Shortly before 8 a.m. on December 7th, 1941, six Japanese Imperial Navy aircraft carriers launched 353 fighter planes in an assault on a U.S. Naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. More than 2,400 Americans lost their lives in the surprise attack, and it occasioned the United States’ entry into WWII. President Roosevelt proclaimed 12/7/1941 “a date which will live in infamy.”
For distinguishing themselves during the Pearl Harbor attack and risking their lives “above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States,” 15 American service members were awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration awarded by the U.S. government. Here are five of those heroic men:
Mervyn S. Bennion
Born in Vernon, Utah in 1857 to a family of cattle ranchers, Bennion graduated 3rd in his class from the United States Naval Academy. A veteran of WWI, he assumed command of the USS West Virginia five months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. During the attack, Bennion was aboard his ship and was hit by shrapnel when his command deck was blown apart. He refused first aid and bled to death while still commanding his crew. His official Medal of Honor citation states in part, “As Commanding Officer of the USS West Virginia, after being mortally wounded, Capt. Bennion evidenced apparent concern only in fighting and saving his ship, and strongly protested against being carried from the bridge.” The destroyer USS Bennion was named in his honor, and was christened by his widow Louise Bennion in 1943.
Herbert C. Jones
Jones was born in Los Angeles and enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 17. He had been serving for six years and was aboard the USS California at the time of the attack. During the first wave of the assault, the California was hit by a torpedo and a bomb and Ensign Jones crawled along an oil-slicked, smoke-filled passage to rescue a fellow sailor. He then took command of an antiaircraft battery. Jones manned his guns until they ran out of ammunition and was killed when a bomb hit the ship during the second wave of the attack. His Medal of Honor citation notes, “When two men attempted to take him from the area which was on fire, he refused to let them do so, saying in words to the effect, ‘Leave me alone! I am done for. Get out of here before the magazines go off’." The USS Herbert Jones is named in his honor and its launch was attended by his widow, Joanne Ruth Jones.
Isaac C. Kidd
Kidd was born in Cleveland in 1884 and fought in WWI aboard the USS New Mexico. He rose to the rank of Rear Admiral and, at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, was the Commander of Battleship Division One. When he learned of the attack, he ran to the bridge of the USS Arizona. Rear Admiral Kidd died when the ship was hit by a bomb. His body was never recovered, but divers found his Naval Academy ring fused to the bulkhead of the Arizona bridge. He was the highest-ranking casualty of the Pearl Harbor attack, and three Navy destroyers were named in his honor. His son served in the Navy from 1941-1978, and his grandson, Isaac C. Kidd III, is currently serving as a Navy Captain.
Thomas James Reeves
Born in Litchfield County, Connecticut, Reeves was serving as a Chief Radioman aboard the USS California when the Japanese attacked. Reeves' citation reads, “For distinguished conduct in the line of his profession, extraordinary courage and disregard of his own safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. After the mechanized ammunition hoists were put out of action in the U.S.S. California, Reeves, on his own initiative, in a burning passageway, assisted in the maintenance of an ammunition supply by hand to the antiaircraft guns until he was overcome by smoke and fire, which resulted in his death.” The USS Reeves was named in his honor.
Franklin Van Valkenburgh
Valkenburgh, a Minneapolis native, joined the Navy in 1909 and served aboard the USS Rhode Island during WWI. In February of 1941, he became the commanding officer of the USS Arizona and was aboard the ship during the Pearl Harbor attacks. The captain fought valiantly to preserve his ship, commanding from an exposed position on the navigation bridge. His body was not recovered. The USS Van Valkenburgh named in his honor was used in the Battle of Iwo Jima and the Battle of Okinawa.