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Monday, December 7, 2009

December 7, 1941: A survivors story

This is the remembrance of 25 year old Adolph Mortensen,.

On Dec. 7, 1941, I was the junior officer of the boiler division of the battleship OKLAHOMA. Following late night duty, I had gone to sleep shortly after 4:00 a.m., that Sunday morning. Less than three hours later, the sound of a voice on the ship's loudspeaker, unmistakably different from the usual announcements, brought me quickly awake. "Air raid! Air raid! This is a real attack, real planes, real bombs!", followed by an obscenity, crackled from the loudspeaker. Wearing only a pajama trouser, I raced for my battle station in a boiler room, as the big ship leaped under my feet from explosions of torpedoes hitting deep in the hull. There were no lights. There was no chance of starting the engines. The order to abandon ship was passed along by voice as the ship began to list steeply. I attempted to get to a compartment with large portholes through which I might escape when the veteran battleship turned turtle and I was propelled into the medical dispensary, its tiled floor, now the sloping ceiling. I found myself with four other men in the dispensary with a small pocket of air trapped above the water, our only source for life. With my feet, I found a porthole below the water. I was able to duck down in the water and turn the knobs on the port by hand. It was an eleven-inch porthole. The first two men got out quickly. The steward was hesitant and I pushed his head through and he pulled himself out. The ship's carpenter, Mr. Austin, a large man weighing over 200 pounds, knew he'd never make it through the porthole. He reached down and held the porthole open for me. I tried to take a deep breath, but the oxygen supply was about gone. As I went out, I scraped my hips squeezing through. I think that is where I lost my pajamas. Mr. Austin couldn't get out. His was the most noble and heroic act a man could perform, knowing full well that his minutes were few. I swam the 15 to 20 feet to the oil covered surface of the harbor. Then, I swam to ropes hanging from the ship's bottom that was still above water. Burning oil nearby sent pillars of smoke skyward. There was a deadly silence over the harbor, interspersed with violent explosions and bursts of gunfire. As far as I can tell, I was the last man to escape from the ship without help. Cutting torches were used to try to free some of those trapped. I got away with nothing but my skin.

Adolph Mortensen passed away November 2000. He attained the rank of Commander in the Navy and spent 27 years teaching High School in Oakland, CA. He was awarded the following medals for his service: American Theater Campaign Medal, American Defense Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with 6 battle stars, World War II Victory Medal, Pearl Harbor Medal (Act of Congress 1990), Good Conduct Medal, Purple Heart


Amanda @ Serenity Now said...

What an amazing story. Thank you for sharing it today. :)

otin said...

I mention Pearl harbor in my RTT. It seems as time goes by that the day is getting lost in history. Time heals wounds, but it also removes things that should be remembered.What an amazing story!

Captain Dumbass said...

I was researching Pearl Harbour recently for a story I've been writing. It's amazing to read the stories first hand from the sailors.

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