PEARL HARBOR Memories OF B. E. [Gene] Merrill
I was a signalman on the U.S.S. West Virginia. (BB 48)
I had been relieved from the 4 to 8 watch on the signal bridge and was preparing to go on liberty.
My living quarters were second deck forward. The shower I used was located on the main deck, right In the bow. To take a shower, I would strip, tie a towel around my waist, slip into my shower
thongs, take a bar of soap and a wash rag and go up a ladder from my compartment to the main deck. I would then go forward, through about three compartments to the shower room.
There were about eight or ten others in the shower room. I had finished my shower and was drying myself when the first torpedo struck the ship. There was a muffled explosion. The ship shuddered. The bow seemed to rise a few [feet and settle down. Someone said lywhat the hell was that ?" Someone else replied that it was probably an explosion in an engine room.
I tied the towel around my waist, and proceeded aft toward my quarters I hadn't gone but a few steps when the second torpedo struck. Almost immediately, the PA system sounded GENERAL QUARTERS, with a comment from the boatswains mate of the watch, "The God dammed Japs are attacking." I headed for my battle station, losing the towel, thongs, soap and wash rag.
My battle station did not involve guns. It was a signal station designed to hoist flag signals to the main yardarms in the event the signal bridge was blown away in a sea battle.
Obviously my battle station was useless in a battle of this nature, so I volunteered to join a ten hand rescue party to go below and rescue those wounded by torpedoes. I have no idea how many we rescued. With no instructions, each of us used our own discretion. My modus operand! was to quickly examine a body for signs of life. If none was apparent, I moved on to the next one. However, questionable cases, I rescued.
I stayed below until the flooding salt water and oil forced me to evacuate. When I emerged to the topside, the battle was over. The ship sitting on the bottom with a port list, and burning.
I left the ship with what I estimate to be the last twenty or twenty five men able to leave.
After the sinking of the West Virginia, served on destroyers Mahan, DD 364, whipple, DD 217 and C. K. Bronson, DD 668.
Participated in many battles and operations, including the Battle of Midway, the invasions of The Marshall-Gilbert Islands, Hollandia, New Guinea, The Mariana Islands, The Philippine Islands, and numerous raids against Japanese positions, through the Battle of Cape Engano.
When the war ended, was teaching Navy Communications Procedure in San Diego.
Was discharged from the regular navy Aug. 7, 1946 as Chief Signalman, and immediately joined the Inactive Naval Reserve. Was called back to duty, for two years, during the Korean War.
Spent a total of twenty four years of both active and inactive duty.
Graduated from law school in 1957. Was Claims and Litigation Manager for a casualty insurance company. Retired, after a total of twenty eight years in insurance claims and litigation.
After retirement from the insurance industry, became an Insurance Litigation Consultant, finally retiring after thirteen years.
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