USS ST. LOUIS (CL49), DEC. 7, 1941

Our whaleboat crew consisting of coxswain, bow hook and I, the engineer, were tied up at dockside at the liberty landing at Meri-Point having delivered a five-hand dock sweeping party. The three of us were enjoying a visit with the shore patrol there at their shack while awaiting completion of the detail.

We watched some high flying aircraft over Ford Island without too much concern. Just about that time bombs began to explode on the island, torpedo planes with that large red circle on their sides appeared right of the dock headed straight for battleship row. Stunned and somewhat bewildered we watched in disbelief for an undetermined amount of time. The planes were so close we could see if the pilots were with or without beard.

Seeing the terrible destruction raining down upon our battleships, we jumped into our boat to go to the aid of those in the water, probably ľ mile away. As we left the dock we saw our ship, the St. Louis, slowly backing down away from dockside to get underway. We decided to catch her and man our battle stations before she moved out to sea.

A Jacobs Ladder was lowered to us for boarding by the boatswain mate. As we scrambled up the ladder, I realized I had forgotten to turn off that diesel engine in the whaleboat. She just bobbed and weaved as the screws churned up the waters. (If I can find any humor in all of this, it would be those many months later spent aboard that great ship. Anytime I was called up for any reason at all, I figured ďOh! Oh! Iím really in trouble for losing that boat!Ē)

The three of us ran to our battle stations. My station was at the mid-ship repair station, one deck down, being below the main deck, I could witness no more of that terrible scene. I know we had to lay to for a bit while the USS Nevada, bruised and beaten, beached herself to keep from sinking.

As we exited the harbor at high speed we rammed what was thought to be a midget submarine, putting a hole in the bulkhead of our chain locker. I have never read anything to confirm that though. We did require repair later at Mare Island in the area of the chain locker. Capt. Rood (a truly great man in my book) was on the bridge in his pajamas, his hat with all those scrambled eggs on his head and a 45 strapped to his side.

Iím told that it was the first task force ever formed as we gathered whatever ships we could find with guns. Then we proceeded to seek out the enemy fleet. We were dubbed ďThe Lucky LouĒ about this time. I donít know if it was because of our escape during that sneak attack or maybe because we never did find the enemy.

Let me add this final note. We re-entered the harbor three days later. Through all of this I canít say I felt true fear. However, as we sailed back into the harbor those few days later, and slowly drifted by the simmering destruction that lay there before our eyes, my knees weakened to a point that made me grab hold of the life line to steady myself. Did I mention that I was 17 years of age at this time. It was a truly sad experience that my God allowed me to survive.

John J. OíNeill

© 1999