Richard C. Crawford
This short story was taken from the Autobiography written by Richard C. Crawford II “Rick” son of Richard C Crawford “Dick” The Autobiography is also posted in the National Geographies Web Site. Pearl Harbor Remembered.
On the 2nd. Of August 1941 Dick went to the post office in Long Beach and joined the United States Navy. It was also his birthday and he was now 17 years of age.
While standing in line he met a gentleman by the name of Neal Jones, nick name “Bud”.
Neal was also joining the United States Navy that day. The two of them would become close friends as their career in the navy began. Dick attended boot camp for twelve weeks at the Navy Training Facility in San Diego, California. His rank is now Seaman 2nd. Class. After completing boot camp, Dick received his first orders. His orders sent him to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. There he was assigned to the USS West Virginia, BB-48. The ships nickname was the “Wee Vee”. A Colorado Class, 45,000 ton Battleship. Her sisters were the USS Colorado, BB-45, USS Maryland, BB-46, and the USS Washington, BB-47.
After a short time aboard ship, Dick was surprised to find out that his stepfather Jim Crawford was also aboard the same ship along with his new friend Bud Jones. His stepfather sent word down to Dick that they would meet for an hour every Sunday morning and talk about family and that would be it. Jim wanted it kept that way so his stepson wouldn’t think he would play any favoritism. He wanted Dick to grow up and learn the ways of the Navy the same way he had to. At this time in his career, Jim was a Chief Turret Captain.
I had been aboard ship for 6 weeks and had shore leave on Sunday Dec 7th. I was in the shower room getting ready when suddenly I felt the ship shutter. I though the garbage scow had bumped in to us a little harder then normal. Then it happened again. I though something is seriously wrong. The General Alarm was sounded. The ship was shaking violently. My station was in the lower handling room in turret two, six decks below. By the time I got to my station, it was flooding. My ship had been hit with five 18” aircraft torpedoes on her port side, and two 15” armor-piercing bombs. The first bomb penetrated the superstructure deck, wrecking the port casemates and causing the deck to collapse to the level of the galley deck below. Four casemates and the galley caught fire immediately with the subsequent detonation of the ready-service projectiles stowed in the casemates. The second bomb hit further aft, wrecking one OS2U floatplane atop the “high” catapult on the 16” turret C and pitched the second one over onto the poop deck below. It then penetrated a 5-inch turret roof, wrecking one 105-ton gun inside the turret itself. Although the bomb proved a dud, burning gasoline from the damaged aircraft caused a lot of damage. The WeeVee was sinking fast and I began to climb up the right side ladder inside turret two. As fast as we climbed the ladder, the water was right behind us. The ship was listing badly to the port side and orders were given to counter flood the starboard side to counter balance the ship. We reached the turret escape hatch, when suddenly, a Jap Zero strafed the deck and killed a friend I had gone to boot camp with. He was just ahead of me as we were coming out of the escape hatch. The wing edges of the Jap Zero looked like they were on fire from the machine guns. By this time the USS Oklahoma just ahead of us had rolled over and was showing her keel. The abandon ship order was sounded. The WeeVee had sunk in twelve minutes in forty feet of water. I dove overboard into the burning water and swam away from the ship underwater. When I came up for air I was burned on the back of my neck, and on my arms. Just then the USS Arizona exploded and one of her turrets flew through the air like a Frisbee. I was looking allover to see if I could spot my father and I finally saw him standing on the ships blister. I hollered and waved at him, but he never did see me. I was getting tired and started to swim over to Ford Island. There was fire everywhere I swam and I was in pain from my burns. Reaching the Island I found the nearest ditch and got in it. Awhile later the Military Police showed up giving orders to stay put as they anticipated the Jap’s would be making a landing somewhere in the islands. Women from the U.S. Marine Barracks were going around giving us clothes. All I had on was my skivvies. They gave me a shirt and a pair of pants that were too big for me, so I tied a knot in them to keep them from falling off incase I had to run from the enemy. While in the ditch I was thinking, the only weapon I have is my hands and my boot camp training, I had no handgun or rifle.
I looked around and couldn’t believe all the damage. Everywhere I looked, I could see ships and structures on fire. I knew a lot of people died today. I wondered what happened to my father. Was he still alive? Or was he killed too. I would soon find out. I stayed in my ditch all day and night. The next day some military trucks came by picking up survivors. We were taken to a hanger to get checked in and to get medical treatment. There, my dad found me and he cussed me out demanding to know where the hell I had been. After explaining to him that I was under orders by the military police, he calmed down and said to me, get back in line and get checked in. Unknown to me, I had been listed as killed in action. My mom had got word from my father saying that I was missing and was presumed dead. The Long Beach Press-Telegram got wind of this, Not sure how, and published an article in their Dec 18, 1941 newspaper.
My father requested the United States Navy bury him at Sea so that he may be with his shipmates. On the fifteenth of October 1998, my father was consigned to the sea from the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) Commanding Officer D.W. Keith.
“Lest We Forget”
Richard C. Crawford II
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