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." 




Truganini: Refused to be a Passive Victim

Truganini, part of the Prosopa series by Giannis "Gigas" Thomas

Truganini was a famous Tasmanian Aboriginal.  She lived between 1812-1876. In her lifetime, she saw her people decimated by murder and disease but refused to be a passive victim. Her strength and determination persist today within the Palawah people who have lived in the region for over thirty thousand years.

In 1803, the first white settlers arrived in Tasmania, or Van Diemen's Land as it was known then, and began clearing and farming the land. Over four thousand Aborigines lived in Tasmania too. Fighting began and continued for many years and hundreds of Aborigines and Europeans were killed.

It was during this turmoil that Truganini was born, around 1812, in the Brundy Island area of Tasmania. She was a vibrant and beautiful girl whose father was an elder of the south-east tribe. By the time Truganini was aged seventeen, her mother was murdered by whalers, her sister abducted and shot by sealers and her husband-to-be murdered by timber fellers. Truganini was raped.

By 1830, the fighting was so widespread it was known as the 'Black War' and something had to be done to stop the killing. So colonial authorities appointed George Augustus Robinson, a builder and untrained preacher to mount a 'Friendly Mission' to find the three hundred remaining Aborigines who were deep in the Tasmanian bushland. His job was to convince the Aboriginal people to move to a nearby island.

When Truganini and her father met Robinson he told them he was their friend and would protect them. He promised that if they agreed to come with him he would provide blankets, food, houses and their customs would be respected. He also promised they could return to their homelands occasionally. Truganini could see that Robinson's promises were the only way her people could survive. She agreed to help Robinson and with her husband 'Wooraddy' and others. She spent the next five years helping Robinson find the remaining Aboriginal people.

Robinson needed Truganini and her friends to show him the way through the bush to find food and protect him, as well as to convince the remaining Aborigines to move to the island. Truganini even saved Robinson from hostile spears and drowning.

By 1835, nearly all the Aborigines had agreed to move to Flinders Island where a settlement had been set up at Wybalenna. Here Robinson intended to teach the Aboriginal people European customs. The Aborigines believed Flinders Island would be their temporary home and that they were free people who would be housed, fed and protected until they returned to their tribal lands.But instead the island became a prison and many became sick and died.

Truganani could see Robinson's promises would not save her people and began to tell people 'not to come in' because she knew they would all soon be dead. In 1838, Truganini and thirteen other Aborigines accompanied Robinson on another mission to Melbourne in Victoria but they could not help him this time.

When Truganini returned to the settlement at Wybelanna in 1842, it was without Robinson. The man, who had promised their race protection, had abandoned them. The Aborigines had no choice but to continue their unhappy exile on the island.

Truganini (seated, right) - the last 4 Tasmanian Aborigines

In 1847, Truganini and the remaining 45 people were moved to an abandoned settlement at Oyster Cove on the Tasmanian mainland. Conditions were even worse, but Truganini found some contentment because this was her traditional territory. She was able to collect shells, hunt in the bush and visit places that were special to her. Some say this made her strong again because she was the last of the group to survive.

In her later years she moved to Hobart to be cared for by a friend. Wearing her bright red cap, an adaptation of the red gum tips or ochre the Palawah people loved wearing in their hair, she became a well-known figure in town.

Truganini died in 1876 aged sixty-four, and was buried in the grounds of the female convict gaol in Hobart. Even though Truganini's dying wish was to be buried behind the mountains, her body was exhumed and her skeleton displayed at the museum until 1947. Her ashes were finally scattered on the waters of her tribal land , one hundred years after her death.

Truganini is remembered as a proud and courageous survivor in a time of brutality and uncertainty. Today, descendants of those early tribal Aborigines maintain the indomitable spirit of Truganini.



Truth: Maja Kazazic


 Maja Kazazic 

War Survivor, Inspirational Speaker, Entrepreneur

 (1977-  )

My life has helped me realize and understand the power of people. When we pull together we can make anything happen --- even world peace. We are all connected, our lives overlap, our stories are intertwined, and our fates are shared.

Everyone gave me what they could, and together it formed a quilt of support that kept me going in those early difficult months. 


Maja Kazazic made this statement in 1993 after being hospitalized for a critical injury. Although suffering greatly at the time, she was able to create a metaphorical quilt from her personal story, transforming scraps and fragments of her trauma into a unified, beautiful whole.  

The fashioning of Maja Kazazic’s life’ quilt began in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina in the late 1970s where she enjoyed a halcyon childhood. She excelled in school and was passionate about becoming the best soccer player in Mostar as well as a professional athlete. Along with her parents and younger brother, Maja was surrounded by a large and close-knit family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who all lived within walking distance of each other and gathered frequently to share coffee, food, laughter and music, all of which was abundant at the time. The first 14 years of her life were not that different from those of teenagers around the world. As Maja says, “My friends wore T-shirts and jeans, watched ‘90210’ and ‘Baywatch,’ and listened to American music, like Billy Joel.”

All that changed very quickly when the international armed conflict, the Bosnian War, came to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992. In mid-1993 Maja was critically injured by a mortar shell, which killed six of her friends. Her lower legs and left hand were severely damaged, and a great deal of shrapnel invaded her body causing rapid blood loss. 

Moments later she was taken to a so-called hospital, which was in a basement where there were no real doctors, no medicine, and limited supplies. After a week, infection set in and in order to save her life a dentist  was called in to amputate her left leg. Devastated, Maja’s first thought was that she would never be able to play soccer again. But, she had no choice. 

After two months, Maja was taken by Sally Becker, a British aid worker,to Frankfurt, Germany where she received the care she needed to survive. In September of 1993, through their Children of War Rescue Project, Veterans for Peace brought Maja to a hospital in Cumberland, Maryland. “Its citizens embraced me. Every group in town donated what I needed to live and what I needed to survive. The president of the hospital and my surgeons and nurses donated my medical care. Church groups provided housing, food and clothing and gave me what they could.” 

Alone in a foreign land, not knowing English or American customs, the most difficult part for 16 year old Maja was being away from the support of her family and friends. Sometimes she wished she had died with her friends, but she learned to “take life on life’s terms.”

Over the next few months, she had several operations a week on her legs and doctors did skin grafts all over her body. Becoming fluent in English, she was eventually well enough to go to high school, even though she started out in a wheelchair dragging an I.V. After months of physical therapy to learn to walk again, she began using a prosthetic leg which at first was difficult and painful. 

Having graduated from St. Francis University with a degree in psychology, Maja relocated to the Gulf Coast of Florida and almost immediately got a job as a web analyst at an insurance brokerage,which led to her launching her own website development company. Hundreds of surgeries allowed her to play the occasional round of golf or set of tennis, but walking remained very difficult and painful. Longing to return to the athletic life she once lived, Maja was constantly challenged by her imperfect prosthesis.

On one of her frequent visits to Clearwater Marine Aquarium, she observed a young dolphin, Winter, who had a prosthetic tail, which enabled her to swim like a normal dolphin. Maja contacted the company that made Winter’s tail and within ten days had a new prosthetic which enabled her to play golf and tennis, ride her bike and walk long distances, pain free.

As her website business grows, Maja is giving back to the people and the country that took her in.  She created One Story One World ( ), a website to publish and read true stories of everyday heros, believing that by “swapping stories with others, we remember that we are all connected... by the challenges we face as we try to live our lives to the fullest. A certified amputee peer counselor, she helps recent amputees see that there is life after limb loss, instilling in them a determination to succeed and the will to overcome any obstacle. She volunteers at Camp No Limits for amputee children and Clearwater Marine Aquarium. She talks to church groups, school groups and business groups about the twists and turns her life has taken and about spirits of humans to rebuild and recreate their life quilts.




Yoshio Sato: Family Reunited

Hibakusha: The Story of Yoshio Sato

Hiroshima, August 6, 1945

On August 6, 1945, I was exposed to the atomic bomb at just one kilometer away from ground zero in Hiroshima.

Recovering consciousness, I found myself confined in a dark, narrow gap in the ruins of our timber house, which had collapsed. Fortunately, I was able to get out. I have never forgotten the scene I saw upon climbing out. All the houses as far as I could see were flattened to the ground.The sky was dim with smoke as if it were after sunset. Fire was breaking out two to three hundred meters ahead of me; all the houses had been built of wood. I thought that the city had been destroyed at once by a terribly large bomb.

Exposed to the blast and trapped under the ruins of our house were my 12 year-old brother, Hideo, and my mother who had been hanging washing out in the yard with my little sister, Masako, who was 5 years old. I was 14 at the time. My father had left Hiroshima on business early that morning. With much difficulty, I finally succeeded in rescuing my family from under the collapsed building. We fled from the house, driven away by the approaching fire. Blasts of intolerably hot wind blew continuously.

We jumped into a reservoir of stagnant water, which had been set up for the purpose of extinguishing fires during air raids, in order to cool our bodies. As soon as we came out from the water, out clothes were dried instantly by the intense heat caused by the fires. We had to jump into the water so often that dirty water entered our mouths and caused us to vomit. Surrounding fires forced us to stay in the air raid evacuation zone for several hours.

In Hiroshima many junior high school children who had been mobilised to demolish houses to create fire barriers, were killed by the atomic bomb. Shortly before the bomb fell, the 'all clear' siren had been sounded and people had come out of the shelters. The aircraft carrying the bomb had flown over the city and then gone away, leading those responsible for the air-raid sirens to think it had retreated. Only after the 'all clear' had sounded did it return. We have wondered whether this was deliberate US policy to get people out from shelters so that the effects of the atomic bomb could be tested: something the US military authorities, when asked, have neither confirmed or denied.

Toward evening, the fires and the wind nearly ceased. A rescue truck came by and picked us up. Several people were sitting in the truck. Some were almost naked and badly burned. The skin on their arms was peeling off and hanging down from their hands. More refugess were jammed onto the truck so tightly that they cried in pain when their peeling skin touched the skin of others.

The drawings are published in Wasurerarenal Anohio--The Day Never to be Forgotten, A collection of testimonies and pictures by sufferers of the A-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagaski, published by the Kanagawa Atom Bomb Sufferers Association.

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