GEORGE A. DeLONG
JUNE 26, 1922 to MARCH 22, 2002
I was a quartermaster striker assigned to sleep in Steering Aft on the lowest deck of the USS Oklahoma stationed at Pearl Harbor. I was just getting out of my bunk shortly before eight AM on Sunday, December 7, 1941, when I heard over the loudspeaker ‘All hands man your battle stations.’ All the fellows thought it was a drill, but why on a Sunday morning?
Just then an explosion took place, then another and another. The ship immediately began to turn over. Everything was topsy-turvy. There were seven other fellows in the compartment. We got up to the highest point in the compartment because water started coming in through a fresh air vent that should have been shut off, but the fellow in charge never got to his station to close it. At first we stuffed clothing in the two feet square vent hole. However, the clothing kept blowing out. We then decided to roll up a bunk mattress and stuff the vent with the mattress. The water still kept coming in. We finally put one of the fellows on top of the mattress to hold it down. He soon had to be removed, because the water was coming up to his chest. About that time an Acey Deucey board floated over to us. It was just the right size to fit on the vent hole. We used some line to fasten the board and the water was slowed somewhat.
One fellow had a flashlight and we saw that there was a watertight door that went into a little compartment behind us. Not knowing if there was any water in that compartment, we took a vote to see if we should open the door. We opened the door and there was fresh air in the compartment, so we exchanged our water for some fresh air.
There was nothing left to do but wait. We started to bang SOS ‘s on the bulkhead and hoped that someone would hear us. Eventually, after one and a half days, we were rescued by the yard workmen who cut holes in the hull of the ship with pneumatic drills in order to extricate us. There were a total of 32 men rescued from the capsized ship. At 4 PM, Monday, December 8, we were taken to the hospital ship, USS Solace, given a shot of brandy, a shower, a meal and sent to bed.
The next day I was assigned to the USS Helena. I was aboard her until shortly before she was sunk in 1943. While on the Helena I participated, in November 1942, in the battle of Guadalcanal. I later saw duty on the USS Crater and was then assigned to the USS Dixie, where we attended the A bomb tests at Bikini.
I never felt that I was a hero, I was merely a survivor. The fellows who rescued us were the heroes.
Sadly, George died in March 2002. After his Pearl Harbor experience, George always said he was living on borrowed time and he enjoyed life to the fullest.
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