I had been aboard the USS Tennessee for 4 1/2 years when we were attacked. My battle station duties were as a Gun Captain on Gun #3, a 5" antiaircraft gun. We had heard rumors of a war starting but we didn't realize when. When I returned to the ship in September after 45 days leave I noticed that some things had been removed, such as fire hazard materials. We had been patrolling around Pearl Harbor with ammunition in Gun's #1 and #2 in the ready boxes. This time when we came into Pearl Harbor the ammunition was kept next to the guns in ready boxes. We had been in the Harbor for a couple of days tied up to the Quays at anchor space #6 starboard side, next to Ford Island Naval Air Station. The other half of the Battleships came into the Harbor. The West Virginia came in next to our ship and tied up starboard to port. I believe they came in on Wednesday, December 3rd.
I celebrated my birthday Saturday December 6th, my 23rd. On that Sunday, December 7th, I was eating a late breakfast alone. I had been relieved of my 4:00 o'clock to breakfast watch in the 5" magazines below decks. My living quarters were in #9 and #10 case mates. A case mate is a 12 ft. X 20 ft. compartment with a 5"/51 broadside gun with open space to the outside to accommodate training of the gun. I heard the loud noise of planes flying very low with loud gun fire and explosions. My thoughts were that the Navy was practicing and why couldn't they leave us alone on Sunday. I then stepped out onto the weather deck and realized they were Japanese planes. After they dropped their bombs they would circle around and come back toward the ships with machine gun sweeps. I was standing with a steel bulkhead behind me and the pilot began shooting at me. The bullets hit the bulkhead about 1 foot above me and fell on the wooden deck. I began to laugh out loud. I don't know why but I think it was because he missed me. Someone grabbed me and told me to get to my gun just as General Quarters was sounded over the ships loud speakers. When I got to my gun, some of my crew were already there turning on air and getting the fuse setters ready and doing a great job at what they had been trained to do. The ammunition was coming up from down below and in a very short time we were firing at every thing including the horizontal bombers which were at about 10 or 12 thousand feet. I don't know if we hit any or not but the USS Tennessee got credit for shooting down 5 enemy planes.
In about 30 minutes another wave of planes came in and bombed and torpedoed and machine gunned the ships again. The entire thing lasted about 2 hours. Then it became quiet, and we looked around to see what had happened. The Tennessee got 2 bomb hits killing 5 men. One bomb hit the center gun of turret #2 . It burst into shrapnel and killed the Captain of the USS West Virginia. He was still giving orders and maintaining combat status of his ship when he died. The West Virginia took 7 torpedo's on her portside and sunk in the mud.. pinning my ship, the Tennessee into the Quay. The USS Arizona, 75 feet behind us exploded and broke in two and sunk in about 8 minutes. 1,177 crew men were killed at that time, blowing probably 600 of the crew overboard and killing all of them. The Oklahoma was on our port bow turned upside down and probably 350 crewmen were killed. The USS Maryland was dead in the water 75 feet in front of us. Every Battleship, I believe 7 or 8 were either sunk or badly damaged.
The oil from the Arizona behind us caught on fire and we were afraid it would catch our ship on fire. The Captain came aboard and went to the bridge and ordered the propellers to be turned ahead full speed. This kept the fire away from our ship, but we didn't move. This continued for 24 hours, but we still caught on fire. Captain Reardon, my Captain, came aboard in a civilian suit and a straw hat. He had been on the bridge probably 20 minutes when one of the officers reminded him of how he was dressed, and said he was out of uniform. He replaced the straw hat with a hard hat and continued his duties in the civilian suit. I have the Honor of having the only Battleship Captain to be in a fire fight in that type of dress. He was indeed a good Captain.
I failed to mention that the second bomb on the Tennessee went through the top of turret #3 killing four men. One of them was a B/ Mate 1/class who had just gotten word he was a father. He was a good man. The smoke from the Arizona was blowing over the Tennessee and the bombers couldn't see us and as a result we didn't suffer as much damage as some of the other ships.
There were 6 planes from the USS Enterprise that came into Ford Island after dark on December 7th with running lights on. Our entire fleet, what was left of them, shot them down thinking they were enemy planes. Only one pilot survived.
About two or three days after the sneak attack, the bodies of the dead Sailors and Marines that had been blown into the water began to surface. Some with their arms or legs missing and some with their heads partially there. They were covered with bunker oil and their flesh was burned off. There were so many of them from ships close to mine that you could have walked across the water on them. We and other ships put motor boats into the water with manila lines and 2 or 3 sailors would tie the lines to the arms or legs of the bodies and tow them across the Harbor to Aiea Landing. They were buried in a common grave, 4 or 5 at a time. This was a horrible thing for a bunch of young scared kids to see. My friend Bob Graves who was on the USS Utah was only 17 years old. He was assigned to the burial crew and helped bury these young men. What a terrible thing to ask of a person so young.
The USS Tennessee left Pearl Harbor on December 20, 1941 to go into dry dock at the Bremerton Washington Navy Yard. The next two months she was under repair and we were then ordered to the Pacific area to take our place in the battle force to fight the Japanese Navy and WE WON! This is my story of that terrible sneak attack that plunged this country into the longest and most brutal war in History, and I hope someone learns something from this. I hope no one will ever have to go through this kind of attack again. I was just 23 years old but I became a man very quickly.
Some 50 years later, my friend Bob Graves and I were in Honolulu. There were 4 bus loads of Japanese pilots who had bombed our fleet on December 7, 1941. A Naval Historian came to me after discovering that I had been on the USS Tennessee that day and told me that the pilot who bombed my ship wanted to meet and talk to me. I refused. The Japanese Imperial Government has yet to apologize to this country or say they are sorry. They do not even mention it in their schools.