They Will Always Be Remembered
Jack Miller and his shipmate, Clifford Olds joined fellow sailor Frank Kosa for a night at the "Monkey Bar". It was December 6, 1941 in Pearl City, Oahu, and Miller and Olds were on liberty from the USS West Virginia. A barmaid snapped their picture and offered it for sale. "What a scam" they thought-keep it. Within 10 hours, this photo was to be the last reminder of peace and the terrifying beginning of Clifford Olds demise.
The "WeeVee" was moored next to the USS Tennessee and just ahead of the USS Arizona. The choicest of targets, she took 9 torpedo hits December 7, 1941. Her port side was literally blasted off. The USS Oklahoma, just ahead of the WV, suffered similar wounds and immediately capsized, but BB48 was of a more advanced water-tight construction. The fast thinking of Lt. Claude Ricketts (THE hero of this ship) prevented the Battleship from turning over. Instead, she settled in the mud on an even keel. This was accomplished by closing all hatch compartments and counter-flooding the starboard side of the ship in a procedure called "set zed". Every sailor knew fate could place them in a doomed area to be drowned like rats. Old Timers would tell 17 and 18 year old "boots" that if that time came "just inhale water quickly and get it over". This, the "grizzled Ones" claimed, was preferable to a slow death in a pitch-black void. For Clifford Olds(20), Ronald Endicott(18), and Louis "Buddy" Costin(21), this would tragically come to pass. Trapped in the forward fresh water pumping station known as area A-111, their fate was sealed when "set zed" was announced after the first Japanese torpedo struck shortly before 8am. Sinking straight down rather than "turning Turtle" enabled hundreds to escape. Those in the lower compartments were drowned, but Olds, Endicott and Costin were alive and well in their air-tight compartment at the bottom of the ship. They did not know what had happened, nor the extent of the carnage above them. Above deck, the Captain was disemboweled by a bomb blast and the Arizona's explosion 50 yards aft rained "Dante's Inferno" onto the WeeVee.
Over 100 died in every way possible. BB48 sank into the Harbor amid burning oil. She burned for 30 hours. When her fires were extinguished late Monday Dec. 8, Guards were posted on the shoreline of Ford Island, next to "Battleship Row". Jittery over rumors of invasion, Sentries at first didn't hear the noise. WeeVee Marine Bugler Dick Fiske recalls: "When it was quiet you could hear it...bang, bang, then stop. Then bang, bang, pause. At first I thought it was a loose piece of rigging slapping against the hull". Then I realized men were making that sound-taking turns making noise". After that night, no one wanted guard duty, but someone had to do it. Bang, bang. It went on for 16 days, slowing in frequency until Christmas Eve. Then silence. The adjacent Oklahoma was upside down and holes were drilled in her bottom to allow a precious few to escape their coffin. The pressure of water inside the hull, pushing up on air pockets, meant as soon as the hull was breached, little time was left before remaining air escaped. Shipmates often drowned in front of rescuers eyes before a hole could be made large enough for escape. Cutting torches ignited trapped gasses and exploded, killing more. Jack-hammers jammed and men drowned while looking at a small hole of light. Knowledgeable Mates quickly learned to "rip open" hull plates fast to insure victims survival. A macabre Naval "C-section" with the same purpose.
Olds, Endicott and Costin were sitting on the harbor floor completely surrounded by water, 40 feet down. Cutting through the side of the hull for rescue was out of the question. The smallest of holes in a pressurized compartment would cause a "blow-out", something Submariners knew well. Besides, considering the destruction and carnage above, the problems of three men didn't amount to a "hill of beans" to busy Navy Brass. All Sailors know they are expendable after "set zed". Concerned Shipmates pin-pointed their banging as coming from the bow section, but could do nothing. Clifford Olds' friend Jack Miller had a sinking feeling Olds was trapped. He knew the pump station well, as Cliff would often invite him there for "bull sessions". It was so air-tight, they often closed the hatch and dared people to hear them cursing wildly inside.
Late spring 1942 found Navy salvage teams finally getting to work on the WV. An Inventive series of tremic cement patches were fitted to her port side, and enough water pumped out to partially float the once grand ship. BB48 was nudged across the Harbor into drydock and the grim task of finding bodies began. For Commander Paul Dice, compartment A-111 was expected to be like the rest: Put on gas masks, place some goo into a bodybag and let the Medical boys worry about identification. They had seen it all, but this compartment was different. Dice first noticed the interior was dry and flashlight batteries and empty ration cans littered the floor. A manhole cover to a fresh water supply was opened. Then he saw the calendar. It was 12"x14" and marked with big red Xs that ended December 23. Hardened salvage workers wept uncontrollably as they realized the fate of these men. Word quickly spread among salvage crews: Three men had lived for 16 days to suffer the most agonizing deaths among the 2800 victims at Pearl Harbor.
The Navy told their Parents they were killed in the attack on the 7th. Buddy Costin’s brother, Harlan, was the first family member to discover the truth.
He joined the Navy in October of 1942, at age 17 and was assigned to the USS Tuscaloosa. A 1944 chance meeting with a friend serving aboard the rebuilt WeeVee brought the awful tale to his attention. It was legend on BB48. Harlan determined never to tell his family; they had suffered enough. A brother had died of meningitis at age 9, and their Father had been killed in a fist fight when shards of bone punctured his brain. The Navy had sent Costin's Mother a wristwatch, found in his locker. Broken and water-logged, it was to be Buddy's Christmas gift to her. She had it restored and wore it until her death in 1985 at age 92. Buddy's sister didn't find out until 1995, when she read a local story revealing the sad story. Duke Olds learned of his brother, Clifford's fate from a cousin who worked at the Bremerton, Washington Shipyard, where BB48 was rebuilt. It was legend there too, talked about in hushed tones. He too, never told his family. Clifford earned $21/month and always sent $18 to his poor parents. They didn't need to know anything more. Ron Endicott's Parents last known address was listed in the Aberdeen, Washington City directory of 1956. No one knows where they went, but it is assured they never knew either.
Commander Paul Dice mailed the infamous calendar to Chief of Naval Personnel in Washington, D.C., where it was lost. Bernard Cavalcante (head of Operational Archives for Navy History), has looked for it for 32 years. It remains elusive. A Seth Thomas 8-day clock, retrieved from the pump room was taken by Dice, perhaps as a memento. In later years, Dice donated it to West Virginias Museum at Parkersburg, where it resides today.
Ronald Endicott and Buddy Costin are buried at the National Memorial Cemetery Of The Pacific-the "PunchBowl". Clifford Olds remains were shipped home to Stanton City, North Dakota. All headstones list December 7 as their date of death.
Jack Miller volunteered aboard the USS Lexington and was at sea for two weeks following the attack, looking for the Japanese fleet. When he returned to Hawaii, he made a bee-line for the "Monkey Bar" and located the girl who had snapped their photo "light years" before. She found the negative and gave it to him for free out of respect. This photograph shows from left to right: Jack Miller, Frank Kosa and Clifford Olds-Camel cigarette dangling from his care-free fingers. Shipmates, and our Country are represented in this amazing picture of the last hours of peace.
Picture contributed by Don Martin
Left to right: Jack Miller, Frank Kosa, Clifford Olds.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Frank Kosa was killed in February 1944 aboard the USS De Haven in the Pacific.
Copyright ©2000-2019 Roger Hare and USSWestVirginia.org. All rights reserved.