Clarksburg Exponent Telegram

TODAY'S
NEWS

LOCAL NEWS
SPORTS
BIRTHS
OBITUARIES
CALENDAR
OPINIONS
COLUMNS
LETTERS TO
THE EDITOR


News Search

AP Wire

AP Money Wire

AP Archive

ADVERTISING
AND CIRCULATION

CLASSIFIED ADS
ADVERTISING RATES
CIRCULATION RATES

GUIDES
NEWSPAPERS
IN EDUCATION

For Students and Teachers
NON-PROFIT

GROUPS
DEPARTMENT
E-MAIL
CONNECTIONS

NEWSROOM
SPORTS
ADVERTISING
CIRCULATION
WEB SITE
BUSINESS OFFICE
OTHER

 

THIS SITE IS
BEST VIEWED
WITH THE
LATEST VERSION OF:
msexplorer
INTERNET EXPLORER

CORRECTIONS
AND ADDITIONS

Copyright
Clarksburg Publishing
Company 2002

Clarksburg
Publishing Company,
P.O. Box 2002,
Clarksburg, WV 26302
USA

CURRENT STORIES


Two local vets remember Pearl Harbor

Editor's note: Harrison County residents Fay Hannah and Austin Don Cunningham were gunner's mates on board the USS West Virginia on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. This is their story.

by Gary A. Harki

STAFF WRITER

CLARKSBURG -- Fay Hannah and Austin Don Cunningham had been up since 6 a.m., just like the other 10 sailors assigned to gun turret No. 2, one of the four mammoth turrets, each housing two 16-inch guns on the USS West Virginia.

The men had eaten breakfast and were in their sleeping quarters around 7:30 a.m., expecting a light workload that Sunday.

But at 7:55 a.m., the explosions started. Six torpedoes hit the left side of the West Virginia, and two bombs were dropped on the ship by Japanese planes, Cunningham said.

"I didn't have any idea what it was," Hannah said. "When torpedoes hit, the ship raised up and quivered, then settled back down. I went out on deck and someone said, 'The Japs are attacking!' Just about every ship in the harbor was on fire."

The call went out for the crew to go to general quarters, and the men assigned to gun turret No. 2 went to their battle stations, but the gun was too big to be fired in the harbor.

Fay Hannah's brother, B.A. Hannah, also was assigned to gun turret No. 2. He is now deceased. The brothers nodded at each other in the hallway and wished each other luck, Fay Hannah said.

The ship was in danger of sinking, and the sailors were ordered on deck, Hannah said.

The torpedo hits caused the ship to take on water and to start listing. The damage control officer managed to open up chambers in the ship's hull, allowing water to disperse evenly inside the West Virginia, Hannah said.

Soon it was evident the West Virginia would not stop sinking, and the order was given for all to abandon ship.

"I left in a hurry," Cunningham said. "I looked over and saw that the (USS Oklahoma, which was directly in front of the West Virginia) was bottom side up."

Cunningham managed to jump over to the USS Tennessee, which was sandwiched in between the West Virginia and Ford Island, and thus protected from the torpedoes that were sinking the West Virginia.

Hannah was unable to make it to the Tennessee. From his position, it was impossible to cross from one ship to the other.

"I didn't see how you could get over, and I didn't see any rafts or anything," Hannah said. "The Oklahoma was right behind us; oil was on fire on the (left) side of the ship."

Men were jumping off of the left side of the Oklahoma and into the oil, Hannah said.

As the ship under him continued to sink, and Japanese bombers attacked from above, Hannah looked away from the Oklahoma for a moment. When he looked back, the ship had capsized.

Hannah reached the front of the ship and decided he had no choice. He jumped overboard.

From the Tennessee, Cunningham managed to squeeze into a small boat packed with sailors going to Ford Island.

"You could hear the five-inch shells going off. I was concerned about the shrapnel coming back down," Cunningham said.

Swimming near the Tennessee and the West Virginia, Hannah had to fight the pull of the West Virginia as it continued to sink beside him. Oil mixed in the water, waiting for a spark to catch fire.

Hannah reached a small life raft, but quickly realized it was moving too slow to do him any good. He continued to swim to Ford Island.

When Cunningham finally reached Ford Island, he ran to one of the hangars at the Ford Island Naval Air Station. Once inside, Cunningham did the same as many other sailors, grabbing a .30-caliber machine gun and beginning to fire at the sky.

"Anybody who could get a hold of a gun was trying to shoot the planes down," Cunningham said.

Exhausted and covered in oil, Hannah finally reached Ford Island. He climbed up the slippery beach as the Japanese continued attacking.

The West Virginia had sunk by the time both men were on the island.

Hannah ran for the cover of an air station building, and began to ask other West Virginia sailors about his brother.

"Someone said they had seen him and he went to load belts of ammo for the machine guns on the ground and for the planes," Hannah said.

As the attack continued, Hannah and Cunningham stayed on Ford Island, helping with what they could.

Hannah finally met up with his brother around 5 p.m., having survived one of the bloodiest days in United States history.

The Japanese destroyed most of the United States' Pacific Fleet and killed 2,388, including 105 on the West Virginia, Cunningham said.

The next few days, Hannah and Cunningham helped in the cleanup and slept in makeshift quarters on the island.

Both men went on to serve on other ships in World War II and fight in battles in the Pacific.

"At the time, you didn't give it much thought," Cunningham said. "It is something I won't forget. They hit us a low blow. The Japanese could have landed on Hawaii that day if they had wanted to, but they couldn't have held it."

Epilogue

The story of the USS West Virginia does not end at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.

The ship was raised from the sea floor and towed to Salt Lake City. There it was rebuilt and sent back out to fight in World War II, Cunningham said.

The ship fought in battles throughout the Pacific, including Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

At the battle of Okinawa, Marion County native Andy Harki, the grandfather of this reporter, was shuffled onto a barge 12 miles out to sea.

He was a Naval Radio Operator, 2nd class, attached to the 2nd Marine Combat Engineers. It was their job to stay close to the beach during invasions, Harki said.

As the barge moved closer to the beach of Okinawa, it drifted beside the rebuilt USS West Virginia, which was firing at the island, Harki said.

"It was real loud. We were probably only 400 yards from it," Harki said. "We were close enough to wave to the men."

Later, during the invasion of Okinawa, the West Virginia could be seen firing at the island's capital of Naha, Harki said.

"I felt kind of proud," Harki said. "The ship was all redone, they had taken off all the old crow's nests and it looked pretty slick. You could read real clear on the side, USS West Virginia."