 12:00 that night. So I came in about 11:30…and went to sleep.

That morning…a black man who was on duty came down…and said that something was happening and we were under attack. And he thought the ship in front of us had blew up. But what really had happened was the Japanese had made a run on us, and the first torpedo that they had sent into the Utah had gone through the bulkhead and ran up onto the beach.

And when this young man came down…there were several of us in the compartment. I looked out …on the port side, toward Pearl City…and as I looked out the port, I saw a plane making a run on the Utah. And as she dropped her, the torpedo, the wing dipped and then straightened up, and the torpedo headed for the Utah. And another one right behind it did the same thing.

And as it hit the ship we felt the jar, but the torpedoes did not explode. They went right into the hull of the ship and let water in. And at that time the bugler sound – man your battle stations, which our battle station was below deck. [We] went down, and there was water coming through the ship. It was knee deep.

When I first went down to what they call a battle station, we all were frightened. We didn’t know what was going on. But we knew the ship was taking water in and there was no way to close the water tight was just a matter of time before the ship was going to sink. And actually it took 8 minutes… (in) 8 minutes the ship was history...

The next command was abandon ship… And...the engineer officer, the communications officer, and my self, we hit the captain’s cabin about the same time. And luckily, they had…3 ports…about 18 inches in diameter. And just by design, each one of us picked one of the port holes. And fortunate thing was that neither one of us-I don’t’ know, just a sixth sense- we did not put the life jackets on…And so we just threw them on the deck in the cabin, and at that time the furniture was beginning to break loose. So we went through the ports... And there’s a walkway outside of the…captain’s cabin, and we got to that.
















And we got to the rail of the ship…And as we did that, the lines were beginning to part because the ship was listing to the port, that by then was 40-45 degree list. She was turning over, and as we got to this walkway and went to the railing, the lines were beginning to part and snap back into the ship. And we just went over the side into the water and (swam) for Ford Island, where the rest of our crew who had gotten off ...from other parts of the ship were at that time.

…it’s just as vivid in my mind today as it was that day…I was hit either in the water or as I got on the beach. I don’t know whether it’s shrapnel or a gun wound. I was hit in the head, the shoulder and the leg. And one of the corpsmen, which is like a nurse aboard the ship, he noticed I was bleeding and...he began to patch me up a little. And he said, “We better get you to the hospital.” So I went to the 1st aid station on Ford Island and from there they transferred me to the submarine base hospital.

I think my worst moment was when I woke up in the hospital and I listened to the radio and they were saying what had really happened here. That was my first realization as to what impact that day had really meant. I knew that I had been hurt but I didn’t’ realize, you know, what had happened to the rest of the fleet and the rest of the people. I didn’t realize the ship was completely lost. I saw it turn over…it all hadn’t sank…in until that Wednesday.

Dorie Miller and I were classmates in swimming in Norfolk, Virginia. And this was a big gentleman. He was a huge man, about 6’2”, 225 - 235 pounds - but the nicest guy that you ever want to meet. And we socialized a lot, even in Honolulu when I’d run across him on the beach and we would still…talk…

Dorie Miller was a mess attendant and he went to the West Virginia, and he left Norfolk before I did. I stayed back in Norfolk for a while, and he came out and was assigned to West Virginia.

[The Japanese] wanted to put the battleships out of commission. And when the West Virginia was hit, the captain and the…executive officer…were on the bridge….Dorie Miller went up and physically picked up the captain and brought him down to a first aid station, and then he went back and manned a 50-caliber machine gun which he had not been trained on…

This was a very courageous young man, and it’s always believed that he should have gotten the Congressional Medal of Honor, although he got the Navy Cross….

He exemplified a hero…in what he did that day. Dorie Miller got the Navy Cross, and he was the first black during World War II to get that… he didn’t [get] the Congressional Medal because he was black. And…the navy, being what it was at that time, didn’t want to set that kind of a standard.

Source: Excerpted from interviews taken for the National Geographic program, Pearl Harbor: Legacy of Attack, on the National Geographic Channel;


Pearl Harbor: Joseph L. Lockard

On Dec. 7, 1941, Pvt. Joseph L. Lockard, a 19-year-old from Williamsport, was one of two soldiers manning the brand-new radar station at a hilltop at Opana Point on the northern tip of Oahu. 

Radar technology was so new that many in the military command in the region knew little, if anything, about it. To save manpower, the units were manned only four hours per day, and were shut down by 7 a.m. 

Lockard, now 87, said he left the unit on after 7 a.m. to allow Pvt. George Elliott some practice. On the screen, where normally an approaching aircraft or two would make a small blip, something was popping up that sent the shimmering light all the way to the top of the glass. "I had never seen anything like that. But that's not unusual, because I never had 180 planes coming at me before," Lockard said. 

It was the first wave of what would turn out to be 360 Japanese aircraft, and the beginning of an attack on Pearl Harbor that would bring America into World War II. More than 2,400 U.S. servicemen were killed in the attack, roughly half of those dying aboard the battleship USS Arizona. In all, 18 U.S. ships were sunk or heavily damaged. 

The Japanese planes were first detected 137 miles out, near the outer limit of the 150-mile limit at Lockard's radar station. 

Lockard called in a warning, but his immediate supervisor was not answering. He called his unit's administrative office, finally reaching a lieutenant. The lieutenant told him not to worry. It was probably a flight of B-17 Flying Fortresses due in that morning from California. 

At about 7:45 a.m., Lockard turned off the radar because the truck that was to take them back to their camp had arrived. About 10 minutes later, the first bombs were falling on Pearl Harbor. "We were facing the harbor on the way down, and we could see the big billows of black smoke and knew something had happened," he said.

Lockard eventually became a key witness in panels convened by the military and Congress investigating the attack at Pearl Harbor. He would later be appointed to officer candidate school and earn the Distinguished Service Medal. 

He said he is not angry that his warning of the aircraft went unheeded. "If anything, it made me sad," he said. 

Lockard figures his part in the events of that "Day of Infamy" comes out to a "what-if" footnote for the history books. "What if it hadn't been a Sunday? What if the Jap planes had left their ships 15 minutes earlier? What if they had taken our warning seriously? They couldn't have gotten the ships out of the harbor, but maybe they could have had the bigger anti-aircraft guns manned and kept the bombers at more of a distance," he said. 

Source: Defence Forum of India:


Pearl Harbor: Walter Staff

A Utah survivor trapped underwater for 2 days.

By Bart Anderson 

One of the most remarkable survival stories of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, is that of Walter Staff. Born in Magna, Utah, he grew up in Salt Lake City where he attended South High School before joining the Navy in February 1940. He was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma in the summer of that year. On Friday night, December 5, 1941, the Oklahoma returned to Pearl Harbor from maneuvers in the Pacific . Part of the crew was given shore leave, and those who remained on board looked forward to weekend of light duty. 

Walter was among those on board the battleship when it was attacked and sunk . He remained trapped in the submerged battleship for two days until rescue crew were able to set him and a companion free . He was one of 32 sailors to be rescued from the Oklahoma, which lost 450 of its 1,300-member crew during the attack. 

Interviewed nearly 50 years later, the ordeal remained vivid in Walter Staff's mind: "I had been to breakfast. First general quarters sounded. Everyone was grousing around, we had just been off maneuvers, it was Sunday morning. We thought it was just another drill again and why on Sunday morning? Then about thirty seconds later a boatswain's mate came just screaming over the speaker. And you could tell by his voice that something was wrong. 

My general quarters station was on the water watch [to check for water leaking into the ship]. I had to go the length of the ship on the third deck. I was about halfway down the port side, and we felt this one hit . I came back up out of the lower compartment into this big forward air compressor room,… and we got another hit. It shattered the lights and we were in complete darkness. Then it was just like a waterfall, all of a sudden you are in water. I came to and felt around and Centers was there with me…. 

"We could hear firing, and then later on after the main battle was over we could hear boat whistles, and we knew we were sunk, but we had no idea how bad everything was. We knew where we were trapped and expected the air to be used up. We would just pass out, and we were resigned to our fate. We didn't see any hopes at all knowing about where we were and everything. 

"You lose all track of time. Then we heard some tapping and we figured something was going on. They tapped one-two, one-two. Then we tapped back…. We could see a little bit of light. They are cutting away and I am watching the water below us. The water is coming up and they are cutting. I thought the water was going to beat them. It is up around your waist now, up around your neck. The water was running out where the rescue crew was working, so they just took off. You could hear them leave. It is about the worst thing, because you are that close to being rescued. You can just about touch somebody and then they had left.” 

“We pushed into this other compartment. We dogged the door down after we got in so none of that water could get in. Pretty soon they were up above us, and there was a hatch on this one. They yelled down asking if we were in a dry compartment. I told them "Yeah," and they said, "Stand clear." The door flops open and there's your rescue party. I thought it was just getting dark Sunday night when we came out and it was just getting light Tuesday morning. I lost twenty pounds since I didn't have anything to eat or drink for two days we were trapped in the ship." 

The source for this story was Dr. Kent Powell, "Utah Remembers World War II." 




Pearl Harbor: John W. Finn, Congressional Medal of Honor


On the morning of Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese planes bombed the American battleships in Hawaii, plunging the nation into World War II, numerous acts of valor played out. Most of them took place aboard the stricken ships — in some cases efforts by the wounded and the dying to save their fellow sailors. Amid the death and destruction, Chief Finn, on an airfield runway, was waging a war of his own against the Japanese.

A few minutes before 8 o’clock, Japanese planes attacked the Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station, about 12 miles from Battleship Row at Ford Island, hoping to knock out three dozen Navy aircraft before they could get aloft.

Mr. Finn, the chief petty officer in charge of munitions at the naval station and a veteran of 15 years in the Navy, was in bed in a nearby apartment with his wife, Alice. He heard the sound of aircraft, saw one plane flash past his window, then another, and he heard machine guns.

He dressed hurriedly, and drove to the naval station. At first, he observed the base’s 20 miles-per-hour speed limit. But then, “I heard a plane come roaring in from astern of me,” he recalled decades later in an interview with Larry Smith for “Beyond Glory,” an oral history of Medal of Honor recipients.

Chief John W Finn, with his wife Alice, at
the 1942 ceremony for receiving the
Congressional Medal of Honor

“As I glanced up, the guy made a wing-over, and I saw that big old red meatball, the rising sun insignia, on the underside of the wing. Well, I threw it into second and it’s a wonder I didn’t run over every sailor in the air station.”

When Chief Finn arrived at the hangars, many of the planes had already been hit. He recalled that he grabbed a .30-caliber machine gun on a makeshift tripod, carried it to an exposed area near a runway and began firing. For the next two and a half hours, he blazed away, although peppered by shrapnel as the Japanese planes strafed the runways with cannon fire.

As he remembered it: “I got shot in the left arm and shot in the left foot, broke the bone. I had shrapnel blows in my chest and belly and right elbow and right thumb. Some were just scratches. My scalp got cut, and everybody thought I was dying: Oh, Christ, the old chief had the top of his head knocked off! I had 28, 29 holes in me that were bleeding. I was walking around on one heel. I was barefooted on that coral dust. My left arm didn’t work. It was just a big ball hanging down.”

Chief Finn thought he had hit at least one plane, but he did not know whether he had brought it down. When the attack ended, he received first aid, then returned to await a possible second attack. He was hospitalized the following afternoon.

On Sept. 15, 1942, Chief Finn received the Medal of Honor from Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, in a ceremony aboard the carrier Enterprise at Pearl Harbor. Admiral Nimitz cited Chief Finn for his “magnificent courage in the face of almost certain death.”

John William Finn was born on July 23, 1909, in Los Angeles County, the son of a plumber. He dropped out of school to join the Navy at age 17.

He served stateside after he recovered from his Pearl Harbor wounds, became a lieutenant in 1944 and remained in military service after the war. He had been living on a cattle ranch in Pine Valley, Calif., about 45 miles east of San Diego, before entering the nursing home where he died.

His survivors include a son, Joseph. His wife died in 1998.

Ten of the 15 servicemen who received the Medal of Honor for their actions at Pearl Harbor died in the attack. Among them were Rear Adm. Isaac C. Kidd, commander of Battleship Division 1, who was aboard the Arizona when it blew up and sank; Capt. Franklin Van Valkenburgh, commander of the Arizona; and Capt. Mervyn S. Bennion, commander of the battleship West Virginia.

Four of the Pearl Harbor medal recipients survived the war. Cmdr. Cassin Young, awarded the medal for reboarding and saving his repair ship, the Vestal, after being blown into the water, died in November 1942 in the battle for Guadalcanal.

In 1999, Mr. Finn was among Pearl Harbor veterans invited to Hawaii for the premiere of the Hollywood movie “Pearl Harbor.” “It was a damned good movie,” he told The Boston Herald in 2001. “It’s helped educate people who didn’t know about Pearl Harbor and what happened there.”

“I liked it especially,” he said, “because I got to kiss all those pretty little movie actresses.

John W. Finn died May 26, 2010 at a nursing home in Chula Vista, CA.  He was 100 and had been the oldest living recipient of the medal of honor, the nation’s highest award for valor.

 Source: New York Times, Richard Goldstein, May 27, 2010:

Pearl Harbor Veteran: Jim Evans, Marine Pfc

Marine Pfc. James Evans sat in his barracks waiting for a truck to take him to his guard post at Kaneohe Bay Naval Station. It was 7:55 a.m. Dec. 7, 1941. Because it was a payday weekend, it would be up to Evans to determine whether a Marine was “CNS” (clean and sober) or “DND” (dirty and drunk). That was a lot of responsibility for a 17-year-old who had lied about his age the previous year to enlist in the Marine Corps.

“I was pretty spiffed up,” said Evans, recalling the uniform he wore that day. “One man was looking out at the water. It must have been a minute before the attack on Pearl Harbor.”

Evans  heard a “thump, thump, thump” but disregarded the sound because construction was going on nearby. Then he was beckoned to the door.

“Someone said, 'You have to come out and see this,' so I did,” Evans said. “Then a sergeant shouted an expletive and said: 'Get your rifles! We're being attacked!' ”

Evans was stationed at Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii, on the other side of the island of Oahu from Pearl Harbor. The station was the base for Navy seaplanes that patrolled the region and was attacked by the Japanese moments before Pearl Harbor.

Evans realized he was facing serious business that long-ago morning when a supply sergeant began issuing ammunition. He looked up to see Japanese planes circling the barracks.

But he was ready for action.

“Initially, it was kind of fun because we got to break the windows with our rifles and shoot at planes,” Evans said.

About 30 men fired at the moving targets, with little result. Those who didn't have guns threw potatoes, Evans said.

“We were fighting back with everything we had,” he said.

Evans decided it would make more sense to position a machine gun on the roof of the barracks. He used his bayonet to snap the lock off the hatch and struggled to move the heavy weapon onto the roof, only to discover the gun wasn't loaded. Matters were made worse when an enemy pilot smiled at Evans as he banked his plane.

“I started cussing and picked up my Springfield M1903 that was issued to me at boot camp,” he said. “I fired five rounds from my rifle at a plane going 300 miles per hour.”

A second attack was launched as Evans and other Marines began moving women and children from dependents' housing to bunkers.

“An (American) patrol bomber spotted the Japanese at sea, but his radio didn't work, so he couldn't warn anyone,” Evans said.

The aircraft carrier Enterprise was returning to Oahu that morning. Anti-aircraft fire made it almost impossible for planes from the ship to land on the airstrip, he said. After one pilot brought his aircraft safely to a stop, he grabbed Evans and demanded to know what was going on.

“I said, 'We're in a war!' ” Evans recalled.

“Bombing the United States was the dumbest thing the Japanese could have done,” Evans said. “At the time, 50 percent of Americans wanted to enter the war and 50 percent didn't. The attack made up our minds.”

Although still a teenager, Evans saw more conflict in the war than most veterans. Following the Pearl Harbor attack, he went to Guadalcanal, Tarawa and Saipan, three of the most significant battles in the Pacific.

On Saipan, Evans survived the only tank attack in the Pacific war and was twice wounded by shrapnel. He was sent to Hawaii and was preparing to be part of an assault on Japan when the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on the country, ending the war.

Jim Evans became an advocate for all veterans in later years.  He died February 23, 2010. He would have been 86 on March 25.

Source: San, Union Tribune; Retired Marine speaks at by Lillian Cox, December 7, 2008;