6 DECEMBER 1941 PEARL HARBOR
There was a saying in Monaville, West Virginia in the 1930’s, “coal mine, moonshine or move it on down the line.” If you could not work in the coal mines and accept dying at a young age, then you brewed illegal liquor up in the mountains. Otherwise you got out of Logan county, to find work. For the brothers John and Joseph Triolo it was the US Navy in 1937. The depression was still on and a military job was something to be coveted. When the Triolo brothers came home on leave after Navy basic training there was a buzz in the air about them. The brothers were headed to Long Beach, California to go to sea on their first ship, the USS Oklahoma. While on leave at home they made such an impression on their best friend from high school Donald McCloud, that he also joined the Navy. In fact Joe Triolo while working temporarily at the local Navy recruiter’s office was the one who graded Donald’s Navy entrance exam and sort of helped Donald out on his test score. After basic training Seaman McCloud was shipped out to the west coast and was able to request an assignment on the USS Oklahoma. The three new sailors and lifelong friends were headed to the Pacific on patrol, aboard the WW I era battleship. Because of his good test scores, when Seaman McCloud reported to the USS Oklahoma he was put into the fire control division, working down below decks. Normally in those days a new sailor worked as deck crew, top side. Only after you proved yourself did you get to move into a specific career field such as fire control, these were the men who worked the large guns. Joseph Triolo was the first to leave the USS Oklahoma. In 1938 he moved to another ship in the Pacific fleet. His brother John Triolo stayed on the USS Oklahoma until November of 1941, when he got orders to return to the mainland to attend aviation maintenance school in Norfolk, Virginia. By 1941 Donald McCloud was Petty Officer Second Class McCloud. He had done well in firing those big 14 inch guns on the USS Oklahoma and progressed in rate/rank. He was offered the chance to leave the Okie but declined. In December of 1941 Joe Triolo was stationed on board the USS Tangier, a seaplane tender (repair ship) that was sailing in and out of Pearl Harbor that fall. When the USS Oklahoma pulled into Pearl, Joe made arrangements to meet his old high school friend Don McCloud. The USS Oklahoma had a baseball team and the team was playing a game, the afternoon of 6 December 1941 on Ford Island, which is in the middle of Pearl Harbor. Joe Triolo met his hometown friend at the game. They spent most of the afternoon talking about home. When the game was over Donald suggested they get a couple of beers, but Joe was broke. Donald McCloud lent his friend $2 and they headed to the Enlisted Men’s club on Ford Island. At the end of the evening the two friends returned to their ships, never to see each other again. The next morning the Japanese Navy sent in their carrier-based aircraft and tragic history was made. Joe Triolo had spent the last three years in the Pacific and knew what a Jap plane looked like, so when the enemy’s aircraft flew over his ship, there was no question in his mind, who was attacking them. Joe Triolo manned his 50 caliber machine-gun on the starboard side of the bridge and the USS Tangier was credited with three aircraft kills that day. He personally fired on the aircraft that crashed into and sadly caused the sinking of the USS Utah. The USS Oklahoma had all its water tight doors open for an upcoming inspection, causing it to roll over and sink after multiple torpedo hits. 429 Sailors and Marines died on the USS Oklahoma to include FC2c Donald R. McCloud. When the Okie was raised and the bodies of her dead crew members were removed, only a few were identifiable and could be sent home for a military funeral, Donald McCloud was never sent home. The remains of the unidentified were buried in unmarked mass graves at the Punch Bowl National Cemetery, in Hawaii. Finally on 7 December 2002 a marker was placed over the mass graves (www.ussoklahoma.com). “We buried an old Naval veteran today,” unlike in the poem The USS Oklahoma Veteran, not all combat-killed Americans are buried where family can go to visit and remember. No-one can visit Donald Robert McCloud, but he is not forgotten. If money spends in Heaven, someday Chief Petty Officer Joseph Triolo, US Navy Retired will repay his friend, the $2.
Major Van Harl USAF Ret.
LAST LIBERTY IN HONOLULU
Honolulu was nothing like back home in Elma, Iowa. Honolulu was a big city made even bigger and busier by the thousands of Sailors and Marines who had come to town when the US Navy moved its fleet from the west coast to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Dean Garrett and John Mulick graduated from their hometown high school in Elma in 1938. Both men joined the US Navy and became corpsmen. In December of 1941 Dean was Petty Officer Second Class Garrett, assigned to the main Navy Hospital at Pearl Harbor Naval Base. Petty Officer First Class John M. Mulick arrived that fall of 1941 when the USS Oklahoma was reassigned to Pearl Harbor. On occasion the two friends could get liberty together and see the sights of Honolulu. After a day of walking the streets of Honolulu the two corpsmen headed out to the USS Oklahoma to take advantage of a movie that was going to be shown outside on the deck of that battle ship. It was 6 Dec 1941 and a beautiful calm evening to be sitting topside watching Hollywood’s magic. Dean Garrett headed back to his barracks after the movie and was sitting in the chow hall at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday morning eating breakfast when the first Japanese bombs hit. Garrett was an operating room technician and spent the next 72 hours straight, working along side a Navy surgeon performing one after another life saving surgery. His hospital was established to hold 250 patients but by sundown that day there were over 1000 injured Sailors, Marines and civilians being tended to by the corpsmen and nursing staff. Whenever Garrett spotted an injured Sailor from the USS Oklahoma being brought in on a stretcher he would inquire if they had seen his friend John Mulick. One of the injured Sailors had been in the same compartment down below decks with John Mulick when the USS Oklahoma was hit. The USS Oklahoma took multiple torpedoes in her side, rolled over and sank in eleven minutes. 429 Sailors and Marines were trapped inside the Okie as she filled with water. The injured Sailor that Dean Garrett spoke with was able to squeeze through a port hole and survive. For three days Dean Garrett, in between surgeries looked for his hometown friend. As the days went on it was discovered that many of the injured Sailors were not being carried on hospital records under their correct name or ship name. This confusion gave hope that John Mulick was in some other military medical ward and had survived. Many of the Sailors who survived were quickly reassigned to rescue duties. Mulick being a corpsman had skills that were needed. But he was never found. When the USS Oklahoma was turned back over and all the water was pumped out HA1c John Mark Mulick’s body was not recovered. He is still listed as missing in action. Dean Garrett continued to treat the injured and dying. There were so many dead that it was described, as if the corpsmen were stacking cordwood outside the hospital, as they laid out the bodies of the dead waiting to be removed for internment. And still Garrett looked for his friend. John Mulick’s war was over but not Dean Garrett’s. He continued to serve at Pearl Harbor until 1943 when he was assigned to the USS Minneapolis. As a corpsman on a ship with over 700 men he spent the rest of the war treating the sick and wounded in such famous Naval battles as Iwo Jima, Palau, Truk, Saipan, the Battle of the Philippines, the landings at Bataan & Corregidor and the final assault on Okinawa. Years of personal combat history, but it was those four days from 6 December to 9 December that are engrained in his memory. Pharmacist’s Mate Chief, Dean Garrett left the Navy at the end of his war. He used his GI bill to get his college degree and went on the have a career teaching school and becoming an administrator. I met Dean Garrett at a Pearl Harbor Survivor luncheon in April 2009. As I listen to these WW II naval veteran’s I was impressed by this oral history of their service to our Nation. I was also honored to have been invited to attend this meeting of not just Pearl Harbor survivors, but of men who after 7 December carried the fight to our enemies. The attack on Pearl Harbor was the start of a long war for these men. Truthfully they were boys on 6 December and old men on 7 December.
14 Apr 2009
Major Van Harl USAF Ret
THE USS OKLAHOMA VETERAN
We buried an old Naval veteran today.
His passing was quiet, far from that terrible affray.
He had survived and done well in his final years.
Unlike his shipmates, who perished in unfathomable fears.
They were not supposed to be in port, they should have been out on patrol.
Coming to ”Pearl” for an Admiral’s inspection would bring a deadly toll.
Sailors were sleeping-in, not worried about the inspection order.
“Now hear this, this is not a drill, sound general quarters.”
Chaplain Schmitt was headed for church-call when the attack started.
Within eleven minutes, to his heavenly father he had departed.
He was below decks helping injured sailors make it safely out.
A place was waiting in heaven for the Padre, there is no doubt.
Father Al would be the first Chaplain to die in that world war.
Pushing injured sailors thru a hatch, “move topside” he did implore.
He could have made it out alive, if not for Navy protocol.
Senior man stays until the end, directing escape for all.
Private Joseph Lawter was on the fantail with his bugle ready to blow.
After first call, he saw something flying in, straight and low.
“Corporal of the guard, those are Jap planes flying just above the drink.”
“Lawter you get paid to blow that bugle, not think.”
It was too late, the first torpedo slammed into the port side.
Within minutes more would strike the Okie’s tough old hide.
Too many hatches were left open in anticipation of the Admiral’s inspection.
It is easy in hindsight to see the error of this fatal leadership misdirection.
The Oklahoma was senior and she should have been moored inboard.
Putting her to the outside left the Okie open to the Japanese horde.
This may have saved the Maryland from destruction on that December day.
But it left one grand old dreadnought, lying on the bottom of the bay.
The USS Oklahoma was an older battleship, from an earlier generation.
With her 14 inch guns she stood ready to defend the nation.
She had never fired a shot in anger, not even in the First World War.
Now she is on the bottom of the ocean, her big guns never again to roar.
Off Spain the Oklahoma was there to protect Americans in harm’s way
In this new war she was lost to the Navy and the Nation in the opening day.
She rolled over in minutes with her keel raised to the Hawaiian sky.
429 men were trapped below, and were destined to die.
The Japanese sank the Oklahoma, a long list of crewmen they did cull.
As small boats were passing, banging was heard on her turned up hull.
Seaman Garlen Eslick and 31 others were trapped in an artificial night.
It would be 28 hours before they again saw the glow of daylight.
With hammers and chisels rescuers worked to pierce that dying ship.
No cutting torches because life from seamen’s lungs it would strip.
The crewmen were dying as the water continued to rise on the Okie’s inside.
Work harder, work faster they must peel away, the old girl’s armored hide.
Airman “Spider” Webb had been on board the Oklahoma for just a day.
He did not know where to go, as he sprang from his rack were he lay.
He would push himself through a port hole, that’s all he could do.
But the Jap’s would see “Spider” again over Pacific skies of blue.
“Spider” Webb would go on to win his pilot wings of gold.
Taking on the enemy in the air, he proved to be a man of bold.
Dogfighting, he surrounded 40 Jap planes creating a moment’s thrill.
But that day he upped the score for the Oklahoma, with eight aircraft kills.
The Barber brothers all joined the Navy to serve their Nation with pride.
The three shipped out on the Oklahoma standing side by side.
In the end they all would be lost, with no remains to be returned.
Leroy, Malcolm and Randolph, respect from a grateful nation you earned.
There were other brothers to serve and die on the Oklahoma that day
They all had a sad history in this new war to play.
Lost forever were the brothers; Woods, Trapp, Palmer, Blitz, and Casto.
Into heaven they ascended, as the crew of a small boat they did row.
“This is a real air raid, this is no sh__”
Not a standard shipboard broadcast, but it got the message out there quick.
Ensign Herbert Rommel returned to his guns as Zeros skimmed the bay.
But Captain Rommel would survive, to fight and win another day.
Over 1300 crewmen were assigned to the Oklahoma on that sunny morn.
Eventually taps would be sounded for 429 on a bugler’s sorrowful horn.
The wounded would be pulled from the water and tended as heroes all.
The rest of the crew would be reassigned, to meet a suffering nation’s call.
The Oklahoma never returned to challenge her enemy to a fair fight.
It took years at “Pearl” to right her and bring her deck into the light.
She was sold off as scrap after they pulled from her, those big guns.
The USS Oklahoma was finally lost, sunken under tow in the Pacific sun.
We must remember the Oklahoma, for the crew their time is running out.
It must be marked in stone, to be preserved in a military redoubt.
Ford Island will be the home to a memorial that will stand the test of time.
For the Naval veteran he can visit and say “I was there, she was mine.”
We buried an old Naval veteran today.
This one, a shipmate who had seen that tragic December day.
But he survived to meet his nation’s demand, to seek justice for all.
He fought hard for his nation, and now takes his final military call.
WE BURIED AN OLD NAVAL VETERAN TODAY.
4 July 2006
Major Van Harl USAF Ret.
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