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Carroll Joseph Oliver, USN, Retired

My son joined the Navy in 1989.  In 1991, the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I asked my uncle — who had been there — to write a memoir of the event for my son.  This is what my uncle had to say about December 7, 1941.

written by Carroll Joseph Oliver, USN, Retired (The Oliver family lived in Haddonfield, New Jersey; “Uncle Ollie” was born October 10, 1919.)

I enlised in the Navy on February 1, 1937.  I was 18 years old.  I was trained to be a shipfitter and the first ship I was stationed on was the West Virginia.  I was then transferred to the Pennsylvania.

December 7 began like any other Sunday morning: I got up, showered, dressed, ate breakfast and left my ship, the Pennsylvania, for the Block Recreation Center, where we were going to hear Mass.  When I got there, the stage was set up for Mass.  Suddenly the Chaplain ran out onto the stage and hollered that everyone should immediately return to their ship or station.  We didn’t know what was going on, and I hung around for a few minutes before going outside.  When I got outside, I could see the Jap planes coming over from Hickam Field.  They were strafing everyone who was running back towards the Fleet Landing and Receiving Station.  I waited a few minutes, then started running myself.  Excuse the comparison, but Jesse Owens would be put to shame the way I ran.  I passed quite a few sailors, their white uniforms torn and bloody, lying dead on the sidewalk.  I saw men with all different types of guns on the roof of the Receiving Station firing away at the oncoming planes.  I somehow made it to the Receiving Station and to the officer’s living area (where the officers had their homes).  This whole area had been bombed, and I thought a few bombs had been dropped right in front of the admiral’s house.

I crawled into a large storm pipe (the pipe that carried away run-off rain water) that extended on either side of the drive that circled the area.  I kept crawling through this pipe to the end and saw Mr. Ensign Arnold, who was an officer on the Pennsy.  I have to laugh about it now, because the situation was so desperate, and there he was with the back seam of his khaki pants split open.  He and I continued running towards the Pennsy.  Our ship was in dry dock.  At this point, the air around the harbor was actually black from the shots being fired at the enemy planes.  In the harbor itself, I could see the USS Oklahome turning over, with her bottom pointed towards the sky.

When I got to the Pennsy, I immediately reported to my battle station which was under the armoured deck.  I believe the deck itself was about six inches thick.  Before I had gotten back to the ship, the Pennsy had been hit with a 500 pound aerial bomb, killing many of my shipmates.  Repairs began immediately and we had to bypass the broken piping.  This was necessary becuse the bomb had severed all the pipes that had supplied the Pennsy with water.  Our repair officer gave me and three other shipfitters orders to make immediate arrangements to place submersible pumps out and over the caisson to get water for fire fighting, machinery, guns, etc.

Because there had been a change of plans, the Pennsy was moved out of dry dock, and the USS Cassin and USS Downs were placed forward in the dry dock and then they put the Pennsy back in.  The two destroyers who were with us (Cassin and Downs) as well as the Pennsy were back up on blocks.  I myself think this move saved the Pennsy, because after being in dry dock the Pennsy would have been moved back over to Battleship Row on December 6.

While we worked frantically making repairs, the hospital corpsmen were removing the dead and taking care of the wounded.  It was a scene straight out of Dante’s Inferno.  Lt. Commander Craig was the head of my repair department.  I believe he was the only officer from the Pennsy killed on December 7.  When the attack began, he was on the dry dock wall checking the utilities: steam, water and air.  All three of these are needed for the machinery, etc. on board the ship.  Fresh water and harbor water were much needed for fire fighting.  That was the purpose of our going on the dry dock caisson: to get water aboard.

Hours later, when we finally did secure from general quarters, I returned to my living space and locker, still wearing my whites.  You can imagine what condition they were in.  If I remember correctly, I threw them away.  My most vivid memory of the attack was the condition of our living space.  There had been many dead and wounded in a collecting station nearby, and the angle iron (similar to a baseboard) caused all the blood to drain onto the deck of our living space.  There must have been two inches of blood on the deck.  I was then a young man at the time and my appetite was gone for quite a few days afterwards.  To this day I cannot erase that scene from my memory.  I knew everyone from the Pennsy who was killed on December 7, but on board ship you go ashore with other men from the same division.

This may sound funny, but believe me, at the time I jumped about ten feet in the air.  In our ship area we kept our bedding and cots in what the Navy calls ‘hammock netting.’  In some division, they were outboard in the living compartments and they just dropped canvas over them, but in the shipfitter’s shop, ours were heavy galvanized metal.  Someone went to get his bedding and cot and dropped the cover.  It sounded like another bomb going off and everyone in the area was ready for general quarters all over again.

We got the Pennsy squared away in just a few weeks and left for San Francisco.  When we arrived in San Francisco, I believe it was New Year’s Eve.  I left the Pennsy in 1943 after being in the Aleutian Islands.  The Bering Sea surrounding the Aleutian Islands is the roughest water I’ve ever sailed on.

The bell from the Pennsy was on display and the ship’s silverware was used for the Officer’s Ward Room Mess on the new Pennsy, which is a nuke sub. The ship’s bell from the USS Cassin is in the Navy Reserve Building in the shipyard at Philadelphia.  Both of these destroyers were scrpped after they salvaged what could be used on other ships like them or in the same class.

Close Call

My Uncle James Gunter and his two best friends, brothers Charles and Melvin Murdock were from Grove Oak a little town in northern, Alabama.  They were wet behind the ears teenagers who were filled with excitement at he prospect of seeing the world. They enlisted at the same time and ironically were all stationed on the USS Arizona. In late November 1941 my uncle found out that he was being transferred to Pensacola, Florida, but was going to go home on leave first. He caught his ride to the states on Tuesday December 2nd, 1941, but before leaving the ship bought a postcard with a picture of the USS Arizona and mailed it to his family back home. He said goodbye to his two buddies Charles and Melvin never realizing that would be the last time he would ever see them again. Both brothers were killed on the USS Arizona on Dec. 7th 1941.

As for me, I was always fascinated as a child by the picture postcard  with the one cent George Washington stamp that my grandmother kept in a basket on her dresser, and the story she would tell about how my uncle narrowly missed coming home in December of 1941, so much so that she gave it to me and today it is one of my prized posessions.

Late Arrival to Pearl Harbor

My father, Jack Pearce Jones, was living in Hemphill, TX on Dec.6, 1941.  He was a lineman for the telephone company which his father owned and my mother was the operator. They were married on December 7, 1940.  At some point on Dec. 7, 1942 my mother and father went home to eat and my grandparents were both home.  My grandfather was the recruiting officer for three counties.  He told my parents about the attack and asked my father which  branch of the service he was going to join.  As my father told me he was not too anxious to go to any war but was convinced it was his duty. He joined the Navy and was at Pearl in three weeks. H said they could smell the steanch of the dead before they got inside the harbor.  He said it was totoal bedlam.  A lot of the service people were still in shock and confused.  My father was given a job removing bodies.  When the officers found out he had been a telephone lineman they made him the dispatcher at the harbor.  The harbor was mined and each ship coming in had to be identified which became his job. He said they told him NOT to mess up.  He was later transferred to a mine sweeper in the Pacific until the end of the war.  Daughter, Carol Jones Couvillion

Pearl Harbor Stories: A Day in the Life of a 13 year old

She always got up early to have breakfast with her Dad.  That Sunday was no different.  Blanche and her Dad, Louis, were having a quiet breakfast in the kitchen while the rest of the family slept.  Then, oddly, there were planes flying down the gulch behind the house outside the window.  Her Dad said that they were Japanese Zeros and jumped up and ran to the phone in the living room.  He called Pearl Harbor Naval Base where he worked as a carpenter and told the guy that answered the phone that there was at least a squadron of Japanese Zeros on their way to Pearl.  The guy on the phone told Louis to go sober up and hung up on him.  The air in the living room turned blue as Louis cursed at the phone operator and watched in horror as the first bombs began dropping on Pearl Harbor.  

Blanche was just 13 years old that Sunday and the life that she had known ended that day.  As she sat at the table in the kitchen, she could see the faces of the Japanese pilots as they flew past the kitchen window.  When her Dad was on the phone she leapt to the front kitchen window and also witnessed the bombs dropping on Pearl Harbor.  At first she didn’t quite realize what she was seeing, but when an bomb struck the Arizona, she saw the bow of the ship rise up out of the water as the ship blew apart.  She understood that Hawaii was being attached.  Later she would grasp the bigger picture that America was being attached but for now, her home was under attach and she was afraid.   She could see men jumping off of ships all over the Harbor trying to avoid being burned or drowned as the ships burned or went down.  She could see the flames in the water and the fierce black smoke from the stricken ships.  Soon and mercifully, that thick black smoke would blot out her view from the kitchen window.    Slowly, the sounds of explosions diminished but the acrid smell of fuel oil burning remained and the sun was blotted out.

By mid morning another strange thing was going on.  Women and children were trudging up the hill from down below.  People were all around the normally secluded farmstead.  Apparently, the officers housed in Aiea at McGrew housing, had told their families to take cover in the hills surrounding Pearl Harbor.   They, like everyone on Oahu, were expecting landing craft and an invading army to come ashore at any moment.  These families remained camped on the property for the better part of a week after the attach.  Blanche and her family sharing what they had with them.

Blanche never returned to the plantation school she had been attending in Aiea.  Her Dad insisted that she and her siblings go to school in downtown Honolulu after December 7th.  She didn’t go to school for more than three weeks.  When she did get back to school, she learned how to don a gas mask and evacuate the school building to a trench dug in the school yard during air raid drills.  She learned how to search the skies for zeros and the beaches for landing craft.   She heard the stories of what Pearl Harbor was like after the smoke  had clouded her view; of the hell of coffins stacked up on the piers.  She could smell for herself the awful smell of death as it wafted on the trade winds.  She watched, stunned, as neighbors and friends were rounded up and sent to undisclosed internment camps.  It would be decades before she knew where some of them had gone, others she would never know.

A little more than a year later, Blanches’ beloved father would pass away leaving her devastated and adrift.  Her mother would struggle to keep the farm and the family together.  Blanche would grow older and in time become a chronological adult, but the reality was that she became an adult on December 7th 1941.

Blanche was a Pearl Harbor survivor and she was my Mom.  We talked often and at length about what she witnessed and what her life was like after that dreadful day.  Some memories were funny, some were sad but all were colored in the hues of human suffering from that day forward.  This is just some of her story.

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 ancestry.com on my grandsons computer and was very interested in finding out about my heritage.

I joined ancestry.com and began my search with the help of facebook and ancestry.com 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 ancestry.com. 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 ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com, 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.