Friday, December 20, 2013

Reporting to the Naval Repair Base in San Diego

On today's date in 1943, my dad, Frank Dolan, reported to Industrial Command on the U.S. Naval Repair Base in San Diego, California. He will undergo several weeks of training for service on the Navy's newest repair ship, USS Hector.

Providentially, San Diego was also his hometown. Born and raised on a small ranch and dairy farm in Sunnyside, about 20 miles east of the base, Dad will enjoy spending time with his family and childhood friends.

Dad on leave, December 1943

Dolan Brothers Ed, Frank, Elwin, and Brother-in-Law Willie Howel
December 1943

Sources: Frank L. Dolan's Service Records and his personal narrative

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Remembering Pearl Harbor | A sailor's first-hand account

My dad, Frank L. Dolan, was an 18-year old U.S. Navy Sailor aboard the auxiliary repair ship USS Vestal during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 72 years ago on today's date in 1941. I am reprinting the original post about his experience on that fateful day.


My dad was a weldor on the Vestal, which was tied alongside the battleship USS Arizona, when the surprise Japanese attack came.* He remembered the events that unfolded at Pearl Harbor on this date in 1941 like this...
Sunday was "holiday routine"… a no-work day. The officers and men would ‘sleep-in,’ but not me. I was eager to get my ratings. So, after morning chow, I went to the foc’sle… which was an upper deck in the forward part of the ship, to do my studying… Noise! A loud noise! A loud, booming noise came! Then came the roar of airplanes. I looked over the starboard (right) side of the ship and saw planes—many planes. Some were overhead, but many were just a few feet above the water. They were launching what I thought were “dummy” torpedoes. "Neat, real neat!" I thought. But when the first one exploded against a battleship’s side, I thought some dumb American pilot dropped a real live torpedo by accident.
Japanese aerial photo of the attack 
Even as torpedoes were exploding on impact against the sides of the battleships, I told myself there must be some mistake. The planes were so close we could easily see the pilots. Then the red ball designation of the Japanese on the sides of the planes came into view. Immediately I was off the foc’csle down the port passageway aft on the main deck and onto the starboard side to watch. Again, I was not really believing what I was witnessing. More torpedo planes, and then came the dive bombers. I had no battle station as at this time we were at peace with Japan, and had only one 3-inch anti-aircraft gun, and a couple of Thompson machine guns on board. Our 5-inch broadside guns were for use against surface craft.
My next move was to head for the weld shop. To get there I had to go down a ladder through the carpenter shop and then amidships to the weld shop. No sooner had I got down the ladder when a bomb came through the carpenter shop hitting the ladder I had just come down. There were numerous casualties in the carpenter shop. One shipmate was decapitated. Immediately, I went to the weld shop. Half of the men there had been sleeping or were just awakening and were asking, "What was up?" The other men and I told them the Japs were here. I looked toward the small hatch opening that I had just come through to get to our shop. "Ski," a shipmate, had just come into the shop looking very pale and wobbly. We grabbed him and laid him on a cot, face-down, as we discovered that both cheeks of his backside were torn off and hardly any flesh remained. This was the result of the bomb that had come through the carpenter shop. In the meantime, another bomb hit the forward part of our ship on the starboard side near where I had been studying a few minutes earlier.
USS Arizona
Dad recalled that at about the time the second bomb hit the forward part of the Vestal, on the starboard side near where he had been studying a few minutes earlier, was when the Arizona exploded. While he was below decks at that moment, he did not then know what had happened, although it was a “shaking experience” for him. “When the Arizona blew up and was broken in two, my first thought from below deck was that our acetylene and oxygen cylinders, which were topside and near the great explosion, had blown up. Soon afterward, we learned that it was the Arizona. And, later on, with all of the burned survivors, we knew for sure what had happened.”

Amazingly, of the 400 men on the Vestal, only 6 were lost, although many were seriously injured. Among the many deeds of brave men, the Vestal’s captain, Cassin Young, received the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions that day. On the other hand, the losses to the Arizona were horrific. More than 1,100 Sailors and Marines still lie entombed within its sunken hull. Over 50 Sailors lie within the submerged Utah.

Dad recounted his experience of this “date which will live in infamy” in his narrative, Pearl Harbor: As I Remember.

* A profound experience from my childhood was to personally meet Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese commander who led the first attack wave on Pearl Harbor, and who immortalized the words, Tora, Tora, ToraWhen I was about 10, my dad insisted that I go with him to a Youth for Christ meeting in San Diego, where this remarkable man and former enemy of the United States was speaking. Years after the Pearl Harbor attack, Fuchida became a Christian in a remarkable conversion to the Christian faith. I wrote about the experience in the post, Meeting God's Samurai.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Tomorrow is Pearl Harbor Day

Tomorrow is National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, which is observed every December 7th to commemorate those who died in the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on that date in 1941. By Congressional law and Presidential Proclamation, flags may be flown at half-staff in remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice on that "date which will live in infamy."