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Enclosure to Volume 3 to Commander-in-Chief, United States Pacific Fleet, Serial 0479, 15 February 1942. The original is held in RG 38, Textual Reference Branch, National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740.

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  • nhhc-topics:pacific-theater-of-operations
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  • Historical Summary
Wars & Conflicts
  • nhhc-wars-conflicts:world-war-ii
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Cook Third Class Doris Miller, USN

Enclosure F to USS West Virginia's Action Report, 11 December 1941

At about 0755 on 7 December, 1941, I was sitting at breakfast table in wardroom when assembly was sounded and fire and rescue party called away. Almost immediately thereafter as I was leaving the wardroom general quarters was sounded. As I went up the ladder to the starboard side of the quarter deck, I heard the word being passed by word of mouth that, "The Japs are attacking". As I reached the quarterdeck I felt the ship being hit. She was shaken some but I was not knocked from my feet. I thought then that instead of actual hits the vibration might be caused by bombs falling close aboard. I went up the starboard side of the boat deck to the AA battery, which was being manned. Ensign Hunter was present on the starboard battery and I told him to open fire as soon as possible. Ensign Hunter, incidentally, was attached to the 5" AA battery and that was his regularly assigned battle station. Ensign Graham, who is also in the AA battery was present during the firing although I don't remember giving him any actual orders or seeing him at that time. I then went to the Fire Control tower as I was the senior officer in the gunnery department aboard. The tower was locked so we broke it open. The Captain then appeared and as the ship was listing rapidly to port and I knew probably few C&R officers were aboard I said, "Captain, shall I go below and counterflood". He replied, "Yes, do that". I went down through times square where I picked up Billingsley, B.M.1/c., to help. We went to the main deck and aft on the starboard side and down to the second deck through the escape scuttle in the hatch in front of the Executive Officer's Office. The hatches in this vicinity were closed with escape scuttles open. Wounded were being brought up the hatches forward. The ship was now listing so heavily that on the linoleum decks it was impossible to walk without holding on to something. I reached the third deck by the ladder at frame 87 starboard and went forward to the first group of counterflood valves. Billingsley went aft and got a crank for operating the valves. When he came back, Rucker and Bobick, shipfitters from Repair III, came with him. Billingsley and I started B-163 counterflooding while the other men assisted at other valves. When I was assured that counterflooding was well underway, I told Rucker to counterflood everything on the starboard side until the ship was on an even keel. It was not long before the excessive list to port began to decrease. Rucker told me later that he had not previously received any orders to counterflood but he and Bobick decided that they should anyway and they actually opened the valves to two voids in Repair III. This action on their part, in my opinion, showed excellent initiative and judgement. A considerable number of men were in the starboard passageways on the third deck and I ordered them forward to A-420 to supply ammunition. From information received shortly afterwards I don't believe these men ever got to A-420.

I then went to the AA battery on the boat deck and found that all ammunition from the ready boxes had been expended. I went to time square and formed an ammunition train, opening hatches as necessary. However, when the hatch to the third deck A-420 was opened we found it to be flooded. This hatch was again closed and further attempts to obtain ammunition were abandoned. Ensign Ford, who was assisting me in this attempt then very properly used the ammunition train and other personnel available to evacuate the wounded from the second deck. At about this time someone told me that the Captain was seriously wounded and needed attention. I sent Ensign Jacoby and McKinght, S.F.2/c., forward to get a pharmacist mate to the flag bridge to the Captain. I then went to the flag bridge myself and found Ensign Vail and Ensign Delano with the Captain who was lying in the starboard doorway leading to the Admiral's walk. Lieut.(jg) F. H. White arrived shortly afterwards. I sent Ensign Vail to the boat deck with orders to send all our AA guns crews to the Tennessee to assist in firing. The Captain had a serious abdominal wound, a large piece of metal or other similar object apparently having passed through his abdomen. Lead, Chief Pharmacists Mate, arrived with a first aid kit and dressed the wound as best he could. We put the Captain on a cot and moved him under shelter just aft of the conning tower. He remained here during the second air attack. We had no stretcher but we obtained a wooden ladder about 8' long and put the Captain on it and lashed him to it and tied a line on each corner intending to lower him over the port or starboard side of the conning tower down to the boat deck. By that time however a serious oil fire had started, apparently in the galley, and heavy black smoke poured up over the bridge and boat deck forward. The boat deck had to be evacuated so we could not lower the Captain there. Neither could we lower him aft of the bridge because it was covered with fire. I went to the after part of the bridge to see if there was any avenue of escape. A serious oil fire had started, apparently in the galley, and was covering the forward part of the boat deck and the flag bridge with very heavy black smoke. The starboard after corner of the flag bridge was clear most of the time and I could see that the starboard side of the ship aft of the boat crane was clear of fire and smoke. By this time the fire had spread to the life jacket stowage under the after part of the bridge and flames were coming up through the bomb hole in the port side of the flag bridge deck. The signal flags caught on fire and I cleared out those in outboard end of the starboard flag bag. The personnel I had left with the Captain had been forced to leave him and come aft for air, and a knife to cut the Captain's lines loose from the ladder. As I was comparatively fresh I went forward and found him still lashed to the ladder, one end of which was up against the shield where the latest attempt had been made to lower him. He was still partially conscious. I returned aft and got Lieut.(jg)., F. H. White and two men and we went forward again, unlashed the Captain from the ladder, brought him aft and took him up to the navigation bridge, port side, where there was no fire and comparatively little smoke. On this trip to recover the Captain the area was completely obliterated with heavy black smoke except where a puff of wind would blow it aside. We got aft none to soon as fire from the lumber stowage shortly broke out and covered this area with flames. I left Leak with the Captain and the rest of us went to the starboard side of the flag b ridge. By this time Ensign Graham was on the starboard boat crane. He passed us a line and secured his end to a fire hose which we pulled up to the bridge. The hose was connected to a fire plug on the Tennessee. Lieut.(jg) White, one enlisted man, and I attempted to fight the heavy fire on the forward part of the bridge but the pressure was not enough to have much effect. A party under the direction of Ensign Graham was by this time fighting the fire on the boat deck and after side of the bridge structure. About this time Leak came to me and said, "Mr. Ricketts the Captain is about gone." Knowing that we could do him no more good we, with the help of Ensign Graham, passed a line between the starboard boat crane and the flagbridge, secured it, and I ordered the men to go to the crane via this line. In the meantime Leak had gone back to the Captain but he was then dead. When all the men had left and Lieut.(jg) White was on the line I went down the fire hose to the crane. From that time on until relief fire fighting parties arrived we fought the fire on the boat deck, starboard casemates, and port side of the main deck forward. Ensigns Hine, Hazelton, Lombardi, Graham and some others did excellent work in this fire fighting.

The personnel that worked with me on the bridge I cannot commend too highly. They carried out every order promptly and enthusiastically, even when it meant danger to themselves. They did not attempt to abandon the bridge until ordered to do so. These personnel were: Lieut.(jg) F. H. White, Ensign V. Delano, Siewart, A. A., C.S.M., Leak, L. N., CPHM, and Miller, D., Matt,2c., Two or three other men, signalmen, I believe, were also present. Lieut.(jg) F. H. White is to be especially commended for his great help, many suggestions and disregard of personal danger. Ensign Graham and Ensign Lombardi provided us a means of escape by passing us lines from the starboard crane and by directing the fire fighting on the after side of the mast structure.

The Captain deserves the highest praise for his noble conduct to the last. Although in great pain he kept inquiring about the condition of the ships, whether or not we had any pumps running, etc. He was particularly concerned about the fires on board and the oil on the surface of the water. I assured him that everyone was doing everything possible to fight the fire and control the damage. He did not want to be moved and after the fire started kept insisting that we leave him and go below. For a short time after he was wounded it would have been possible to lower him down, but his wound was so serious I knew that he would be better off with as little handling as possible. Leak concurred with me in this opinion. However, when the fire broke out around the after part of the bridge structure I moved him regardless, because of the suffocating smoke and the approaching fire.

I have quite a number of recommendations based upon observation during and after the action. I would like to have the opportunity of submitting these at a later date as their compilation will take some time and I believe their basis makes their consideration desirable.

(signed)
C. V. RICKETTS.

ADDENDA:

Looking backwards I can see that I should have utilized more time between the first and second attack in attempting to get ammunition to all machine guns. It might have been possible to get some from the Tennessee for the after guns. Also I should have broken out marines with rifles and their ready ammunition. Such action might have helped repel the second attack.

(signed)
C. V. RICKETTS.

Published: Wed Nov 29 08:54:38 EST 2017