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Captain Lacouture, USN

Oral History of The Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941

Interviewer: Okay. You mentioned you're Assistant Engineer on the USS Blue. You're dealing with a chief and enlisted. How did your leadership skills come into play here?

Lacouture: Well, I found that you had to really trust your chief petty officers to tell you and advise you on all the intricacies of equipment and everything you're working on. And you supported them in any problems they had. I tried to get involved at the level down there with the chiefs and find out what their problems were, and so forth.

Communications Officer was mainly the question of getting the word on what was happening to the captain and responding to his wishes getting whatever he wanted out.

First Lieutenant was mainly keeping the topside cleaned up, and so forth and so on. And Gunnery Officer was making sure your directors and your equipment and everything worked from the gunnery point of view.

And of course, in addition to those deals, you had to stand the deck watch, usually four hours every day, and if you had the midwatch, you'd have been up working until the watch started and then you'd go from then until four o'clock, and fortunately got good coffee to keep yourself awake.

So things progressed well on the Blue, and with my social life, since I met Bam Sperry, I met several other gals. Come the evening before Pearl Harbor, we would moor usually in a joint mooring with three or four other destroyers. We would be on the east side of Ford Island and the battleships would line up on the south side of Ford Island, and then they only had one carrier based at the time there and that was I think the [USS] Enterprise [CV-6] was the main carrier out there at the time.

The night before Pearl Harbor, I was invited to a party with all the top admirals at the Royal Hawaiian, and Hilo Hattie put on her act and did her dancing and sang her songs, and we had a great time.

The mother of a gal that I was with said, "Well, now no need your going back to the ship tonight. Come back and stay at my place. We've got plenty of extra rooms."

So I went out there and about seven o'clock in the morning, she came in and started shaking me. "Wake up, wake up! The Japanese are attacking Pearl Harbor!"

I said, "Are you crazy? Go away, I'm sleepy." She finally convinced me, so I jumped in my car and headed towards Pearl, and the roads were almost vacant. There were almost no cars on the road, and I go down to the landing, the officers' landing there, and the gig was waiting there for a captain of one of the other destroyers, which was just going out.

I couldn't believe itall the battleships are overturned and all smoking, and all I could think of was all my [Naval Academy] classmates and everything, and what had happened to them. The commander who was captain of one of the other destroyers waiting there, his gig was ready. He said, "Jump in," as the ship came by. It had just gotten underway, and as they went down the channel, the Japanese second attack came in so we started shooting at them and they tried to sink the [USS] Nevada [BB-36], the battleship that had gotten underway.

Interviewer:Nevada had, yes.

Lacouture: And they were trying to sink it in the channel. I guess one of the young ensigns ran it aground to keep it from sinking in the channel. And at the time they were bombing I think it was the [USS] Pennsylvania [BB-38] that was in dry dock there.

And we shot down, oh, at least one of the airplanes, and as we went by, all the planes, the seaplanes and the hangers and everything on Ford Island were burning. Just as we got out to the entrance of the harbor there, we did manage to sink a little Japanese miniature submarine.

So we cruised around out there and I had the watch at about four or four-thirty in the morning, five o'clock just as dawn was breaking, and all of a sudden I see a big shape of a carrier through my goggles, sort of off Barbers Point, and I immediately go to general quarters, man the guns, man the torpedo tubes, get ready to fire torpedoes, and about that time the carrier puts a searchlight up and shows the American flag flying. That was the Enterprise just as I was about to launch torpedoes. It had been delivering planes to Wake Island and on its way home the cruiser with it had had propeller problems. They had to send a diving team down to sort of fix the propeller; otherwise theEnterprise would have been at its dock there and would have been sunk by the Japanese. Because they came in and I think they had, was it the [USS] Utah [AG-16] or some training ship was there and they splintered it to smithereens, just because they were diving at a target location without wondering just what it was.

And then, of course, the Enterprise launched her planes and about a third of them got shot down, because by then our gunners were shooting at anything that moved in the air without identifying it. Nobody knew how to identify airplanes, especially not people who just were bombed unexpectedly.

I think, you know it was strange, for a couple of days before Pearl Harbor we'd been getting submarine contacts out there when we were out there cruising around. Reported them, but nobody paid much attention. And one of the first things we did after, well, as I say we went back in after the attack was over on this ship, and when I was out there, why they transferred me to the Blue, and the Blue had been taken out by four ensigns. A guy out of '39 [Naval Academy class of 1939] was the senior ensign on board and they transferred me over and they'd been up all day and all night. So I brought the ship back in. I was the second senior guy on board then.

Published: Mon Sep 21 13:58:13 EDT 2015