INFAMOUS DAY: Marines at Pearl Harbor
by Robert J. Cressman and J. Michael Wenger
Suddenly Hurled into War
Aerial view of Ewa Mooring Mast Field, taken 2 December
1941, showing various types of planes arrayed on the may and living
accommodations at middle and right. Jordan Collection, MCHC
Some 200 miles north of Oahu, Vice Admiral Nagumo's First Air
Fleet formed around the aircraft carriers Akagi,
Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku and
Zuikaku pressed southward in the pre-dawn hours of 7 December
1941. At 0550, the dark gray ships swung to port, into the brisk
easterly wind, and commenced launching an initial strike of 184 planes
10 minutes later. A second strike would take off after an hour's
interval. Once airborne, the 51 Aichi D3A1 Type 99 dive bombers (Vals),
89 Nakajima B5N21 attack planes (Kates) used in high-level bombing or
torpedo bombing roles, and 43 Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 00 fighters (Zeroes),
let by Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, Akagi's air group commander,
wheeled around, climbed to 3,000 meters, and droned toward the south at
0616. The only other military planes aloft that morning were Douglas SBD
Dauntlesses from Enterprise, flying searches ahead of the carrier
as she returned from Wake Island, Army Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses
heading in from the mainland, and Navy Consolidated PBY Catalinas on
routine patrols out of the naval air stations at Ford Island and
That morning, 15 of the ships at Pearl Harbor numbered Marine
detachments among their complements; eight battleships, two heavy
cruisers, four light cruisers, and one auxiliary. A 16th detachment,
assigned to the auxiliary (target/gunnery training ship) Utah
(AG-16), was ashore on temporary duty at the 14th Naval District Rifle
Range at Luuloa Point.
centrally located airship mooring mast at Ewa from which the field
derived its distinctive name, 13 February 1941. Jordan Collection,
At 0753, Lieutenant Frank Erickson, USCG, the Naval Air Station (NAS)
Ford Island duty officer, watched Privates First Class Frank Dudovick
and James D. Young, and Private Paul O. Zeller, USMCR the Marine
color guard march up and take post for Colors. Satisfied that all
looked in order outside, Erickson stepped back into the office to check
if the assistant officer-of-the-day was ready to play the recording for
sounding Colors on the loudspeaker. The sound of two heavy explosions,
however, sent the Coast Guard pilot running to the door. He reached it
just in time to see a Kate fly past 1010 Dock and release a torpedo. The
markings on the plane "Which looked like balls of fire"
left no question as to its identity; the explosion of the torpedo as it
struck the battleship California (BB-44) moored near the
administration building, left no doubt as to its intent.
"The Marines didn't wait for colors," Erickson recalled later, "The
flag went right up but the tune was general quarters." As "all Hell"
broke loose around them, Dudovick, Young, and Zeller unflinchingly
hoisted the Stars and Stripes "with the same smartness and precision"
that had characterized their participation in peacetime ceremonies. At
the crew barracks on Ford Island, Corporal Clifton Webster and Private
First Class Albert E. Yale headed for the roof immediately after general
quarters sounded. In the direct line of fire from strafing planes, they
set up a machine gun. Across Oahu, as Japanese planes swept in over NAS
Kaneohe Bay, the Marine detachment there initially the only men
who had weapons hurried to their posts and began firing at the
While a Marine, foreground, looks skyward, the torpedoed
battleship California (BB-44) lists to port. In the left
background flies "Old Glory," raised by PFCs Frank Dudovick and James D.
Young, and Pvt Paul O. Zeller, USMCR. National Archives Photo
Since the American aircraft carriers were at sea, the Japanese
targeted the battleships which lay moored off Ford Island. At one end of
Battleship Row lay Nevada. At 0802, the battleship's .50-caliber
machine guns opened fire on the torpedo planes bearing down on them from
the direction of the Navy Yard; her gunners believed that they had shot
one down almost immediately. An instant later, however, a torpedo
penetrated her port side and exploded.
Ahead of Nevada lay Arizona, with the repair ship
Vestal (AR-4) alongside, preparing for a tender
availability. Major Alan Shapley had been relieved the previous day as
detachment commanding officer by Captain John H. Earle, Jr., who had
come over to Arizona from Tennessee (BB-43). Awaiting
transportation to the Naval Operating Base, San Diego, and assignment to
the 2d Marine Division, Shapley was lingering on board to play first
base on the battleship's baseball team in a game scheduled with the
squad from the carrier Enterprise (CV-6). After the morning meal,
he started down to his cabin to change.
Seated at breakfast, Sergeant John M. Baker heard the air raid alarm,
followed closely by an explosion in the distance and machine gun fire.
Corporal Earl C. Nightingale, leaving the table, had paid no heed to the
alarm at the outset, since he had no antiaircraft battle station, but
ran to the door on the port side that opened out onto the quarterdeck at
the sound of the distant explosion. Looking out, he saw what looked like
a bomb splash alongside Nevada. Marines from the ship's color
guard then burst breathlessly into the messing compartment, saying that
they were being attacked.
As general quarters sounded, Baker and Nightingale, among the others,
headed for their battle stations. Aft, congestion at the starboard
ladder, that led through casemate no. 9, prompted Second Lieutenant
Carleton E. Simensen, USMCR, the ship's junior Marine officer, to force
his way through. Both Baker and Nightingale noted, in passing, that the
5-inch/51 there was already manned, and Baker heard Corporal Burnis L.
Bond, the gun captain, tell the crew to train it out. Nightingale noted
that the men seemed "extremely calm and collected."
As Lieutenant Simensen led the Marines up the ladder on the starboard
side of the mainmast tripod, an 800-kilogram converted armor-piercing
shell dropped by a Kate from Kaga ricocheted off the side of
Turret IV. Penetrating the deck, it exploded in the vicinity of the
captain's pantry. Sergeant Baker was following Simensen up the mainmast
when the bomb exploded, shrapnel cutting down the officer as he reached
the first platform. He crumpled to the deck. Nightingale, seeing him
flat on his back, bent over him to see what he could do but Simensen,
dying, motioned for his men to continue on up the ladder. Nightingale
continued up to Secondary Aft and reported to Major Shapley that nothing
could be done for Simensen.
An instant later, a rising babble of voices in the secondary station
prompted Nightingale to call for silence. No sooner had the tense quiet
settled in when, suddenly, a terrible explosion shook the ship, as a
second 800-kilogram bomb dropped by a Kate from Hiryu
penetrated the deck near Turret II and set off Arizona's
forward magazines. An instant after the terrible fireball mushroomed
upward, Nightingale looked out and saw a mass of flames forward of the
mainmast, and much in the tradition of Private William Anthony of the
Maine reported that the ship was afire*. "We'd might as well go
below," Major Shapley said, looking around, "we're no good here."
Sergeant Baker started down the ladder. Nightingale, the last man out,
followed Shapley down the port side of the mast, the railings hot to the
touch as they made their way below.
*Private Anthony, an instant after the explosion
mortally damaged the battleship Maine in Havana harbor on 15
February 1898, made his way to the captain's cabin, where he encountered
that officer in a passageway outside. Drawing himself to attention,
Anthony reported that the ship was sinking.
Baker had just reached the searchlight platform when he heard someone
shout: "You can't use the ladder." Private First Class Kenneth D.
Goodman, hearing that and apparently assuming (incorrectly, as it turned
out) that the ladder down was indeed unusable, instinctively leapt in
desperation to the crown of Turret III. Miraculously, he made the jump
with only a slight ankle injury. Shapley, Nightingale, and Baker,
however, among others, stayed on the ladder and reached the boat deck,
only to find it a mass of wreckage and fire, with the bodies of the
slain lying thick upon it. Badly charred men staggered to the
quarterdeck. Some reached it only to collapse and never rise. Among them
was Corporal Bond, burned nearly black, who had been ordering his crew
to train out no. 9 5-inch/51 at the outset of the battle; sadly, he
would not survive his wounds.