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Irvin’s Story: Standing by the Oklahoma

I got temporary duty to the mine school. It was for two months, and then I was to report back to the Oklahoma. That was my key toward getting over to the Asiatic Fleet. This was November 1941. I stayed at the mine school barracks right by the submarine base. To me, those were beautiful barracks with neat rows of bunk beds. The barracks were right above the mess hall. There must have been fifty guys in the school. We were in class about eight hours a day.

The Oklahoma was in the harbor part of the time, so I took a launch out on Sundays to see the guys a couple of times. On the weekends we would go to Honolulu. We’d drink a few beers, look at the girls and wander around. I was living in hog heaven. I thought to myself, going to mine school was an excellent decision.

We had the idea that war was imminent. We knew what was going on in Europe. But, you know, when you’re seventeen years old you don’t think anything is going to happen the next day. We didn’t have training for war. In boot camp it was all, “hip, two, three, four” – marching and hand-washing our clothes and tying knots.

On December 7, 1941, I bailed out of bed pretty early. It was almost like any other day except it was a Sunday. So I leisurely took a shower, then I headed down the stairs and into the mess hall. Other guys were up. There were quite a few in the mess hall. After I got done eating about a quarter of eight, I started outside. I stood there looking around; it was a beautiful morning. No clouds, just a beautiful day to be in Hawaii.

Then all of a sudden I heard this machine gun fire going off. This plane came right over the barracks and let off quite a row of bullets. We just stood there in amazement at first. We couldn’t believe this was happening. I looked up and saw those big red meatballs on the wings.

“Hell, that’s Japs!”

All hell broke loose. Someone hollered, “Let’s get to the armory.”

So we all ran down to the armory. They had to cut the locks off to get the guns, and then they quickly passed out weapons. They gave us 30-06 rifles; the same gun I practiced shooting in boot camp. We grabbed belt line bandoliers with ammo on them. These 30-06s even had bayonets on them. It’s a powerful rifle, but it’s a bolt action. You can only get off one round at a time.

I ran back over to the dock because I saw these Japanese torpedo planes coming up the channel. I went to the edge of the dock and there were several submarines right there. The subs had machine guns on deck and they were cutting loose on these torpedo planes as they came over.

Those Japanese pilots, I could see their faces as they flew over me. They were that close, strafing with machine guns all over the place. The bullets were tearing up the grass fifty feet from us. Some of these planes had three guns on each wing. That’s six machine guns going off at once; that’s a pretty good pile of strafing. Of course, we were trying to knock them down. I fired round after round as fast as I could. We popped a few holes in those planes with our rifles; we could hardly miss, they flew right over us. Planes were coming in pairs, just like a swarm of bees. Then the light bombers came after them.

Getting killed didn’t even cross my mind. I wanted to kill the Japanese, though. I was so angry at what I was seeing, watching the battleships get hit. I saw the bomber that came down on the Arizona. The Arizona was pretty well intact up to this point. I watched that sucker fly over the Arizona and that bomb just dropped down. I thought it was going to go down the smoke stack. Some people say it landed forward of the smoke stack. I still think the bomb went down the stack. When it hit and blew up down below, it must have been in the ammo locker, where the powder was. It looked like the whole ship just rose up out of the water and shook. Smoke everywhere. That bomb put the Arizona down and killed a lot of guys.

The stern of the Pelias, that’s a submarine tender, was facing outboard, toward the channel. They had a 4”/50 caliber gun mounted on deck, which is a pretty heavy weapon. The Pelias cut loose with that 4”/50 and hit this torpedo plane right in the engine. The plane looked like it just stopped dead in midair. Then it dropped straight down into the water. Torpedo and all, thank goodness. He didn’t have a chance to drop that torpedo.

Through the smoke I saw the Oklahoma lying there on her side, flipped practically upside down. I didn’t see it happen, but I could see she was rolled over. I thought, my God, how many guys are in there? How many are trapped? There were fires burning and smoke was everywhere. I saw Hickham airbase being hit hard. I was firing at the planes flying over Hickham and this fellow said to me, “You’re not going to hit anything.”

“Maybe you’re right, but it makes me feel better to keep firing at them.” I got rid of quite a bit of ammunition. But I didn’t run out. I had a whole belt full of ammunition. I stayed right there on the dock during the whole attack. We fired for a couple of hours, off and on. Then word came out that the Japanese were invading, landing. The word just went up and down the line, so we put our bayonets on and got ready for combat. Of course, that didn’t happen, thank goodness.

Finally, the planes stopped coming. There was nobody really in charge. People were just running around. Then I heard they wanted gun crews up high on this building near the barracks. They had mounted machine guns up there on the top deck of this building. So, I went up there and stayed all day.

Everything was a disaster. From up on top of this building I could see everything that was going on all day. Motor launches were going around picking guys out of the water. The water was covered with oil. They brought some guys who were still alive back to the sub base. They all needed dry clothes. I went down and pulled clothes out of my locker and put them in the pile. Then I went back up on that building.

It was just mass confusion for awhile. We didn’t know if the enemy was coming in again. The day finally wore into the evening. Motor launches were out there all night picking up guys, dead and alive, out of the water. We were there on top of that building through the night until the next morning. Everybody was awake. Nobody could sleep. Our nerves were wound up tighter than drums.

The next morning word came along that they needed a working party to go out to the Oklahoma. Of course, I volunteered. There were maybe eight or ten of us that climbed into this launch. And I was still in whites, my dress whites, if you can imagine. We started out and I could see all the carnage. There were still bodies in different places, washed up here and there. People were out in launches, anything that would float, picking up bodies. There was smoke all over the place. The Arizona was still belching fumes.

We got out to the Oklahoma and we climbed up on the belly of the ship. We handled air lines to help these guys who were standing on the Oklahoma, trying to cut out the trapped men. They were using cutting torches and chipping guns. There was this big Hawaiian out there with muscles as big as suitcases. He worked in the shipyards. He was trying to cut these guys out. I’ll never forget him, watching him work like a demon trying to save those guys. They had plans laid out, drawings of the ship. But, I don’t know how much good those were. We went by sounds. We’d hear tapping – tap, tap, tap.

“Here’s a sound over here!”

We’d rush over there and tap on the hull, and someone would tap back from inside. So, that’s where we would start cutting. It was terrible; you could hear them down below. In some spots where we cut through, a blast of air would come out and the guys would holler, “Quit cutting, quit cutting!” As soon as the pressure was released through the hole, it let water come in. It was just horrendous. It tore my heart out.

I helped pull out three or four guys. I think, altogether, about thirty guys were pulled out from the ship. I did this all day, until evening. I don’t remember being tired, even though I hadn’t slept in about thirty-six hours. It was my birthday. My eighteenth birthday. I was so busy all day I don’t think it even occurred to me that it was my birthday. My whole world was upside down. In the evening they cut us loose and told us to go back to the barracks at the sub base. I don’t think I’d eaten anything since the day before at breakfast.

I’ll never in my life forget that day standing there on the Oklahoma. I’ll carry it with me to my grave. It’s stuck with me all these years. I can still hear those guys down there tapping. More than 400 guys died on the Oklahoma. It was heartbreaking. It was a lucky decision on my part to put in for the mine school and get off that ship.

I thought about the leading seaman who helped me get into mine school. He went down with the Oklahoma. It was heart-shaking. It took me a long time to learn to live with that. It took me twenty years, probably, before I could think about that time without it ripping me up. I’d wake up at night with bad dreams for years. I wasn’t the only one. Others who survived felt the same way. I was a lucky survivor. I wondered, why me? Why was I spared? It’s the way fate is. At times I felt guilty for surviving. I couldn’t run around jumping for joy about surviving, not after all those other guys died. They weren’t lucky like me. I saw more action in three or four hours than some people did in the whole war. I saw enough killing to last a lifetime at Pearl Harbor. That was my baptism in the fire of war.

From the book, Just Do It, Crazy of Not; the life story of 30 year Navy veteran Irvin Hornkohl, by Mary Penner and Irvin Hornkohl.

Arriving on December 7

My mother and her three year old daughter arrived in Pearl Harbour on the SS Dickenson just as the first bombs fell in the harbour. She had been evacuated from Fanning Island in the Line Islands due to the risk of Germany attacking the island as they did in WW1.

The crew and passengers on the Dickenson were watching the events, wondering if the U.S. Air Force was being too enthusiastic
in their bombing practices, and they were quite annoyed initially.

It was then realised that the planes were Japanese, but the little ship made it to a wharf and I have a record of how the usual formalities
were abandoned in order to get the crew and passengers safely ashore.

Fortunately my mother knew a few people in Honolulu and she and my sister were well catered for in the turmoil.  After a month or so, they
managed to sneak into California to wait for a convoy to get to Australia, their destination.  It took a three months’ wait.

My mother had warm memories of her time in the USA in the midst of the country’s scramble to go to war.

— Nari Strange

(Click on the image above to see the entire Dec. 7, 1941 passenger arrival list of the Dickenson. Nari’s mom and sister’s names are listed on page 3; page 2 contains additional details.)

Grandpa Enlisted … and the Japanese Quickly Retaliated

My grandfather, Marion Berness Brady (left, with brothers Elwood and Keith), never talked about his war experiences … with one exception. This was a story he took great delight in retelling and always in the third person:

“On the 6th of December, 1941, Berness and Elwood Brady joined the United States Marine Corps. The next day, the Japanese retaliated.”

I always doubted that Grandpa and his brother actually joined on December 6. Then I found them in the Utah, Military Records, 1861-1970 database on, and it proved Grandpa was right.

— Jennifer Utley

Adopted and Found Biological Family!

My name is Elizabeth Ann now JoAnne Leavitt-Thomas. I was born to Natalie Moccone and Lawrence Raymond Leavitt Sr in 1957. They were not married. My mother gave me up for adoption and I was adopted at age 5 months. My name became JoAnne Scollay from my adopted parents. As I was growing up I always knew that I would one day find my biological family. What better place to start then in my hometown of Waterbury Connecticut. Of course out of respect I always said I would wait till my adopted parents past. Unfortunately they both past at an early age leaving me and my adopted brother alone again. We were in are 20’s but still very young.

I started searching in the early 80’s before computers and I found my biological mother. I made the trip to see her but it had to be secret because she was married and divorced and remarried to someone else that was an old strick Italian man. I met her once and my biological brothers of which I have two and bioligical sisters  of which I have two. I left and never returned until one day last year when I saw on my grandsons computer and was very interested in finding out about my heritage.

I joined and began my search with the help of facebook and I found all of my biological family on mother side again and new nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews and great great nieces and nephes. I then became intereted in my biological fathers side and started my search there too on I found two men that are still alive and the story began to unravel and become extremly crazy! I found out that my biological mother was having relations with two brothers named Leavitt. One in which was married to her sister. So my uncle might be my father. One of the men is my cousin or cousin and brother and the other is either my cousin or my brother. Since both men are decesed now my DNA chances are slim. I truely will spend the rest of my days trying to get this DNA accomplished. I know that I can do it with one of the men from my uncle and then I found a great nephew also that is from my father if indeed Lawrence is my father and not his brother Leo. Confused? So am I. But thanks to and many members I have received information to build my family tree, pictures, and help to locate many people in my family. Just don’t know where to place myself in the tree exactly due to this situation. So now I know that I am Elizabeth Ann Moccone by biological mother’s maiden name. Elizabeth Ann Leavitt by biological father’s name. And the only true Identity by my husbands name of Thomas. So I am Elizabeth Ann Scollay-Moccone-Leavitt-Thomas!!!! Thank you for giving me the most precious gift in life besides my chidren which is my identity!

The unknown family of Hannah Stokes and Samuel Conrow

  25 November 2011

 My grandmother Bess Hall Pearce (1893-1986) was doing genealogy in the 1920’s. She worked mostly on her own lines but was also interested in following her husband’s lines enough to interview her his mother and aunt before they died in 1931. But until recently I didn’t know this. When she died I inherited all her notes and books but, because I had a young family and was building my own house I put the materials into a storage loft and forgot about them for 20 years.

I knew that our family tree on my mother’s father’s side included a Rebecca Conrow, born in New Jersey, the daughter of Hannah and Samuel because it was on all the copies of the family tree that I had gotten from my grandmother. Hannah’s family was well known back to Thomas Stokes, the progenitor of this family in this country. Rebecca had married Joseph Washington Pearce.

When I started working on my tree on-line through, I began to look for a record of Samuel’s family; a list or a record of Rebecca’s siblings in New Jersey. There was nothing. I discovered quickly that many of the census records for New Jersey were missing and I discovered that there was absolutely no record anywhere on-line of the children of Hannah and Samuel Conrow.

I did find the 1850 census record in Tuscaloosa, Alabama for Hannah Conrow b. in New Jersey with daughter, Rebecca Pearce and her four little children, Mary (PA), Elizabeth (AL), George (AL, my ancestor George Alfred Pearce) and Josephine (AL). Rebecca’s husband, Joseph had died in 1848 according to the family bible – which gives only Rebecca and her husbands name with nothing on either’s parents.

I also found an 1840 Census record for Joseph ‘Pierce’ whose household was made up of the following people; a man 20 to 30 (Joseph), 2 girls under 5 (Mary and Elizabeth Pearce), 1 young woman 15 to 20 (unknown), 2 women 20 to 30 (one of which was Rebecca), and an older woman 50 to 60 who would have been Hannah Conrow. I discovered that one of the two young women must have been Marion Conrow who just had to be the sister of Rebecca ~ because, I found a marriage record for her in Tuscaloosa on 23 Apr 1842 to George Alfred Parker (note my ancestors name; George Alfred Pearce).

At that point I contacted a cousin who had this Marion & George Parker on her public tree to tell her the good news, that I had, through circumstantial evidence, connected her to my family as the sister of Rebecca and daughter of Hannah Conrow. She was pretty excited!

So far so good, but I still didn’t know anything about any other siblings nor about Samuel’s family. Nor did I understand how my grandmother knew somehow that Rebecca’s father was Samuel, since it was clear that Hannah was a widow by the time she moved to Tuscaloosa.

In the midst of a remodeling project we attacked the loft upstairs and lo and behold! There was that box of genealogy papers, treasures and an old copy of _The Ancestry of the Stokes _, a wonderful resource for the genealogy of this prominent Burlington County, NJ Quaker family. In the back of the book, to my surprise was a handwritten note in my grandmother’s very sloppy, large handwriting.  The handwritten note is on p.310, and 311, part of the appendix of the book and the page that records the children of the marriage of Samuel Stokes and his wife Sarah Ellis. Hannah Stokes is listed as the 6th child and it is there where it says that she married Samuel Conrow. Under the text was the sloppy note. This is what it said:

“Hannah Stokes-Samuel Conrow

Their children were

Rebecca md Joseph Washington Pearce

Marion md George A. Parker

Charles md McCowan

Lewis – John – Stacy

Children of Rebecca + Joseph Washington Pearce”

(she lists children, including a daughter I didn’t know of who d. at 18 months)

“Marion Stokes (sic) md Geo. A Parker”

( she lists children accurately and who they married)

Below this Bess Pearce wrote in the lists of  George Pearce’s children and then of her own children, and her grandchild my cousin. She never got around to writing me in.

I realized that Bess had managed to interview either Helen Pearce, the wife of George (he died before Bess married his son, also George), or George Sr.’s youngest sister Josephine (or both). Both of these women lived until 1831, well into the period when Bess was doing a lot of genealogy.

After finding this all important note I contacted a researcher at the Burlington County Historical Association to see if there was any information I was missing about these people. She looked and looked and was able to discover who my Samuel Conrow was but about the children of Samuel and Hannah…apparently lost in time.

If it were not for the efforts of a woman with a 3rd grade education, my grandmother; Bess Hall Pearce.

Addendum to this story: I have also now found Stacy Conrow s/o Hannah and Samuel who married Mary Ann Atkinson and Charles M. Conrow (of Tuscaloosa) who married Elizabeth McCown. I have contacted a few people on these lines to let them know that I have found a key to this family.

I would have not known any of my Italian Ancestors!

I have been interested in family genealogy since my teen years. I have spent most of my time researching my maternal family tree where some of my ancestors go back to the 15th century or earlier! Much of the work had already been done by my grandmother but I have enjoyed meeting new “cousins” and confirming information and sources through

My paternal family history has been another matter. I was told from a very young age that there were no records about my Italian Martino and Zona ancestors. Because of the earthquakes and subsequent village fires in the mountain towns that they were from, I didn’t think it ever likely that I would find much at all. Two different things happened at the same time to change my way of thinking about that! 

One day a couple of months ago I happened to be half heartedly watching a webinar on ancestry about using the card catalog. I was sure I already knew everything she was talking about, but followed along with her lesson anyways. I clicked on this and I clicked on that, and lo and behold I was at a page that contained civil records for Calvi Risorta, Caserta, Italy! The next thing I knew I was staring at a birth record that contained the name of my great grandfather! At the same time I had just joined an Italian Genealogy website, and they have a page where they will translate from Italian to English all done by volunteers. I not only found out where and when my great grandfather was born, but the person who translated for me pointed out that my great grandfather and great grandmother’s marriage certificate was right there for me too! 

Before too long I found my father’s father’s birth record, something I didn’t think I would ever find! I cannot begin to express the excitement and joy I felt at that time! 

I have since been slowly learning Italian and can now translate the many, many birth, marriage and death records that I have found right here, for not only my father paternal family but his maternal one as well. 

If I had not been a member of for the last few years I often wonder how long it would have taken me to find these records!