- Category: USS Arizona Survivor Stories
- Last Updated: Thursday, 19 November 2015 23:47
- Published: Friday, 21 April 2000 00:00
Oree Cunningham Weller
Seaman Second Class on 7 December 1941
Submitted by Russell J. McCurdy
by Lieutenant Commander Oree C. Weller, U.S. Naval Reserve (Retired)
I first saw Pearl Harbor in July 1941 as part of a motley gang of ten apprentice seamen coming from boot camp at San Diego. We arrived on board the fleet oiler USS Neosho (AO-23) and made a clockwise circuit of Ford Island; to starboard was a massive gray ship. Four turrets of three 14-inch guns each were trained fore and aft. a polished tompion with a star in the center plugged each of the muzzles. Awnings of amazing whiteness stretched over the quarterdeck and forecastle. Boats and launches went to and fro amid sounds of whistles, bugle calls, and bells. In raised letters on the stern, both port and starboard, I saw "ARIZONA." In my mind then, were the words, "That's my ship." Instinctively, I felt a kinship that I have never lost. In her huge but gracefully shaped bulk was a beauty that was never equaled by any other Navy ship.
Upon berthing of the Neosho we boots went first to the fleet landing and then got a ride in a 50-foot motor launch with the letters "ARIZ" on its bow. We watched in awe as the boat crew gunned the engine and maneuvered out of the slip to head for the Arizona. In retrospect, I rather suspect that we were deliberately given a bit of a show of seamanship; even so, we were properly impressed. The coxswain had his white hat down upon his brow, a regulation two fingers above the bridge of his nose. The launch made a neat "two bell" landing ("engine back" and "engine stop") at the ship's port gangway.
A rag-tag lot we were as we went aboard. The fleet uniform of the day at that time was tropical undress white, which was low-cut oxford shoes, black socks, white shorts, skivvy shirts and white hat. We were in full undress white (with the usual boot camp tailoring), high-topped black shoes, and neckerchiefs. Boots we were. After negotiating the accommodation ladder to the port side of the quarterdeck, we were mustered in. The messenger on watch was delegated to show us to our berthing spaces.
My buddy and I were dropped off in an area devoid of anything that looked remotely habitable. We were standing looking at each other somewhat expectantly when the messenger returned. When we asked where our bunk was, he pointed to some hooks attached to the beams in the overhead and a railing installed on a near bulkhead. The hooks were for hanging our hammocks, and the railing was to support our seabags. The "bathroom" (we were still not completely indoctrinated on the nautical nomenclature) for the first three pay grades was the seaman's head forward on the main deck.
Cold tap water ran at the long sink and in a nearby cubicle. The tap water was both fresh and salt water and you soon found out which tap was which. A jacketed steam line was installed in the cubicle and was the means to heat water in your bucket.
Soon we were directed to the ship's store, where we bought galvanized steel buckets. Soon each of us went to go to the boatswain's locker to get a brass nameplate with our name on it and have it riveted to the bucket. Next, the bucket had to be shined with bright work polish and steel wool. From then on, I lived with that bucket, bathed with that bucket, washed my clothes in that bucket, brushed my teeth and shaved with that bucket. And when I was done with any of the jobs, the bucket had better shine brightly before it was secured to the jackstay upon which the seabags hung.
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