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Pearl Harbor Survivor Recounts Experience
by Mass Communication Specialist (SW/AW) Peggy Trujillo - December 7, 2011

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PEARL HARBOR (NNS - 12/2/2011) -- USS Oklahoma (BB 37) sank in Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attacks Dec. 7, 1941, taking more than 400 crew members with her.

Rescue crews work on the upturned hull of the 29,000-ton battleship USS Oklahoma (BB 37) Dec. 8, 1941. The ship capsized after being struck by Japanese warplanes during the attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941. Holes were burned through the hull to permit the rescue of some of the men trapped below. U.S. Navy photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Archives
Rescue crews work on the upturned hull of the 29,000-ton battleship USS Oklahoma (BB 37) Dec. 8, 1941. The ship capsized after being struck by Japanese warplanes during the attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941. Holes were burned through the hull to permit the rescue of some of the men trapped below. U.S. Navy photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Archives
 Seaman Apprentice Gene Dick was one of 32 Sailors who survived the sinking.

He was performing routine tasks in sick bay that Sunday morning when the battle alarm sounded and the officer of the deck announced that it was not a drill.

Dick was preparing to assist injured personnel at his battle station in triage when the first torpedo hit.

"[It] just picked that ship up, and shook it like that, and slammed it down into the water," said Dick.

By the time he had picked himself up from the ground, the second torpedo hit and shook the ship again. When the water started pouring in, Dick and another Sailor left their station and headed aft in order to reach the open deck and escape the ship. They made it to a supply berthing, where they were about to make it outside the skin of the ship, as it continued to roll.

"When we got about three people from the door,
water started pouring in through the hatch and just knocked us over and over and over," said Dick.

Dick said he then began climbing bunks to escape the rising water.

"By that time the ship had turned completely over," said Dick. "I didn't know it, of course. I was absolutely disoriented. It felt like hours later, but it wasn't that long, I ended up in an air pocket between the deck and the bulkhead."

Temporarily safe, Dick said he then took in his surroundings to figure out what to do next.

"Full of salt water and fuel oil; and I couldn't see a thing," said Dick. "It was black, black, black, dark, dark. There were bodies floating all around me. Then I saw a light back in the back."

Someone had found a battle lantern, and Dick could hear some voices so he swam in that direction. They started talking about how to get out.

"We didn't even know which way was up," said Dick. "We just knew we were in an air pocket. Somebody found a porthole."

Still disoriented, the Sailors did not know if the porthole went inside or outside the ship.

"I decided by then I didn't care," said Dick. "I was going to go through that porthole, because I was just as dead out there as I was in here."

Some people made it through the small porthole easily, while others needed help. Dick was fifth in line to get out.

"We'd been down there for about four hours then," said Dick. "We didn't know it. We were scared to death, you know."

He attempted to exit the porthole feet first, but his clothing got caught and he came back in to try again.

"I said well I'll try to go out head first," said Dick. "I took off my skivvy shirt and headed down. I got down. I could get one shoulder through, then the other shoulder through.

"I took a deep breath and got down and started through, and my shorts caught. It was only a 21 inch porthole, but I got my hands on the outside and pushed; the guys pushed on me. And finally my shorts ripped off," said Dick.

Dick said as soon as he hit the open water he began swimming upward.

"We were down about 50 feet deep in the depths of Pearl Harbor," said Dick. "I swam and swam and swam and finally got to the surface. There was burning fuel oil all around me."

Dick was rescued by a motor whaleboat crew who picked him up from the water and took him to get medical care.

Dick's day started in sick bay, where he was caring for others, but ended in the hospital, where he was one of many receiving treatment.

He finished his Navy career 22 years later as a chief warrant officer in the medical service. He said he is grateful for every moment he has had since Pearl Harbor.

"So I've been living on borrowed time for about 70 years," said Dick.

By Mass Communication Specialist (SW/AW) Peggy Trujillo

Navy News Service
Copyright 2011

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