December Seventh

in my life


It begins in 1919, my paternal grandfather had been discharged from the US Army early 1919 after the end of WW I in Fort Lewis Washington beginning married life with Gertrude Rolf resulting in the birth of my father Robert R. Lewis. Fast forward to about September 1940 enlisted in the US Navy having graduated so to speak from completing goals in the Civil Conservation Corps (the three CCC's) and turning 21

After boot camp graduation and naval training school a Quartermaster "Striker" he was assigned to the USS Utah BB-31/AG-16 [christened Florida Class US Battleship 1909 521 ft. long, 5 twin 12 in. main battery gun turrets w/ 12in. armor plate] Dad reported aboard the "Her" early 1941 in Bremerton, WA. where she was undergoing maintenance in preparation for fleet training with the Pacific Fleet headquartered at Honolulu, Hawaii and ported in Pearl Harbor.

As a navy Quartermaster he stood watches on the bridge navigating and steering this very sea worthy "bucket of rivets" as He called Her. With a max speed of 10 knots (about 12 mph) on open seas the first day was 10 to 12 hours for a "Dreadnought" battleship size "combat readiness" training vessel to navigate the Puget Sound.

Departing state side 14 September 1941 Joining the rest of the fleet in Her role as an anti-aircraft gunnery training ship with additional duties of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) training early Oct. 41 through Nov. where she served as a bombing target for aircraft from the carriers Lexington CV-2, Saratoga CV-3, and Enterprise CV-5. Including operations with Cruiser USS Raleigh C-9 and destroyers of DesRon one. Returning with the Battleship to Pearl Harbor on December 5 & 6 and mooring on the N. W. side of Ford Island.

On 7 December 1941, while moored at Pearl Harbor, Utah was hit by Japanese aerial torpedo attack, rolled over and sank. (inter-net)

From my memory over many years of stories from the war time service mostly at family gatherings and reunions. With full disclosure most of these stories occurred late in the day into the night and I'm sure only after a pull of the cork or two of Old Johnny Barley Corn.

Dad was born 29 Sept. 1919 the oldest of four sibling, Clarence Neal Lewis born 1921, Harry Raymond 1923 and Dorothy Eunice 1925. Like most all the rest of Americans of that area they went and did what the nation needed. Neal had joined the Marines and before Dec. 7 was stationed on Midway Isl. When Ray graduated high school he joined the Army and volunteered for the "Air Corp" and Dorothy left school for jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area ship yards and became a "Rosie the Riveter."

So here is the way I remember the story of December 7, 1941.

Uncle Neil had got a message to Bob when the Utah came in, letting Dad know He was in the Naval Hospital on hospital point. Neal had had an asthma attack on Midway and was sent to the hospital at Pearl after the first of Dec. Dad was going to meet Neil at the hospital on Sunday, Dad was up dressed in white uniform bell bottoms and a t-shirt for chow and had return to birthing area to finish dressing for liberty when the noise started, "what the hell !" He grabbed his dress shoes then "general quarters" sounded "General Quarters! General Quarters!" "this is not a drill, General Quarters!" He took off in sock feet for his "GQ" station on the ships bridge. At the foot of the ladder the the ship exploded as Dad said it, "She heaved up" and it drove him to the deck as he struggled to get his footing "She blew again." It was loud and chaotic, he said the ship was steadily leaning, steel groaning with stress, sailors clamoring everywhere he said, one young sailor in tee-shirt and skivies clinging to the hand rail looked up and ask "What'll we do?" Bob said, she is rolling that way, we go this way as he climbed over the railing telling the younger sailor to just set down between the rivets and slide. He said by then he could almost stand on the side of the hull, he said as he sat to slide the young sailor was just bobbing among the debree and he yeld, "swim like hell"

As he hit the churning waters he said he could the "ol girls" keel. He said he could see any thing but the hull when his head came up out of the water and he tried to swim the other direction. But he quickly realized it was to thick to swim, the water was covered with a thick sludge, a mixture he said he could identified by smell more than sight, "coal oil" floating on "diesel" mixed in with the smell of sewage.

Dad said He was exhausted from the swim toward Ford Island, the weight of the wet clothing and the sticky oily goo clinging to his hair and skin. He said he found a piling and a steel cable to grab on to, a few hand over hand pulls he felt the bottom with his feet and staggered onto the shore of Ford Island. looking back he said the old Utah was on her side and he was looking at mostly the "old girls bottom."

He said there was a lull now, His "sigs" that were rolled in his t-shirt sleeve were gone, he looked again for the young sailor that went over the side ahead of him was no where to be seen.

"Hey sailor" Dad looked around thinking which damn sailor they want they are all over the place. Focusing on what looked like marine's uniform coming toward him, you! where'd you come from? Dad just motioned over his shoulder at the now hulk of the mighty Battleship Utah floundering on her side. "there is a bomb shelter over by that hanger someone will come by take your name and tell you where to muster for your duty station. "want a smoke?" "kill for butt right now!" the marine, that dad had just noticed had silver letinet bar on his collar, tapped out a Camel, "hey even my brand" the marine struck a match. They will bring rations around later and they are supposed have dry clothes at the shelters. Sirens were sounding again on the main island, "thank you Sir!" "good luck swab!"

Dad said at the shelter He grabbed the first person with a clipboard, "my brother's a jarhead, He was at the hospital" "sorry mac, I can't help ya!" At that time neither Dad or Uncle Neil knew the fate of the other brother.

He said he heard the drone of aircraft engines and explosion over on the island, Hickum, maybe and all hell broke loose again.

All I heard about the following day was just that he was assigned to clean up, he said he saw sailors in motor whale boats hooking bodies out of the water with boat gaffs. Bodies where just laid out in rows mostly on the concrete PBY aircraft launch ramps.

A week or so later Dad got orders to report aboard the USS Honolulu CL-48, Light Cruiser, she received what is described as minor damage from near misses on Dec. 7th. Her main armament was five 6in tri-mount gun turrets. Following repairs, she sailed on 12 January 1942 to escort a convoy to San Francisco, California, arriving on 21 January. The cruiser continued convoy escort duty until late May. With the Japanese pushing north towards Alaska, Honolulu departed on 29 May to strengthen forces in that area. After two months of continuous operations out of Kodiak, Alaska, she proceeded to Kiska in the Aleutian Islands on 7 August, to begin bombardment of the island. On 21 August, she screened the first American landings in the Aleutians at Adak Island. Being relieved of naval gunfire support in early Sept. she steamed to Mare Island naval station San Francisco Bay for up-keep.

Dad said it was on their Aleutian duty that the mail caught up with him that included a letter from his father "Pop Lewis" telling him that his Bro. Neil survived the Japanese attack and was doing shore defense duty in charge of a 50 cal. nest while awaiting orders back to the states for health reasons.

At some point during his time at Mare Island early 1943 He got liberty and returned home to Willits, Ca. and mother and he dated, Marrying in November 1943.

Soon after he received orders to the USS Minneapolis CA-36 "Minni" a New Orleans Class Heavy Cruiser, main armament was 9, 8in. guns on three tri-mount turrets, being advance to from 3rd Class petty officer to 2nd Class Q.M. and caught mail plain to the S. Pacific to catch the "Minni" in the Gilbert Islands.

The Minneapolis was back in the Pacific for 20 months of front-line duty which would include every major Pacific operation save Iwo Jima. Her first was the bombardment of Wake on 5 October, then from 20 November to 4 December she joined in the assault and capture of Makin in the Gilberts. In December, she screened a carrier group in the pre-invasion strikes against Kwajalein and Majuro, serving on in the capture of the Marshalls into mid-February 1944. With the carriers blasting the Marianas and the Carolines, Minneapolis continued to guard them through raids on the Palaus, Truk, Satawan, Ponape, and other key Japanese bases into April. The latter raids were coordinated with the landings at Hollandia (currently known as Jayapura), New Guinea.

Battle of the Philippine Sea[edit]

In May, Minneapolis prepared at Majuro for the assaults in the Marianas, firing on Saipan in pre-invasion bombardment on 14 June. As word came that a large Japanese force was sailing to attempt a disruption of the operation, Minneapolis rejoined TF 58 to screen the carriers during the Battle of the Philippine Sea on 19–20 June. As American aviators won another great victory, Minneapolis screened the carriers and provided antiaircraft fire. After taking a bomb miss close aboard, her crew again patched her up.[4]

Guam[edit]

From 8 July to 9 August, Minneapolis brought her heavy guns to the support of the Marines winning Guam back from the enemy. Firing deep support, night harassing, and call fire, she won grateful praise from General A. H. Turnage, commanding the 3rd Marine Division: "...a prime factor in the success of this operation...a job well done." From 6 September to 14 October, she gave similar essential aid to the capture of the Palaus, her operations at the close of that period preparing directly for the assault on Leyte. In the pre-invasion bombardment force, she entered Leyte Gulf on 17 October, and she downed five enemy planes during the initial resistance to the assault.[

As the Japanese launched the three-pronged naval attack which would develop into the Battle for Leyte Gulf, Minneapolis was assigned on 24 October to Rear Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf's bombardment group with other cruisers and older battleships. With them, she deployed across Surigao Strait that night, alert to any sign of contact with the enemy by the plucky PT-boats and destroyers fanned out ahead. As the Japanese ships steamed in column, they ignored the flank attacks of the smaller ships, heading straight for Oldendorf's battleline, which opened fire with an enormous coordinated salvo, quickly sinking the Japanese old battleship Yamashiro. The battleline, including Minneapolis, also crippled the heavy cruiser Mogami and the destroyer Shigure (the drifting Mogami was sunk by aircraft later that day). Admiral Oldendorf, in this Battle of Surigao Strait, had performed the classic maneuver of "crossing the T", meeting the individual fire of the enemy with his own massed fire.[4]

Continuing to alternate carrier screening and bombardment duties in the Philippines, Minneapolis was on the scene for the attack and landings at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon from 4–18 January 1945 and the landings on Bataan and Corregidor from 13–18 February.

Shortly after these last battles Dad was flown back to the states and to the naval hospital at San Jose, CA. being discharged by June 1945.

After having served on three well known WW II Naval ships and seven major battle in the Pacific from Pearl Harbor, Aleutians Islands and the Marians & Philippines in the S. Pacific.

He was awarded:

American Campaign Medal, American Defense medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal w/silver star, Honorable Discharge Ruptured duck lapel pin.

Notice:

Bob & Betty Lewis are proud to announce the birth of their Son Robert C. Lewis born 21 Sept. 1947

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Comment by R.C. "Bob" Lewis on December 10, 2016 at 9:06am

Thank You Norma,

   Great Memories, thanks for keeping our history alive.

My mother has (some were) 1940's "ration stamps" that I have seen. Millennials have no idea.

Yours,

    Bob & Jan

Comment by Norma J. Sears on December 9, 2016 at 10:36am

It's great to be able to read your account of the battles that your father endured.  

My father was 40 years old and was turned down because of poor eye sight.  He worked, as did my mother, to support the war effort.  My mother worked as a bullet inspector.  My few memories are of sitting around the old tube radio listening to news.  I recall my oldest sister putting on leg make-up since nylons were only for parachuttes.  She was in her teens and they used make-up when going on dates.  I have a vague memory of the ration coupons and having a wooden ice box.  You could hear a rag man hollering rags as we went around the neighborhood.  The ice man would holler "ice" as well.

Rags were used to make quilts still in those days.  My sister, three years older than I, remember my day getting hollered at for having the radio on during night air raid practices.  The tubes had lit up our apartment.

Comment by R.C. "Bob" Lewis on December 8, 2016 at 6:29pm

Thank you Patricia,

respectfully,

      Bob & Jan

Comment by Patricia Gillenwater on December 8, 2016 at 6:15pm

Thank you Sir for sharing you father's story. I can tell you are very proud of him and rightly so. After reading this story I feel an even more sense of pride of the men and women who served our nation. I watch every documentary, have seen many multiple times of WWII.

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