Originally published on December 9, 2011. Republished here in honor of the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
I saw your article on the USS Arizona and seaman James Wise and thought you might like some additional information from what was handed down to me. I’m his son, James L. Wise Jr., and grew up in Greenfield.
I always stop and reflect on December 7th about what all the men and women went through that horrible day. He was 19-years old and thought the US Navy was invincible, as they all did.
Usually at 12:55 pm our time, 7:55 am Hawaiian time, I try to stop what I’m doing and remember that solemn hour the attack started. By 1:10 pm our time, 8:10 am their time, it was all over for the USS Arizona. The battle only lasted 15-minutes for them.
Dad had launch boat duty that morning. He had just taken the launch over to shore around 7:00 am to pick up the chaplain for Sunday services and brought him to the ship. After securing the launch he boarded the USS Arizona and went to the galley and got himself a cup of coffee. He was drinking the coffee standing outside on the forecastle deck when he saw the first planes come over and bombs being dropped on Ford Island. He said he went running through the ship screaming ‘It’s an attack, it’s attack”. He also said the crewmen just stood there and looked ‘stupefied’. He made his way to his gun mount near Turret #2 where he and his crew (don’t know how many there were) got off some frenzied rounds before a high altitude bomber dropped a bomb that ricocheted off the turret and penetrated through the deck 40-50 ft away from his gun mount. The bomb had a time delayed fuse and penetrated below deck to where the gun powder was stored and exploded. All the gun powder blew up and then ignited the aviation fuel tanks that were used for the scout planes. The blast seared off his uniform and blew him over the side. He hit the life rope that is attached around the sides of the ship on his way down to the water sending him cart wheeling into the water. He remembered swimming in the oil and fire covered water with the skin on his hands dripping off like candle wax. A small launch boat happened to be nearby and saw that he had some life left in him so he navigated through the oil and fire and picked him up.
Dad joined the navy with two Greenfield buddies, Hurschel Woodrow Wilson, F2c and John A. Smith SF3c. They all went to the Great Lakes Navy Training Center together and all were shipmates on the USS Arizona. His two buddies perished on the ship. 1177 men lost their lives in one fiery blast. That’s the largest death toll ever recorded on a warship.
A few days/weeks (it wasn’t clear) after the attack he was transported to Mare Island Naval Hospital in San Francisco for two years of treatment including 26 skin graph surgeries on his face and hands. I have pictures they took of the surgeries and the results of those surgeries trying to show how the skin graphs were performed. He said at the time if he had enough strength to walk to the window he would have jumped out because the pain was unbearable. He became immune to the sodium penethol they gave him during the surgeries.
He never got completely over that experience, always had a lot of anxiety and couldn’t sleep regularly.
Anyway, that’s how it happened. If you can find a copy of a Columbus Dispatch front page date Dec. 5th, 1954 they had a story on him with our family’s picture. I’m in it (5-years old). I have a copy stored away.
Take care and keep writing!