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Sat, June 15

An odd tale from Pearl Harbor

My dad was aboard the USS Argonne on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. She was berthed at the north end of 1010 dock which jutted out into the harbor like a finger pointing directly at battleship row, about 100 yards away. Through the years, at my insistence, my pop told me many stories of that day. Some seemed very odd. Recently I came across the of the log of Comdr. F. W. O'Connor, the ship's commanding officer. I was startled to see that his written accounts of these events perfectly dovetailed my father's recollections.

One of the Argonne's sailors, Motor Machinist's Mate 2d class Poston, was taking flying lessons in the early morning of Dec. 7. He was intercepted by the Japanese attack planes and blown out of the sky when the fighters shot away his propellor and engine. Poston "hit the silk" and landed safely thanks to the parachute he was wearing. In this case, one of the sailors from the Argonne was actually attacked before the Argonne was!

Throughout the battle of Pearl Harbor, the compliment of the Argonne helped get wounded men from damaged ships, recovered bodies from the water, assisted in constant ongoing repairs, and helped put out fires. One Marine Corporal claimed a shoot down of an enemy plane with a .50 caliber machine gun when it turned over 1010 dock and headed toward Ford Island.

That evening six American fighter planes, sent from the carrier Enterprise tried to land at the Naval Air Station. (The Enterprise was supposed to be moored next to the Argonne that morning, but had mechanical problems at sea which postponed its arrival to Pearl Harbor. Later, maps found in downed Japanese aircraft showed a perfect scale layout of the harbor, and the Enterprise is clearly described in the drawings.) Before the friendly nature of the planes could be established jittery gunners shot down four of the six planes. One crashed into a nearby cane field setting it ablaze and illuminating a large portion of the harbor which was under a strict "lights out" policy.

Perhaps one of the stranger tales of the day had to do with two sailors from the battleship Utah. These men, one named Price and the other Brown, survived the loss of their ship, swam around Ford Island through oil, fuel and flames to arrive aboard the Argonne. They were cleaned up and were preparing to go to mess and eat when a single stray .50 caliber bullet, fired from an American gun from the direction of Ford Island, ripped through the Argonne's port side. It killed Seaman Second Class Brown, and wounded Seaman First Class Price.

I've often wondered what the families of these soldiers thought about the cruel irony of surviving a horrific and vicious assault in the morning, only to be dispatched in the evening by friendly fire from a single serendipitous projectile. My dad witnessed the event, and never seemed to grapple for answers. But, then again, he encountered a lot of weird events during his six years of straight sea duty. He transferred to Destroyers after Pearl.

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