U.S.S. West Virginia
December 11, 1941.
||Lieutenant (jg) F.H. White, D-V(G), U.S.N.R.
||The Navy Department.
||Statement of Japanese attack on December 7, 1941.
At 0756, approximately, I was in the wardroom when the Fire and Rescue party was called away by bugle. I ran to the quarter deck. The first thing I saw, on reaching topside was a Japanese plane over a ship, ahead of the West Virginia, from which a column of water and smoke was rising. As I ran forward, I stopped at the Deck office and sounded the general alarm just as the first torpedo struck the ship. In route my battle station in secondary forward I noticed no one in charge of the AA battery on the boat deck where the crews were manning the guns, so I remained there and took charge of the battery, breaking out the ready service ammunition, forming an ammunition train and getting the starboard guns firing, local control.
The ship had received three or four torpedo hits which threw oil and water all over the decks, which combined with the list to -- approximately 25° -- made footing very precarious. Due to the list of the ship, the port gun crews were brought to starboard as their guns would not elevate sufficiently. The air to the guns had gone out, which necessitated depression for hand loading. While the guns were in action, several bombs dropped on or near the ship, but the discipline on the guns was excellent. When the ammunition in the ready service boxes was expended, I went below to see if more ammunition could be brought up.
In passing through Times Square I picked up four hands from the secondary battery who accompanied me, going down the hatch from Times Square to A-605 then to A-511.
In A-511 water was up to the airports on the port side and extended to the centerline one battle port was not dogged down which one hand of my detail took care of. The starboard armored hatch from A-511 to A-420 was open, but A-420 was flooded to within a few inches of this hatch. A great many injured men were lying on deck or in the water in A-511, whom I ordered my detail to evacuate to Times Square. I returned to Times Square where Ens. T.J.F. Ford was in charge of secondary battery which was not at the moment engaged and ordered secondary battery personnel to evacuate all injured from second and main decks to Times Square. From there I returned to the AA battery where I reported to Lieutenant Commander D.C. Johnson that ammunition could not be brought up and informed him of the situation below deck.
Lieutenant Commander J.H. Harper saw me and told me to go to the bridge and bring down the Captain who was wounded. Lieutenant C.V. Ricketts, Ens. V. Delano, C.S.M. Siewert, D. Miller, M.Att.2c. and several signalmen were on the signal and flag bridges, in the immediate vicinity of the starboard admiral's walk where the Captain was lying. The Captain's abdomen was cut apparently by a fragment of bomb, about three by four inches, with part of his intestines protruding. The Captain deserves the highest praise, for although he was in great pain, his only concern was for the ship and crew. The Captain did not want to be moved, but he was carefully carried to shelter abaft the conning tower where Leak, C.Ph.M. administered first aid. Under direction of Lt. Ricketts, material to construct a stretcher on which to lower the Captain was procured, while D. Miller, Matt.2c. and I manned #1 and #2 machine gun forward of the conning tower.
A serious oil fire from the galley spread to the mast structure, with flame and thick black smoke preventing our lowering the Captain forward of the conning tower although an unsuccessful attempt was made. The smoke and flames prevented us from seeing more than a foot or two, and the heat was intense. I helped place the Captain on top of the search light forward of the conning tower and tried to untie the lashing which secured him to the improvised stretcher, but was unable to do so, I then went aft, groping my way to the other side of the signal bridge, bringing the enlisted men with me to look for something to cut the lashing. Lt. Ricketts was by the starboard signal bags and I reported to him and he went forward to take a look followed by Miller and me. The Captain's stretcher had slid aft, with the captain's head down and the lashing loosened. The four of us carried him aft and up to the Navigation Bridge where we laid him on deck under shelter of the port AA. director and out of the flame. The life jackets stowage and signal bags were burning by this time and Lt. Ricketts, Seiwert and I threw burning flags over the side. A fire hose was sent up by heaving line which I used to try to fight fire but the pressure was insufficient. By this time the bridge was burning to starboard, and the signal bridge all over. Ens. Graham went up the starboard boat crane and sent over a line which we secured to the rail on the bridge and used to cross to the carne and thence to the boat deck. From then until relieved fought fire.
Lt. C.V. Ricketts deserves the highest commendation for his exemplary inspiration and leadership. Had he not counter flooded, it is almost certain the West Virginia would have capsized as did the Oklahoma. His presence of mind, cool judgement and complete disregard of personal safety are an inspiration to all hands.
Lieutenant (jg), U.S.N.R.