A writer describes every victim of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor

TUCSON, Ariz. >> When the USS Arizona exploded and sank in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 80 years ago, brothers died with brothers, childhood friends with childhood friends, a father with his son.

Some of the men were seasoned sailors. Many were teenagers, including several who lied about their age when enlisting because they were too young to serve.

Now the profiles of the 1,177 Sailors and Marines have been compiled for the first time by a Tucson woman who has spent more than five years researching their stories.

Former Arizona Daily Star editor Bobbie Jo Buel searched newspaper archives and public records, collected snapshots and personal letters and tracked down the men’s relatives.

His work began in May 2016 with Joseph John Borovich, a 22-year-old Sailor First Class from central California who was rejected by the Navy due to blurred vision but kept coming back to the recruiting depot until until they took it in July 1940.

Buel completed the final profile three months ago, assembled with Navy records and census reports.

Buel was in talks earlier this year to make all of the stories available through an easily searchable smartphone app so visitors to the USS Arizona Mall Memorial can stand within the outline of the ship and read about the men whose names are engraved on bronze medallions just east of Old Main on the University of Arizona campus.

That deal recently fell through, so she reposted the stories to social media – one every 30 minutes – while she searches for another forever home for them.

All 1,177 profiles are available on the USS Arizona Mall Memorial Facebook page.

Soldiers deserve their stories to be told, Buel said.

Even before the attack, a surprising number of Arizona crew members were already related by blood or history.

Of the 1,514 men assigned to the ship, Buel estimates that nearly 200 had relatives or friends from back home on board with them.

Machinist First Class Thomas Augusta Free, 50, and his son Seaman Second Class William Thomas Free, 17, both died on the ship, according to the National Park Service, custodian of the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. , just like 23 sets. of brothers.

Buel said the list of victims includes cousins, uncles, nephews and best friends, many of whom enlisted, served and then died together.

A story that sticks with her more than most involves four teenagers who enlisted together at a Navy recruiting office in Detroit on a snowy day in November 1940. One of the boys, Chester John Miller, was just 15 years old at the time but was allowed to sign standing anyway.

Miller, Clarence W. Lipke, Charles W. McClelland and Byrl Eugene King trained together at Naval Station Great Lakes 30 miles north of Chicago, and all four ended up on ships anchored at Pearl Harbor on the 7 December 1941.

Miller and Lipke, both second-class firefighters, died on the Arizona, and King on the battleship Nevada. McClelland, on the light cruiser Helena, survived the attack, although he was thrown through the air by a torpedo explosion and broke his leg.

McClelland was still aboard the Helena when it was sunk in the South Pacific in July 1943. His life raft carried him to a Japanese-held island, where the locals hid him and his crewmates, for a week until picked up by Navy destroyers. .

Buel added details about the men to the spreadsheets as she went, so she could better understand not just the individuals, but the collective story they told as a crew.

She said almost a quarter of men had lost one or both parents before the age of 18. At least 6% saw their parents divorce – a figure almost certainly underreported but still three times the national rate in 1940.

Buel also tracked the size of the communities the crew members came from. She said up to half of them grew up on farms or in towns with fewer than 1,514 people.

As Buel researched the story of Vincent “Tommy” Thomas and Lloyd Bryant, two longtime best friends who enlisted together in rural Illinois, Buel discovered among the Arizona dead two other young men, Edward Smith and Joe McGlasson, from the same small riding.

“Five thousand people (in all of Greene County, Illinois), and you just lost four guys. And that was the first day of the war,” Buel said.

Able Seaman James Randolf Van Horn was the only Tucsonan lost on the battleship that day.

The 17-year-old had never seen the ocean before, but he dropped out of high school in Tucson to join the Navy. He asked for Arizona because it represented his home state.

In a 1958 interview, Van Horn’s mother, Bonnie Cope, said her son decided to enlist after attending a recruiting conference at Tucson High by Rear Admiral Isaac Kidd in the spring of 1941.

Kidd later died on Arizona along with the Tucson teenager he had inspired to join him there.

The research project began as an add-on piece for the USS Arizona Mall Memorial that Buel’s husband, David Carter, designed at the University of Arizona.

At the time, Buel thought someone had already compiled the men’s stories. She just needed to find whoever did the work and get permission to share it.

She planned to spend the first two weeks of her retirement from the Daily Star putting together the information so it would be ready when the memorial was unveiled days before the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Then she discovered that there was no existing collection. At least some of the Sailors and Marines had never been profiled before. Their names were carved in marble at the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii, but their story had not been told.

Buel should do it herself.

The search took her and her husband to big cities and small towns to scan reels of microfilm or scour bound copies of old newspapers for obituaries. Nor could she leaf through the December 1941 editions. Some families were not informed of the death of their loved ones until months later.