Although there were hundreds or thousands of heroes on the fateful date of Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands, a select few of 15 Navy Servicemen and Officers received the nation's highest recognition of heroism.
During the next few days, we will remember in alphabetical order their bravery in three articles.
The attack claimed almost 2,500 people and devastated the U.S. Naval fleet and airfields - leading to America’s entry into World War II.
1. Mervyn S. Bennion (1887-1941) was a Captain in the U.S.
Navy from Vernon, Utah who served as a military officer from 1910-1941.
He was a graduate of the United States Naval Academy in 1910 and was killed in action while in command of the battleship West Virginia.
He was disemboweled by shrapnel from a bomb that blew up part of his command deck. Using one arm to hold his wounds closed, he bled to death while still commanding his crew. His actions saved the West Virginia from sinking and posthumously earned him the Medal of Honor.
In 1943 the destroyer USS Bennion was named in his honor.
2. Chief Aviation Ordinance man John W. Finn (1909-2010) enlisted in the Navy in 1926 and served until 1956.
He was stationed as a Chief Petty Officer at the Naval Air Station on Oahu when the Japanese attacked. Finn manned an exposed 50-caliber machine gun stand and returned significant fire upon incoming Japanese fighters. Despite receiving five painful wounds he remained at his post and inflicted heavy damage upon the enemy until ordered to seek medical attention. Following first aid treatment, he returned to the squadron area and actively supervised the rearming of returning planes.
Finn was the last survivor of the 15 Navy men who received the Medal of Honor for Pearl Harbor heroism when he died at a nursing home in Chula Vista, California at the age of 100.
3. Ensign Francis C. Flaherty (1919-1941) received the Medal of Honor for helping his shipmates escape the USS Oklahoma, at the expense of his own life, following the ship being hit by three torpedoes and beginning to capsize. During the evacuation of the ship he remained in a turret holding a flashlight so the remainder of the crew could see to escape, thereby sacrificing his own life.
Overall, 420 were entombed on the Oklahoma including Flaherty.
When the ship was raised for salvage in 1943, the remains of the crew members were interred in mass graves at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.
The destroyer escort USS Flaherty, commissioned in 1943, was named in honor of Ensign Flaherty, and the American Legion Post 42 in his hometown of Charlotte, Michigan is partially named in his honor.
4. Lieutenant Commander Samuel G. Fuqua (1899-1987) served in the U.S. Navy from 1919-1953 and ultimately would retire as a Rear Admiral.
He served on the ill-fated USS Arizona as the ship's Damage Control Officer.
During the first bombing by the Japanese he was knocked unconscious by a bomb that hit the ship's stern early in the attack. He recovered to direct the fighting of the fires and the rescue of wounded and injured personnel. Fuqua “stayed on deck through the continuous bombing and strafing, leading in a calm and cool manner that resulted in the saving of many lives.”
As the ship's senior surviving officer, after its forward magazines exploded he was responsible for saving her remaining crewmen.
Over 1,000 men were killed and Fuqua ignored gunfire from overhead aircraft while calmly leading efforts to evacuate his sinking ship.
After realizing the vessel could not be saved, he directed the abandoning of the ship and he left it with the last boatload. He and two fellow officers commandeered a boat and braved heavy fire while picking up survivors from the fire-streaked waters. He would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
5. Chief Boatswain Edwin J. Hill (1894-1941) enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1912 and during the attack on Pearl Harbor he was serving on the USS Nevada. In the midst of the attack, he led the ship's line-handling detail in disconnecting them from the concrete platforms along Ford Island so that the ship could get underway and leave the harbor. After casting off the lines from the dock, he dove into the water and swam back to his ship.
After getting back on board and attempting to let go of the anchors, he was blown overboard and killed by the explosion of several bombs.
He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
(This is part one of three articles honoring the 15 Naval members who won the Medal of Honor for heroism on Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor.)
* * *
(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at firstname.lastname@example.org)