Eye-witness Account

US Seaman, Victor E. Stefl

US Seaman, Victor E. Stefl

Victor E. Stefl

Seaman, US Navy

In the fall of 1941, I was a 19 year-old seaman not long out of the “Great Lakes” school (the US Navy boot camp).  My first assignment was aboard the USS Case, a Mahan-class destroyer commissioned in Boston in 1936.  We had sailed south from Pearl Harbor in November, toward New Zealand, then north again, crossing back and forth over the international dateline.

A few weeks later, as we returned to port, we were informed we would not be dry-docking.  The USS Shaw, we were told, had collided with another ship and would be occupying our ships space.  So we moored in a destroyer nest next the USS Whitney, (a destroyer tender), breaking down our main guns and performing general maintenance – – this was the condition of our ship when the Japanese showed up.

USS Case, Destroyer-370

USS Case, Destroyer-370

On the morning of 7 December, most of the officers were ashore.  I was lying in my bunk reading and looking forward to a quiet Sunday breakfast.  I heard an explosion, then several others.  I remember wondering who the heck was taking target practice on a Sunday.  Then one of my crewmates ran in and yelled, “Stef, get out of bed, the Japs are here?”

I was getting ready to tell him he was crazy when general quarters sounded.  I ran to my station and realized the gun I was assigned had been broken down for maintenance.  We scrambled to ready the 50 cals and gather ammunition.  Our officer of the deck, an ensign named Beard, had to break into the ammo locker because no one could locate a key.

370.number

We returned fire as soon as we could, but were limited as to when we could shoot.  If we fired on the Japanese aircraft as they leveled out for their torpedo runs we would be shooting across the harbor at our own men; so we had to wait for them to dive down before their runs or until they climbed out afterward.  Usually the Japanese turned toward the destroyers and strafed the hell out of us.  As the Japanese pilots flew between the masts they smiled and waved at us.  Obviously, that angered us.

During the attack a number of the crew were busy putting our main guns back together and making preparations for getting underway.  Many of my crewmates were trying to catch rides back to the ship on small transports; others simply swam.  We managed to down a few of the Japanese planes but not before they had inflicted heavy damage on the battleships.  After the attack was over, we threw all non-essential items overboard and took on fuel, food, water and ammunition.  When we got underway we cleared the harbor and depth charged an enemy sub.

USS Case - offical Navy log entries

USS Case – offical Navy log entries

Later on, we heard that the Shaw, sitting in our docking space had taken a direct hit.  I couldn’t help but think that it could have been us.  When night fell we darkened the ship and patrolled around Ford Island waiting for the Japanese to return.  That night was one of the scariest in my life.  At times we heard screams of wounded men trapped in the wreckage.  The only lights in the harbor were fires, which sometimes revealed bodies floating in the water.

Remember...

Remember…

Then, there were moments of almost complete silence, when the only sound we heard was the low hum of our ships in the harbor.  At such times we looked at each other and wondered just what the hell had we gotten into.  After 9 p.m., once we had been ordered to stand down, we spotted planes coming in over the harbor.  We opened up on them until the skipper ordered us to cease.  The Marines didn’t get the message and shot them down.  It turns out that those planes were American bombers scheduled to be delivered to the Army Air Force.  The rest of the night we circled the island and kept our eyes on the sky.

Victor Stefl was from Farmington Hills, Michigan.  He passed away October 2012 at the age of 90.

This story was taken directly from the ‘History Channel Magazine’ Jan/Feb 2013.  Images from the Stefl Family collection and US Naval History

Click on images to enlarge .

For a realistic view of Pearl Harbor, Mustang Koji supplied this video of footage, Click Here.

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Beetle Bailey – he knows how to keep things Top Secret!!

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Farewell Salutes – 

Keith Bosley – Sydney, Aus.; RA Air Force, Vietnam

courtesy, Cora @ A Fresh Start

courtesy, Cora @ A Fresh Start

Rudolph Dansby Jr.; WPalm Beach, FL, US Navy (Ret. 21 years)

Frank Fee – Harlan, KY; US Army, Sgt., Korea

Cyril Goetten – Jerseyville, IL; US Army, WWII

Christine Hartigan – Mission, KS; US Air Force, nurse, Captain, Vietnam

Alistair McLaggan – Forest Hill, NZ; Argyle & South Highlanders, WWII

John Sadeir – Edmonton, Can; RC Air Force, pilot, WWII (Ret)

Richard Ward – Oro Valley, AZ; USMC, F-4 Black Knights

Larry Zoski – Bartiesville, OK; US Army, Sgt. Vietnam, 2nd Batt/9th Inf.Div/4th Field Artillery

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on August 21, 2014, in First-hand Accounts, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 54 Comments.

  1. Don’t ask me why, but I cried when I read this. I guess, I imagine the terrible fear and admire the tremendous courage people endure for their country. Then, if they are lucky enough to survive, they live with those haunting memories till the end. Thanks.

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    • I’m sorry I made you cry, but I am impressed with the level of emotion with which you read the story. It shows me the true insight into the character of Toni and you should be proud. You are one person I know will never forget – thank you!!

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  2. Amazing story! One of so many of WWII. I have never been to Pearl Harbor, but would love to see the memorial there.

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  3. That’s quite a story…reading about real heroes like the ones you share with us makes my heart swell with pride and gratitude. Thanks Gp! 🙂

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  4. A great first hand story.
    One can only imagine the emotions felt by that young seaman.
    Regards
    Ian

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  5. Touched !!
    Thanks for sharing such a classy story.

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  6. Indeed, having to break into ammunition storage on a warship during this “emergency” is just as stupid as the regs now prohibiting sidearms on a military base. You know the results.

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  7. Havoc and blood – it is the real face of war. Thank you for sharing this eye-witness account. God bless those who fight for Freedom.

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  8. I think this is the first account I’ve read from someone who was genuinely in the thick of it. Thanks.

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  9. What a story. Each one adds its own. I don’t blame him for being scared out of his wits. I remember always reading Beetle Bailey in the newspaper growing up.

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    • Thanks for reading, Linda. I think we all can understand the emotions, what gets me, are the actions throughout that fear. Very heroic.

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    • Thanks for reading here too, Linda. I appreciate the actions they pulled off despite that fear – really quite impressive. Can we even imagine swimming TO a ship that’s being shot at?

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  10. Devastating!

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  11. Definitely thought provoking. Great account

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  12. Eye witness accounts tell the story best in many way , don’t they ? Thanks .

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    • Reality and the true story comes from each individual account, not the statistics. A huge difference between the two, statistics are necessary for record keeping and the eye-witness stories for the reality. Thanks for reading, Dan.

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  13. What a story from another unsung hero! It is difficult, even when reading an account like this, to realize the courageous acts that took place throughout that day. And in the middle of the horror of shipmates trapped dead or dying all around.

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  14. It was so good to read about a survivor from such a horrible situation. Thank you again.

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  15. A masterpiece of planning, that Sunday morning surprise. All the red-blooded that could would be cuddled up ashore, all the bad lads would have raging hangovers, all the good boys would be at church, and what’s left wouldn’t believe it anyway.

    It worked …

    There’s even now too much we don’t know, and if we were told would never believe.
    I love to read these eyewitness accounts, they hold a resonance that no official/historical accounting could ever do. Swim back to the ship? What else, when the buses stop running?

    Like

  16. Jackie Saulmon Ramirez

    This blog should be up forever. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Yes, “Lest we forget”, indeed. We always need to make sure that the “Annals of Infamy” never go out of print!

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  18. Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat™.

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  19. I love the first hand account that illustrates the chaos and the confusion. Through it all, also the determination. Such young men with such a profound sense of duty.

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  20. That’s quite a story concerning the men swimming to get back to their ships. Such determination!

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  21. Paul H. Lemmen

    Reblogged this on A Conservative Christian Man.

    Like

  22. Pierre Lagacé

    Reblogged this on Lest We Forget and commented:
    Another gem post from GP

    Like

  23. This was a very engaging read– from a Navy man !

    Like

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