- Category: USS Arizona Survivor Stories
- Created: Wednesday, 14 May 2003 00:00
- Last Updated: Saturday, 21 November 2015 21:36
Galen Owen Ballard
F1/c Fireman First Class on 7 Dec 1941
Submitted by Mary Ballard-Verlee
Galen Ballard was Salutatorian of his class in Lake Orion, MI. He enlisted in the Navy in Nov. of 1935, and was due for discharge on Dec. 31, 1941. No more discharges were given after the attack on Dec 7, so Ballard was kept in the Navy until the end of the war.
Galen had written a happy letter to his family in Nov. that read something like this: "I'll be out soon. Weekend liberty in Honolulu is a bore. There are only two big hotels here, the Royal Hawaiian and the Moana. The town's so crowded, I have to have a written invitation to a home in order to go ashore. I won't be going again. Good old USA and my discharge -- less than a month!"
On Sat, Dec. 6th, though he had written his family that he had no desire to see Honolulu again, Galen states, "I had this strange urge to go ashore." He did not rate liberty. "I had no weekend invitation, and though I had a friend who would have given me one, I forgot to ask for it. I waited to see whether one sailor who was expecting money for his liberty would receive it." The mail came -- no money from home. He couldn't take liberty without it.
Galen was on standby and switched with the friend who rated liberty. "I put in for liberty and wrote out the invitation myself. Then I hand-carried the request through the channels -- Chief Engineer to the Executive Officer. Ordinarily it would be put into a box earlier and forwarded. This was only my second weekend liberty in almost two years in Oahu."
A friend accompanied him. Galen's Hawaiian friend in Honolulu, Hazel Kamehameha, Jenkins (first and last names are fictional) had a Portuguese-Hawaiian cousin whom the other sailor was to date. (You may recognize Hazel's middle name as that of the first king of the islands, Kamehameha I.) Hazel sang, accompanying herself on a stringed Hawaiian instrument, at the Moano Hotel. This beautiful Hawaiian native with the royal heritage also worked at the base supply depot. Ashore, the men hurried to the locker club to change into civilian clothes. "Sailors didn't stand out that way," Galen said.
The men planned to escort the women to the Saturday night dance at Honolulu's American Legion Post No. 1. That night they joined the Legion in order to attend. Usually easy-going with an infectious sense of humor, Galen is like a lot of us; at rare times instantly set off by some annoyance too trivial to recall. "At the dance, something happened," he said. "I can't remember what it was about, but I got angry, went outside the Legion hall, and headed down the street intending to go back to the ship."
"Hazel, her cousin, and my friend ran after me and persuaded me to get into Hazel's car and go to her home." With a chuckle he added, "Probably to sober up." Early Sunday morning was bright and beautiful, and peaceful. About 7:45 a record of the Ink Spots was playing on Hazel's combination radio-record player." Shortly before 8 o'clock he decided to switch to the radio. "The announcer was excited, repeating over and over, Seek cover, this is no drill. Rising Sun has been spotted on the wing tips. It's a raid. Clear the streets. Seek cover. Then all military personnel report to your base, posts, or ships." We ran back to the locker club. The locker portion was locked. Sunday morning. So we climbed over a partition to get to the lockers, changed, and tore off to the Army-Navy YMCA where the circular for cabs was filling up."
"A marine hailed the cabs and directed the men into them, sent them off, and hailed the next. There was a lot of confusion. High altitude bombers whistled over. Anti-aircraft fire flared. We were afraid of being hit on the way back. We got to the fleet landing. It was a terrible sight to see the battleship so mutilated the havoc was just too immense to grasp."
"Across was the Arizona burning. We'd seen smoke in the distance and thought it was from oil dumps being hit. But it was our ship. A huge, red-bottomed ship was upended "the Oklahoma."
Later, welders were to cut holes in the bottom to get the survivors out. "We didn't have time to think ...or to panic." He explained about the Oklahoma, "It capsized because inspection was the day before and watertight compartments had been left open." Torpedoes hit. The compartments flooded. He remembered that the Nevada tried to get out of the harbor, was hit, and, afraid of blocking the channel, and ran aground.
Galen's station was at the No. 6 fire room. With another bomb the large powder storage, the forward powder magazine for No. one and No. two turrets blew up. The enemy had help triggering the Arizona's suicide with her own massive ammunition storage. Even with the swift and heroic rescue operation, the Arizona settled into the water carrying over 900 men with her. "I was told to report in at the receiving station. There I found other members of the Arizona, the "Black Gang" (the engine room crew) who had been on liberty."
"I remember we dove under the tables a couple of times, but whether the station was actually strafed, or we only imagined it, I don't know. Nor can I remember whether it was the same day or the following day that the few of us from the "Black Gang" reported aboard the USS Tennessee."
The USS Tennessee was moored to a cement, triangular-shaped key next to the USS West Virginia, now sitting outboard on the bottom. The Tennessee had been saved by having the West Virginia on the torpedo side. Several other ships on battleship row, moored two abreast at keys around Ford Island, had also been thus protected. Outboard ships could protect only from torpedoes, not bombs.
Though the Vestal, a repair ship, was outboard of the Arizona, seven bombs dropped on the battleship. She was near the mouth of the harbor and not entirely protected form torpedoes on the Ford Island side as it curved away from her.
Eighteen ships were sunk or damaged severely; five of which were never to see service again. One hundred eighty-eight planes were destroyed. 2,403 servicemen lost their lives. "The Arizona had been my home since March 1936, and I had many fine shipmates aboard."
Sitting by the engine log room on the Tennessee, when the general quarters was sounded, he dashed down to the fire room passageway. When he got there, he says, "I wondered what in the world I was doing there. It wasn't safe. I had no assignment yet. I was trained so well; just went there."
He admitted that he would much rather have been topside where he could see what was going on. Ballard was a Fireman First Class with the actual duties of Watertender Second Class. To his knowledge, only one fireman on the Arizona was saved. He was inspecting the shaft alleys, away from the fire room, so Galen was told. The sailor who had stood by for Ballard did not make it. The man who shared his shore locker was gone. There were only 289 survivors.
"The Arizona was so big, that I was on it for six years and never got to every place. We were a self-contained city with ship service store, barber shop with four chairs, soda fountain, post office, print shop, a newspaper, dentist's office, sick bay, brig, and over 1,500 men.
In my locker I had a couple of phonograph records that Hazel had recorded. I felt pretty bad about losing them. And a new set of golf clubs--$125, a lot of money back then. Everything I owned except civilian clothes and the clothes on my back. Funny how you think of things like that.
With no clothes, the men were issued "anything that would fit." One day he might be an apprentice seaman, another first class, or boatswain's mate, radioman, whatever fit, or nearly fit.
He was transferred to a salvage party to help divers retrieve safes with records from the Arizona. His job was to stand aboard deck in waist-deep water attending the lines of the diver. "Every once in awhile a body would pop to the surface; head like a pumpkin, no features. It would be retrieved with boathooks."
He did this for about two weeks. The diver's job was dangerous; dodging jagged metal. Ballard was moved around, sent back to San Francisco, Norfolk, New Orleans, Miami, then on subchasers that patrolled from Norfolk to New York City. A troop ship he served on, the John Penn, went to Africa, to the Pacific, and then sunk. The subchaser he had served on was hit by another ship and split in two in the Caribbean. He served on the Onslow, a seaplane tender, through the rest of the war.
Galen made Machinist's Mate Second Class on the John Penn, Motor Machinist's Mate First Class on the subchaser 10-23, and Chief Engineman on the seaplane tender USS Onslow ( Apr. 1944.) (Out of Washington, headed for the Marshall Islands) The seaplane tenders went ahead of carriers and battleships. The Onslow was actually the supply for coming seaplanes, and was positioned between the battleships and the enemy-held islands. Shells fired over top of the tender. "It was a seat on the fifty-yard line," he said. Aboard the Onslow, Ballard saw duty at the Marshalls, Majurao, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Palau Islands, Ulithi, and other atolls and islands. The war ended about the time the ship was passing Saipan. When the tender docked in California in the fall of 1945, the men had not seen civilization for over a year and a half.
Ballard finished 22 years in the Navy. He was discharged July 8, 1957. Married to Dotty Cramer, with 2 young sons, he moved his family to Spooner, WI. where he earned a teaching degree and taught school. He then earned a Master's and kept on teaching until he retired in 1975. They made their home in Clearwater, then Dunedin Fl. Galen Owen Ballard died of a massive heart attack October 24, 1995.
Information researched and compiled by I. B. Nease and N. A. Nease and provided on USSARIZONA.ORG free of charge.
May not be reprinted in any form, other than educational use, without prior written permission of the author.