PEARL HAR­BOR DAY

Tri-City Herald - - Front Page - Dis­trib­uted by Tri­bune Con­tent Agency, LLC. Visit The Honolulu Star-Ad­ver­tiser at www.starad­ver­tiser.com BY WIL­LIAM COLE

77 years ago to­day, Ja­panese forces at­tacked the U.S. Naval base in Pearl Har­bor, an act that led Amer­ica to en­ter the sec­ond World War.

His­tory fo­cuses most on the cat­a­clysmic ex­plo­sion on the USS Ari­zona and sunken bat­tle­ship me­mo­rial — still a tomb for over 900 crew — in re­mem­ber­ing the Dec. 7, 1941 at­tack on Pearl Har­bor.

But ex­am­ples of ter­ri­ble loss — and in­cred­i­ble brav­ery and for­ti­tude — from the day of in­famy 77 years ago ex­tend be­yond that event.

Such was the case of re­pair ship USS Vestal, which was in the shadow of the big-gunned Ari­zona. Tied up out­board the bat­tlewagon, the 466-foot Vestal took two Ja­panese bombs, was set afire and in dan­ger of be­ing con­sumed by the in­ferno rag­ing next to it on the Ari­zona.

Out of the chaos came at least two acts of hero­ism, one in­volv­ing Petty Of­fi­cer 2nd Class Joe Ge­orge, a boxer and farm­hand from Ge­or­gia, and an­other in­volv­ing the cap­tain of the Vestal, Cmdr. Cassin Young, who would re­ceive the Medal of Honor.

On Wed­nes­day, the Na­tional Park Ser­vice and the Navy re­traced the path of the Vestal, which was sink­ing when an oil­soaked Young, blown off the ship by the blast on the Ari­zona, swam back, coun­ter­manded an or­der to aban­don ship, and di­rected the dam­aged ves­sel to the shal­low wa­ters of Aiea Shoal near McGrew Point to save it and pre­vent it from block­ing the chan­nel.

From the Navy launch used for the short trip, Ge­orge's daugh­ter, Joe Ann Taylor, placed flow­ers in the wa­ter in re­mem­brance of the nearly 90-man crew and seven who died.

The Cabot, Ark., res­i­dent, who came out with six other fam­ily mem­bers, said the ex­pe­ri­ence was “pretty emo­tional.”

Hear­ing Daniel Martinez, a USS Ari­zona Me­mo­rial his­to­rian, retell the story of what hap­pened, “you feel the emo­tion of that day, and the hor­ror of that day, and the chaos of that day and ev­ery­thing that was go­ing on,” the

70-year-old Taylor said. When a 1,760-pound Ja­panese high-al­ti­tude ar­mor-pierc­ing bomb pen­e­trated the Ari­zona, ig­nit­ing a mil­lion pounds of gun­pow­der from its

14-inch guns, the blast blew dozens of men off the Vestal and rained burn­ing shrap­nel and body parts onto its decks. Even though his ship was on fire, Ge­orge threw a line to six badly burned Ari­zona crew mem­bers trapped high up on the ship, al­low­ing them to sur­vive by climb­ing han­dover-hand onto the Vestal.

Be­fore ex­tend­ing the life­line, the 2nd class petty of­fi­cer had been us­ing an ax to cut the moor­ing lines. Don Strat­ton, who re­ceived burns over 65 per­cent of his body, but was one of those who made it to safety, said Ge­orge halted the line­cut­ting long enough to save the men.

The 26-year-old Ge­orge and an of­fi­cer “were en­gaged in some kind of a de­bate, a heated one” on the Vestal that con­veyed to Strat­ton that “we didn't have a chance,” he re­called in his book, “All the Gal­lant Men.”

But Ge­orge, who some­times was sent to the brig for drunken brawls, stood his ground.

“One thing is for cer­tain: Had Joe Ge­orge not stood up for us, had he not been a rebel and re­fused to cut the line con­nect­ing the Vestal to the Ari­zona, we would have been cooked to death,” Strat­ton wrote.

Last year on Dec. 7, the Navy pre­sented a Bronze Star with “V” for valor to Ge­orge’s fam­ily af­ter Strat­ton and fel­low USS Ari­zona sur­vivor Lau­ren Bruner lob­bied for a lon­gover­due Navy Cross or other recognition. Ge­orge died in 1996.

Cited for “out­stand­ing hero­ism,” mean­while, Young was one of five Medal of Honor re­cip­i­ents (15 to­tal were awarded from the day) to sur­vive the at­tack.

Oil was on fire on the wa­ter be­tween his ship and the Ari­zona. Vestal was set­tling and list­ing.

With “ex­treme cool­ness and calm­ness,” Young “moved his ship to an an­chor­age dis­tant from the USS Ari­zona, and sub­se­quently beached the USS Vestal upon de­ter­min­ing that such ac­tion was re­quired to save his ship,” his ci­ta­tion states. The Vestal served through the war, re­ceiv­ing two bat­tle stars for its ac­tions.

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