By Edward Socha, as shared with Diane M. Loeffler
I graduated from Niagara Falls Senior High in 1939. I was unable to find meaningful work as this was during the years of the big depression. I opted to join the U.S. Navy early September 1939. After boot camp in Newport, RI, I attended Fleet School in San Diego, California. After completion, I was assigned to the battleship, USS West Virginia. In 1939, Pacific Battleships were relocated from Long Beach California, to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
In late October of 1941, Rear Admiral Anderson shifted his Flag and staff personnel from USS West Virginia to USS Maryland. On Sunday, December 7, USS Maryland was moored inboard of the USS Oklahoma. Minutes before that attack, I had crossed over from the Maryland to the Oklahoma to catch her motor launch to the Fleet landing. I had intended to attend church services in Honolulu. Unfortunately, I missed the boat as it had sailed off before its scheduled 0800 departure time. This left me standing on the Oklahoma quarterdeck looking down the channel at the departed motor launch.
The launch was about mid-way down the channel in route to the pier, when I observed the first planes coming directly at us. Torpedoes had been dropped, heading for target Oklahoma. That first plane flew directly overhead. I did observe the red ‘meat ball’ which identified the attacking planes. The plane was low enough that I could see the pilot. An Ensign on the boat deck shouted a warning to “sound General Quarters, those are Japanese planes attacking.”
I scooted back across the gangplank from Oklahoma to Maryland and to my battle station as a telephone talker on the Flag Bridge. Oklahoma was already bottoms-up when next I saw her. I remained at battle station all through that day watching the horror unfold and receiving damage reports. No doubt, I was a lucky and grateful survivor!
The crew abandoning the damaged USS California (BB-44) as burning oil drifts down on the ship, at about 1000 hrs on the morning of 7 December 1941, shortly after the end of the Japanese raid. The capsized hull of USS Oklahoma (BB-37) is visible at the right. (Wikimedia Commons)
For the rest of Ed’s story, read Diane Loeffler’s excellent feature in the December issue of News of Sun City Center.