The experiences of Sylvester Puccio on December 7, 1941.
On December 7, 1941, after breakfast and a few minutes before 8 a.m., Away Fire and Rescue was sounded over the PA system. I was 3rd section stand by duty section. The 1st section had the duty and they were deployed to the scene of the fire to assist.
I went topside via the hatch way just outside the Ship fitters shop. I was not wearing a hat(a requirement when topside). I saw smoke in the area of 1010 dock and about that time the Bugler sounded call to colors over the PA system. Normally, if I was wearing a hat I would face aft and stand at attention and salute. If I were wearing a hat and saluting I probably would not have seen the low flying plane. At first I thought the Army Air Force was holding mock air raids, but when the plane dropped a torpedo at the West Virginia and strafed about 15 to 20 feet above my head and I saw the red circle on his wings, I knew it was a Jap
I didn't take many steps going down the hatchway. I yelled into the shiftier shop," the Japs are attacking" and about that time the first torpedo hit the West Virginia. We didn't have to be told to go to General Quarters. Everyone responded automatically. My GQ station was 3rd deck aft and my duties were to set condition ZED, which entails closing all hatches, doors, and ventilators to make the compartment water tight.
Roy Powers was in charge of the compartment and I asked him what we should do next. He said he didn't know. I also asked him if we should contact the repair party forward and he said it was a good idea. I felt the water tight door for heat and also screwed off the brass cap on the door to check for heat and smoke. When I entered the compartment I could hear voices. Rucker yelled out, "Pooch! I forgot my damage control locker keys up in the shop!"I knew I couldn't break the lock on the locker, so I took a large crank from the cable towing reel and attacked the hinges and demolished the locker door. The first thing I went for was a crank to open the counter flooding tank valves on the starboard side, then I grabbed a battle lantern. Rucker, a Navy diver, Knew the depth of the harbor. Between the keel of the ship and the bottom of the harbor there was only 10 or 12 feet. Rucker replied, “we’re O.K. we’re coming back to even keel. The ship settled at about 8 degrees. If we did not counter flood, the West Virginia would have capsized like the Oklahoma.( the ship was listing about 28 degrees before counter flooding)
The PA system was knocked out. By word of mouth the word went out to "abandon ship." The West Virginia was hit by 6 torpedoes. Nine torpedoes were launched but three went too deep and stuck in the mud. Whenever a torpedo would hit the ship it would raise the ship and it would come down with a shudder.
We went up to the quarterdeck while the second wave of Japs were attacking. In spite of that we decided to abandon ship. I went down a fender line and set foot on the 16in. armor belt of the West Virginia's starboard side until I could jump over to the Tennessee armor belt. I walked forward and went up the Jacob's ladder. As I was climbing up the Jacob's ladder I made the mistake of looking skyward and saw bombs being dropped. They all looked like they were aiming at me! That was the scariest moment of my life.
I reported to the damage control officer of the Tenn. After the second wave, we were told to report to the administration building on Ford Island. I met Robert Adams, shipfitter second class (a big brother to me. He had more time in the Navy and Looked up to him) Later that evening we took a ferry across the channel to the navy yard dock side. We reported to the Receiving Station and we were given a mattress and told to bunk down at the Arena across the street.
I was very tired and very depressed. Shortly after I laid down my division officer, Fred White, came into the arena and announced he wanted 2 volunteers to go back to the Wee Vee to Fight fire due to the oil from the Arizona burning and floating towards the Wee Vee. I was a young sailor and was about to volunteer,when Adams told me not to. After asking a few more times for volunteers, Mr. White decided to assign. He called out "Puccio," "Adams," "Front and center." Adams and I went down to fleet landing and caught a motor launch and after passing the submarine base we entered mid channel. About that time, the armored Guard on the keel of the capsized USS Oklahoma began firing at us with his 30-06 rifle. I ducked down below the gunnel launch and started yelling "boat ahoy, West Virginia" at the top of my lungs until he stopped firing. The oil from the Arizona was burning furiously and floating towards the Wee Vee's stern. With our 3" hoses, Adams and I had it under control in about 1 hour.
I don't remember what time we were relieved, but the next day we went back to the Wee Vee for salvaging some of our 5" AA guns for shore batteries in case of invasion.
Two days later, we were assigned to the Submarine Base for temporary duty. We were again called back to the Wee Vee for five days and late sent back to the submarine base for permanent duty. I tried many times for a transfer back to the Wee Vee and was always denied.
At the Sub Base in early 1942 I took the exam for shipfitter second class and was promoted. In early 1943, I took the exam for shipfitter first class and was promoted. May 1944 I was promoted to Chief shipfitter and was granted 30 days leave and arrived home on Mother's Day. I returned to the Sub Base and about June 1945 I was transferred to San Diego hospital due to a dermatitis condition.
After the war I re-inlisted for 2 years and was stationed at Annapolis Md. aboard the USS Block Island, and the USS Little Rock. After 8 years, I married, had 3 wonderful children, and decided to give my family my full attention. I know there were bad times in the Navy, but the good far out numbered the bad and I have forgotten the bad times. I regret not serving 30 years. I loved the Navy of my times.
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