USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor - Captain and Admiral?

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USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor - Captain and Admiral?

Postby Thanas » 2016-12-05 07:10am

I have recently been reading a few things about WWII naval history. One of the things I noticed was that the Medal of Honor was awarded to both the Rear-Admiral in command of Battleship Div. 1 (onboard his flagship USS Arizona), Isaac C. Kidd and the Captain of said battleship, Franklin van Valkenburgh.

The Medal of Honor citation for Kidd reads as follows:
"For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese Forces on December 7, 1941. He immediately went to the bridge and as Commander Battleship Division ONE, courageously discharged his duties as Senior Officer Present Afloat until the USS Arizona, his Flagship, blew up from magazine explosions and a direct bomb hit on the bridge, which resulted in the loss of his life."


Wikipedia, citing this article also states that his class ring was fused to the remains of the bridges due to the heat of the bomb.

This story seems almost similar to the story of the Captain as presented on wikipedia.

Captain Valkenburgh ran from his cabin and arrived on the navigation bridge, where he immediately began to direct his ship's defense. A quartermaster in the pilot house asked if the captain wanted to go to the conning tower—a less-exposed position in view of the Japanese strafing—but Captain Valkenburgh adamantly refused and continued to man a telephone, fighting for his ship's life.
A violent explosion suddenly shook the ship, throwing the three occupants of the bridge—Captain Valkenburgh, an ensign, and the quartermaster, to the deck, and blowing out all of the bridge windows completely. Dazed, battered and shaken, the ensign stumbled through the flames and smoke of the shattered bridge's interior and escaped, but Captain Valkenburgh and the quartermaster were never seen again. A continuing fire, fed by ammunition and oil, raged for two days until finally being extinguished on December 9. Despite a thorough search, Captain Valkenburgh's body was never found; all that was ever retrieved was his Annapolis class ring.


As you can see, the details are almost the same. They arrive on the bridge (or navigation bridge), get killed by a bomb hit and the only thing found was the class ring. Given the stories' similarity, I am wondering if something got mixed up here. Is Wikipedia taking parts of the story of the Admiral and attributing it to the captain, especially the detail of the class ring or vice versa? Or did both really die the same death, leaving the same remains? (If this was something not recent most historians would probably assume the stories got muddled together).

Another question remains to what they exactly did. As I understand it the Captain is usually in charge of fighting the ship and the Admiral in charge of fighting the fleet. This would, IMO mean that Valkenburgh would have tried to save the ship itself while Kidd would have tried to get the whole squadron battle-ready and into the fight as best as possible.

Anybody here more knowledgeable about the attack who can shed more light on this?
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Re: USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor - Captain and Admiral?

Postby Ziggy Stardust » 2016-12-05 11:01am

I'm not an expert, but it seems to me from searching around that stories are getting muddled somehow. Some sources seem to claim that Kidd and Valkenburgh were both on the bridge when the bomb hit, and other sources also note two brass buttons being found from the captain (or admiral's) uniform; the details seem to be a bit fluid, except for the fact that somebody's class ring was apparently discovered. On page 75 of this article in Historical Archaeology about the USS Arizona, the author claims it was Valkenburgh's ring that was found (citing historian Gordon Prange). Perhaps digging up that Prange book and looking at his sources may shed more light on the precise origins of the story?

It may also require contacting someone at the USS Arizona Memorial museum; I know they have a number of personal artifacts on display that were discovered in the wreckage, it is possible they even have the class ring in question (or are at least familiar with the story).

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Re: USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor - Captain and Admiral?

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2016-12-05 04:37pm

Thanas wrote:Or did both really die the same death, leaving the same remains?


They died the same death, alongside two thirds of the entire crew. The bodies would have been destroyed by the two day oil fire that consumed the ships remains, nothing surprising about this. I don't know about the ring, many details of the attack and above all the salvage are still muddled, but witnesses survived to tell is where both officers were and that was all that really mattered.


Another question remains to what they exactly did. As I understand it the Captain is usually in charge of fighting the ship and the Admiral in charge of fighting the fleet. This would, IMO mean that Valkenburgh would have tried to save the ship itself while Kidd would have tried to get the whole squadron battle-ready and into the fight as best as possible.


A captain has absolute command of fighting the ship in the US Navy. Kidd commanded battleship division 1 not the fleet, but the jist is the same and I believe he was the ranking officer actually afloat on any ship in the harbor at the time. They were awarded medals because they rushed to one of the most vulnerable points in the ship where they could best do their duty in obviously impossible circumstances. Valkenburgh at least is known to have refused a suggestion to go to the conning tower where he would have been safer, but utterly unable to see or exercise command because all conning towers were like that as far as air attacks go. And so set a absolute standard all other officers should aspire to follow. The US Navy had and has great reason to encourage this behavior. Kidd was the first US admiral ever killed in action.

Also do remember this was not long past Crete and Norway where in both campaigns the moral effect of sustained effective air attack against ships had proven high to the point of endangering ships ability to defend themselves. Singling out the top officers killed as supreme examples made sense on every level. This is why we have officers in the first place, and why we award officers medals for tasks other then killing people.

11 of the 15 medals of honor for Pearl Harbor were posthumous.
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Re: USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor - Captain and Admiral?

Postby Thanas » 2016-12-05 07:20pm

Sea Skimmer wrote:They died the same death, alongside two thirds of the entire crew. The bodies would have been destroyed by the two day oil fire that consumed the ships remains, nothing surprising about this. I don't know about the ring, many details of the attack and above all the salvage are still muddled, but witnesses survived to tell is where both officers were and that was all that really mattered.



I am not disputing they died due to the same causes. What I am wondering about is whether the detail about the ring being the only one found is true for both, or just for one, if they died on the same bridge or if one died on the navigation bridge and the other on the Admiral's bridge.
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A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient, to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is 'survival as what'? A country isn't a rock. It's not an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for. It's what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! - Chief Judge Haywood
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Re: USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor - Captain and Admiral?

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2016-12-05 10:56pm

Admiral Kidd was on the signal bridge and Valkenburgh on the navigation bridge. I'd heard back in the day of books it as the captain ring, and that was the lower position, while Admiral Kidds body might actually have been found blown aft by the blast, but it was impossible to actually call it an identification with the tech of the time so he was left listed as missing. However all stories could be false, I'd contact the Arizona memorial if you wanted an answer, I checked Morrisons and it does not mention the tale.
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