By James F. Linzey, Chaplain, Major, Arng (Ret.), Special To ASSIST News Service
ESCONDIDO, CA (ANS – December 28, 2017) — Seventy-six years ago, the United States was on the eve of what was meant to be a Happy New Year, but instead headed into World War II, forever altering the course of America.
“Pearl Harbor has been bombed,” said the minister to the sailor named Stan Linzey and his lovely wife, Verna Hall Linzey, as they entered a church on that cold Sunday morning in Norfolk, Virginia, on December 7, 1941.
At 7:48 am the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, ushering the United States into World War II on the Pacific and European fronts. 1942 was supposed to be a “Happy New Year!” But 353 Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo planes, launched from six aircraft carriers in two waves, attacked Pearl Harbor.
Of the eight U.S. Navy battleships that were in Pearl Harbor, four were sunk and the other four were badly damaged on “Battleship Row.” Three of them were raised out of the harbor and six of the eight battleships were repaired and put back in service to fight the war. Three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and a minelayer were sunk or damaged. The USS Oklahoma lay on its side, many men were drowned, and the USS Arizona had exploded when a bomb hit the ammunition on board. Many sailors jumped off ships and died in the fires.
Also, 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed, 2,402 Americans were killed, and 1,282 Americans were wounded. Japanese losses numbered 29 aircraft and five midget submarines; 65 Japanese servicemen were killed or wounded, and one Japanese sailor was captured. December 7, 1941 was etched in the American psyche as “A Day of Infamy.”
On December 8, 1941 the U.S. Congress declared war on Japan, and on December 16, 1941, the Yorktown left Norfolk and headed through the Panama Canal for San Diego. Verna left Norfolk for San Diego to meet Stan there and take up residence together until the Yorktown departed for Pearl Harbor. On December 30, 1941 the Yorktown reached San Diego.
On February 6, 1942, the Yorktown had arrived at Pearl Harbor. As the Yorktown slowly headed up the channel and entered the harbor, her officers and sailors were lined up on the flight deck in their dress whites. Upon entering the harbor, the crew saw for the first time the extent of the devastation from the Japanese attack. They could hardly believe the devastation of the US Fleet. This was not the Pearl Harbor they had known and left behind the year before. Coming back to utter devastation was emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually sobering. The scene was eerie, the silence unsettling.
The Yorktown was ordered to the Coral Sea and a battle there ensued. On May 8, 1942, the Japanese forces attempted to bomb the Yorktown. The near misses ruptured her fuel tanks, causing severe leakage. This was followed by a bomb hit, piercing five decks, exploding 30 compartments, and killing at least 66 men and wounding more. The chaplain conducted burial at sea for each of them. The Lexington received two bomb hits and two torpedo hits. Broken aviation fuel lines prevented the fires from being put out. Practically the entire ship was on fire. The Captain announced, “Abandon ship.”
Stan later shared with me how photographer Hank Johnson, who was aboard the USS Lexington, was rescued at sea. Hank was critically burned when a high-pressure steam line erupted and scalded his face, neck, and shoulders. It blew the shirt off his back. Hank later said while reminiscing, “When I got into the oily salt water, Oh, God, it hurt my burns.”
Hank was down in the sea against the hull of the great ship and it was sinking. He was weak, crippled, and with strength almost gone, he decided to give up and go down with the ship. His sister in Norfolk, Virginia, knew nothing of her brother’s danger, but began praying for him for five hours until she felt her prayers were answered. They compared notes later and found that at the moment she felt her prayers were answered, a small boat from the cruiser Minneapolis had approached, threw her brother a line and pulled him away from the sinking ship.
The USS Yorktown sustained damage from the Battle of the Coral Sea, requiring much needed repair over a prolonged period of time. But that was not to happen. Captain Buckmaster asked the admiral for a six-month overhaul period to repair the ship. “I will give you 72 hours,” said Admiral Nimitz.
On May 27, 1941 the Yorktown reached Pearl Harbor. From May 27 to May 30, 1942, the U.S. Navy made minimal repairs to get the Yorktown operational. The new planes on board had six 50-caliber machine-guns instead of four, many of which were installed during the voyage. The cryptanalysts in Pearl Harbor had broken the Japanese naval code and we knew their battle plans. For this reason, we needed to get to Midway to launch a surprise attack on the Japanese Fleet to end the war on the Pacific front.
Unbeknownst to the crew, for the last time, the Yorktown went to sea. Captain Buckmaster announced over the loud speaker: “Men, when you return from battle, you are going back to the States, and I don’t mean for three weeks!” After the planes were flown aboard, the crew worked two days straight with no sleep to get them working. A terrible accident occurred as the aircraft were being flown aboard. When the executive officer of VF-3, LCDR Don Lovelace, landed, he taxied forward of the barrier. The next plane flying on board flew over the barrier and landed on LCDR Lovelace’s plane and killed him. When the Yorktown sank after the Battle of Midway, his body was still on board.
The Japanese fleet consisted of 185 ships, 5,000 occupation troops, four fleet aircraft carriers, and submarines. The U.S. Fleet consisted of 33 ships and 3 fleet carriers, including the crippled Yorktown. Three boilers had not been repaired at Pearl Harbor due to the urgency to get to Midway. The aircraft carriers sailed within 200 miles northeast of Midway to protect Midway from the attack of the Japanese fleet. When the Japanese pilots were to bomb Midway, our pilots were to bomb their carriers.
When the carriers sailed toward Midway, an eerie sense of despair filled the Yorktown. Verna later said, “Stan felt a strong sense of despair, and he was consumed by it. On June 3, 1942, Stan lay in his bunk in the dark. It was pitch black and silent. He said, ‘Lord, I know I am saved. If this is the time I am going to meet you, I am ready. All I ask is that you take this dreadful fear out of my heart and mind so I can do the job I have to do.’ After praying for a long time, the fear disappeared and he sensed relief and a deep abiding peace regardless of what might befall him and the Yorktown.”
On the morning of June 4, 1942, the US and Japanese forces discovered each other’s locations. Then at 10:24 a.m. one of the most savage sea battles in naval history broke out. Japanese pilots bombed Midway. Just when the Japanese Command had thought they had won, the Yorktown’s Dauntless Dive Bombers (SBD-3 Douglas Dauntless) suddenly bombed and sank two Japanese fleet carriers, one of which was Soryu. Then, Admiral Nimitz stated, “I want that last carrier.”
So, later that day, the USS Yorktown naval air force searched and found the Hiryu. She played a large role in sinking the fourth Japanese fleet carrier. The four Japanese aircraft carriers became blazing infernos. There was only one problem. The planes from the Hiryu were in the air when she was bombed. Her planes followed our planes back to the Yorktown. The Yorktown took Japanese aerial counterattacks which would have been aimed at the Hornet and the Enterprise, the only two other American carriers, had she not survived the Battle of the Coral Sea.
The Bos’n’s Mate announced, “Stand by for air attack!” Verna later reminisced, “Stan was lying on the deck waiting for the attack, wondering what would happen if a bomb drops in his compartment, or a torpedo hits. He did not know if he would see me again. We wanted to be together again to live out our lives with children.”
The Yorktown was bombed three times and torpedoed twice. One bomb hit the flight deck aft of the island. The sailors manning two 1.1 gun mounts and many of the sailors on the after end of the island structure were killed. The second bomb hit and created a fire below the forward aircraft elevator. The third bomb hit and caused severe damage to the fire room uptakes. This blew out every boiler fire and caused the Yorktown to be dead in the water. However, the fires were re-ignited, and after about an hour, she slowly began moving.
The Yorktown generated enough speed to again take aboard some of her fighters and dive bombers. They were rearmed, but they could not be refueled since all the gas lines on the Yorktown had been drained and filled with C02 gas. Several planes were re-launched with very little fuel just before the Japanese attacked the Yorktown the second time.
When the Japanese pilots attacked the second time, one of the bombs went down the stack and destroyed the engines. Again, the Yorktown was dead in the water. This paved the way for the torpedo attack. Two torpedoes hit the Yorktown. One hit a beam on the port side. All lights went out. As Stan described it to me, the torpedo attacks caused a rumbling sound because the guts of the ship were being torn out. In the midst of this they did not understand what was happening. Stan could not forget lying on the deck as they prepared for the torpedo attack. When the torpedoes had made impact and exploded, the massive Yorktown was lifted up, dropped, and then listed 26 degrees toward the port side. A few minutes later, the last command was given on the Yorktown, “Abandon ship!” Sailors could not stand upright on board. The battle flag could still be seen with numerous holes created by shrapnel.
The list caused the water to come over the edge of the hangar deck. Stan climbed to the top side. Looking over, he saw about 2,000 sailors bobbing up and down in the thick oily water. The top layer of oil in the water was about 7 inches deep and was getting into their hair, noses and mouths, causing many to become ill. Stan recalled that had there been a fire, they would have all burned to death, and that all sharks were scared off by the explosions. Stan said, “To lose your ship is to lose your home.”
The seamen were rescued by six destroyers. Stan was rescued by the USS Balch. When pulled onto deck, about a half dozen sailors, led by Stan, went to the stern of the destroyer, knelt down, and had unabashedly given thanks to God in prayer. All the ships returned to Pearl Harbor except for the USS Hughes, which was ordered to remain and keep a watch on the Yorktown.
Seaman First Class George K. Weise from the Fourth Division and Norman M. Pichette from the Third Division were still on board in sick bay. Their wounds were too severe to survive according to the medics, so they were left behind. Weise’s skull had been fractured. He could not maintain consciousness and was partially paralyzed. Pichette suffered severe wounds in the abdomen due to shrapnel. The Yorktown Crier, 50th Anniversary Edition, June 4, 1992, pages 36-37, quotes Weise on how they escaped from sick bay:
I was unconscious in the dressing room, and during my trip to sick bay, I regained consciousness as the battle horn started blowing, along with the call to abandon ship. There were no lights, only the blue battle lanterns. The third class pharmacist’s mate had his arm around me holding me up while asking the first class mate, “What about him?” The first class mate said, “Leave him; he’s gonna die anyway.” The sailor who held me was crying during the entire ordeal because he didn’t want to leave me.
Consciousness would come and go, lasting only long enough for me to totally realize and understand my perilous situation. I thought I was hallucinating. Someone was calling my name again, and it was real. Norman Pichette, a seaman from the Third Division, was calling me. He kept asking, “What can we do?” I told him to wrap a sheet around his waist and stomach and try to get on deck to fire a machine gun, and perhaps someone would know we were still on board.
With a sheet tied around his wounded waist, Pichette got to his feet and made his way up the rickety ladders hanging from the slanting decks, from the third deck to topside. He found a machine gun and fired it into the water to get the attention of the crew of the Hughes, which was standing by. The commanding officer of the Hughes sent a boat over to the Yorktown and got him. When he was taken aboard, he went unconscious on the deck; but after a few minutes, Pichette regained consciousness for a few moments and mumbled that there was another man alive in the Yorktown. Norman Pichette died, having performed one of the great heroic acts of the war; the Hughes sent a boat to rescue George Weise.
Stan was eventually reunited with his lovely wife, Verna. He later became a Navy chaplain and wrote the book USS Yorktown at Midway, and received many awards. He gave the prayer at Naval Base Coronado, San Diego, California, behind the Seal of the President of the United States before George W. Bush spoke at the 60th Anniversary of Japan’s Surrender in World War II. He was my father.
Verna was my mother. She became an author, crusade evangelist, international speaker, minister, Bible translator, hymn writer and wrote the hymn “O Blessed Jesus.” She wrote the book The Baptism with the Holy Spirit that was used in over 100 Bible schools around the world, and that earned her the “Best Non-fiction of the Year Award” in 2006. She was a movie actress and had a role in Iniquity, an updated version of the story of David and Bathsheba. Her role was the lead juror. She received the Albert Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award. My father passed away in February 2010. He was 89 years of age. My mother passed away in November 2016 on Veterans’ Day. She was 97 years of age.
The Battle of Midway was the turning point in the battle with Japan, and that nation never recovered. It has been called the most decisive naval battle in history. It was won by ethical leadership, consisting of bravery in the midst of fear, intelligent thinking, and doing the right thing with no time to lose while being outmanned and out gunned.
Your success this New Year may be dependent on how you handle your predicament in life. Don’t be a victim of your circumstance. Rise above it. Don’t let it hold you back. Handle it ethically. Live according to your ethics, beliefs, and core values. Your feelings are valid. They are neither right nor wrong. It is what you do that is right or wrong. It is what you think and how you think that is right or wrong. Your ethics, beliefs, and core values will not lead you astray. Be true to yourself and you will truly be an ethical leader and a great success in 2018.
Copyright © James F. Linzey 2017
Photo captions: 1) The attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. 2) Stan Linzey. 3) USS Yorktown in dry dock May 27-30, 1942, Pearl Harbor. 4) USS Yorktown arrives at Pearl Harbor, February 6, 1942. 5) USS Yorktown listing, and the USS Balch which rescued Stan, June 4, 1942. 6) U.S. Douglas Dauntless Dive Bombers (SBD-3) attack Japanese aircraft carriers, June 4, 1942. 7) USS Yorktown (CV-5) more than three miles down, deeper than the wrecks of the Titanic or Bismarck, discovered in May 1998 by underwater explorer Robert Ballard. 8) Verna Linzey at a Battle of Midway event in San Diego. 9) James F. Linzey. (Army Photo).
About the writer: Chaplain, Major James F. Linsey, USA (Ret.) is the chief editor of the Modern English Version and the New Tyndale Version Bible translations. An ordained minister with the Southern Baptist Convention, he is the founding president of Military Bible Association, the mission of which is to raise funds to donate copies of The Military Bible and The Leadership Bible to the troops. He is a highly sought after speaker for conventions, seminars, and churches. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.
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