As we approach the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks, we look back on the many stories of heroism. Stories that earned 15 men Medals of Honor. These Pearl Harbor hero stories will give you an inside look at the acts of courage that took place on that Day of Infamy.
Only five of these Medal of Honor recipients men survived their moment of heroism. One of the men died in action just 11 months later. At the time of his death at age 100 in 2010, John Finn was the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient as well as the last living recipient from the Pearl Harbor attack.
Although just these 15 men received our nation’s highest award, each one would have quickly acknowledged the courage of the many other Americans who proved to be heroes that day, whose actions may have gone unnoticed. The following Pearl Harbor hero stories provide excerpts from the President of the United States who awarded these men with the Medal of Honor.
The 15 Medal of Honor Recipients from Pearl Harbor
“For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941.” As Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. West Virginia, after being mortally wounded, Capt. Bennion expressed concern only about fighting and saving his ship. He strongly protested against being carried from the bridge.
“For extraordinary heroism, distinguished service, and devotion above and beyond the call of duty.” During the first attack by Japanese airplanes on the Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, on 7 December 1941, Lt. Finn secured and manned a machine gun mounted on an instruction stand in an exposed section of parking ramp. Though he was painfully wounded multiple times, he continued to return fire with total disregard for his own safety. Only after receiving specific orders, he sought medical attention. After receiving first aid treatment, fighting through the pain, Finn returned to the squadron area. He actively supervised the rearming of returning planes. His incredible heroism and conduct were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
“For conspicuous devotion to duty and extraordinary courage and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941.” When the U.S.S. Oklahoma was about to capsize and all were told to abandon ship, Ens. Flaherty stayed in a turret. He held up a flashlight so the rest of the crew could see to escape, thus sacrificing his own life.
“For distinguished conduct in action, outstanding heroism, and utter disregard of his own safety above and beyond the call of duty during the attack.” At the start of the attack, Lt. Comdr. Fuqua was knocked down by the explosion of a large bomb which hit the quarterdeck of the USS Arizona. It penetrated several decks and started a raging fire. Upon regaining consciousness, he began to direct the fighting of the fire and the rescue of wounded and injured personnel. Lt. Comdr. Fuqua continued to direct the fighting of fires while the wounded and burned could be taken from the ship.
He also supervised their rescue in a calm manner and with such excellent judgment that it inspired everyone who saw. It most likely resulted in the saving of many lives. After realizing the ship could not be saved and that he was the senior surviving officer aboard, he directed it to be abandoned. But he continued to remain on board and rescue personnel. Lt. Comdr. Fuqua’s conduct was in keeping with the highest traditions of the naval service and characterizes him as an outstanding leader.
“For distinguished conduct in the line of his profession, extraordinary courage, and disregard of his own safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor.” During the height of the strafing and bombing, Chief Boatswain Hill led his men of the linehandling details of the U.S.S. Nevada to the quays, cast off the lines and swam back to his ship. Later, he fell overboard and died from the explosion of several bombs.
“For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and complete disregard of his own life, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941.” Rear Adm. Kidd immediately went to the bridge and, as Commander Battleship Division One, courageously discharged his duties as Senior Officer Present Afloat until the U.S.S. Arizona, his Flagship, blew up from magazine explosions and a direct bomb hit on the bridge which resulted in the loss of his life.
“For distinguished conduct in the line of his profession, extraordinary courage and disregard of his own safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor.” After the mechanized ammunition hoists went out of action in the U.S.S. California, Reeves, on his own initiative, in a burning passageway, assisted in the maintenance of an ammunition supply by hand to the antiaircraft guns. He ultimately failed to fight through the smoke and fire, which resulted in his death.
“For distinguished conduct in action, outstanding heroism and utter disregard of his own safety, above and beyond the call of duty, as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Vestal, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by enemy Japanese forces on 7 December 1941.” Comdr. Young proceeded to the bridge and later took personal command of the 3-inch antiaircraft gun. When blown overboard by the blast of the forward magazine explosion of the U.S.S. Arizona, to which the U.S.S. Vestal was moored, he swam back to his ship.
The entire forward part of the U.S.S. Arizona was a blazing inferno with oil afire on the water between the 2 ships; as a result of several bomb hits, the U.S.S. Vestal was afire in several places, was settling and taking on a list. Despite severe enemy bombing and strafing at the time, and his shocking experience of having been blown overboard, Comdr. Young, with extreme coolness and calmness, moved his ship to an anchorage distant from the U.S.S. Arizona, and subsequently beached the U.S.S. Vestal upon determining that such action was required to save his ship.
“For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and complete disregard of his life, above and beyond the call of duty.” The U.S.S. Oklahoma was going to capsize and the order was given to abandon ship. Ward remained in a turret holding a flashlight so that the crew could escape, thereby sacrificing his own life.
Franklin Van Valkenburgh
“For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and complete disregard of his own life, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor.” As commanding officer of the U.S.S. Arizona, Capt. Van Valkenburgh gallantly fought his ship until the USS Arizona blew up from magazine explosions and a direct bomb hit on the bridge. This resulted in the loss of his life.
“For distinguished conduct in the line of his profession, and extraordinary courage and disregard of his own safety, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor by the Japanese forces on 7 December 1941.” Realizing that the ship was capsizing as a result of enemy bombing and torpedoing, Tomich remained at his post. He stayed in the engineering plant of the U.S.S. Utah until he saw that all boilers were secured and all fireroom personnel had left their stations. By doing so, he lost his own life .
Robert R. Scott
“For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor.” The compartment, in the U.S.S. California, flooded as the result of a torpedo hit. The remainder of the personnel evacuated that compartment but Scott refused to leave, saying words to the effect “This is my station and I will stay and give them air as long as the guns are going.”
“For distinguished conduct in the line of his profession, extraordinary courage and disregard of his own life during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii.” When his station in the forward dynamo room of the U.S.S. Nevada became almost untenable due to smoke, steam, and heat, Machinist Ross forced his men to leave that station and performed all the duties himself until blinded and unconscious. Upon being rescued and resuscitated, he returned and secured the forward dynamo room. He then proceeded to the after dynamo room, where he was later again rendered unconscious by exhaustion. Again recovering consciousness he returned to his station where he remained until directed to abandon it.
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while attached to the U.S.S. California during the surprise enemy Japanese aerial attack.” In charge of the ordnance repair party on the third deck when the first Japanese torpedo struck almost directly under his station, Lt. (then Gunner) Pharris was severely injured by the concussion which hurled him to the overhead and back to the deck. Quickly recovering, he acted on his own initiative to set up a hand-supply ammunition train for the antiaircraft guns.
Water and oil rushed in where the port bulkhead had been torn up from the deck. Many of the remaining crew members were overcome by oil fumes. The ship had no power and took a hit from a second torpedo. Lt. Pharris twice fell unconscious from the nauseous fumes and became handicapped by his painful injuries. Nevertheless, he persisted in his desperate efforts to speed up the supply of ammunition. At the same time, he repeatedly risked his life to enter flooding compartments and drag to safety unconscious shipmates gradually sinking in oil.
By his inspiring leadership, valiant efforts and extreme loyalty to his ship and her crew, he saved many shipmates. He was largely responsible for keeping the California in action during the attack. His heroic conduct throughout this first eventful engagement of World War II reflects the highest credit upon Lt. Pharris and enhances the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
“For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor.” Ens. Jones organized and led a party, which was supplying ammunition to the antiaircraft battery of the U.S.S. California after the mechanical hoists went out of action when he sustained fatal wounds by a bomb explosion. Two men attempted to take him from the area which was on fire. But he refused to let them do so, saying in words to the effect of, “Leave me alone! I am done for. Get out of here before the magazines go off.”
Do you have any Pearl Harbor hero stories? Let us know!
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