Memories of Pearl Harbor and a final farewell

Lynchburg, VA

The United States of America recently memorialized the 80th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The news was full of stories, and survivors merged upon Hawaii in wheelchairs and double canes. Those who participated in this war event are in their mid to late 90s, and several were over 100.

I’m 75 and recall the story from my father from his personal experience of the incident. Inscribing his words below is my great honor, not just to my father but for those who forfeited their lives and four hard years of a nation sacrificing their entire existence toward the goal of survival against two enemies coming from both directions to rule over them.

My father, James Henry Hoover, a product of the Depression, joined the U.S. Navy in 1939 and after boot camp was assigned to Pearl Harbor. He was a quartermaster; in the Navy that was a ship’s navigator, with particular responsibility for steering and signals. On smaller ships he would assemble all the charts (maps of oceans), do messaging with two signal flags (semaphore) according to an alphabetic code, or signal other ships with a Aldis lamp or a Morse lamp (a flashing light) using Morse code so as not to break radio silence.

My dad's ship, USS Richmond, a light cruiser, left Pearl just before the bombing on a mission to Valparaiso, Chile. They were on a goodwill tour with Chilean officers.

Dad related that he was at the helm room on the bridge with the ship’s captain examining the charts as the ship proceeded out in the Pacific Ocean about 5,000 nautical miles from Hawaii. He was generally not allowed to address the Captain unless questioned.

The radioman, nicknamed “Sparks,” rushed to the bridge and informed the captain that there was a FLASH message for him. FLASH is the second-highest in order of precedence. The urgency factors of messages were ROUTINE, PRIORITY, IMMEDIATE, FLASH AND FLASH OVERRIDE; the latter was to go directly to or from the president of the United States. Knowing of the importance of this telegram, but needing to keep his eyes focused on the task at hand of steering the ship, the captain ordered Sparks to read the telegram aloud to him. My father listened as he had ears to hear. Telegrams were expensive in those days; thus, very short like “Mom” STOP, “I’m home safely” STOP “Love Dorothy” STOP.

Not in this case, it was two pages long and detailed the bombing of the Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Wheeler Army Air Field and other facilities. When the telegram was read, they were all aghast.

The ship was soon ordered to drop off the Chilean officers in Panama and return to Pearl Harbor. As Richmond entered Pearl Harbor and approached Ford Island, my father related that he was horror-struck by the devastation of the once so elegantly beautiful island and the wreckage of ships inside the harbor. The damage was like nothing he had ever seen, he later reported to me.

Dad rarely discussed or reminisced about this sighting until 2007.

In April 2007 my dad and I went to Hawaii on vacation and while there he insisted on visiting the USS Arizona National Memorial. (Virtual tour: When the skiff landed at the on-ramp to the memorial, he limped to the back wall and eventually found the name “Jenkins” listed on the wall that memorializes those sailors who remain inside Arizona to this day. Dad took pictures of the name and stood in silence. Little did I realize that he was saying his final goodbye to “Jenkins.” This man was Seaman Second Class (S2c) Robert Henry Dawson Jenkins, USN from Texas.

Dad later that day explained that this sailor had been his best friend on Richmond and just prior to Richmond’s departure from Pearl had been promoted and transferred to Arizona. He was the stenographer for the admiral. Jenkins is one of the 1177 sailors who perished on Arizona that fateful day, 80+ years ago.

Soon after, Dad passed away in December 2007, his life completed and his closure that was awaited for 66 years.

James M. Hoover, captain, USAF retired, past commander of American Legion Post 327 in Seal Beach, Calif., and a PUFL member of Post 16, Lynchburg, Va.

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