- Category: USS Arizona Survivor Stories
- Last Updated: Friday, 20 November 2015 00:12
- Published: Wednesday, 20 October 1999 00:00
Russell John McCurdy
Private, US Marine Corps. on 7 December 1941
20 October 1999
Telephone Interview with Russell J. McCurdy Lt. Col. USMC Retired
Interviewed and Submitted by Budd Nease
Recalling events of 7 December 1941:
Private Russell McCurdy reported for duty aboard the USS ARIZONA, June 1941 in the Marine Detachment. Russ, at age 23, was the oldest Private in the detachment. Probably because of his age, he was assigned as orderly to Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd. Admiral Kidd was a firm believer in physical fitness and the Admiral and McCurdy would work out in the mornings. McCurdy said they would strip down to their skivvies. One of the workouts was a rowing maneuver. They would sit on a mat side by side, legs stretched out; holding hands they would "row" forward and back as far as possible. Russ thinks the Admiral was in his 50's. Both Admiral Kidd and McCurdy were from the mid-west and would often talk about their hometowns. McCurdy said that during their workouts they would talk as friends, but on official orderly duty he would stand at parade rest six feet from the Admiral.
On Sunday morning, 7 December 1941, McCurdy had just come off watch, having been relieved around 0730 hours. He was in the forward head cleaning up to go on liberty. He, as so many men, had been invited by a civilian family to spend the day. (Families from the local area would invite service men to their homes on Sundays to spend the day and have dinner with them.) McCurdy said that sometime while he was in the head, he heard and felt a large "thump", like a water barge pulling along side and hitting the ship. After the second "thump" he went outside on deck. He saw men pointing upwards, some with faces white and scared, others looking out portholes. He saw bombs hitting Ford Island and they knocked down the water tower. General Quarters was sounded. The Marine detachment had a quick muster and then reported to their battle stations. McCurdy and his fellow Marines' was in the broadside fire control (guns) on top of the main mast - a glass enclosure. During their climb up the ladders on the tripod mast leg to the "Tops", they were strafed by machine guns from Japanese aircraft. They took cover behind the three-foot diameter steel legs of the mast with bullets "chipping" paint around them. On the way up, and at the search light platform, McCurdy saw a bomb hit the quarter deck, opening up a large hole. Once at their battle stations there was not much they could do as the broadside guns were of no use against the Japanese planes. From his vantage point, some eighty-five feet up, Private Russ McCurdy and fellow Marines witnessed the destruction of "Battleship Row". He could look out and see the fires at Hickam Field, Ford Island and the ships burning in dry docks across the harbor. McCurdy stated when the bomb which penetrated the forward part of the ship and exploded in the powder magazine and the ship blew up, he was looking forward. "The ship was shaking, tossing and went up out of the water, then the bow rose up forty feet into the air and the bow opened up like a petal of a flower."
When the ship exploded, he and his fellow Marines were tossed to the deck and wound up in a human ball. As the ship was on fire and sinking, they abandoned their battle station and descended to the decks below. Men were coming out of hatches from below decks; many naked and badly burned. When trying to help some of the badly burned, and in trying to touch their bodies, their skin came off in their hands. McCurdy said he saw one of the ship's cooks, a man who helped prepare the meals for the Marine Athletic Team, leaning against a bulkhead - one leg blown away - just a bloody splintered stump. Men were told to abandon ship and many started swimming to nearby Ford Island. As men, swimmers and non-swimmers, were trying to make their way to Ford Island, Major Alan Shapley, USMC, was in the water helping the non-swimmers and shouting words of encouragement to others. Russ McCurdy, not a good swimmer, made it to Ford Island. He told himself, "If I ever have a son, he will be named Alan, after Major Alan Shapley."
Of the eighty-eight Marines aboard the ARIZONA 7 December 1941, only 15 survived. Later on Sunday, 7 December 1941, McCurdy finally had a chance for a shower and a meal and then reported for duty on the Battleship TENNESSEE.
During the remainder of World War II and after, McCurdy ran across Major Shapley - then General Shapley.
In 1951, Russ married Pearl. He joked with her that he searched the world over for a girl named Pearl (after Pearl Harbor). Pearl McCurdy recently passed away. They have a son, Alan, and a daughter, Sandra.
Russell J. McCurdy retired from the U.S. Marine Corps. in January 1965, with the rank of Lt. Colonel.
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.