by Ken Delfino of Keystone, SD, US Navy (Ret)
“Seminole…Man the Rails!”
Those words and the experience to follow solidified my reason for joining the United States Navy!
It was a January morning in 1965 when Amphibious Squadron V, based out of San Diego lined up outside the entrance to Pearl Harbor, HI.
I was a QMSA (Quartermaster Striker) which to my Army, Air Force and Marine brothers and sisters was the title for an assistant to the ship’s navigator, not the guys who accounted for and looked after supplies.
Being the second junior man in our seven-man Navigation (N) Division, I was still on the 0400-0800 watch when we started our entry. When we left or entered port, my job was to either take compass readings from either the port or starboard wing or log in every command given on the bridge. Since I was senior to one other sailor in our department, I chose to take compass readings.
We were the third ship in line of ten in our squadron. When entering ports, ships enter based on the captain’s seniority with normally the commodore being on the flagship which always enters first.
Like all youth, I knew about what happened on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor. Then as a high school sophomore, I met my stepdad who survived the attack that morning while a member of the USS Patapsco, a net tender. Their job was to place anti-submarine barriers at the mouth of the channel at night and remove them at first light.
“We had a pretty cush job”, he told me… “until that morning!”
In retrospect, so did the men who were stationed at Corregidor and the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines.
On this morning I was on the port wing of the O-3 level of the USS Seminole, AKA-104 (an attack cargo ship) and we were making our first stop with to pick up a load of Marines to take to Okinawa. Their equipment was already in our holds.
As we entered the channel, I was concerned at how narrow the opening was, but I continued to give out the compass readings to our navigator, LT Ed Gieselman.
The ship slowed down to about 10 knots and once through the channel, we started veering to the right. The order was given to slow to five knots and soon a tug came alongside to nudge us along the rest of the trip.
The order came across the P.A. system, “SEMINOLE…MAN THE PORT RAILS” and suddenly the ships’ company who were not required to be at an Underway Duty Station raced to positions from bow to stern on the left side of the ship and the order was given “PARADE REST!”.
At this point my division senior petty officer, QM1 Ben Pruitt, came out and knowing this was my first trip to Pearl, pointed out the Arizona Memorial straight ahead to port.
The Memorial gleamed bright white under the blue morning sky and then all I became aware of was the soft ‘whoosh-whoosh-whoosh’ of our prop churning slowly through the water and the flapping of our National Ensign and signal flags as commands were given up on the signal bridge that we could hear.
There was almost no need for our headsets as we could easily hear LT. Gieselman say “Mark” and we would give our readings….followed by a course adjustment order to the helmsman, if needed.
We were now almost upon the Memorial and as our bow crossed one of the two markers, the order came across the PA system….”SEMINOLE, ATTENNNNN – HUT” and the sailors manning the rails responded.
“ALL HANDS, PREEE-SENT…ARMS!”…..and since we were now under the control of the harbor tug, I could join in the privilege of Rendering Honors to those sailors still resting in the Arizona as well as the others who died that morning.
We held our salutes until we passed the stern of the Arizona and went back to parade rest.
We continued around Ford Island…now at the eastern tip if the island and turning to port to head back west when the order came again….
“SEMINOLE…..ATTENNNNNN – HUT!”
It was then that I noticed some wreckage and didn’t know that we were about to Render Honors to those sailors still entombed in the USS Utah…
“ALL HANDS, PREEEE – SENT….ARMS!”
We all snapped a salute to the Utah until our stern passed her bow and continued our duties until we were nudged into our berth, F-8, with the Utah directly behind us.
In 1976 I brought my stepdad to Hawai’i…his first visit since he left the Patapsco later that December to report to a Pacific-based Seabee unit. After seeing all the development with Japanese name on almost everything in sight, he asked, “Why didn’t they just buy the damn islands back then”?
I returned to Pearl on two more WESTPAC cruises before I left the ship in May ’66 to report for river patrol training. The tradition continued…something I’ll never forget and I wish others could experience.
I wanted to share these memories on this, the 74th Anniversary of the attack…may the survivors and the fallen of the attack that day never be forgotten.