Other Travelers Part 7 – Remembering My Pearl Harbor Veteran Hero – Uncle (Pete) Robert V. Bennett
(Part of the Series – “Other Travelers”)
by Vicki Ruthe Hahn – SGS Stateline Genealogy Sorter
December 7, 2016 on the 75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor
My Mom’s three brothers served in World War 2; one was at Pearl Harbor. This is a much longer Posting than usual, because it so important. I have worked most of today on writing it. I do not want to create hate messages here, and only want to understand what my Uncle went through on that day. Here is the story of all three of my WW2 Veteran Hero Uncles:
Robert Vernon Bennett
Birth 18 NOV 1919 • Manorville, Armstrong, Pennsylvania
Death 11 APR 2005 • Tacoma, Pierce, Washington
Note that Uncle Pete had been serving in the U.S. Navy for eight 1/2 months before Pearl Harbor happened. He was there that day 75 years ago.
You can see (on the right) my Uncle Pete with his cute dimples, warm smile, and attentive shining eyes. He was a very loving person, my favorite uncle (as well as my other favorite uncle, Uncle Karl :), and a very handsome, involved, and intelligent man throughout his life. He lived too many miles away, (from my childhood home near Rockford, Illinois), in Tacoma, Washington, but I always loved being with him when he and his family visited his nearby hometown family home in Polo, Illinois.
You can see that he was a fun-loving person. Uncle Robert explained that he got his nickname “Pete” while a boy playing on the farm. He had declared that he was “Pump-handle Pete, the handy-man”, and the name stuck.
His brother, my Uncle Allen, also joined the Navy. I never knew him, He died on a ship off the East Coast of the U.S. during WW2. It was said to have sunk due to a hurricane, but my Mom always says that there was suspicion that it was due to a German submarine torpedo.
My Mom is still angry that her favorite brother Allen went to war, when, “He didn’t have to. He was married and had three children.” He would have been exempt.
Chester Allen Bennett Sr
Birth ABT 1916 • Illinois, United States
Death 13 SEP 1944 • At Sea near Battery Park, New York City, New York, USA on the U.S.S. Warrington in a violent Atlantic storm in September 1944.
Note the star in my Grandparent’s Polo, Illinois house window that signified that there was a son in military service, (Uncle Pete)? I’m not sure if Allen and Irene’s baby girl was born yet, or if she was in Grandma’s house. That, and their clothes, dated the photograph.
The story of the sinking of Uncle Allen’s ship is recounted by Commander Dawes, who was the commanding officer just before she sunk, & some of the survivors in this book. My Mom read “The Dragon’s Breath, Hurricane at Sea” after I bought it for her. The ship sailed in the South Seas, etc. The author had a very good grasp of what was wrong with the ship. My Mom read that there had been problems with the hatches not fastening correctly due to lack of navy preventative maintenance. This warship was pretty messed up before the hurricane. It may be the incident that made the navy change its preventative maintenance procedures later.
Mom says that the book eventually goes to Allen’s three children.
Uncle Allen probably felt the call of duty, and also wanted to help his country. One of his two brothers had already joined the military, and the other was planning to. Uncle Allen reported to duty for the U.S. Navy in May 6, 1944. He died on-ship September 13, 1944.
My cigar-chomping, motorcycling Uncle Karl had joined the Army from the farm where he was a farmhand:
Karl Ralph Bennett
Birth 10 NOV 1913 • Bloomsburg, Columbia, Pennsylvania, USA
Death 5 MAY 1995 • at home – 1519 S Burchard AVE, Freeport, Stephenson, Illinois, USA
Uncle Karl, my favorite uncle (as well as my other favorite uncle, Uncle Pete :), had a fun, teasing love for me and my siblings. He never had any children of his own, so he and Aunt Grace spoiled us with lots of attention when we visited them in nearby Freeport, Illinois.
Sunday, December 7, 1941
Pearl Harbor map of the location of the United States battleships in “Battleship Row”. The ships next to each other were connected by three set of ropes across the feet of water separating them. Some of the sailors from sinking ships tried to escape by climbing those ropes to the other ships.
Note that my Uncle Pete’s battleship USS Tennessee (“Moderately Damaged”) is located parallel to the USS West Virginia (“Sunk”), next to the USS Arizona (“Sunk”), and near the USS Oklahoma (“Sunk”). Uncle Pete does not mention this in his article below, but he and my Mom have told me that when he and his crew members came up to the deck at 2 p.m. after the bombing attacks, they tried to “jump” from their USS Tennessee battleship to the nearby sinking ships to try and save some of the other sailors. He and his buddies actually landed on the Arizona. He picked up a quarter from the desk. It was hot to the touch, as he put it into his pocket. Uncle Pete’s commanding officers ordered them to come back and stay on their own ship so that they would not also die.
(Information that I clarified by visiting my Mom and Sister on the holidays.)
Recently, I watched the PBS specials on the USS Arizona, and the USS Oklahoma. I now have a much better understanding of the horrors of Pearl Harbor, what my Uncle Pete went through, and why U.S. President Roosevelt declared war the next day.
The battleships were lined up in a row, because Pearl Harbor is shallow, and the Navy thought that they were safe from attack by Japan (or Germany?) The Japanese then engineered torpedoes that had temporary wood boxes built around the torpedo propellers so that the boxes broke off upon impact in the water. Then the torpedoes evened out horizontally to hit the ships, instead of embedding straight down into the shallow harbor bed.
Japan also made mini submarines so that five of them could attack from the Harbor water. U.S. Navy miss-communications, and other advance warning mistakes compounded the damage. The Japanese pilots did not expect to survive, and were surprised at the ease of the attack.
The specials mentioned that the U.S. sailors could see into the eyes of the low-flying Japanese pilots and gunners as they strafed the battleship decks and those sailors from sinking ships who braved jumped into the water covered with burning oil. Very few survived on the USS Arizona, as they were trapped below deck under the flipped thick hulls. Other sailors tried to rescue them by cutting hulls with torches, but it sucked all the air out of the water-filled cavities and suffocated those trapped.
Electric saws were then used to cut through some spots that freed a few sailors, but there was the threat of causing more explosions, so they stopped. This is the saddest thing that I learned – many of the trapped sailors died up to 2 weeks later (of exposure, lack of water, food, and air) December 20 or 21; after the last knock from under the deck was heard.
Those who survived Pearl Harbor had to live in the whole area under blackout restrictions – with the only light being that of the USS Arizona as it burned for two days.
Uncle Pete told me that he was not able to speak about his horrible experiences in Pearl Harbor, until he was in his seventies. He decided that he needed to speak at schools so that children would understand what World War 2 was like. He got a lot of support as a member of the Washington Chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. (Be sure and read the associated article at the end of this Posting.)
Pete also told me that he could never buy any car or device made in Japan, but he was understanding about others wanting to. I have just recently read the sentiment from a WW2 veteran that “The Japanese people have changed, and are good people now.”
I was able to “rescue” and digitize this 2000 “Recalling Pearl Harbor” article from the Tacoma Washington News Tribune, which Uncle Pete gave to my Mom. I have transcribed the words below, as I could not find the article on-line. Note – some of the links are gone, as the dying veterans leave no-one to maintain the websites:
“Tacoma Washington News Tribune, “Recalling Pearl harbor” 2000
Pearl Harbor veteran Robert Bennett will participate in memorial services today in Bremerton and Keyport. Shown in the inset with his crewmates in 1941, he’s at lower right.
(Insert) On the Internet, Pearl Harbor stories: the Washington chapter of the Pearl harbor Survivors Association has posted a handful of stories on its Web site at mytown.koz.com/community/phsa.
59 Years Ago: Survivors association teaches new generation about war with Web site, in-school program, by David Wikert, The News Tribune.
Robert Bennett fought the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor for hours before he even saw it.
A sailor aboard the USS Tennessee, Bennett spent most of the attack below deck, loading ammunition for American guns that blistered paint off their barrels in their ceaseless firing.
Bennett heard the explosions. He felt his own ship sway under the force of bombs that sank the nearby USS Arizona.
When he finally emerged from below, it was to the sight of great billowing black clouds that signaled the doom of more than 2,300 and one of the worst military defeats in U.S.history.
“There were 3 or 4 million gallons of oil on the water, burning.” Bennett recalled. “It was an awful sight.”
Bennett and other survivors of Pearl Harbor have been telling such stories for 59 years, and with god reason.
The Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor drew America into World War II. It was a defining moment for the country and for thousands of U.S. servicemen and civilians who lived through it.
Now Washington survivors of the battle are collecting their stories for publication on the Internet. It’s part of their ongoing effort to remind younger generations of the sacrifices made by their grandparents and great-grandparents during World War II.
The Washington chapter of the Pearl harbor Survivors Association has posted a handful of stories on its Web site (mytown.koz.com/community/phsa) and plans to post more.
State chairman Bob Graves of Bellevue said the survivors association has more than 500 members in Washington and nearly 9,000 members nationwide.
But the average age of Pearl Harbor survivors is about 80, and Graves said hundreds die each year.
“We’re getting old,” said Graves, who is on the young side at 76. “I just had a bout with cancer of the bladder, but I’m still alive.”
Please see Veterans, back page
All the more reason, Graves believes, for survivors to tell their stories while they can.
In addition to the Web site, Pearl Harbor survivors speak to civic clubs and visit area schools. Graves said that the children are fascinated and ask great questions.
The stories they hear are much like Bennett’s tales of ordinary people caught in an extraordinary circumstances.
A 22 year-old gunner’s mate from Polo, Ill., Bennett was asleep aboard the battleship USS Tennessee when the attack began at 7:55 a.m. More than 150 Japanese aircraft had surprised U.S. forces.
Bennett heard the call to battle stations but didn’t believe it.
“I said general quarters on a Sunday morning in port? Then I hears our 5-inch guns fire.”
He spent the next several hours transporting ammunition to those guns. He remembered one of them fired 375 rounds.
“The gun fired so much it burned the paint completely off the barrel,” he said.
The Tennnessee was moored near the USS Arizona, and Bennett felt his own ship sway as the Arizona exploded.
The Tennessee took two hits, suffering relatively minor damage. But it was surrounded by oil fires, and when the Arizona’s magazines exploded, the Tennessee was showered by flaming debris. Crews extinguished several fires.
Bennett made it onto deck about 2 p.m. The sight was grim. Fires burned out of control. Nineteen U.S. ships were sunk or severely damaged.
At nearby Hickam and Wheeler airfields, 80 navy aircraft and 97 Army planes were destroyed. And more than 2,300 sailors, Marines and soldiers lost their lives.
Today the survivors of Pearl Harbor tell their tales and speak to children and march in parades. They’re pleased by the attention. But Bennett resists the “hero” moniker that is often bestowed on them.
“We’re not heroes,” he insisted. “We were there. We done our duty at the time. That’s what we figure.”
Reach staff writer David Wickert at 253-274-7341 or firstname.lastname@example.org. “
What the U.S.S. Arizona, (anchored near my Uncle Pete’s ship – U.S.S. Tennessee), looked like sinking. (Photos from Pearl Harbor Survivors Association):
Pearl Harbor survivors mark 73rd anniversary in Spokane
MONDAY, DEC. 8, 2014
PEARL HARBOR SURVIVORS ASSOCIATION
Note – My Uncle died at 85 in 2005, so he may have been one of those mentioned by the author in the article below, but I think he was in a different Washington chapter.
Continue reading Other Travelers Part 7 -Remembering My Pearl Harbor Veteran Hero – Uncle (Pete) Robert V. Bennett