Capt. Joseph K. Taussig Jr: The Attack on Pearl Harbor
Captain Joseph K. Taussig Jr. was stationed in Pearl Harbor on board the USS Nevada in 1941. During the Japanese attack, he took his post as starboard anti-aircraft battery officer. Even after being severely wounded, Taussig refused to abandon his post, until his crew forcibly carried him to safety.
Taussig later received the Navy Cross for his bravery.
I’m Ken Harbaugh, host of Warriors In Their Own Words. In partnership with the Honor Project, we’ve brought this podcast back at a time when our nation needs these stories more than ever.
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Today, we’ll hear from Captain Joseph K. Taussig Jr., who was on board the USS Nevada during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He took his post as starboard anti-aircraft battery officer, and even after being severely wounded, refused to abandon his post until his crew forcibly carried him to safety. He lost his left leg due to his injuries, and received the Navy Cross for his bravery.
Capt. Joseph K. Taussig Jr:
Well, the morning of December 7th, 1941, I was the officer deck of the battleship Nevada. Shortly before eight o'clock in the morning, I looked over the side and observed a torpedo plane coming in, which I casually identified as a Douglas torpedo plane and had its torpedo doors open. The plane dropped a torpedo into Pearl Harbor, and those days, all torpedoes could not run until they dove at least 80 feet, and Pearl Harbor was only about 40 feet deep. So I assumed we would watch them dig the torpedo out of the mud all morning. The plane peeled off and I noticed that it had the rising sun under its wings and almost simultaneously the torpedo hit the USS Oklahoma, which was a battleship that was moored two ships ahead of us. Between the Oklahoma and Nevada, was the battleship Arizona. Immediately, I sounded general quarters.
Immediately, I sounded general quarters and started up from my battle station, which was in the anti-aircraft directors of the ship high on the foremost. As I climbed the three ladders to the boat deck on which our anti aircraft guns were located, all of the guns on my battery, which was seven, five inch ‘25 guns were firing. I had to climb up three more decks from the boat deck to get to the director, which told the anti-aircraft guns in which direction to fire.
As I climbed into the director, I realized that one of our gunners mates had set the guns to fire vertically, which was very unusual because in peace time, we could not fire at an angle over 65 degrees. And all the guns were firing. I climbed into the director, which was basically a dummy gun. It had a telescope which pointed at the aircraft targets. And when I looked into the check site, the director was already on an aircraft and there were literally 100s of puffs of black smoke in the air as all ships were firing about that time. So we could not tell which was our gunfire and which was somebody else's.
I have no real idea how many planes were up there because what happens in battle as you rivet your attention on the target at the moment. I was watching this one airplane that was in my check sites and it started to smoke and started to fall out of the sky. And we swung the director around to look for another aircraft and I was hit at that time.
We were pretty well brought up that the Japanese would attack the United States fleet at some place. There was a lot of argument, whether it would be in the Canal Zone, Guam, the Philippines or Pearl Harbor. The smart money was that it would not be at Pearl Harbor because of the concentration of sea power that we had in the area. We felt they would probably attack the Philippines first because the Japanese objective had to be the Dutch Indies and the Malaysia Peninsula because of their lack of raw materials to fight the war in China.
We were surprised, but not emotionally, particularly we were surprised, we were prepared, we knew and we always had the guns manned and ready in the morning hours or half an hour before sunrise. We always had enough men at our guns to mann them in case of an attack.
The Japanese, we felt, had good ships, but not very good technology. We did not think that their aircraft were nearly as good as they turned out to be. Most of the intelligence information that I as an anti-aircraft officer had, was well out of date. We had pictures of biplanes and triplanes even. And that's why I was very much surprised when I identified a plane as one of our torpedo planes, to find out it was a Japanese torpedo plane.
There was a general perception that the Japanese had no originality, they were excellent copiers if they could find the proper thing to copy. We didn't have too much respect for them as technicians. We didn't have too much respect for them as fighting people. We should have because their history in China had been pretty good.
All ships were ordered to get underway and, so the Nevada made preparations to get underway, and once again, we were a very fortunate ship. We were already prepared to get underway. We had six boilers on the ship to make steam for the turbines, and we never let our six boilers go cold. We always kept steam up in our boilers. So we were able to get underway very, very rapidly in about 20 minutes as opposed to the usual hour and a half. The Nevada started out from her birth, and just shortly before we got underway, the battleship Arizona, which was just ahead of us, 10 yards, blew up. And I thought for many years that what had wounded me, had been a piece of the Arizona. And I only learned a couple of years ago that a Japanese strafing plane had turned and came back and hit me as I was talking to one of my shipmates at the ship reunion, I'd learnt that.
As we proceeded to go underway, I was the officer deck and could not get to the conning tower, and I knew that we had no other qualified officer decks above the ranks of Ensign on board. I tried to find another Ensign who was qualified for officer deck and didn't find one. Eventually, a very, very professional Lieutenant who was a communications' officer, did help the ship maneuver out and a very competent Reserve Lieutenant Commander eventually got up there to help, but mainly the maneuvering of the ship was done by professional enlisted personnel, particularly the chief quartermaster, a man named Sudbury. And he did all the maneuvering. Occasionally, he would call me on the telephone to ask my permission to do what he was doing, which was rather irrelevant because he would've been on the ship almost as long as I'd been alive. I knew it very, very well.
The very fortunate thing, and our Navy in those days, we had totally professional, petty officers and chief petty officers on the ships. We did not rotate our personnel. So most of the senior enlisted men had started off on the ship as seamen. So they knew the ship backwards and forwards and therefore, the seamen could do and the sailors could do a tremendously fine job.
The battleship Nevada got underway, three cruisers got underway and seven destroyers got underway. We were the only battleship that was capable.
We lost three permanently. We lost the old minelayer Oglala, which was a wooden old ship. We lost the Arizona, which blew up. We did not repair the Oklahoma, which had turned over, but when we righted it, we could have better, but we didn't. About 47 ships, I think were damaged one way or the other.
The principal targets were the battleships. The Japanese expected the aircraft carriers to be in, but the aircraft carriers have been on a special mission to put more aircraft up at the awakened midway, and they're on their way back. So they were not in that morning. So the battleships became the major target.
Oh, yes. The attack was definitely successful. They tied our hands for five, six, seven months. Matter of fact, they really overestimated the damage because, in May of 1942, they tried to attack midway and the Japanese were very much surprised to see the tremendous Naval force we had available and defeat it very badly at midway. There's a lot of psychological reaction. The American public thought we were damaged far worse than we were, and the Japanese thought we were damaged far worse than we were. But the fact is we were damaged pretty badly too.
My emotions are rather unusual. The thing that hurt me the most was the loss of our 53 shipmates that we lost that morning. Killed. There were well over 100 of us wounded. We still don't know how many were wounded because many of the men would not admit that they were wounded for fear of being transferred off the ship. Since I've been in the Navy department, I've gotten four purple hearts for four of the shipmates who wouldn't admit that they were wounded at the time.
I felt those losses very keenly, particularly the loss of chief Boston Ed Hill and a first class Boston mate named Adolfo Solar with whom I was very, very fond of as did a lot of watches. As far as I was concerned, personally, I never felt any rancour. I felt I was a professional Naval officer, and I was doing my professional job and that the Japanese were professional officers doing their job. Of course, I hated the Japanese government and I hated everything that they stood for, but I could recognize as a professional military officer that we were really in combat with their professional military officers, it was very difficult for me to hold any rancour for them.
I was the administrative aid to the commander of Pearl Harbor naval base from 1949 to 1951, which gave rise to a fable in the Navy that whenever I went to Pearl Harbor, I started a war because the Korean war started at that time. I've been to Pearl Harbor many, many times and have absolutely no rancour. I do feel this awfully deep tinge of sadness for the shipmates we lost, and the rest of it. We have a tremendous pride in the Nevada because we were able to get underway. We also have pride that our ship received more congressional medals of honor, and more Navy Crosses than any ship in the Navy before or after it received. So when I go to Pearl Harbor, I have a tremendous pride in my ship and a tremendous feeling of loss of the ship mates.
My family was rather intimately involved in the preliminaries to Pearl Harbor. My father had been the head of the Department of Strategy and Tactics at the Naval War College and the chief of staff at the Naval War College. And in 1936, when I was 16 years old, I cruised with my father who was then commander of a battleship division out to Pearl Harbor, the summer of 1936. And they did a war game, which was basically a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1940, my father was the commandant of the fifth Naval district in Norfolk. And at that time, his career was basically over, he was going to retire from that job. The Congress was holding hearings on the fortification of Guam and the Philippines, and really the anticipation of problems with Japan. And because my father's career was basically over, he was going to retire in 1941.
He was chosen by the Navy Department in a sub-rosa way to do the testifying or the fortifying of Guam and the Philippines. And in April of 1940, they held a hearing and they asked him after reviewing the situation with Japan in China, the situation of our having a steel embargo, oil embargo, threats of other embargoes, what his opinion was. And he stated before the Congress, that in his opinion, if the present trends continued, war with Japan was inevitable. And this turned out to be a very unfortunate statement on an unfortunate day. Nothing of any moment happened that day and this made the headlines, and this made Mr. Roosevelt very angry because he felt that a Naval officer had no business making what he considered political statements. My father's position was, "They asked me the question. I told him the answer." And he was severely reprimanded by the chief of Naval operations, Admiral Stark, who had enough, for the USS stock that was at the Persian Gulf was named after. Admiral Stark did this to keep the president from trying to punish my father, and Admiral Stark made a very informal telephone call, and told my mother that my father had been reprimanded because my father was still driving back to Norfolk.
Well, the general perception of the Navy was that the Japanese would have to take the Dutch East Indies and have to take the Malay Peninsula to get the tin, rubber, oil- raw materials they needed to fight the war in China. In order to take them, they had to get the Philippines off their flank because they would be attacking the Dutch and the British who were natural allies of ours. So the issue was really, "Do you fortify the Philippines? And if you fortify the Philippines, do you back it up by fortifying Guam?" And that was a Cardinal issue that the Congress had been addressing very thoroughly. Mr. Roosevelt was not particularly pleased with it because he thought it might aggravate the Japanese and be a cause for them to possibly attack us. But the Navy and the army was 100% behind the idea of an army.
This nation has never had foreign troops on its shores since the war of 1812. And the projection of power has been a Cardinal principle behind that fact that foreign troops simply do not get that close to the United States and the way you keep them off as you get out there ahead, and they don't dare come in or they try to come in your clobber them. So the army and the Navy people felt very, very forcefully that we should project the power out to the Philippines and back it up at Guam to make it unprofitable for the Japanese to try to attack us.
Generally speaking, the Japanese split their attack into three classes of aircraft. One with the high level bombers, one with the dive bombers and one with torpedo planes and where the original plan was to come in, in two waves: The first having all three types of aircraft and strike simultaneously. Their timing was a little bit off, simply because they didn't have any way to radio contact among themselves. The leader, a Lieutenant Commander named Fuchida, shot one very pistol in the air, which was a signal that it was a surprise attack. And he told me later that he didn't think some of them saw the very pistol. So he shot another one for a non-surprise attack, and some sort as a surprise and some sort as a non-surprise. However, in the tactical situation, it really made very little difference.
The torpedo planes were targeted to the large ships. The dive bombers were targeted to the large ships and the small ships, and the high level bombers were targeted to the large ships. The high level bombers were very, very inaccurate or they did very, very little damage. Concurrently, our anti-aircraft (to shoot at them) was very inaccurate. So it was a Mexican standoff, we didn't hit many of them, they didn't hit many of us. The dive bombers, the torpedo planes were almost impossible to hit. We had no ordinance available that could hit low flying airplanes except 30 and 50 caliber machine guns. The lesson that the Japanese failed to learn was that the battle of midway six months later, they came in with heavy numbers of torpedo planes. And we had armed the ships with 30, 20s and 40 millimeter guns. And they just clobbered the Japanese torpedo fleet. But at Pearl Harbor, the torpedo plane did the major damage.
The torpedo planes and dive bombers came in together, and then the high level bombers, which should've come in at the same time, came in three or four or five minutes later. Then on the second wave, it was practically all high level bombers.
After they dropped the ordinance, they started to become strafing planes. And they would just pick out targets of opportunity on ships decks or in the water or boats in the water and just spray machine gun bullets all over the place.
The strafing was very effective in killing and wounding people on the top side. It didn't hurt the ships very much. The seamen in the boats caught on very quickly and they realized the Japanese aircraft, most of the guns were in the wings and they would turn the stern of their boats to the nose of the aircraft. And the bullets would go on either side of their boat. So very few in the boats got hurt.
The initial attack lasted about 30 minutes. Then there was a low and the second attack came in and lasted about 20 minutes, and all in all, it was about an hour and a half.
No, the Japanese failed to cut our logistics tail. They did not hit the repair shops at Pearl. They did not hit the fuel Depot. They did not hit the ammunition Depot. Their whole concentration was basically and fundamentally in Pearl Harbor, on the ships, the outlying air bases, they were basically on the aircraft, they were at those bases.
The perception we were physically devastated was a product of the psychological shock and the physical shock and the rumors. Nobody was allowed to talk about which ships had been damaged. My fiance knew because she could get the casualty lists and she had the published ship assignments after we graduated from the Naval Academy. And she could merely say, "Well, if Doug Hine was wounded, the Arizona must've gotten hit, and if Victor Delano was wounded, the West Virginia must've gotten hit." And she could go through that list of casualties and know which ships had gotten hit. They didn't have any idea of the extent of the damage. And in the final analysis, the major losses were on Arizona and on Oklahoma, which turned over. And Nevada had probably the third highest casualties.
I was wounded apparently, I thought by the explosion of Arizona for many years. Apparently, I had been hit by a strafing machine gun, which caught me right at the gluteal fold just below my fanny, and it took out four inches of bone out of my thigh. That was it.
I was able to keep conscious and keep control of the guns the rest of the morning, because apparently, I was in shock because I had no pain and I was totally aware of what I was doing. And a pharmacist came up on the mast, and brought a stretcher and put me in the stretcher. I lay up there until the mass started to burn. And then when the mass started burning, they had to evacuate me. But that time, the battle was over.
I was picked up by a boat from the destroyer, a shore, which had blown up in one of the dry docks. A young Ensign, never forget his name, named Hollingsworth, reserve from North Carolina had been blown off the ship, dropped 40 feet to the dry dock floor. Apparently wasn't hurt, picked himself up, commandeered a small 36 foot boat. And he came alongside the Nevada when I was lowered into his boat on the stretcher.
He took me to the fleet dock and I was put into a taxi in the stretcher. And I remember very clearly getting the taxi driver's name and his license number and all the information, his address, because I was bleeding all over his taxi and I was going to be sure the government paid for the taxi. I got to the hospital. Of course, they took all my clothes and I lost my notes. So I hope somebody fixed the taxi driver up because he had a messy cab when I got out of it.
The Arizona was just- You could hardly see anything. It was just nothing but smoke, flames, and terror. We were conscious that the foremost was tilted forward, as you see in these pictures, but mainly it was just terrible smoke, terrible flame. And as we passed her, we caught fire from her fires. We caught fire on our starboard side of the ship while we were passing. And there wasn't much detail that you could see. We could see our stern, but at that time I got hit. So I spent the rest of my time sort of playing a feeling game. I was the officer deck and coordinating with the bridge. We agreed that we had to get out of the Harbor. So the Nevada started to head out the Harbor. We had another problem coming alongside the Arizona. She had had the Vestal or a pair of ships alongside of her and Vestal had cast off. And so we had to go between the Vestal and the Arizona. And it took us much closer to the Arizona than we probably otherwise would've gone.
When we were leaving, casting off our Ford lines. We have one of the great tragedies of my life. I was a warrant officer, chief Bos’n Hill, Bos’n mate of the watch and the first-class mate named Adolfo Solar. Ships were named after both of those men. They were having trouble getting the lines off and Bos’n Hill jumped from the ship, slam over to the key and tested the lines off and swam back to the ship. And just after they got the lines off for bombing, struck us from the fo'c'sle and killed them both. And that was just a tremendous loss to me because those two men epitomized professionalism to me. They were people I looked up to, I trusted, believed in, they were my teachers. When I get teary-eyed, it's about those two men, they were two great sailors that I knew, and I could never know any better ones because they were the top flight.
Now I came up here, West Virginia had been hit by, it turned out, seven torpedoes and West Virginia was in terrible shape. Next to the Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia, lost more people, or they had a fearful problem down below because of the torpedoes that hit her. Nevada was only hit by one torpedo. West Virginia, why she didn't roll over, nobody knows, but she settled straight down.
I'm not quite sure exactly what time I was hit. I was in what we call the port director, anti-aircraft director, which was a box about eight feet square and about six feet high. And it had the machinery in there that controlled our anti-aircraft guns. And I was controlling the anti-aircraft guns, five guns on the starboard battery. And when I got there, the guns were already shooting. We had an eyepiece which was a telescope, and I looked through my eye piece, and when I looked, we were already on an airplane, and I watched, and there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of puffs of smoke. So nobody really knows whose shells were up there, but the plane started to go down in flames. So I turned the director to find another airplane. And as I was turning the director, I was hanging on to a doorway, I felt as though somebody hit me on the bottom of the foot with a sledgehammer and I looked down and my left foot was under my left armpit. And the reaction to the moment was “That's a hell of a place for a foot to be.” And I turned my attention back to the director and it was obvious that whatever had gone through my leg had gone into the director and it was no good. So I told the director crew that I was going to leave the director and to come around, back them in, I would slump down in their arms and they could carry me into what we call sky control, which is the room between the starboard and the port director.
And I was carried in the sky control and I realized I was the only officer up there. So being the only officer up there, I checked the 50 caliber machine gun batteries, checked the 30 caliber machine gun batteries and the starboard and port five-inch guns, and apparently all were firing. The Marines had the 50 caliber guns. They were very unhappy because those were water cooled guns and the water lines had been severed at sometime. I don't know when they were severed. And so the barrels were welding into the slides and they were shooting the guns. One shot at a time they'd open the breach, put a shell in it with a mallet. And this wasn't very effective machine gun shooting, but we'd already been very lucky because they had already shot down one torpedo plane before they lost the cooling. And apparently our 30 caliber machine guns on the main must have shut down another torpedo plane. So Nevada was lucky. We only had one torpedo yet while the rest of the ships of battleship row, like West Virginia, got seven.
The second wave was mostly high level bombers. And that was a standoff. Their bombing was very inaccurate and our anti-aircraft for high level was very inaccurate. So, we didn't hit many of them, and they didn't hit many of us. But as Nevada, we were about here, when the second wave came in and whatever their assigned targets were, apparently by radio or some signal, they were assigned to get us because they felt if they could sink us in the channel, then we could block the whole channel of Pearl Harbor and they were going to be no rescue. So as we were right here, coming alongside California and Maryland, California was outboard, Maryland was inboard. Maryland had the Senior Admiral Train who was watching all of this.
As we were coming out now, we had been hit on the port side of the torpedo. So we were pretty far down the bow. We had counter flooded starboard side forward because of a fire in order to save any aircraft magazines. The further we got out, we got hit by another bomb on the fo'c'sle, and that ignited all of our aviation gas and all the paint on the ship. And we had this fearful fire then, coming out of the bow of the ship. So we had to flood more. And what Admiral Train saw from Maryland, without being able to talk to us, all he could see was the Nevada getting further and further down by the head where our fo'c'sle was getting deeper and deeper in the water, because he was afraid that the ship would sink in the channel.
That's when he ordered us to go aground. And it was up here way up at Hospital Point. Meanwhile, we came by Oklahoma, which was one of our sister ships. The Nevada was hull number 36, Oklahoma was 37 and Arizona was 38. And we were the next oldest, so she was the next oldest. She'd been hit by several torpedoes and she had rolled over. So everybody of course was really upset about that as we came out. But by this time, all we knew we could do was shoot anti-aircraft guns. So our whole attention was basically use anything you had to shoot and shoot it, whatever you could shoot at. And none of it was very accurate. We did not have the right guns. Six months later at the battle of midway, the ships had the right guns and the whole story of the war from midway on, was entirely different. And the guns we were lacking were known as 20 millimeter and 40 millimeter machine guns. These are very effective.
We were instructed to run aground because Admiral Train felt we were sinking. He saw that we were getting further and further down by the fo'c'sle. Because of the flooding, we had to stop the fires from destroying our magazines. And we just kept pouring more and more and more water in there. Trying number one, to protect the magazines, number two, trying to get the fires out. But priority was to protect the magazines. And then the second priority was get the fire out. And so we were using massive amounts of water and although she was a very large ship, she was going down by the nose and the Admiral felt that. And although we were running by now by consensus, Lieutenant commander Thomas, the senior officer, had apparently gotten up to the bridge by this time.
The chief quartermaster Sudbury, he was a real professional. He knew how to handle the ship. And he was really doing the actual steering, actual maneuvering to our supposed orders. They did not feel that they should run aground here because that would block this dry dock, which was here. So the decision was made. We'll try to get up the harbor and maybe the Admiral changed his mind. So we skirted out of here and headed for that point, which is Hospital Point. And we got about 200 yards from that and the Admiral put an emergency flag above his signal to run aground. And that meant we couldn't fool around. The Admiral said, "Run aground now, we got to run aground."
The consensus was taken and we decided the Hospital Point was a good place. And unfortunately I've always been accused of being self-serving. Having been wounded, they figured if I went to the ground Hospital Point, I'll be close to the hospital. It turned out it didn't work out that way because a tug came, and they were afraid that the stern would swing out and block the harbor. So a tug came and pushed us over to this land over here's called YPO peninsula.
Well, the scenario of the timing is very difficult to grasp in retrospect. Had we set a time limit one hour ahead for the warning. This would hardly have given many ships, much chance to get underway because most ships took about an hour just to get started and then to decide which were going out first and all the battle orders, and considering the speed of the ships, the ships would not have been very far from the Harbor entrance, given an hour warning. Given a two hour warning, it wouldn't even have been much further than that. When they talk about a warning, a warning that was less than 24 hours probably didn't make a lot of difference one way or the other.
My personal opinion was had we been at sea and had the Japanese found us, those two ifs, the casualty rates would've been much higher because as it was no ship sunk at Pearl Harbor in more than 40 feet of water. Therefore, we were able to get all the ships up and back into action, except three. Whereas had we been at sea and they'd sunk in 500 to 5,000 feet of water, we would never have gotten them back and we'd have probably lost many, many more people because picking people up at sea as opposed to Harbor is much more difficult. So as far as a warning was concerned, short of a 24 hour warning, it probably made no difference at all except in our favor.
The torpedo planes and some of the dive bombers, point of entry to the Harbor was over the oil tank farm and had they dropped bombs in the oil tank farm, they would've taken our logistics support away from us in petroleum for quite an appreciable period of time, maybe four or five or six months. And I asked one of the Japanese admirals, why they hadn't dropped bombs in the tank farm? And he said, because it didn't give medals for dropping bombs on tank farms, which was a rather American attitude. And I asked them why they had not dropped bombs in Westloch ammunition storage. Because had they done that, we would've had the largest explosion up to the Hiroshima explosion the world had ever seen, if not even larger than Hiroshima, because we had thousands and thousands of tons of ammunition up there. His response to that was, he didn't know what existed. And that was very bad intelligence on their part because we had ship parties on the other side of our fence. And you could look at all the shells and all the powder through our fence. But those were our two things the Japanese would've been far more successful had they gone after.
People like Captain Miller versus people like me who are called heroes are entirely different. I had no choice, once I was up in the sky control place and once I was wounded, my only choice was to stay there and really do my job, which I did. People like Captain Miller who were not hurt, were free to run if they wanted to or free to stand and fight. So their heroism is much more personal. They were the ones that could have done things to make themselves more personally safe. Instead of that in the face of very hot fires, very much smoke, very much agony, he stood his ground. He saw along with Lieutenant Commander Faulkner, that all the people were off the ship, they could get off the ship before he tried to save himself. Those people to me are the real heroes because they really had a choice. When they call people like me heroes, it's really a team thing. I'm decorated because my men stood by me and allowed me to keep control of the batteries. I think people like Captain Miller to me are far more heroic than people like myself.
I think I have a very professional attitude toward myself as a professional Naval officer and I felt I was professional at Pearl Harbor and, we professionals pay the price of our profession and it occurred to my fate to be four and a half years in the hospital. That's the way it went. I was a professional officer and that just came with the territory. I would far have preferred to spend the six weeks I thought I was going to spend, but it turned out it was four and a half years. That's just the way the ball rolls.
Here we have- really the story about the channel marker- directly across the channel was Nevada point. And, we rather brag in Nevada that we were the only one that got underway that morning and they thought we were sinking. Actually we weren't sinking. We had just kept getting lower and lower and lower down by the bow because we had a torpedo in the port side Ford in the bow. We counter flooded wrongly. We counter flooded starboard side forward. We should have counter flooded starboard side AFT. Then a bomb hit the fo'c'sle and let off the aviation gasoline and the paint in the paint locker. So we had this fearsome fire coming up in the forward part of the ship and that created more flooding. So we had to flood some more forward and Admiral Train, who was the senior officer watching us on the Maryland, thought we were just sinking. We were getting lower and lower and lower, and he was afraid we were sinking the channel. So he ordered us aground and at that time we were down further north from here at dry dock number one.
And we started slow at dry dock number one and then we figured that was the worst place to run aground. So we started out the channel again and he put an emergency signal for us to run aground. And the plan was to go out in the reef and use our guns to be an offshore battery. But when he put the emergency signal, we all decided we better put the guns- We were taking a bad beating top side. The torpedo had already hit us, but the strafing planes were getting us and we lost about 53 men top side. And we were using second, third, fourth string gun crews as we lost our first string anti-aircraft crews, the second string would come in and the third string and we taught everybody on the ship. All the men who were over six feet two, had been taught to be first loaders, because we anticipated that the air compressors that needed to load those guns would go out, so we needed big men to load them.
And, that's why all of these people , listed here killed in action, practically, all of them were top side people, all of the guns, even though it wasn't their job, classmate Ernie Dunlop, who was wounded was actually a main battery spotter. But since we had no main battery ammunition on board, he went down and started getting the secondary battery off and going. And the secondary battery could only fire at an angle about 15 degrees elevation, but he shot consistently at the low flying airplanes. And the first one he saw, he missed by about 10 feet from the stern. So he cranked on some right deflection and got the next one right on the nose, and then the problem was, a bomb hit that case mate. And, Ernie was very, very severely wounded, knocked out one of his eyes and broke his face up, pretty badly.
We had a lot of them who did that. The two aviators on board who were killed, because we had no aircraft on board, they went down and opened up in that secondary battery. Hal Christopher was another ensign, who was a communicator. And since we had no communication, he went down and took care of those batteries. We lost four ensigns who had no real job that morning. We lost them very much like you were. They manned the gaps that there were supposed to be. And, unfortunately we lost them while they were manning the gaps. And, we're very proud of this old ship and very proud of the people who were on her.
One of the things that we used to pride ourselves on was we were the oldest battleship out here. And our conduct reports from the shore patrol, were about 85% fighting ashore. And the report was always fighting ashore. The shore patrol would bring them back. The executive officer would ask why they were fighting ashore and they'd all swear they only had two beers. And somebody said that their ship was better than Nevada and the fight would start. And the short patrol would send them back. And the executive officer would say, "You've performed a very serious military offense, but in view of the situation, I'll let you off with a warning this time." And I asked many, many years later why he never gave anybody more than a warning. And he said, he wasn't about to spoil the morale of a ship. And, we were proud. We thought we had the best ship in the Navy. We were the oldest one out here, and so this is our monument out here, our memorial. Not many people see it, but to us who were on Nevada, it means a great deal
The two names in particular that strike me very hard. One is Adolfo Solar. Solar was always my boss of the watch when I had the watch. Solar had very little schooling and he could not make chief petty officer, but he was a 100% complete professional. He knew his business better than any man I've ever known. The other was a warrant officer Bos’n. And, his name was Edward J. Hill. Hill to all of us was the great father. Hill spent all of his life being sure that we, young officers didn't get in a lot of trouble, and Bos’n Hill, because he loved my father who was a Navy Admiral, watched over me whenever I had the watch like a bird. I was not going to make any mistakes that anybody would know about. I could make a lot of mistakes, but he'd correct them before they got there.
And when the ship was ordered underway, both Solar and Bos’n Hill were on the fo'c'sle casting off the lines, getting the ship loose. One of the lines got fouled on the interrupted key and Boson Hill swam over to the key, undid the line, swam back to the ship, completed his job, and just after he completed his job, a bomb came and killed both Bos’n Hill and Petty officer Solar. And I look at these names and, these are the two that really affect me the most because I was so close to them. They were such professional people and I had the privilege of working with them, so intimately. Of course, many others I do recognize, a lot of them are very, very young people. A lot of them were 17, 18 year old young people that we thought were going to be disasters if there was a fight. And it turned out, they fought just as well as anybody else.
The age and experience had nothing to do with the performance of the people. They did what they had to do when they had to do it, and what they lacked in training, they made up for in ingenuity. Because I feel that today, I work with sailors today and I see the same thing. I look at the people who were decorated and there are many, many names that are not on that list that should have been on that list. But the problem was, of the Navy Crosses and congressional medals awarded, the Nevada got almost one third of them all, and they felt that that was more than a ship deserved. We of the ship of course felt it wasn't nearly enough because we had the best ship in the Navy anyway, and should have gotten everybody who did these marvelous acts of bravery, should have been rewarded.
One in particular was a first class bos’n mate named, Robert Norman, Swede Norman. Great big man. And he was responsible for my being here today. He looked up the mast after the Japanese had left. The mast was on fire and there were five sailors up there with me and he wanted to know why didn't get down from the mast and the fire. And they informed him that I was up there, they couldn't get me down. So he climbed the mast and greatly risked himself, personally, he got very badly burned. He engineered getting some lines or tying me in the stretcher and lifting the stretcher over the side so they could lower me three decks to get me out of the mast. And the man was badly burned and nobody except me really gave him much thanks.
I see him quite often now, we've become very, very good friends. He was commissioned, he's a retired Navy captain now. He commanded five ships during his Naval career. He was a superb professional. And I always felt that people like Norman, who everybody knew were so outstanding and, at their own personal risk, should have gotten some kind of an award, but those are the way the things go. We all wear our decorations for the rest of the ship, that's basically what we do. Don Ross, who is our sole surviving Congressional Medal of Honor winner, wears his Congressional Medal for all of us, because he was awarded the medal, but he knew that without being on the team and the team working together, we wouldn't be here anyway.
That was Captain Joseph K. Taussig Jr.
Thanks for listening to Warriors In Their Own Words (/Burn The Boats). If you have any feedback, please email the team at [email protected]. We’re always looking to improve the show.
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Warriors In Their Own Words is a production of Evergreen Podcasts, in partnership with The Honor Project.
Our producer is Declan Rohrs. Brigid Coyne is our production director, and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our Audio Engineer.
Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers, Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss.
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