James D. Hunter
USS West Virginia
James D. Hunter Fireman 1st Class, A Division
May 20, 2001
Yes I was sent aboard the Salt Lake City and was on her for a few months and was then asked to be on the repair party to salvage the West Virginia. The captain of the Salt Lake City was quite a character named Zakarius. The spelling is probably wrong of his name but is as close as I can come. I helped salvage the Wee Vee and returned her to Bremerton where I was almost immediately transferred to a destroyer in San Pedro, the Uss Hopewell, DD681. I spent the rest of the war on the destroyer. The Hopewell only returned to the states once after being severely damaged by Jap shore batteries off of Corregidor. We were repaired in record time and sent back to sea off of Okinawa. We were one of the first ships to enter Tokyo Bay
May 23, 2001
You asked for any info you could get from former crew members of the Wee Vee.
I was in the "A" division and was on the boat deck in my skivvies drinking a cup of coffee when I heard a loud explosion and saw the Oglala sort of blow up in dry dock.
The OD sounded away fire and rescue party, then very shortly after sounded general quarters. Captain Bennion ran by with Doris Miller following him as they headed to the bridge. From what I read Captain Bennion got the Congressional Medal of Honor for reaching the bridge and getting killed. I certainly don't begrudge him the medal but don't really know why he was awarded it. Why not the rest of the guys who got killed?
I headed for my battle station down on 3rd deck at the forward air compressors. When I got there there was this loud explosion which I later learned was from torpedoes which blew a 157 ft hole in the hull. The ship started to capsize and we counter flooded as best we could then headed for topside to keep from drowning. It was 3 steps forward and 2 steps back but I made it to the foc's'le and crawled under one of the 16 inch gun turrets to keep from getting machine gunned. Lt Stark came up and asked for volunteers to man a 5 inch gun on the starboard side. I ran up with a few other guys and we found a 5 " shell and rammed it in the gun. None of us knew a damn thing about the gun and as we were cranking it around by hand and elevating it by hand an old watertender whose name I forget fired the gun which almost blew away a 5" gun crew on the Tennessee. They stopped firing long enough to cuss us out. We only found the one 5" shell and the ship was in danger of capsizing and we were getting machine gun fire from the Japs so I ran like hell and jumped off of the bow of the ship and swam around the Oklahoma which had capsized and went ashore on Ford Island completely exhausted and crawled along side of a building and hugged the foundation.
After things calmed down I found a boat ride to Fleet Landing and was put in a sandbagged 50 caliber machine gun nest in front of Richardson Recreation Center. I had never fired one. of the damn things in my life and to make it worse an officer would come by and say any plane with it's port running light on is ours, anything else shoot it down. He would be followed soon by another officer saying starboard lights were ok, shoot down anything else. Then it would be another officer with other orders so what the hell we only needed to hear a noise and we would open fire. It would be miracle if we hit anything. Try firing a 50 caliber machine gun without any training and you will see what I mean. That is why I can't understand how Doris Miller who I knew very well was with out any training and who was the Captains steward was able to shoot down 2 enemy planes with a 50 caliber machine gun and I understand that the count has now gone to 5 planes.
The next day I was put aboard the Salt Lake City and was on her for a few months then was called back to the West Virginia to help in the salvage operation. That is a whole different story.
James D. Hunter
See James Hunter's page on the USS Salt Lake City web site at http://ussslcca25.com/hunter.htm
D. Hunter, born July 5, 1921, Amarillo, TX. He was aboard the West
Virginia on Dec. 7, 1941, and manned his battle station on third deck
until forced to abandon because of in-rushing oil and water. He made it
to the focsle, dove overboard and swam to Ford Island.
Hunter was awarded a citation for bravery by Adm. T.C. Kinkaid and advanced to the next higher rating. He also received a Presidential Unit Citation from Franklin D. Roosevelt along with numerous campaign ribbons. He was also awarded the Philippine Liberation Medal and the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation.
Reprinted with permission from Turner Publishing
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