Sorrow at Pearl Harbor: Surprise bombing plunges U.S. into war
At 2:31 p.m. Eastern time on CBS radio, newscaster John Daly interrupted programming to announce a catastrophic attack near Oahu.
“We interrupt this program to bring you this special announcement. The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by air, President Roosevelt has just announced. The attack also was made on all naval and military activities on the principal island of Oahu.”
Congress declared war on the following day.
Seventy-nine years later at Pearl Harbor, a memorial pays homage to the men who died aboard the battleship USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941. Hundreds more died on the other ships on Battleship Row including the California, Maryland, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia. The Utah, a converted target ship, was docked on the other side of Ford Island.
Markers in the harbor now show the positions where a number of battleships moored along Ford Island were heavily damaged after the surprise attack carried out by two waves of Imperial Japanese aircraft. Of the four vessels that sunk, the USS Arizona endured the most casualties, 1,177 sailors and Marines with the majority becoming entombed in the battleship’s cold, steel casket.
Following the raid, the Nevada built up enough steam, left its mooring and attempted to reach the ocean. The Japanese bombs proved so deadly that the ship’s officers, fearing the blazing and listing Nevada might capsize or sink in the channel, decided to beach her on the hard sea bottom.
Two hours after the beaching, however, the Nevada floated free as the tide rose. The Japanese planes had returned to their six carriers offshore, and harbor tugs were able to move the shattered Nevada and beach her a second time on the sandy bottom of Waipio Point adjacent to a cane field.
Fires continued to burn aboard the Nevada until 11 p.m., and during this period the injured and dead were transported ashore by launches from nearby ships and shore stations. Two Nevada crewmen were subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor and 15 received the Navy Cross for heroism during the attacks.
A 1940 Illinois high-school graduate, Charles T. Sehe, became a sailor in November of that year with his parents’ permission. He served on the USS Nevada from Jan. 18, 1941 to July 31, 1945.
Sehe earned his red badge of courage on Dec. 7 when the Nevada earned her first of seven battle stars during WW II. He served with his shipmates when the ship earned her second battle star at Attu in the Aleutian Islands May 11-30, 1943, and third battle star on June 6, 1944, by destroying Nazi bunkers for the Fourth Infantry Division at Utah Beach. She earned two more battleships in Europe before returning to the Pacific Theater. The Nevada earned her sixth and seventh battle stars by destroying Japanese gun emplacements when Marines captured Iwo Jima and Okinawa in 1945.
Sehe, who earned a doctorate degree in zoology in 1957 from the University of Iowa, returned to Nevada several years ago to attend a memorial service on the east side of the Capitol Building. He rang the bell from former Gov. Brian Sandoval’s deck for his shipmates who did not return home.
Three sailors who grew up in Nevada also did not return home — Richard Eugene Gill, seaman first class Richard Walter Weaver and Eric Young — and their bodies were never recovered from the USS Arizona. Their names can be found on a memorial war aboard the USS Arizona Memorial and at the USS Arizona Memorial Gardens at Salt River, next to the spring training facility for both the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.
Gill attended schools in Wells and Reno and earned his diploma from Montello High School. According to the USS Arizona Mall Memorial, Gill’s father worked for the railroad and his mother was a homemaker. When Gill enlisted in the Navy in 1940, his family lived in the small Eureka County ranching community of Beowawe where he worked as a grocery clerk.
Born in Fallon, the 18-year-old Weaver enlisted in the Navy on Nov. 27, 1940, and performed the duties of standing watch and serving as a gunner while on the ship. His parents were Ray Rhese and “Marge” Lois (McCuistion) Weaver. Ray Weaver, a veteran of World War I, gave his son permission to enlist. Only years later, though, did Weaver’s father learn his son had been kicked out of school for arguing with his teacher.
According to information from both the Reno Gazette and Nevada State Journal, the young sailor “had been sweet” on Wanda Temple, who also lived in Fallon. After he left Fallon, they traded letters. Coincidentally, Wanda’s family moved to Honolulu in October 1941 because of her father’s employment. Once on Oahu, the Temple family invited Weaver and his Navy friends to dinner every Sunday evening.
According to newspaper accounts 54 years after Pearl Harbor, Temple called Weaver “a handsome boy-doll in a sailor suit” and “I’ve never adored anyone as much.”
Temple married after World War II ended, and the article said she named her only child Richard. According to Weaver’s record, he earned the following awards posthumously: Purple Heart, American Defense Service Medal with Fleet Clasp, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with star and the WWII Victory Medal.
Three words summed up Young: “Big, jolly and likeable.” After Young’s death aboard the USS Arizona, the Reno Evening Gazette described him as a popular young man who graduated from Reno High School in 1934 and then attended the University of Nevada for two years. Another Reno newspaper, the Nevada State Journal, called him popular and active who pledged the Sigma Nu fraternity west of the campus and also played on the freshman football team. Young was born in San Diego on Sept. 6, 1916.
Attending the University of Nevada kept him close to his father, James, a psychology professor. His mother, though, died in 1931. Young left Nevada after receiving an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated in 1940.
The 1940 yearbook described Young as a young man of the West: “An unfailing sense of humor coupled with an above-the-average mentality have enabled Eric to remain himself in spite of a rigorous academic training. At heart he is still a lad of the ‘Wild West.’ He can be recognized from afar (you’ll hear him before you see him) by his characteristic laugh, which more than once has sent whole theaters into hysterics. Never too busy to refuse help to anyone, Sandy has pulled many a plebe through the intricacies of steam and math. Though he has had a hand in lacrosse and football, crew is his sport. Who knows, you might have to row a battleship home some day, eh Eric?”
Young was commissioned an ensign at graduation.
According to the Reno newspapers, Young had two cousins who were also at Pearl Harbor. Lt. Eric Allen, a Naval Academy graduate, was killed by friendly fire as he attempted to land his plane at Ford Field. Ensign Richard Allen survived, but he was killed the next summer when his destroyer, the Jarvis, was sunk at Savo Island. The entire crew of 233 died.
This reflection on the attack on Pearl Harbor may be found in “Legacies of the Silver State: Nevada Goes to War” written by newspapermen Steve Ranson, Ken Beaton and David C. Henley. They tell of the war’s events and of the men and women who fought during World War II. To learn more or to purchase a copy, visit https://legacies-of-the-silver-state.square.site/. All proceeds go to Honor Flight Nevada.
The end of World War II in both Europe and the Pacific occurred 75 years ago. As a project to honor as many heroes and events as possible, The Nevada Appeal, Lahontan Valley News and the Nevada News Group have published numerous articles on our local veterans who served during World War II.
Sources: Fallon Eagle, Fallon Standard, Reno Gazette, 1940 Naval Academy yearbook, “Battleship Nevada, The Epic Story of the Ship that Wouldn’t Sink.”