OBSERVATIONS FROM LAMAR S. CRAWFORD
USS ARIZONA SURVIVOR
Several people have asked me, over the years, how I came to join the Marines and why I was on the USS ARIZONA on 7 December 1941. It goes back to early June 1940 when a friend persuaded me to accompany him to New Orleans where he hoped to enlist in the Marines. At that time I had no intention of joining the Marines, but went along on the trip from our home in Arkansas just to keep him company.
As it turned out, he flunked the Marine Corps physical
exam, which I passed. The friend returned to Arkansas, and I boarded
a train the evening of 14 June 1940 bound for the Marine Corps Recruit
Training Base at San Diego.
After completion of recruit boot camp and Sea School Training, I was assigned, along with 3 other Marine privates, James Evans Cory; Donald George Young and Robert England Windle for duty on board the USS ARIZONA. The four of us made our first ocean voyage on board the Navy Ammunition Transportation ship USS NITRO, via the Naval Ammunition Depot at Mare Island in San Francisco Bay, arriving at Pearl Harbor, T.H. on 18 September 1940. We reported for duty aboard the ARIZONA that same day.
I was initially assigned to duties with the Flag Communication
Section, and within two months had passed the exam for assignment to
Secondary Battery Control Group, with battle station atop the main-mast
The ARIZONA was the Flagship of Battleship Division ONE. The USS NEVADA and the USS OKLAHOMA were the other two ships in BATDIVONE. On the night of 22 October 1941 the OKLAHOMA was attempting to execute a crossing maneuver with the ARIZONA and accidentally collided with the ARIZONA’s port side at mid-ships, resulting in considerable damage to our ship. We were in dry dock at Pearl Harbor from27 October to 12 November for repairs before being returned to full duty on 13 November. We did some additional underway in the Hawaiian Operating area in late November and early December, returning to our mooring off Ford Island late on 5 December.
SUNDAY, 7 December 1941: I awoke at reveille, 0600, had breakfast in the Marine’s main deck living and sleeping quarters and got ready for Protestant Church service scheduled for 0900. In the meantime, I checked and cleaned my assigned firearm, a 1903 Springfield Army rifle. I then stepped outside the Marine compartment onto the port-side Quarterdeck. As I came into the bright light I heard the sound of airplane motors, several of them. Looking up I saw a Japanese dive bomber coming directly toward the ARIZONA. About that time, machine-gun bullets from the plane started bouncing off the tub-type gun mount immediately to my right. Realizing that we were being attacked, and that the bullets from the diving warplane were addressed “to whomever it may concern,” I did a quick dash back into the Marine Compartment!
(Excerpts of a longer story from this point on.) Within
minutes of our arrival at our battle stations, we found that all communications
lines were dead. Explosions and fires were raging uncontrolled throughout
the ship. Suddenly, the forward magazines exploded with a deafening
roar. The ship raised several feet in the harbor waters, then slowly
began to sink to the bottom of the shallow harbor, a total loss. Major
Shapley, as Senior Officer Present, told us: “Well, men, this
is it. Abandon ship. It’s every man for himself. Good luck, and
God Bless You All.”
We lost no time clambering down the ladders toward the ship’s Quarterdeck, to the main deck level. I left the ship on mooring lines between the ARIZONA and the concrete Quay to which we were tied up. I sat down, took off my shoes and then dived into the water intending to swim to nearby Ford Island. As I hit the water a motor whaleboat, manned by two Navymen, pulled alongside me, helped me into the boat, and then the three of us continued through the area pulling other men from the water until we couldn’t take on any more. We then headed for Ford Island were the survivors were discharged.
After the “All Clear” sounded following the second wave of bombers, the Marine survivors were rounded up and taken on board the USS TENNESSEE. Later we were moved to the Marine Barracks at the Navy Yard and were assigned to various duties involving recovery and identification of the dead, clean-up, and salvage operations for about two weeks time.
The Navy Disbursing Officer on the ARIZONA, Ensign H.B Walsh, was concerned as to whether the contents of his office safes were lost. He had more than $400,000 cash on hand, plus blank U.S. Treasury checks, and payroll records for both Navy and Marine Corps personnel inside the safes. He gave the safe combinations to Navy salvage divers, who after considerable trial and error managed to get the safes opened. Most of the cash and vital records were recovered, some intact and some in poor condition due to water and oil damage.
The November 1941 copy of the Marine payroll, previously prepared by me, was also recovered. I used information from that payroll as basis for reconstructing pay records for the Marines, the dead ones as well as the survivors. I also used vital info from that payroll to prepare the official and final Muster Roll for that Detachment for the month of December 1941. Marine Corps Detachment, USS ARIZONA, was officially disbanded on 31 December 1941.
My work on the payroll reconstruction was noticed by the 14th Naval District Paymaster, who offered me a job in his office. I had no other place to go at that time, so I accepted with thanks! The very next day I was promoted to Acting First Sergeant and assigned to a Marine Guard Detachment being formed for duty on the Island of Maui. I stayed in Hawaii until November 1942, handling pay accounts for transient Marines units, assigned to the Office of the Force Paymaster, Marine Forces, 14th Naval District. I returned to the U.S. just before Thanksgiving 1942 and was assigned to the North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego. While there I married my wife, Mildred Ruth Munday, on 1 January 1943 at Ocean Beach, CA.
The rest of my Marine story includes being promoted to Warrant Officer on 20 December 1943, and then service with the 3rd Marine Air Wing and 3rd Marine Division, FMF Pacific prior to the Japanese surrender in 1945. On that date I was Deputy Paymaster, 3rd Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, on Guam. After another few months at Camp Pendleton, California, I was released from active duty at the MCAS Eagle Mountain Lake, Texas on 11 January 1946.