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Pearl Harbor Sailor Recalls Day His Ship Died

31 December, 1969


The first time Navy Seaman Second Class Clinton Westbrook saw the USS Arizona, he thought he was looking at a monster. Longer than two football fields, it dwarfed his first assignment, the World War I destroyer USS Maddox. The Arizona\'s guns were more than three times the size of those on the Maddox. But on Dec. 7, 1941, the monster was vanquished by two bombs dropped from the Imperial Japanese Navy\'s air fleet. That Sunday was a day of rest. No reveille sounded for men living onboard the many ships moored in Pearl Harbor or at the naval base on Oahu. Some went to church. Just before dawn, Westbrook boarded a 50-foot boat with his four-man crew and headed from the Arizona to take supplies to the USS Nevada, moored nearby. At 7:53 Hawaii time, he was stepping off the gangway to the Nevada and looked up to see two planes flying low overhead.

"Hey, Bob," he told his coxswain. "It looks like our flyboys are up early today." When the second plane banked, Westbrook saw the rising sun on its wing, the symbol of the Japanese air fleet. "They ain\'t ours," he shouted to his crew. "Let\'s get the \'H\' out of here." The crew headed their boat back for cover on the Arizona. They watched the Oklahoma take seven or eight torpedoes and capsize. The West Virginia took as many and sank. Men were jumping off ships and being blown off-deck as the attack intensified. With Westbrook 60 yards from the Arizona, the first bomb bounced off its No. 4 turret and exploded below. The next fell alongside the No. 2 turret and dropped into the fully stocked powder room. Westbrook looked up to see his ship intact; then he blinked, and it was a fireball. He watched the monster of a ship rise once out of the water, and sink. The percussion from the blast spun his ship 180 degrees. As the ocean filled with sailors, Westbrook\'s crew began pulling them into their boat. During the next half-hour, they made three trips to shore, ferrying wounded and dead, 75 to 100 in a haul. They salvaged several smaller boats mired in the shallow waters. Their own boat was hit by bullets raining from the Japanese aircraft. Westbrook\'s crew finished their last trip and then were forced to moor the crippled vessel. His uniform was soaked in the blood of the wounded he had pulled onboard.

Running on adrenalin, Westbrook had no time to fear for his own life. His training propelled him to think only of the men he was rescuing as Japanese planes continued to strafe the harbor. When the firefight ended, the air was so quiet it made his ears hurt. Nine days later, Westbrook discovered he had taken a glancing bullet to his right shoulder and a piece of shrapnel to his right eye. He had lost seven buddies in the attack. For the rest of his service, he shied from making friends and remained a loner. Over the years, the question of why he survived when so many men and women died at Pearl Harbor has haunted Westbrook, 87, who lives in Altoona, Fla. He has never found an answer except that someone was watching over him, maybe saving him to take care of the wife and five children he would have one day. In 1997, he was one of several Pearl Harbor survivors invited to Japan to meet with Japanese aviators. Through an interpreter, he talked with the lone survivor of the planes that sank the Arizona. The Japanese pilot offered a kind of apology and then smiled. "Now," the pilot said, pointing heavenward, "I\'m ready to go."

Source: cruelkev2.blogspot.com

 
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