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Pearl Harbor and the Fate of the Many Brothers Aboard the USS Arizona
Read by David Baker
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The surprise attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 remains one of the most traumatic events in American history. America's battleship fleet was crippled, thousands of lives were lost, and the United States was propelled into a world war. Few realize that aboard the iconic, ill-fated USS Arizona were an incredible seventy-nine blood relatives. Tragically, in an era when family members serving together was an accepted, even encouraged, practice, sixty-three of the Arizona's 1,177 dead turned out to be brothers.
In Brothers Down, acclaimed historian Walter R. Borneman returns to that critical week of December, masterfully guiding us on an unforgettable journey of sacrifice and heroism, all told through the lives of these brothers and their fateful experience on the Arizona. Weaving in the heartbreaking stories of the parents, wives, and sweethearts who wrote to and worried about these men, Borneman draws from a treasure trove of unpublished source material to bring to vivid life the minor decisions that became a matter of life or death when the bombs began to fall. More than just an account of familial bonds and national heartbreak, what emerges promises to define a turning point in American military history.
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List of Maps
The Pacific, 1941, Including Japanese
Advances into Southeast Asia
Oahu Military Installations, December 1941,
Inset of Ford Island and Fleet Landings
Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941
Torpedo Damage, First Wave
Battleship Row Carnage
Cast of Characters
On the USS Arizona
Anderson twins John Delmar “Andy” and Delbert Jake from Minnesota
Andy survived and searched in vain for Jake
Ball brothers Masten and William “Bill” from Iowa
Masten survived; Bill died
Becker trio of brothers from Kansas
Harvey survived; Marvin and Wesley died;
younger brother Bob later enlisted in Navy and survived
Chandler brothers Edwin “Ray,” US Navy, and Donald, USMC, from Alabama
Ray survived; Donald died
Christiansen brothers Edward “Sonny” and Carl “Buddy” from Kansas
Sonny died; Buddy survived
Czarnecki brothers Anthony and Stanley from Michigan
Anthony survived; Stanley died;
younger brother Henry later enlisted in Army and died
Free father and son, Thomas Augusta “Gussie” and William Thomas from Texas
Giovenazzo brothers Joseph on Vestal and Mike on Arizona from Illinois
Joe survived; Mike died
Heidt brothers Edward Joseph “Bud” and Wesley John from California
Miller brothers George Stanley and Jesse Zimmer from Ohio
Morse brothers Francis Jerome and Norman Roi from Colorado
Murdock trio of brothers from Alabama
Thomas survived, Charles Luther and Melvin died;
younger brothers Verlon, then in Navy in Los Angeles, and Kenneth, who later enlisted, survived
Shive brothers Gordon, USMC, and Malcolm, US Navy, from California
Warriner brothers Kenneth Thomas and Russell Walter from Wisconsin
Rear Admiral Isaac Kidd from Ohio
Died on the flag bridge
Commander, Battleship Division One; awarded Medal of Honor
Captain Franklin Van Valkenburgh from Wisconsin
Died on the bridge
Captain of the ship; awarded Medal of Honor
Lieutenant Commander Samuel G. Fuqua from Missouri
Damage Control Officer; awarded Medal of Honor
Major Alan Shapley, USMC, from New York
Outgoing commander, ship’s Marine Detachment
Private, First Class, Russell Durio, USMC, from Louisiana
Musicians of the ship’s band
All died at their battle stations as ammunition handlers
Officers and enlisted men of the Arizona
At Pearl Harbor
Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, commander in chief, US Pacific Fleet
Lieutenant General Walter C. Short, commander, US Army forces in Hawaii
Lieutenant Commander William W. Outerbridge, captain of destroyer Ward
Joseph C. Harsch, Christian Science Monitor foreign correspondent
Wives and sweethearts of men on the Arizona
In Washington, DC
Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States
Cordell Hull, Secretary of State
Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War
Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy
Harry Hopkins, presidential advisor
Admiral Harold R. Stark, Chief of Naval Operations
General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff, US Army
Around the country
Parents, wives, and sweethearts of men on the Arizona
MANY OF MY books have focused on big-picture topics: major wars, an expansionist president, a controversial general, and the four men to hold the five-star rank of fleet admiral in the United States Navy. Behind those men and events, however, there were always the rank and file upon whose shoulders fell the implementation of broader strategies and goals. Frequently, their personal goals were to live to see another sunrise.
This was perhaps never truer than in the early months of World War II, when the horrors of war abruptly cascaded upon eighteen-, nineteen-, and twenty-something-year-old boys who had recently joined the United States Navy and Marines. Many suddenly found themselves on the front lines not out of any great surge of patriotic pride—although there was some of that—or out of a personal quest to see the world—a few were indeed rovers—but rather out of economic necessity.
Most came from the poverty of the Great Depression. Many were rural farm boys from large families whose absence around the family table meant one less mouth to feed. The five or ten dollars that many sent home monthly out of their pay of thirty-six dollars helped to feed younger siblings. In short, they desperately needed the money and joined up for a steady income.
Standing on the memorial above the sunken battleship Arizona at Pearl Harbor while writing The Admirals, I had only a vague awareness that thirty-eight sets of brothers served aboard the ship on December 7, 1941. Whenever I mentioned that to others, I was met with almost universal disbelief but also a certain measure of fascination. Thirty-eight sets of brothers? Eighty or so men? How could that be?
The Pearl Harbor story has never been told through the eyes of the many brothers serving together aboard the Arizona that fateful day. The bigger story is inexorably wrapped around those of the individual men who fought there, but it is never more poignant than the family stories of these brothers. Among the 2,403 American servicemen who died on December 7, 1941, 1,177 were crew members of the Arizona. In an era when family members serving together was an accepted, even encouraged practice, sixty-three of the Arizona’s dead were brothers, a staggering 80 percent casualty rate among those brothers assigned to the ship.
In gathering their stories, there were some surprises: I simply was not prepared for the outpouring of information and support that came from the families of those brothers who served together on the Arizona. As they shared with me treasured letters, faded photographs, and family reminiscences, two things struck me most deeply: their willingness to recount what in many instances were very private personal stories, and the continuing sorrow these family members feel—at least a generation or sometimes two or three generations removed from that day.
It may have been a youngster’s fleeting memory of an uncle as he left a family gathering for the last time or the admonishments decades later to grandchildren told to “play quietly because of grandpa’s nerves.” And who were the girlfriends these brothers left behind? Was there really an engagement ring for one of them secretly tucked in a sailor’s locker on the ship? What a privilege it has been to get to know their family members and be entrusted with their stories.
All aboard the Arizona were figurative brothers in arms, but these men were literal brothers in blood—brothers who paid the ultimate price or lived with enormous personal grief and, sometimes, profound guilt. They were all brothers who, in the words of British poet John Masefield, went “down to the seas.” Their stories cast a profound light on one of America’s darkest days of infamy.
Christmas Eve, 1941
FOR ONE FAMILY, in a working-class neighborhood nestled along the Mississippi River in northwestern Illinois, the smattering of Christmas lights brought no holiday cheer. Inside the modest home of George and Concetta Giovenazzo on Fifteenth Street, everyone milled around with a pit in the hollow of their stomachs. Stockings were still hung and presents wrapped. The younger of the Giovenazzo children could sense but not understand the gloom that filled the air. Photos of their older brothers, quite handsome and confident in their sailors’ uniforms, smiled down at them from across the living room floor.
Only a few weeks earlier, the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor had shaken the country to its core. The bulk of the Pacific battleship fleet lay in ruins. Thousands of American servicemen—no one yet knew the exact number—lay dead. But George and Concetta Giovenazzo had very personal concerns: of their eleven surviving children, they had two sons serving with the United States Navy in Hawaii.
A few days after the attack, their oldest son, Joe, got word to his parents that he was safe and unhurt. George and Concetta exhaled with some measure of relief, but what, they wondered, of his brother, Mike? The younger Giovenazzo was a watertender on the battleship Arizona. Mike’s job was to tend to the oil-fed fires and boilers in the engine room.
Three years earlier, much to their chagrin, big brother Joe had encouraged Mike to enlist and join him on the battleship just before the baseball-loving seventeen-year-old was to begin his senior year of high school. Their parents simply could not understand the lure. After all, wasn’t their hometown of Silvis, three thousand strong in the heartland of the good old USA, the best place to be?
Throughout the dark days of December, the Giovenazzo family waited and prayed. An eerie quiet fell across town as tiny Silvis and all of America adjusted to wartime realities. Neighborhood baseball diamonds where Joe and Mike had spent many a hot summer evening lay still under freezing rain. Every crunch of footsteps on the icy sidewalk outside George and Concetta’s small, wooden-framed house brought a new rush of anxiety. Was this a messenger with news?
Finally, on December 22, a telegram arrived reporting what George and Concetta had feared: Mike was missing. By all reports, he had been on the Arizona that morning and had not been seen since the attack. It promised to be a bleak and bitter Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, the Giovenazzo family, minus two, gathered for an evening meal, when icy footsteps and a knock were heard at the front door. Even the youngest among them fell silent as George greeted a uniformed Western Union delivery boy with another telegram.
George took the envelope, glanced at Concetta, and unfolded the message inside. It didn’t take long to read its contents. George looked again toward Concetta with misty eyes. Their boy was alive! Mike was alive! As the youngest of the Giovenazzo children, five-year-old Dorothy, remembered the moment, “I knew there was sadness in the air,” but then “suddenly, everyone was so happy. Everyone was hugging and saying, ‘He’s alive! He’s alive!’”
The Giovenazzos celebrated what proved to be a very happy holiday. Teresa Giovenazzo Ickes, Mike’s older sister by two years and herself married with two youngsters of her own, remembered years later, “We had that beautiful Christmas.” It truly seemed to be a Christmas miracle.
George and Concetta breathed sighs of relief and took their brood to give thanks at mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church a few blocks away. No one could know what the war would bring or what dangers their boys might face in the days ahead, but for now George and Concetta knew that both Joe and Mike were safe. Their lives began to return to normal. Mike was due to be discharged on January 3 and be home soon afterward. Given the wartime disruptions across the country, they were not particularly alarmed when he did not arrive as scheduled.
But then a few days later, a third telegram arrived. There had been a gut-wrenching mistake.
“Time Is Getting Short So I’ll Say ‘So Long…’”
“At ’em Arizona”
IN A WORLD at peace, there did not seem to be any particular danger to brothers serving together on warships. Family ties were judged a good thing. An older brother sending a photo home of himself in a handsome uniform was better than any recruiting poster the US Navy could devise. For young men during the Great Depression, this was particularly true when in addition to the uniform, the Navy offered a steady paycheck and a chance to see the world—or at least more of it than the county where one had grown up.
Recalling why he joined the Navy in the fall of 1940 at the age of eighteen and reported to the battleship Arizona, John Willard Evans, one of six children from a poor farm family in the hills of northwestern Alabama, was blunt: “Most of the boys that I went in with were school dropouts. I was a school dropout. And most of ’em were hungry. Most of their families were hungry. It was very, very tough times, after having come through that Great Depression. No job, no place to go, no homes. And we found a home in the Navy.”
Like so many enlistees, Evans saved every penny from his meager pay and sent it home to help his family. His enlistment wasn’t motivated by patriotic pride or an impending threat of war, but rather by the need to put food on his family’s poverty-ridden table. As Donald Stratton from Kansas, another eighteen-year-old in similar straits who arrived aboard Arizona about the same time put it, “The Navy offered us a way out of that, and we took it.”1
The decision to enlist was even easier when an older brother led the way. Thomas Daniel Murdock stuck it out in the farmland of northern Alabama until he was twenty-one and then took a hundred-mile bus ride to Birmingham to enlist in the spring of 1930. A year later, Thomas reported to the Arizona and was soon on his way to becoming one of its old hands. When the mid-1930s gave no promise of improving economic conditions, his younger brothers joined up, too. Charles Luther Murdock enlisted in the fall of 1934, and kid brother Melvin Elijah Murdock followed in the spring of 1938. After their respective basic training, Charles and Melvin joined their big brother on the Arizona.
There was certainly no guarantee of serving alongside one’s kin, but recognizing the positive impact on morale, the Navy made an effort to accommodate such requests. There had to be an opening aboard the desired ship, of course, as well as the need for the rating held by the requester, but that wasn’t much of an issue with newly minted apprentice seamen. There was almost always a need for them on battleships where the complement of about fifteen hundred men was sometimes two or three, or even four or five times the population of a new sailor’s hometown. And battleships seemed plenty safe. As one sailor wrote home to his mother, “I am safer on this battleboat than I would be driving back and forth to work if I was home.”
Eighteen-year-old Esther Ross of Prescott, Arizona, could hardly contain herself. It was Saturday, June 19, 1915. Dressed completely in white—from wide-brimmed hat and shapely tailored jacket to a dress ending just above her shoes—Miss Ross was not a bride, but on this glorious sunny day she was nonetheless about to occupy the undivided attention of a crowd of seventy-five thousand onlookers.
Esther’s America was flexing its muscles. The country was young and decidedly rural. About half its population of one hundred million people was under twenty-five years of age; half lived in farming and ranching areas or small towns. World War I had been raging in Europe for almost a year, but the United States remained on the periphery.
Industrialization was surging, but the chief business of America was still farming. Sputtering automobiles were novelties, about one for every fifty people. Most Americans walked or hopped trolleys to get around cities or rode horses and trains across wide-open spaces. Tractors only gradually replaced horse-drawn farm equipment.
There were no antibiotics, fear of polio was rampant, and childbirth—most deliveries were made at home even in large cities—was not to be taken lightly. Only 30 percent of homes had a telephone. Bestseller lists included The Lone Star Ranger by Zane Grey, while at theaters audiences sat through three hours of Birth of a Nation, a silent film about the Civil War. News spread chiefly by word of mouth, telegraph, or multiple editions of big-city newspapers and the weekly pages of small-town papers.
On this very spot along New York’s East River just fifteen months earlier, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the thirty-two-year-old assistant secretary of the Navy, standing tall and looking natty in a derby hat, had presided over the laying of the keel of an as yet unnamed battleship, designated only as number 39. Now, it was Esther’s honor to give the mammoth ship a name.
Like the battleship Esther Ross was about to christen, her state was brand new. Arizona had become the forty-eighth state only three years earlier. Esther’s parents were among its pioneers. Her father, William Ross, was a pharmacist in Prescott. Responding to an informal competition for a suitable representative to christen the namesake of their state, Ross prevailed upon Governor George Hunt to select his daughter for the honor.
A gentle breeze blowing from the river kept those assembled at the Brooklyn Navy Yard from getting too hot under a cloudless cobalt-blue sky. As attentive Marine escorts ushered dignitaries holding white tickets to special seats near the front, a repetitive chorus of “bang, bang, bang” reverberated from the massive hull towering above.
At 608 feet in length, the ship was not much to look at yet. Inside the hull, between the bottom of the keel and the main deck, there were four lower decks running the length of the ship, each level filled with a honeycomb of compartments and passageways. Above the main deck, the superstructure and four turrets for the main fourteen-inch guns would take more than a year to complete once the ship was safely afloat.
The banging sounds came from workers knocking away supports that had held the ship in place since its keel laying. Other workers greased skids that sloped downward from the construction bay to the East River. They applied some twenty-five thousand pounds of tallow and lard, which at this stage of construction amounted to about one pound of lubricant per ton of vessel. Next came the order “Saw off!” and large blades whined through the last of the holding blocks.
A hush fell over the crowd as a billowing red flag fluttered downward from a construction crane to signal that the awaited moment was at hand. At precisely 1:00 p.m., to take advantage of a high tide, hydraulic levers gave the flag-bedecked mass a gentle nudge. For what seemed like long minutes, nothing happened. Then, quite suddenly, and very quietly, the big ship began to move.
Esther Ross’s moment was at hand. Despite the time-honored tradition of christening ships with champagne, Esther swung two bottles suspended from the vessel by a long cord and wrapped in red, white, and blue ribbons. One was indeed the traditional bottle of champagne—described by the New York Times as “American champagne from Ohio”—but the other was “a quart of the first water that flowed over Roosevelt Dam in Arizona.” As the bottles broke against the starboard bow, Esther cried out, “I name thee Arizona!”
The crowd erupted into cheers. Sirens throughout the Navy Yard and whistles from nearby ships joined in and drowned out the strains of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as it was played in unison by bands from ships of the Atlantic Fleet. Later, with the benefit of hindsight, some would contend that this unusual use of water damned the ship, but at the time, Arizona was a dry state and, according to the Times, “the ‘teetotalers’ and the rest of the Arizonians demanded that the Arizona be named with water as well as wine.” As the ship slid faster and faster down the ways, one estimate claimed it bested fifteen knots by the time it hit the water of the East River and floated off in the direction of the Williamsburg Bridge. A flotilla of tugs swarmed around the hull and shepherded it to a dock in the Navy Yard for completion.2
Afterward, before an invited luncheon crowd of nine hundred guests, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels expounded at length on the role of the United States Navy on the global stage. When it was her turn to say a few words, Esther Ross came right to the point: “Mr. Secretary, friends,” she told Daniels and those seated before her, “this is the proudest day of my life, because I have christened the largest battleship in the world with the name of the greatest state in the union.”3
Few could dispute Esther Ross’s claim that the Arizona was a cutting-edge weapon of its day. The behemoth was built to project American power and counter any aggressor on the high seas. Battleships made completely of steel were themselves relatively new. America’s earliest were the Texas and the Maine, commissioned within a month of each other in 1895. Barely over three hundred feet in length and displacing only sixty-seven hundred tons, they in retrospect have been termed coastal defense battleships or, in the case of the
- "A memorable book, one more telling of that awful day, and the different ways it ravaged families."—Wall Street Journal
- "This well-organized book is a poignant look at the brothers who were serving aboard the USS Arizona...The moving and unusual angle, excellent research, and the prose's clarity and emotion make this one a winner. "—Publishers Weekly
- "A fresh account of a well-documented historical event...Borneman's extensive research turns up interesting details...Borneman's broad knowledge and sensitive touch make it an entirely worthwhile experience."—Kirkus
- "Many other books have detailed the events leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But few of them have done so from the perspective of the sailors and Marines who were victimized that day, and none has used the unique point of view of the thirty-eight sets of brothers who were on board the ill-fated USS Arizona. By focusing on these eighty or so individuals from small towns and big cities, Borneman provides not only a unique frame of reference on the day of infamy, but a rich portrait of America in 1941."—Craig L. Symonds, author of World War II at Sea
- "Walter Borneman is one of our finest historians, and in Brothers Down he has given us his most personal and affecting story-and one so immersive I often found myself holding my breath while reading his powerful account of the attack on the Arizona. It's that good."—James Donovan, author of Shoot for the Moon and A Terrible Glory
- On Sale
- May 14, 2019
- Hachette Audio