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Pearl Harbor vet recalls first strike

December 07, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - There was little time to do, say or think anything when the first bombs exploded at Pearl Harbor - 63 years ago today.

Sailors on the USS Raleigh - including J. Maury Werth of Williamsport - hurried to their battle stations.

"I was down in the men's room and I felt a jolt," Werth, 87, said. "I thought a boiler had blown up."

He said he ran as fast as his legs could move.

"I was still in my skivvy drawers," he said.

"0745 sound of gunfire heard," a written report from an ensign on the ship says. "0755 Japanese torpedo plane attack on ships in Pearl Harbor. Raleigh hit by torpedo at frame 58. Forward engine room and 1 and 2 fire rooms flooded.

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"No personnel casualties. Went to general quarters and opened fire ...."

It was a Sunday. Werth said a church service had been scheduled for 9 a.m.

Werth said the Raleigh was the first ship torpedoed.

He said a second plane went by and dropped a torpedo that went between the Raleigh and the ship in front of it, the USS Detroit, and got stuck in the mud.

Two other planes followed and hit the ship behind the Raleigh, the USS Utah, with torpedoes.

The impact, the scurrying, the shooting - war - still are easy for Werth to recall.

He has an illustration of the ship formation, pictures of damage and a copy of the crew's written remarks, which help him with details.

From 8:05 to 8:20 a.m., the battle was intense, according to the report.

The Raleigh listed heavily to port after it was hit.

The planes kept coming.

Anti-aircraft fire hit plane 1, "which had just completed attack on battleships or air station," the report says.

"Plane ... caught fire, swerved sharply to left and crashed on after deck of USS Curtiss."

Plane 2 "was hit by 3 inch shell and blown to pieces in air approximately over Buoy No. 5 at altitude of about 1200 feet."

Plane 3 "flew over bow of Raleigh from direction of air station, was hit when about overhead and swerved in westerly direction and crashed in direction of Pearl City."

Plane 4, "flying North over Ford Island altitude 1000 - 1500 feet was hit and crashed between Baltimore and Dobbin off starboard bow."

Plane 5, "flying cross stern, was struck and had its tail blown off, swerved to the right and landed north of Peninsula Point."

Plane 6 "approached from over Ford Island dropped bomb which landed less than 100 yards to port."

The bombs took a toll.

"We took on 4,000 tons of water on a 7,000-ton ship," Werth said.

When the Japanese torpedo bombers cleared out, the dive bombers moved in.

The report describes enemy bombing at 9:08 a.m.

"Enemy bombing plane attack from direction of Ford Island dropped two bombs, one of which struck Raleigh aft at frame 112, glanced off ... ready ammunition box, went through carpenter shop, oil tanks, pierced the hull on port quarter below the water line and detonated about 50 feet from ship," the report says.

"Second bomb landed less than 100 yards to port. Plane machine gunned ship."

At 11 a.m., a rescue party went from the Raleigh to the Utah, which had been hit and rolled over. A man was stuck in the hull.

The rescuers used a stethoscope to find the man's tapping, then gas torches to tear open the ship and get him out, Werth said.

Werth said there were no casualties on the Raleigh, but a few members of the crew were hit by fragments of anti-aircraft shells when they came down.

Werth said his duty was directing and setting the fuse for the anti-aircraft fire.

A commanding officer's report - online at a Navy history Web site - says Werth performed well.

"Ensign J.W. Werth, USN, was controlling the starboard battery and Ensign J.R. Beardall, Jr., USN, the port battery, both doing a splendid job," the report says. "The guns were magnificently handled; all hands from chief petty officers to mess boys volunteering to fill out the regular gun crews and keep ammunition supplied."

The next day, Werth and other crew members found, in a field, one of the planes they shot down. They cut away at the metal and took that and other souvenirs.

During a recent interview, Werth produced the ragged chunk of metal that he kept, along with part of the Japanese pilot's seat belt, which broke apart from the impact.

Werth, a Virginia native, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in February 1941.

After serving on the Raleigh, he was assigned to the USS Ticonderoga, where he stayed in 1944 and '45.

After World War II, Werth served on other ships, in London and at the Pentagon, among other places.

He said he was about to retire in 1965, but he withdrew his papers to serve in Vietnam for 15 months.

Werth later went to work for the Naval Observatory, then retired in 1970 at age 53.

He and his wife, Elizabeth, live at Homewood at Williamsport.

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