Now 93, Anthony Nady was asleep on the fifth deck of the USS Nevada on the Sunday morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
John Chapman, a 19-year-old warrant officer, was moments from leaving his ship when a torpedo struck the USS West Virginia and set off a chain of harrowing experiences that he said he was lucky to survive.
The unpleasant memories of that day have stayed with both men throughout their lives. They shared their stories with a large crowd of veterans and their families and other military personnel during a Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day service at American Legion Post 19 Friday morning.
The service, on the 71st anniversary of the attack that hurled the U.S. into World War II, was intended to honor military personnel, both past and present. The attack killed 2,402 Americans and wounded an additional 1,282.
After an opening invocation and the POW-MIA ceremony, Yuma Proving Ground public affairs officer Chuck Wullenjohn gave a video presentation about other places in the Pacific that the Japanese attacked at the same time, including the Philippine Islands, which led to the largest surrender in American military history.
"It’s somewhat of a forgotten part of our history that deserves not to be forgotten," Wullenjohn said.
Recalling the details of that day as if it had just happened, Nady said he was awakened by the explosion and quickly went to his battle station in the forward air compressor room.
"I’m down below. I can’t see anything. I can only feel what is going on. You don’t have time to think about what is going on, only about what you need to do. Whatever happens, happens."
Nady said he would spend the next couple of hours pumping air into the anti-aircraft guns. Since the Nevada was last in line on battleship row, it wasn’t hit until the last part of the Japanese torpedo planes’ attack, when it was struck by a single torpedo. The blast opened a large hole in the ship’s port side below its two forward turrets, and the ship began to take on a considerable amount of water.
He said although damaged, the Nevada was able to get underway about two hours after the attack began and tried to make its way out of the harbor. This, he said, made it an attractive target for Japanese dive bombers, which hit the ship several more times, opening up its forecastle deck, causing more leaks in her hull and starting fires throughout the ship.
"This one bomb came all the way down and blew just before it went out the bottom of the bow," Nady said. "So the water was coming up and flooding the fourth and fifth decks, and that’s where I was."
Eventually the Nevada ran aground in the channel, and the abandon ship signal was given. By the following morning, it had sunk in shallow waters.
Chapman said that morning started with him waking up early to go try to get his lifeguard job back at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. But before he could leave the USS West Virginia, the first torpedo struck the ship.
Chapman was in the process of getting his liberty card when the "general quarters stations" sounded over the loudspeaker and remembers feeling the ship shake from the explosion.
"In all, nine torpedoes hit us. The whole port side was open to the water and we started going down."
When the word finally came to abandon ship, Chapman said, he and his shipmates on the third-deck compartment were in water up to their necks and hanging on to the overhead rails so they wouldn’t drown. He said at that point he began reciting the 23rd Psalm and remembers hearing a voice saying to "take charge" and making a promise to his shipmates that he would lead them to safety.
"I used to weigh all the fire extinguishers on the ship, so I knew every compartment and hatch to open to get out of there," Chapman said.
With the ship sinking and listing badly, Chapman and the sailors had made their way to the top deck when the second wave of Japanese planes attacked. At that point, he said, he began looking for a way to get the injured sailors off the ship when he saw some motorboats in the harbor and decided to jump into the water through the burning oil and swim out to them. He was on one of those boats when a bomb hit the USS Arizona’s magazine.
"When the Arizona exploded, every ship in the harbor lifted out of the water," Chapman said. "The one I was on went about six feet in the air and plopped back down."
Chapman, who saved about 40 people that day, later became a deep-sea diver and helped build the USS Arizona Memorial.
Chapman’s experience that day was actually captured in a well-known photo of attack, which pictured him being pulled from the water by fellow sailors in a small boat after the USS West Virginia was hit. Ironically, as that was happening, he was in the path of Nady’s USS Nevada as it was trying to get out of the harbor.
"When we met at one of the reunions, I told him the story, and he told me I shouldn’t have been out swimming so early in the morning," Chapman said, laughing.