Barney Ross

Pearl Harbor Survivor

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Mr. Rozell: Barney, where were you on December 7, 1941 at 7:55 in the morning?

Barney Ross: I was standing on the deck of the USS Blue,  a destroyer. (Holds up picture) That’s where she was, right there and that is what she looks like there. (Referring to the picture) I had gotten up early that morning and was getting ready to go to church services.  We were all alone out there at this buoy, tied up.  I was waiting for a motor launch to pick me up and take me to a larger ship, where they had a chaplain.  Destroyers did not have chaplains because they were too small.

 I was talking to a shipmate of mine waiting for the motor launch, and all at once I saw a plane go over our ship.  I did not know what it was, but the fellow with me said, “That’s a Jap plane!”  She went down and dropped a torpedo.  Then I saw the USS Utah turn over. 

MR: (Gesturing to map of Pearl Harbor) That is the Utah right there.  This was Barney’s ship, the Blue.  The USS Arizona, which we were just talking about, is over in this vicinity with the West Virginia.  The USS West Virginia was another ship that was hit critically.

BR: I did not really know what to do.  The searchlight was my battle station, but there was no need to be on a search light at 7:55 in the morning.  Not only that but two-thirds of the crew was allowed to go to the shore because they had weekend passes.  The only ones aboard were those who had the duty.  I started to help bring the awnings down. When we were in Pearl like that, in order to get out of the sun, we always had awnings over the back end of the ship, the stern of the ship.  

As I was doing that, the gunner’s mate came up and started breaking the locks on the ammunition.  Everything was locked up for fear that someone might go in there with a cigarette or something.  He said, “Ross, follow me”.  He took me down into the number three magazine.  He said, “I want you to take powder and shells, and send it up to the gun”. He showed me how to operate the hoist, and that’s what I did. I’d get a shell, they weighed about eighty pounds I think, but when I was 19 or 20 that was nothing, I could pick one of those up easy. So, that’s what I did. I’d take a shell and then I’d take a bag of powder, I’d put it in the hoist and then I would send it up to the gun.

In the mean time we were getting under way. All we had aboard the ship that morning was one Annapolis graduate and three reserves, all the top officers were ashore. We managed to get underway, and I don’t know to this day why we didn’t get struck or take a torpedo, but we didn’t. We got outside of the exit of the harbor and we started dropping depth charges. There were Japanese submarines out there, and we got credit for 2 of them and credited for knocking down 4 planes on our way out. We were doing this with the USS Phoenix and the St. Louis and 4 or 5 other destroyers, our duty was to try and find the Japanese fleet. We formed up and started out.

We never did find the Japanese fleet and I am awfully glad that we didn’t, because they had attacked us there with 6 carriers, 3 battleships, 10 or 15 cruisers, and about 20 destroyers. The planes alone would have taken care of us, so I was grateful that we never found them. We were out there searching for 36 hours... When we came back into Pearl it was pitch dark, and we could see the fires from the Arizona and the other ships still burning in the harbor.

MR: Didn’t we have a black out at the time at Pearl Harbor?

BR: Yes, we did. Everything was black in the harbor, but there were still some fires burning on the ships.

MR: The Arizona and the Utah?

BR: Yes. The Arizona, the West Virginia, the California, the Tennessee, the Maryland, those ships that were hit. They didn’t get all the fires out. There were planes on Ford Island that were still burning.

MR: So the Japanese made two passes and of course, they took everybody by surprise. The Americans fought back, but you were telling me on the phone that one thing that Japanese didn’t get were the carriers, because they were out to sea.

BR: Right. We were very fortunate that the carriers weren’t in the harbor.

MR: How many did we have?

BR: I think we had 3 at the time, the Enterprise, the Yorktown, and the Lexington. Anyway, that was a big plus for us. Not only that, but they neglected to get our oil supplies and they neglected to get our submarines. And the battleships they did get were beginning to become obsolete anyway, they were cumbersome.  It took carriers with airplanes to really do a good job. 

About three weeks later, we got orders to strike the Marshall and Gilbert Islands.  We had a task force with the Enterprise.  We had no battleships with us, but we did have two or three cruisers and probably eight or ten destroyers.  We hit the Marshal and Gilbert Islands at about 4:00 in the morning.  It was the planes that did all the damage.  We let the planes off at about 4:00 in the morning as well and they went in and did the island.  I imagine the Japanese were a little surprised that we hit back so quickly, because they figured they had us crippled.  About three weeks after that, we got orders to go to Wake Island.  We did the same thing there.  We went with the Enterprise, the same task force, and both cruisers and destroyers.  These trips took about two months.  They took about a month going and a month coming back.  If you get on a destroyer for a month, you know you have been someplace (laughs).

MR: How many men were on your ship?

BR: All destroyers at that time had about 200 men.  A destroyer was rough riding and with the rough weather, the sea can be an enemy too. By the time we hit these islands and by the time we got back, each trip took two months.  I did get some breaks after a while.  When we came back from Wake, they sent me to school for five weeks.  That was a break.  I went to school in San Diego and when I came back into Pearl on a transport, the Blue was going out.  That was the trip when she got hit, in the battle of Sable Island, off Guadalcanal.  She was hit with a Japanese torpedo.  That was a break for Barney.

MR: So that was in 1942?

BR: That was in 1942, right.

Former U.S. Marine: ( from across room) August 9.

MR: August 9.

BR: Yes August 9.  I was in a receiving ship in Pearl Harbor waiting for the Blue to come back, but she was not going to be coming back.  So I was put on the USS Dixie, a  repair tender.  We went and followed the fleet and made repairs, whatever repairs they needed.  This ship had everything, including electrical shops so we could rewind motors.  It had carpenter shops, it had foundries and it had other shops.  It was a big ship.  That is what a tender did, took care of ships that had been hit or needed repairs.  I was on her until I got to Guadalcanal.  I had been out there long enough.  I had not seen my family for four years. A lot of guys were going back to the states, so I went back to the chaplain and I said, “Look, I haven’t seen my family for four years, and there are a lot of people going back that got on this ship after I did.” So he said,  “I’ll check your record.”

MR: How old were you then, Barney?

BR: I was twenty…twenty-two years old.

MR: So how old were you at Pearl?

BR: I was twenty years old at Pearl Harbor. I was in the Navy about a year and 4 months before the war.

MR: I have a question, and I think some of the students might be wondering the same thing too. You said that you had a lucky break when the Blue was hit?

BR: Well, it was lucky for me. It wasn’t lucky for the nine people that got killed and the 20 that were injured.

MR: Did the ship actually sink?

BR: What happened was she took a torpedo in the stern. She wouldn’t run, so the USS Henley, which is one of the other destroyers, tried to tow her, this is in Iron Bottom Sound off Guadalcanal. While the Henley was trying to tow her, they got word that the Japanese planes were coming back, so we sunk her ourselves. We took five-inch shells and sunk her.

MR: Why did you sink your own ship?

BR: Well, so the Japanese wouldn’t get it. We didn’t want the Japanese to get it intact, so we sunk it.

 Later on, after I went back to the states, I went to San Francisco to get my leave. They were going to give me 30 days leave. They took ten days away from that for traveling. So, I came back from San Francisco to Whitehall, by train. When my twenty days were up I went back to San Francisco. When I went up to get my orders, and the guy said to me, “USS Chicago, Philadelphia Navy Yard.” Here I just came from the east coast (laughs). This here is a picture of the Chicago (holds up illustration). She’s a heavy cruiser with eight-inch guns, and she had 20’s and 40’s on her. After she was commissioned we went down through the Panama Canal and back. At this time (1945) Iwo Jima and Okinawa were over. Our job was to bombard the coast of Japan and support the anticipated U.S. air strike. While we were doing that they, they dropped both atomic bombs. After the atomic bombs were dropped the war ended and then we went into Tokyo Bay with the rest of the fleet, the Missouri and the rest of them, while they signed the terms of surrender that ended the war...

Post-Star photo-Erin Coker

click here to watch Barney tell his story...

 

interview originally recorded on 5/11/01

transcribed by Cameron

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