- Category: USS Arizona Survivor Stories
- Last Updated: Saturday, 21 November 2015 22:01
- Published: Thursday, 23 May 2002 00:00
Leland Howard Burk
Gunner's Mate Third Class on 7 December 1941
Submitted by Leland H. Burk
My name is Leland Howard Burk and I am a survivor of the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941.
I was born July 29, 1915, in Callao, Missouri. I joined the Navy in September, 1940, and had basic training at Great Lakes, Illinois. I was stationed aboard the USS Arizona after boot camp in 1940 at Bremerton, Washington, in the 3rd Division and was aboard it when the attack occurred in 1941.
As I recall, on December 7, 1941, most of the men had just finished chow when the Air Defense Alarm sounded the top gunners to their stations at about 7:45 a.m. Shortly after that, General Quarters sounded all the crew to their battle stations.
It was about 7:55 when the first Japanese planes came in. It caught us by surprise. We had suspected something was up a few days before the attack. When our ship had been out on maneuvers, there had been contact with submarines. The Captain had also given permission to shoot back if any planes started diving. We had returned to Pearl Harbor on Friday night.
The bombing started at about 8:00 a.m. I was in the lower handling room. I was a 3rd Class Gunners Mate and my battle station was on the fourteen inch guns. When they sounded General Quarters, I was at my battle station holding onto the tray that we pulled to ram the shell into the gun. When the bomb hit, it was all we could do to hold on; it shook the ship so you could hardly stand up.
We were immediately ordered out of the turret to fight fire. When I came out, I crawled through an overhang onto the quarter deck and there were guys laying all around moaning and groaning for help. Most of their clothes were either blown or burnt off. I helped move some of the injured and their flesh would stick to your hands when you handled them. We got them on some boats that were picking up the injured. The ship was on fire and we started a bucket brigade. The ship was starting to go down. Lt. Commander Fuqua was the Senior Officer aboard the ship. I remember saying to him, "Commander, there's no use in fighting it anymore," and he gave us orders to abandon ship. We threw a life raft overboard and got on it. The ship was so low at this time that we could just step on the life raft. We realized that there were no paddles, so we started swimming ashore for Ford Island. The oil was thick on the water and some of it was on fire. There wasn't any fire where we went in. While swimming toward shore I heard some guys hollering. They were giving up and going down. As I turned around to see them, a big wave of water hit me in the face and oil and water got into my mouth and I swallowed some. Another sailor and I were staying so far apart and swimming together.
When we swam past a dredging line, we realized we could wade on in from there. When we got on shore we got under a palm tree and used the leaves to wipe the oil from our faces and eyes. At that time I was also sick at my stomach from the oil I had swallowed. The first wave of bombing had stopped. A truck drove by and picked us up and took us to a dispensary on Ford Island so we could clean up.
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