Pearl Harbor Attack Survivor Recalls his Ordeal

Sailors in a motor launch rescue a man overboard alongside the burning West Virginia during, or shortly after, the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor.
Sailors in a motor launch rescue a man overboard alongside the burning West Virginia during, or shortly after, the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor.

One of the survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack, which brought the United States into World War Two 74 years ago this year, has told the story of how he escaped death.

The USS West Virginia was one of the first ships that was hit in the raid; seven Japanese torpedoes hit its port side. Adone “Cal” Calderone was one of the men ordered to head down below deck in an attempt to save the ship by counter-flooding its other side so that it wouldn’t roll over and capsize. Nearby was the USS Oklahoma, which did exactly that as it was moored in the harbor.

Cal worked with his comrades to turn the water valves and flood the ship, but as they did so, they noticed water coming into the room that they were in, seeping through the hatch. He recalls how they all thought they had met their end. The water level in their compartment continued to rise, and the six crewmen were eventually standing on their tip-toes trying to take their last gasps of air.

USS West Virginia (BB-48) in San Francisco Bay, c. 1934.
USS West Virginia (BB-48) in San Francisco Bay, c. 1934.

They saw the air vent in the next room that accessed the deck. Cal says that they were all trained for these underwater situations – they knew they would have to take two deep breaths and then swim for their lives. The six men would have only one opportunity to swim up through the vent before using up all the air in their lungs.

Cal remembers reaching the point when he no longer could hold his breath, but he kept swimming and kicking his way up the air vent. They all made it to the top, emerging to see total devastation around the harbor – smoke, more Japanese bombing raid, bodies, and fires.

Cal had been part of several US Navy bands, which had a damage control effect during missions. The night before the attack he had performed in competition onboard the USS Arizona. Afterward, he was invited to stay the night on the Arizona, but instead returned to his ship when he failed to get permission to stay.

The next morning he discovered that 1,000 crewmen had died when the ship he was supposed to have been on was destroyed in the Japanese attack.

“I didn’t see the Arizona blow up. I heard it. It went whoosh!” Calderone said, knowing how close he’d come to being on the Arizona that morning. “I could’ve been dead.”

After the attack, the band members were re-assigned to duties in naval intelligence, working with cryptology. He said the Navy figured that if they could read music, they could read codes, too.

http://www.militairyhistoryonline.com

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