- Category: USS Arizona Survivor Stories
- Last Updated: Friday, 20 November 2015 00:22
- Published: Thursday, 18 November 1999 00:00
Major, US Marine Corps. on 7 December 1941
Submitted by Russell J. McCurdy
Marines at Pearl Harbor
Ahead of Nevada lay Arizona, with the repair ship Vestal (AR-4) alongside, preparing for a tender availability. Major Alan Shapley had been relieved the previous day as detachment commanding officer by Captain John H. Earle, Jr., who had come over to Arizona from Tennessee (BB-43). Awaiting transportation to the Naval Operating Base, San Diego, and assignment to the 2d Marine Division, Shapley was lingering on board to play first base on the battleship's baseball team in a game scheduled with the squad from the carrier Enterprise (CV-6). After the morning meal, he started down to his cabin to change.
Seated at breakfast, Sergeant John M. Baker heard the air raid alarm, followed closely by an explosion in the distance and machine gun fire. Corporal Earl C. Nightingale, leaving the table, had paid no heed to the alarm at the outset, since he had no antiaircraft battle station, but ran to the door on the port side that opened out onto the quarterdeck at the sound of the distant explosion. Looking out, he saw what looked like a bomb splash alongside Nevada. Marines from the ship's color guard then burst breathlessly into the messing compartment, saying that they were being attacked.
As general quarters sounded, Baker and Nightingale, among the others, headed for their battle stations. Aft, congestion at the starboard ladder, that led through casemate no. 9, prompted Second Lieutenant Carleton E. Simensen, USMCR, the ship's junior Marine officer, to force his way through. Both Baker and Nightingale noted, in passing, that the 5-inch/51 there was already manned, and Baker heard Corporal Burnis L. Bond, the gun captain, tell the crew to train it out. Nightingale noted that the men seemed "extremely calm and collected."
As Lieutenant Simensen led the Marines up the ladder on the starboard side of the mainmast tripod, an 800-kilogram converted armor-piercing shell dropped by a Kate from Kaga ricocheted off the side of Turret IV. Penetrating the deck, it exploded in the vicinity of the captain's pantry. Sergeant Baker was following Simensen up the mainmast when the bomb exploded, shrapnel cutting down the officer as he reached the first platform. He crumpled to the deck. Nightingale, seeing him flat on his back, bent over him to see what he could do but Simensen, dying, motioned for his men to continue on up the ladder. Nightingale continued up to Secondary Aft and reported to Major Shapley that nothing could be done for Simensen.
An instant later, a rising babble of voices in the secondary station prompted Nightingale to call for silence. No sooner had the tense quiet settled in when, suddenly, a terrible explosion shook the ship, as a second 800-kilogram bomb -- dropped by a Kate from Hiryu -- penetrated the deck near Turret II and set off Arizona's forward magazines. An instant after the terrible fireball mushroomed upward; Nightingale looked out and saw a mass of flames forward of the mainmast, and much in the tradition of Private William Anthony of the Maine reported that the ship was afire. (NOTE: Private Anthony, an instant after the explosion mortally damaged the battleship Maine in Havana harbor on 15 February 1898, made his way to the captain's cabin, where he encountered that officer in a passageway outside. Drawing himself to attention, Anthony reported that the ship was sinking.) "We'd might as well go below," Major Shapley said, looking around, "we're no good here." Sergeant Baker started down the ladder. Nightingale, the last man out, followed Shapley down the port side of the mast, the railings hot to the touch as they made their way below.
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