by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Wyatt Anthony
Navy Public Affairs Support Element, Det. Northwest
March 12, 2019
Seventy-seven years ago, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service conducted one of the most damaging and deadly military attacks against the United States. On Dec. 7, 1941, a day that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said will live in infamy, the surprise military strike at Naval Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam began a 7:48 a.m. Hawaii-Aleutian standard time and was over in two hours.
The attack was conducted by 353 Imperial Japanese aircraft, launched in two waves from six aircraft carriers. All eight U.S. Navy battleships on Battleship Row were damaged, with four being sunk. All but the USS Arizona were later raised, with six being returned to service to fight in the war. The attack also resulted in the sinking and damaging of three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and a minelayer. One hundred eighty-eight aircraft were destroyed, 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded.
Roy Carter (21) was serving aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma on the morning of December 7, 1941, and was one of the lucky ones who escaped the surprise attack, not only with his life but also without serious injury.
Carter, who grew up in Iowa during the Great Depression, joined the Navy out of high school because there were no good paying jobs at that time.
“There were no jobs, whatsoever, so when I got out of high school I figured the best thing to do was to join the Navy and do something meaningful,” said Carter. “I certainly didn’t expect a great war to happen at that time.”
When he enlisted in the Navy, the pay for a seaman apprentice at the time was a mere $21 a month, but Carter said that $21 was more pay than any job back in his home state at the time.
Following boot camp, Carter was assigned to Oklahoma, a 583 ft. long, 27,900-ton Nevada-class battleship, that was the largest ship he had ever seen up to that point.
“When I first saw [Oklahoma] I just thought to myself, ‘that is a big boat,’” said Carter. “The biggest boat I had ever seen growing up in Iowa was a sailboat.”
Early life aboard Oklahoma for him was mostly spent swabbing the deck, painting and doing a lot of “grunt” work, but after several months he requested to be transferred to an opening in Oklahoma’s repair division. His transfer request was accepted and Carter became a carpenter’s mate, whose main responsibilities included maintaining ship ventilation, watertight control, painting, drainage and damage control efforts.
Carter, a 2nd class petty officer at the time of Pearl Harbor, described the morning of Dec. 7 to be like any other morning aboard Oklahoma.
“On Dec. 7, I had been up, had breakfast and was in the [berthing] when the [1MC] announced an air attack. We were ordered, ‘all hands man your battle stations.’”
Oklahoma was struck amidships by two torpedoes at 7:56 a.m. causing oil to spill from the fuel bunkers, but not penetrating the hull. Four minutes later, a torpedo hit near the 65th frame, penetrating the hull. Carter describes the attack and the events that took place with a shaky voice.
“We were all surprised by the attack. I don’t think that I had time to be scared, I only had time to do my job,” said Carter. “I was manning my battle station on the third deck and running around trying to close [water-tight] hatches and doors.”
With torpedoes still striking Oklahoma, Carter was attempting to make his way out of the ship through darkness due to the electricity being out. At this time, the ship was starting to roll causing debris and unsecured items to fall over in the compartments.
As the trunk he crawled out of began to fill with water, Carter made it out of Oklahoma just as the ship rolled over to 90 degrees, but the centrifugal force of the trunk filling with water caused him to be pulled back under.
Upon rising from underneath the water again, Carter said that he was, "covered in oil from head to toe.” As he began swimming away from Oklahoma, he could still hear the sounds of the Imperial Japanese in the skies above him.
“When I looked up there were still planes everywhere. They were circling high above Hickam Field and buzzing over very low as well,” said Carter. “All I could think was, ‘save yourself.’”
And save himself he did. Carter was pulled aboard a motor launch that was on its way over to the submarine base. While aboard the motor launch, Carter said that he saw the USS Arizona burning and exhuming large plumes of black smoke. After the motor launch arrived at the submarine base, Carter was scrubbed clean of the oil and spent the rest of the day there.
In all, Oklahoma was the second-most damaged battleship that day. It had rolled over and capsized in 11 minutes, sustained nine torpedo hits, had 429 crew members killed-in-action and 32 crew members cut free from the hull. Some men were not lucky enough to escape and perished underneath the waterline, trapped inside of water-tight compartments.
After three months, Carter’s record was reviewed and he was offered the chance to receive flight training. Upon his graduation from flight school, Roy was commissioned as an ensign and sent to Dunkeswell, England, where he flew 12-hour surveillance and submarine hunting missions in PB4Y-2 aircraft.
A profile in history, Carter went on to enjoy a lustrous 22-year naval career and retired as a lieutenant commander with 39 flight missions under his belt.