USS West Virginia veteran Richard "Wallie" Morgan's version of the events at Pearl Harbor
I was a member of the U.S.S. West Virginia from September 1939 to December 7,1941
I was a Quartermaster on Board the U.S.West Virginia during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Our division lived it the After steering room which was located five decks down and at the very aft (rear) of the ship. Our eating area was in the very bow ( front) of the ship. Our shower room was also located in the bow so that is where I was when the attack began. My battle station was in steering aft so when General Quarters was sounded I started running aft to get to my battle station. When I got down to the second deck I found the third deck was already flooded so I couldn't get to my battle station. I later learned that the first torpedo that struck the ship was in steering aft so I was fortunate that I was in the forward part of the ship when we were attacked.
There were several of us trying to get to our battle stations which as I mentioned was several decks down. Unfortunately we were never assigned an alternative battle station so there was nothing for us to do but wait for further instructions which we assumed would come over the intercom system. The ship was struck with seven torpedoes which caused her to list heavily to port. ( lean to the left) We were ordered over the intercom to abandon ship. We crawled up thru a cargo hatch to the main deck. Just after arriving on the main deck I observed the U.S.S. Arizona blow up. There was a compartment on the main deck which contained life jackets so I put one on and as the ship was listing so heavily at that time I just floated across the life line. I had no sooner cleared the ship when I heard a fellow I knew from the print shop call "hey wheels give me a hand". I looked and saw that he had a wounded man on a wooden cargo hatch and he was trying to tow him away from the ship as the ship was listing quite badly and we were afraid that it would capsize. About the time we got him in the middle of the channel we saw the U.S.S. Oklahoma capsize.
All this time the Japanese pilots were strafing the men in the water and we were concerned that we would get hit. A U.S.S Dobin motor launch came along and picked several of us up. Among them was a fellow who ran the engines on a ships boat. He knew that I had the experience in driving a boat so he told the coxswain (the fellow running the launch) to let us off at the submarine base as he saw an officers boat tied up to the dock so he suggested that he and I take this boat and go out and pick up survivors that were in the water. That sounded like a good idea to me as the oil on the water was starting to burn. We ran down the dock to get the boat and were accosted by a marine who was holding a rifle and wanted to know what we were going to do. We informed him of our intentions and he said "You touch that boat and I will shoot both of you, as I am responsible for every thing on this dock". Feeling that he meant every word that he said we "politely" told him what he could do with his boat. (My Mother may have raised some dumb children, but not any stupid ones). We then headed for the Submarine base and as we were walking past a house in the officers section a Lt. Commander came out of his house and handed us a bottle of black and white scotch (I hate scotch) and told us to go in the house and his wife would give us a cigarette. He didn't ask us if we smoked, (as at that time everyone did) We said we didn't want to go in as we were covered with the heavy black oil. He told us no one cared and for us to go in and wait until he returned as he was going to head quarters to see what every one was to do. We went in and his wife gave us a cigarette and then she proceeded to tell us in a very loud tone that she was very angry as she felt that the officers knew this was going to happen, which of course was later proved to be untrue. She was also very mad because her 10 year old granddaughter was out running around taking pictures and the Japs were still strafing and she refused to come in the house.
An hour or so later the officer returned and informed us that he was taking his wife and granddaughter to a safer location. He said that there were several hundred sailors over at head quarters and no one knew what to do with them so he told us to stay at his house and he would try to find out what we were to do before he returned the next morning. The next morning he returned and told us to go over to the recreation center as that is where they were being assembled. We walked over the the center and they gave us a pair of dungarees, shirt, socks and shoes and told us to go take a shower and get rid of the clothes we had on which were still full of the heavy black crude oil. When we got cleaned we were to come back. This we did. When we got back they gave us a mattress and told us to put them on a bench of our choosing as that is where we were going to sleep. They then told us to return as they had a job for us to do, We returned and they assigned me and another sailor to a Lt.Jg. gave us each a side arm and told us we were to accompany the Lt. and deliver coding machines to several locations. They said the reason they gave us side arms was due to the fact that they were very highly secret machines and we were to protect them with our lives. We were also informed that we had to get them delivered before dark as they were concerned that there were some trigger happy marines and we may get shot.
The next two days we were assigned to deliver ammunition to the gun emplacements that were being established at various beach locations. We then waited at the recreation center, where we were living and allowed to volunteer for ships as they returned to Pearl. I and two of my buddy's off the Wee Vee (that is what the West Virginia was called) decided that we would wait for the U.S.S. Portland, which was a heavy cruiser to return and we would volunteer for her. We all had friends serving aboard the Portland. We waited until Thursday and she hadn't come in yet so we decided that we would take the next heavy cruiser that came in. The majority of the ships that were returning were destroyers and we didn't like small ships. We were battleship sailors and inasmuch as there were no battleships at that time, we would take the biggest thing they had and that was heavy cruisers. The next heavy that came in was the U.S.S. New Orleans so we went aboard her. No sooner had we reported aboard than the Portland came in.
That was my Pearl Harbor experience. Oh yes, I forgot to mention, one thing that remains in my memory is the manner in which every one acted. I never saw any one that appeared to be afraid and every thing was quite orderly. As for myself, it seemed as though it was an event that I was watching rather than participating in. Perhaps it was because we didn't want to believe that such a thing could happen to the United States Of America. Who in their right mind would even consider such an undertaking?
Copyright ©2000-2017 USSWestVirginia.org. All rights reserved.