LITTLE KNOWN NAVY HISTORY!
REMEMBERING OUR HEROES! NAVY HERITAGE!
Trivia: What ship during the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 had the most “Medal of Honor” recipients?!
ANSWER: USS California BB-44…..four!
On 7 December 1941, anchored a short distance behind the other battleships was the USS California, a ship considered to be behind not only in positioning at anchor but in its readiness for war.
Other Sailors joked that the USS California couldn’t pass an admiral’s inspection.
On a day full of the unexpected, more men aboard the USS California would earn Medals of Honor than any other ship.
The big guns of the USS California were firing back at the enemy planes targeted her and continued to strafe her decks with bullets.
MM1 ROBERT R. SCOTT:
Machinist’s Mate First Class Robert R. SCOTT was assigned to work in the compartment containing the air compressor.
Suddenly he felt the USS California tremble as an enemy torpedo ripped through her side.
Water rushed into the gaping wound in the USS California’s side, making its way to the compartment where MM1 Scott worked.
Above he could hear that, despite the severe damage to the USS California, the big anti-aircraft guns were still firing.
The flooding in the compartment was swift and dangerous. The other crew members turned to flee to safety, urging MM1 Scott to follow them.
He replied, “This is my station and I will stay and give them air (the men above) as long as the guns are going.” The guns kept going, MM1 Scott kept supplying air, and the water continued to flood the ship. Machinist’s Mate Robert SCOTT died at his post.
CHIEF THOMAS REEVES:
Chief Radio Electrician Thomas REEVES felt the tremor as the USS California took its fatal hit.
The damage destroyed the mechanized hoists that moved ammunition from below deck to the huge guns that were now firing back at the invading Japanese.
Quickly the 45-year-old career Navy Chief began passing ammunition by hand, up the corridor to the big guns.
A fire erupted and smoke filled the hot corridor, but Chief Reeves refused to give up his post and leave the anti-aircraft guns without a supply of ammunition.
Sweating with exertion, fighting back any fear or concern for himself, he continued to pass ammunition forward until the smoke and fire in the corridor stole the last signs of life from his body. He died, two days before his 46th birthday.
ENSIGN HERBERT C. JONES:
Ensign Herbert Charpoit Jones had organized and led a crew of Sailors in a similar ammunition supply effort for the anti-aircraft battery.
Just six days earlier he had celebrated his 23rd birthday. It would be his last.
As he directed the supply of ammunition towards the guns, another bomb exploded, seriously injuring the young Sailor.
A fire erupted in the compartment where his broken body lay, deadly smoke quickly filling every airspace.
Two sailors bent to recover the body of the wounded officer. It was a valiant act, spawned by the desire to save their Ensign before seeking safety themselves.
Ensign Jones knew he was dying, knew their efforts might only cost them their own lives.
Gritting his teeth against the horrible pain, he ordered, “Leave me alone! I am done for. Get out of here before the magazines go off.”
LIEUTENANT JACKSON PHARRIS:
Lieutenant Jackson PHARRIS was leading an ordnance repair party on the third deck when the first torpedo hit the USS California.
The explosion occurred directly below him, throwing his body into the air to crash hardback on the metal deck.
The Lieutenant was badly wounded but struggled to his feet to organize the passing of ammunition back to the guns. Water and oil continued to rush in where the port bulkhead had been torn apart by the explosion.
The heat of the fires was intense, and the acrid smoke quickly damaged lungs. Despite his pain and heedless of the dangers around him, he still directed the effort to maintain a hand supply train to the guns.
It was evident that the USS California was sinking, but her crew refused to go down without a fight.
With the demise of the USS California beyond doubt and with nothing left to use to return fire,
Lieutenant Pharris refused to leave behind any man that could be saved.
Repeatedly he ran into flooded compartments to rescue unconscious Sailors and drag them to safety. Twice, he was overcome by smoke himself and fell unconscious.
Each time, upon regaining consciousness, he fought back the pain of his wounds to return for more injured Sailors. His example inspired panicky Sailors around him, encouraging them to not only try and get out themselves but to render life-saving assistance to their shipmates.
When at last USS California sank into the mud of the harbor, her crew had given a grand account in her final moments of service.
Of fifteen Medals of Honor awarded for heroism at Pearl Harbor on that Day of Infamy, four went to Sailors of the USS California-more than any other ship in the harbor.