THE CURTISS' ORDEAL


The U.S.S. Curtiss had granted Shore Leave, better known as "Liberty", on the weekend of December 5, 1941 in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. I was one of the lucky ones among the crew who was married and my young bride of a few months had just recently arrived in Honolulu so I was looking forward to an enjoyable weekend in Honolulu with her.

We had been fortunate, finding a new house to rent in one of the residential sections of the city. We shared this house with another Navy couple. This house was up in the hills above the city with a beautiful view of the shipping harbor and in direct line of the Aloha Tower. The Aloha Tower was four stories high and was the tallest building in Honolulu at that time.

On December 6th we had gone downtown shopping for civilian clothes, which, unfortunately, I never got to wear because of the beginning of the second World War. On the night of the 6th of December, we had gone out to a show, arriving home late and looking forward to "sleeping in" the next morning, December 7.

We were awakened, however, by bursts of gunfire early on the 7th. We ran out into the yard for a better view of the sky. Much to our surprise, the Heavens were covered with bursts of anti-aircraft shells. Being of the Navy, we naturally blamed the Army for holding drills on a Sunday morning and disturbing our sleep. We later learned through rumors that the Army concurrently blamed the Navy for the early morning commotion--we were both wrong!

As we went back into the house, turning on the radio, we learned that the Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor and everything else that was in their sight. All military personnel were ordered to return to their assigned stations.

The couple we shared the house with had a car so all four of us started to Pearl Harbor. When we arrived at the main artery of the the highway, traffic was chaotic. Our car was stopped and my shipmate and I were ordered to get into any car that had room for us. Our wives were turned back because the Japanese were machine-gunning the cars on the highway. After an elapse of time, I don't remember how many wrecked and machine-gunned cars we passed on the highway, but I do remember they were numerous.

We arrived at Pearl Harbor to find the last wave of dive bombers and torpedo planes coming over us, flying as low as tree-top height, machine-gunning everything in their sight. Fortunately some water lines were being laid in our immediate vicinity so we headed for those trenches. I've always said that I out ran machine gun bullets that day!

After the incoming wave had passed over us, we ran down to the small boat landing, being ordered to take any boat available. This I did, and eventually through burning ships and oil-covered water I arrived at my ship, the U.S.S. Curtiss (AV-4).

Our ship had already taken an armor-piercing bomb and a suicide plane which had destroyed our large crane on the boat deck. A bomb had passed through the weather deck and exploded, sending shrapnel into a lower handling room of one of our guns, starting a fire among the ammunition. A fire room was severely damaged--several of our men were burned to death.

When I arrived on the ship, I reported to my battle station as fuse setter on a five-inch gun. I remained there for the next 24 hours.

One of our small boat Coxwains who was making runs to the hospital with the wounded stated that there was so much blood accumulated on the landing float that the stretcher bearers could hardly keep from falling.

My wife visited the ship's chaplain after three days and was told that I was okay. My family back home knew within a week that I had survived the attack.

About four days after the attack some of the crew were given four hours of Liberty. I was fortunate to be one of them.

I'm sure that anyone who was in Pearl Harbor on Decmeber 7, 1941, will never forget that day.

History has given the Curtiss credit for destroying three planes and seriously damaging an enemy two-man submarine, if not totally disabling it. Twenty of our crew were dead and 58 were wounded.

My wife and I returned to Honolulu on April 10, 1991, this being our 50th wedding anniversary. We visited the Arizona Visitors Center, the Arizona Memorial, Punchbowl, and the house that we had lived in among other sights of interest.

Remember Pearl Harbor.

P.S. Out of a crew of approximately 700, the USS Curtiss had 70 casualties, 21 dead and 49 wounded during the attack at Pearl Harbor.

SUBMITTED TO ME BY CARL N. BEST, CPO (USN RETIRED), USS CURTISS


1999 taskforce-17@msn.com