Great Story of a Navy family
The Patten brothers from rural Iowa began joining the US Navy in 1934. By January 1941, seven brothers – Gilbert, Marvin, Bick, Allen, Ted, Ray, and Bruce – were serving in the engine room of the USS Nevada (BB-36). In September of 1941, their father, Floyd, joined the Navy and the Pattens became the Navy’s largest serving family. On the weekend of December 7th, 1941, the USS Nevada was coming into port, but was directed to wait until the aircraft carrier, Lexington, cleared the entrance to Pearl Harbor as she left port. When Nevada reached its docking place on Battleship Row, Arizona was moored where Nevada normally docked. For that weekend and eternity, they traded places.
Allen’s recollection of that morning was later published in their hometown newspaper, the Lake City Graphic. “I got up and showered about 7 a.m. and at about 7:45 a.m. I sat down to breakfast. I remember it was a ‘dog’ sandwich and beans. Then some of the other B Division sailors and I sat around drinking tea and coffee and discussing the Rose Bowl and who would win the football game, Duke or Oregon. Then something strange started happening and we couldn’t figure out what was going on. It was just past 8 a.m., we were three decks down and Nevada started shaking like a three or four scale earthquake. The porthole was open and I heard a rat-a-tat-tat sound like a machine gun. We were all very confused; it had been such a nice serene morning. We thought it odd that someone might be practicing with their guns. Then the B Division mess cook, Henry, he was just a kid, 18 years old yelled down to us. ‘Hey, you guys, we’re being attacked.”
Years later, Bruce recalled the beginning of the eventful day to a Battle Ground, Washington newspaper, the Reflector. He was a Boiler Tender three decks down on Nevada when general quarters sounded before 8 a.m. “All hands man your battle stations!” ordered a voice on a loudspeaker. “On the way to my battle station, I found one of my brothers arguing with a Chief Petty Officer,” said Patten. His brother was insisting to the Chief that Japanese planes were overhead. The Chief was yelling that he was tired of all the rumors about an attack. “Then the first bomb hit and ended the argument,” Bruce said.
With a large hole blown in Nevada’s side, Lieutenant Ruff, the officer in charge, ordered Nevada to prepare to get underway. Due to its proximity to Arizona, he feared the explosions and fires would spread to Nevada.
Again, Allen recalled. “Part of the crew was on liberty, and only one of the ship’s six boilers was lit and online. Thick ropes held the ship tightly in place. An ax cut through the hemp mooring lines, and by 8:18 a.m., we had all six boilers off in ten minutes – record time. Nevada was underway in 18 minutes, steaming through billowing smoke, which was pouring from Arizona.”
Lieutenant Ruff directed Nevada to proceed and she steamed toward the open sea to escape further attacks by Japanese planes. The sailors on the other ships cheered as they witnessed the Nevada pull out of its berth in Battleship Row. It was a morale boost for them to observe one of their ships underway.
Allen continued. “Our skipper was making a run for the channel at 18 knots, but when the Japs spotted us we really took a pounding. The first of three 500 pound aerial bombs struck the Nevada mid-ship. It sounded like a big stick of dynamite going off with a thundering noise, and then a torpedo struck the port side and Nevada came out of the water two feet just like somebody lifted it up.”
Lieutenant Ruff soon realized Nevada’s foray to escape would fail due to her additional damage. He ordered the ship to run aground before she sank. Except for his quick decision and action, crewmen below deck, including the Patten brothers, would have suffered the same fate as the sailors trapped below deck on Arizona when she sank. Lieutenant Ruff saved their lives and the lives of all the crew members below deck.
Later, Allen recalled the scene. “I went topside for the first time an hour after the Japanese attack began and I couldn’t believe my eyes. We had been tied up next to the USS Arizona and as I looked across Pearl Harbor to Battleship Row, the sight was incredible. Ford Island was engulfed in fire and smoke. I saw a nightmare. Arizona had sunk, California was ablaze and sinking, Pennsylvania was in dry dock and burning, the Oklahoma and Utah were capsized. The Japs had left and the fleet was in ruins.”
In June 1942, the eighth Patten brother, Wayne, joined the Navy and they continued to serve their country during WWII. They served aboard ships that were involved in the Battle of the Coral Sea, Battle of Leyte Gulf and Battle of the Philippine Sea (the “Marianas Turkey Shoot”). The eight brothers and their father’s Navy careers totaled 124 years of service to their country.