- Category: USS Arizona Survivor Stories
- Last Updated: Thursday, 19 November 2015 21:28
- Published: Tuesday, 15 February 2000 00:00
Joseph Kopcho Langdell
Ensign on 7 December 1941
Submitted by Joseph K. Langdell via Ted Langdell
Graduating from Boston University in 1938 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration, Mr. Langdell joined the Boston firm of Elliott Davis and Company, Certified Public Accountants as a Junior Accountant.
The clouds of war loomed ahead. At 26, he joined the V-7 Naval Reserve program, which offered a Commission to college graduates. After a 30-day cruise aboard the USS NEW YORK, as an apprentice seaman, he was appointed a Midshipmen at the US Naval Reserve's Midshipmen's School, Tower Hall, Northwestern University, Chicago. He was among the first one thousand officers of some 20,000 who were commissioned at Northwestern before the program ended in 1945.
Commissioned Ensign D-V(G), US Naval Reserve, on 14 March 1941, he was ordered to the USS ARIZONA, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In August of the same year, he was assigned Temporary Duty with the Fleet Camera Party. He was billeted on Ford Island, about 100 yards from Battleship Row.
On 7 December 1941, Mr. Langdell was suddenly awakened in Bachelor Officers Quarters by the sounds of the Japanese surprise attack. Rushing outside, he witnessed the ARIZONA sink in just nine minutes. 1,177 sailors and Marines lost their lives aboard the ship; 335 survived.
Ensign Langdell remained in Pearl Harbor until June of 1942, when he was ordered to the destroyer USS FRAIZER (DD 607), then under construction in San Francisco. During his brief time in San Francisco, Mr. Langdell married Elizabeth Hamilton McGauhy, whom he had met as a Midshipmen in Chicago.
Commissioned 30 July 1942, FRAIZER headed across the Pacific to Noumea, New Caledonia, and then north to Guadalcanal, where she escorted damaged ships away from the battle of Iron Bottom Bay. While blockading Japanese held Point Sirius, at Kiska, Alaska, the FRAIZER sank the Japanese submarine I-31. That happened 13 June 1943, when the FRAIZER had been in service almost a year.
Lieutenant Langdell reported to the Naval Amphibious Training Command in September 1943. This move took him from ocean to ocean, as the Training Command was headquartered at Solomon Island, Maryland. Once there, he discovered he was a Prospective Commanding Officer of a Landing Ship Tank (LST).
Following hernia surgery, Mr. Langdell was assigned to the First Naval District, Boston, for duty in the District Communications Office.
The Christmas season of '44 brought new orders: report to the Commander, Seventh Fleet for duty with the Advance Bases Division, which was building up for the invasion of Japan. Lt. Langdell then reported to the Commander, Phillipine Sea Frontier in Manila, where he organized recreation activities with the Welfare and Recreation Division until the War ended.
In October 1945 Mr. Langdell was commissioned a Lieutenant Commander, United States Naval Reserve.
Joseph Kopcho Langdell was born 12 October 1914 in Wilton, New Hampshire, the first of three sons born to Luther Mark and Annie Kopcho Langdell. He became an Eagle Scout in 1931 and met Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt while a delegate to the 1932 National 4-H Encampment in Washington, DC.
Mr. Langdell's wife "Libby" hails from New Albany, Indiana. They were married in San Francisco 19 July 1942. They have two sons.
John Mark Langdell, Commander, United States Navy, (Ret.), and his wife Jeanne, LCDR, USN (Ret.), now live in Spearfish, South Dakota, with their son and daughter.
Younger son Ted lives in Marysville, California, a few miles from his parents.
Joseph K. Langdell and his wife are retired, and live in Yuba City, California, where they operated a home furnishings business for more than 20 years. The family relocated from the San Francisco Bay area, where Mr. Langdell represented a number of well known manufacturers.
Mr. Langdell has been an active charter member of the USS ARIZONA REUNION ASSOCIATION since 1997 by taking advantage of the By-Law provision "The privilege of becoming a charter member was extended to the 1977 meeting." At some time he has held every elective office except Board of Directors. Presently he serves as Chaplain. He was News Editor twice. He conceived and organized their first Pilgrimage to the ARIZONA MEMORIAL, Pearl Harbor, in 1981 followed by pilgrimages in 1986 and in 1991 the fiftieth anniversary of the destruction of their ship, the ARIZONA, which was attended by 300. For many years, until 1995, he served as coordinator for the Annual Reunion in Tucson, planning all programs and events.
While planning the 1991 event, Mr. Langdell marked Veterans' Day 1991 by personally placing a floral lei on the grave of each of the 147 USS ARIZONA sailors and Marines who are now buried in Honolulu's Punchbowl, the National Cemetery of the Pacific.
Mr. Langdell is one of three principal figures in the television documentary, "USS Arizona: Life and Death of a Lady" (see right side bar for Spotlight Documentary) which aired of the A&E cable network in 1991 and 1992. During an historic moment aboard the USS ARIZONA MEMORIAL, former ARIZONA Officer Joseph Langdell accepts a floral wreath in memory of ARIZONA'S entombed from former Japanese Lt. Commander Zenji Abe, a pilot who dropped a bomb on the ship. See Mr. Langdell's statement.
USS ARIZONA MEMORIAL
Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
20 November 1990
In response to Ensign Benji Abe, Japanese Navy 1941 who dropped a bomb on the USS ARIZONA, 7 December 1941:
"It is only by the grace of God that I stand here today to receive your wreath in memory of those 1,102 sailors entombed below us, those buried in Punch Bowl National Cemetery and the remains of four sailors in #4 turret who have died since December 7, 1941. They chose to join their shipmates. Casualties that day reached a total of about 1,181 men from the ship's complement of approximately 1,511 shipmates. 334 men survived. It was my fortune to be the one Junior Officer chosen from about fifty for temporary duty ashore. I witnessed your attack from Ford Island, about 100 yards from where we stand. Helpless, I watched your bombs sink the USS ARIZONA in nine minutes.
I speak only for myself. I cannot and do not speak for my fellow shipmates or for all those still living. Sentiment runs high, even today, against the Japanese Commanders and against our former President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his advisors. The Hawaiian Commanders were not given the clear picture of the situation as it existed December 7, 1941, or this needless loss of life might have been avoided.
I appreciate your thoughtfulness in coming here to memorialize our fallen heroes. Believe me, it took more courage on your part to present this wreath, than it does on mine to accept it.
Today, nearly 50 years later, both of us must realize that we are part of history. Each of us followed the orders we were given by our Commanders. Only future history can assess the wisdom of what was done here, almost fifty years ago, but, in memory of my shipmates, I thank you for coming."
Joseph K. Langdell, Ensign, USNR, December 7, 1941. Division 2, USS ARIZONA (BB-39)
Used by permission of Joseph K. Langdell
From "USS ARIZONA: The Life and Death of a Lady"
Information researched and compiled by I. B. Nease and N. A. Nease and provided on USSARIZONA.ORG free of charge.
May not be reprinted in any form, other than educational use, without prior written permission of the author.