Pearl Harbor – Response from James L. Wise, Jr.

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! 

11 thoughts on “Pearl Harbor – Response from James L. Wise, Jr.”

  1. Butch, although I spent many hours with your dad and mom, I never asked Jim for the details of his ordeal. Thank you for sharing. I do always think of him on Pearl Harbor Day also. Aside from having been his friend, many don’t know that my step-father, Ralph Stewart, wanted to join with Jim as they were childhood friends. Ralph wasn’t of age yet, and his parents would not sign permission for him to enlist with Jim and the others.

    1. Hi Jeff!

      No, I didn’t know Ralph wanted to go with them. Fate intervened and may have spared Ralph. I didn’t know so many people didn’t know the story behind his experience at Pearl Harbor. I should have written that down long ago.


  2. Hi Butch — That was a great article about your Dad and the USS Arizona! I remember your Dad very well from growing up just down the street from the old Rendevous in the 1950’s. Your Dad ran a pretty tight ship when it came to making sure you and your sister, Joey, did what you were told to do, but he was always good about letting us play the pinball machine and shuffleboard game on Sundays when the place was closed. I have a lot of fond memories of you, Joey, Jim, Marian and living on McClain Avenue. I always think of your Dad on Pearl Harbor Day. I also saw the Pearl Harbor Memorial in Hawaii several years ago and told my friends what I knew about Jim, my hometown hero. Best wishes, Vicki

    1. Hi Vicki!

      Long time no see 🙂 Yes we did have some good times on McClain Ave didn’t we. Dad loved kids! Remeber the softball games we had?


  3. Hey Jim. as you know ,I worked quite a bit for you dad and mom, I knew the history of your dad ,but not the details, he is truly a Hero , who we were lucky to know and have in our hometown, thanks for the post! Ralph May..

  4. Jim I remember when my father Elmer Meyers would visit your father at home when your parents owned the old Furman’s. I remember your father being in a lot of pain at that time. Your father was a brave person and I always admired him for what he went through and the way he presented him self as person. I wish we had more like your father and mine and the world would be a better place. g r meyers

    1. Thanks Gary, I always liked your dad too. I suppose we took our parents for granted and when they pass the memories come flooding back.

    2. This is message to GR Meyers,
      My great uncle was USN Rear Admiral CG DeKay, graduating the US Naval Academy in 1927. He was on the USS San Francisco during the attack on Dec 7, 1941. After his death I ended up with a few artifacts from his life. One of the oddities is an officer’s dress sword with the initials E.E.M. (u.s.n.) in the leather case and an engraved name of Elmer E. Meyers on the hilt. Could it be your father’s? Let me know your thoughts at ablais(at)yahoo(dot)com.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.