Scrap from Pearl Har­bor saved this WWII sailor

The Commercial Appeal - - Viewpoint - Jack McEl­roy

Bob Lut­trell re­mem­bers Pearl Har­bor — not only for the at­tack that launched his war, but for a piece of scrap that saved his life as that war neared its ter­ri­ble end.

Lut­trell was a sopho­more at Knoxville’s Cen­tral High when he first heard the words “Pearl Har­bor.” Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, at age 17, he joined the Navy. His ser­vice be­gan state­side, with train­ing that in­cluded tool-mak­ing and fire control — direct­ing bat­ter­ies. When he shipped out, he was as­signed to a patrol gun­ship called the PGM-18.

Cross­ing the Pa­cific, he found a hunk of metal in Hawaii and fash­ioned it into a knife sharp enough to shave with.

The PGM-18 was sent to Ok­i­nawa in March 1945 to pro­tect minesweep­ers and de­stroy mines as they floated to the sur­face.

The morn­ing of April 8, she was trail­ing the YMS-103, help­ing clear Nak­a­gusuku Bay. Sharks, drawn by garbage, swarmed around the ships.

Fire Control Of­fi­cer 2nd Class Lut­trell, then 19, came on board for his watch at 8 a.m.

“The guy I re­lieved told me to keep my eyes peeled,” he re­mem­bers. “The mine cut­ters had cut one mine, but it had got­ten loose and we didn’t know where it was.”

Lut­trell had just pressed the but­ton on the phone to re­port to the bridge when the mine ex­ploded. The blast lifted the 280-ton ship out of the wa­ter. It fell, list­ing to port, an enor­mous hole ripped in its star­board hull.

Chaos erupted. Lut­trell man­aged to launch a life raft and help a sea­man trapped un­der de­bris, his scalp gashed.

“He said he couldn’t swim,” said Lut­trell. “I gave him my life jacket.”

“Then I prayed a lit­tle prayer: ‘Lord, save me.’ ” God an­swered. “He said: ‘Jump.’ ” Lut­trell did, into the oil-slicked, burn­ing, shark-in­fested ocean.

He made it with the in­jured man onto the raft, but the sailors couldn’t free the pin on the rope con­nect­ing them to the plung­ing ship.

That’s when Lut­trell re­mem­bered the knife. He drew it out, and an of­fi­cer took it and sliced through the heavy rope. Then he dropped the knife into the sea.

The PGM-18 sank in three min­utes. As the YMS-103 turned to help, it, too, struck a mine, and that blast tem­po­rar­ily knocked Lut­trell out of the raft. Fi­nally, though, the sur­vivors were res­cued and sent to San Fran­cisco for re­as­sign­ment.

Be­fore he shipped out again, though, Lut­trell got a cryptic let­ter from his fa­ther, who was work­ing in Oak Ridge: “He said the war would soon be over.” He was right. Lut­trell re­turned to Knoxville af­ter the war and worked 40 years sell­ing advertising for the News Sen­tinel.

He re­tired in 1990, and turned 93 the day af­ter In­de­pen­dence Day.

He still wishes he had that knife, though.

“It was a beau­ti­ful knife. Now it’s at the bot­tom of the bay.”

Jack McEl­roy is ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor of the News Sen­tinel. He can be reached at ed­i­[email protected]

Ed­i­tor Knoxville News Sen­tinel USA TO­DAY NET­WORK – TENN.


Bob Lut­trell turned 93 in July.

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