Remembering Pearl Harbor

December 8, 2010 —

On Dec 7, 1941, the Japanese carrier-based planes attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. This surprise attack took place at 7:55 a.m. on Sunday morning, a time that found most US warships docked or at anchor and planes on the ground. The Japanese also attacked Guam, the Philippines, Midway Island, Hong Kong and the Malay Peninsula. 19 ships were sunk or disabled, including 8 battleships and 3 destroyers, and approximately 140 US airplanes were destroyed. Roughly 2300 people, mostly sailors and soldiers, were killed, and 1,200 were wounded. The Japanese lost 29 planes and 5 midget submarines.

There were two men from the Hudson area present there, and this is a short story about what happened to them on that day.

Wright Maxim

Wright Maxim had enlisted in the US Navy in April of 1938, first serving aboard the USS Pennsylvania, which was the flagship of the fleet, and on December 7, 1941, was serving aboard the USS WestVirginia. He was soon to be discharged on December 21, his 21st birthday, after having served 3 and a half years. In the last letter he wrote his parents, he said that he was waiting for a transfer to another ship coming “stateside,” and he would pick up his discharge in San Francisco. He looked forward to having a family Christmas as soon as he arrived home, he wrote.

When his family learned about the attack the day after, they learned that his ship, the West Virginia, was listed as destroyed. His family was devastated. How could this happen? His father, mother and four sisters waited to hear further word. But no word came.

The news reports stopped telling of the damage suffered at Pearl Harbor. Mrs. Maxim contacted the Red Cross and wrote the Navy Department, but they heard nothing. Christmas and New Years passed, and they still didn’t know if Wright was alive.

The first word came six weeks later. They received a card in mid-January saying he was safe, and would write later. They were so grateful that he was alive. They also received a letter from someone in the Navy Department saying that he was safe, but out on duty on another ship and may not be able to write to them for a while, and to remember the saying “in wartime, no news is good news.” They also stressed that instead of worrying, the family should be brave and proud that their son is a man who would rather die on his feet than live on his knees.

Censored letters and V-mail came during the spring and summer of 1942. He had enlisted “for the duration of the war” and shipped out on an old cruiser, the Montgomery, and later served on the USS Mobile

He came home on a short leave in early March of 1943, but went to Newport News, Va., to sign onto a newly commissioned cruiser. He was discharged in 195 after more than 7 years in the Navy, and came home to the family that had waited and prayed for his safety.

Maxim spoke very little about what had occurred on December 7, except to say that it was so unbelievable while it was happening. Half his ship’s crew were ashore on liberty. He said there was no warning, just suddenly planes were flying over the ships dropping bombs and shooting at them. They could see the Japanese rising sun flag on the planes. His battle station was in the gun crew. The crews manned their guns and returned fire, but still couldn’t believe it was real.

The ship began to list after a hit, so to keep from capsizing, they were ordered to flood the compartments, even though there were still men below deck who couldn’t get out. The ship settled level with the water, and when the order came to abandon ship, Wright said he just walked across the deck and stepped into a life boat, heading for shore amidst all the debris in the harbor. He said he saw the Oklahoma take a bomb right down her stack, and the way he said it made you believe just how horrible it was.

Shore was utter confusion. No one knew where to go or what to do. At the Navy building, the names of each ship in the harbor were posted on the wall, and as each sailor came in he signed his name under the name of his ship. That’s how they knew who survived and who was available for duty.

His ship, the USS Mobile saw action in the Pacific at Leyte Gulf, Okinawa, off Formosa, Iwo Jima, Turk, Guam, the Battle of the Philippines Sea and the Marshall and Gilbert Island raids. Then to Japan to bring home servicemen and released allied prisoners.

On December 22, 1950, Wright was driving home from Adrian to Hudson on M-34. He skidded into the path of a semi-truck and was killed in the crash. He was buried the day after Christmas, a day that was terribly cold, with full military honors, complete with a flag draped casket. When they played taps, his sister Florence cried.

This information was obtained from the story that Florence wrote about her brother. The family have given the Museum his Navy jumper, the flag that hung in the window at the family home, and also a beautiful plaque that reads “Remember Pearl Harbor.” Please stop by and look at the window where we have a display in his memory.

Rev. John Deline

The Rev. John Deline of Clayton was aboard the USS Pennsylvania and the following information was given by him to Edward Potter in 1991 when Ed interviewed him.

The young seaman from Clayton had enlisted in the Navy in October of 1940. “We knew there was a war coming and my brothers Roscoe and Nelson had tried to get me to join Adrian’s Company B of the Michigan National Guard. I told them I wanted the Navy because I loved water.” (He never became seasick.”

After completing training at Great Lakes Naval Station, he was assigned to the USS Pennsylvania at Bremerton, Washington, after first having leave, which was to be his only one of the war. He was aboard the battleship USS Pennsylvania that day at Pearl Harbor.

“We were up early that morning scrubbing the deck,” John recalled, “wearing no shoes or tops, just shorts.” The ship was in the naval dry dock, parked behind two destroyers, the Cassin and the Downes. Opposite the dry dock along Ford Island was Battleship Row, which included the Arizona, the Nevada, the California, the Oklahoma, the Tennessee, the Maryland, and the West Virgina.

The surprise Japanese attack saw the enemy aircraft concentrate initially on Battleship Row. Trained as a gunner’s mate, John was a loader on three-inch anti-aircraft guns. When the first attack started we were unable to get ammunition because it was stored in locked lockers,” he explained. “But we broke them open with hammers or crowbars or whatever was handy.”

“Zeroes were everywhere, with no end of targets,” he recalled. “They just kept coming in waves.”

Soon the USS Pennsylvania became a target. It took a hit from a 500 pound bomb and another 500 pound bomb scored a near miss. The raining bombs fell on the two destroyers immediately ahead, and they were destroyed. “Our ship had about 40 casualties that day, and many had burns on their bodies due to the manner they were dressed that morning,” Deline remembered.

Interestingly, the USS Pennsylvania, which served as the flagship of the Pacific fleet, had been targeted by a two-man Japanese midget submarine for destruction. The sub ended up foundering on a reef near Bellows Field, and the commander became the first prisoner of war for the U.S.

In the two hour attack, there were over 2400 killed and nearly 1200 more wounded. One hundred sixty-nine aircraft were destroyed, along with several ships, the ARIZONA alone having 1177 killed when it was hit by a bomb and exploded.

After the attack, the USS Pennsylvania was determined seaworthy and returned to Bremerton from Pearl Harbor, where radar was installed for aiming the guns that previously had been aimed manually. The first action for the battleship following Pearl Harbor was in the Aleutian Campaign, where the island of Attu was re-taken. “And we tried to find the enemy ships unsuccessfully in the fog-shrouded waters of the Bering Sea,” said Deline.

Following the Aleutian Campaign, John was transferred to what became known as Battleship X, the South Dakota, when there was a need for gunners on the new vessel.

During the war in the Pacific, the Clayton seaman saw duty in 11 major naval engagements. His ship bombarded the landing sites in New Guinea where his brother Roscoe in Company B saw heavy fighting as part of Michigan’s famed Red Arrow Division. Other battles included Iwo Jima with the battleship’s big 16 inch guns used prior to landing.

At the war’s end, John returned to Bremerton, but his tour of duty was not yet over. He was re-assigned to the new aircraft carrier Midway, as gunners were needed during a shakedown cruise of nine months in South American waters. He was discharged December 21, 1946 after six years, two months and six days.

He spoke about his time at Pearl Harbor when he met and was personally disciplined by Dawson Trottman, founder of the Navigators. He became a bible teacher on his ship and said that it was through meeting this great man that he became a pastor.

About his war experience, Deline said, “I was seeking God and as scared as scared can be, and because of this great man of God, Dawson Trottman, my life was changed forever and I’ve been a pastor all these years as a direct result of World War II.

Rev. Deline enrolled at Moody Bible Institute under the G.I. Bill and graduated in August of 1949. He married Thelma Baugh, also of Clayton. They have two sons and two daughters and many grandchildren. He received a special citation recognizing him as a participant at Pearl Harbor. He has since passed.

Our other window in the Museum is decorated in his memory with pictures of John and his ship, the USS Pennsylvania. Please stop by and look at both windows and remember what these two men endured at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

While Rev. Deline and Wright Maxim did not know one another at Pearl Harbor, met years later and on several occasions were able to reminisce about “a day which will live in infamy.” Both served aboard the USS Pennsylvania, but at different times.

– Hazel Pray Monahan