Saturday, January 14, 2012

From Seaman to Fireman

A little over a month after the Pearl Harbor attack, Dad’s rating was changed to Fireman, 3rd Class. This was a change from Seaman, 2c—in the older designation, a change from a blue stripe on the left to red stripe on the left sleeve. What's amazing about the promotion was the timing.

In service school only a few months earlier, Dad had mastered the fundamentals of welding, shipfitting, pipe work, and foundrywork, but he wanted to advance, to perform more specialized work than what he was assigned in the deck force only. He was in the act of studying for the exam for his Fireman rating when the Japanese began their surprise attack. At 7:53 AM on that fateful morning, December 7, 1941, Dad, off-duty, had found a place in the forward part of his ship, the USS Vestal, to do his studying, while his shipmates were either on leave or asleep. After watching in disbelief the first bombs fall around him, he soon reported to his duty station, the weld shop, below deck. Following the attack, he would visit the foc’sle where he had been studying to discover that a bomb had hit that very spot!

Bomb hole in Vestal's forecastle deck, seen from beneath and
looking to starboard. Dad had been studying here moments
before the bomb hit.

Source: Vestal Bomb Damage Report
In the days ahead, Dad and every available sailor were put to work to save and salvage what was left in the wake of the awful destruction. The preparation for the promotion was put on hold.

But somehow in the chaotic weeks after the attack, Dad got his wish and earned a new rating, F.3c, on this date, in 1942. The change now allowed him to work in the engine and firerooms, new skills that would be essential for the myriad tasks confronting the repair effort to the seriously damaged fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Sources: Frank L. Dolan's Service Records; Pearl Harbor As I Remember

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