Harlan Carl Christiansen

Apprentice Seaman on 7 December 1941

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As the youngest survivor of the bombing and sinking of the USS Arizona, Kansan Carl Christiansen recounts his escape from the inferno. by Jan Landon - The Topeka Capital-Journal

Carl Christiansen saw his older brother for the last time right before all hell broke loose and the world changed forever.

The brothers, Carl and Edward Lee Christiansen, were both in the Navy and stationed on the USS Arizona.

The morning was clear on Dec. 7, 1941, in Pearl Harbor. The brothers talked about going ashore to take a photograph to send to their mother in Columbus, in far southeast Kansas.

Edward -- whom the family with nine kids nicknamed "Sonny" -- told his brother Carl, nicknamed "Buddy," that he had to run and get something from his quarters.

Buddy never saw Sonny again.
At 8:10 a.m., an armor-piercing bomb slammed through the deck of the USS Arizona, according to the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii. The ship exploded when her forward ammunition magazine was hit.

The ship sank in fewer than nine minutes. Along with Sonny Christiansen, 1,177 sailors died.

Sonny's body was never found. Carl Christiansen believes his brother died when the bomb hit.

"Time goes real fast," Christiansen said about recalling surviving the bombing. "When the ship blew up, we didn't know it had been damaged that bad. We couldn't find a way out."

Christiansen and other sailors found a hatch between two powder magazines. The ladder went straight up. He was the second man up.

But still they hadn't reached the safety of the deck. Another sailor used a wrench to take the bolts off a plate that held a gun on deck. The sailors decided to throw a life raft into the water. The idea was to hang on to it and make their way to shore.

"We couldn't get through that oil and water," he recalled. They turned back.

The ship had sunk enough that the sailors were able to pull themselves back onto the ship.

A "captain's gig" came around the front of the ship and picked them up. Delivered to an air raid shelter, Christiansen had only minor injuries but passed out. The next day he woke up in the hospital.

"I tried to find my brother," he said. "I couldn't see anything that had his name."

Christiansen didn't get long to look. Before he could find any information, he was put on a cruiser, the Chester. The Chester also suffered losses when on Feb. 1 or 2 it was hit with a 500-pound bomb. The cruiser headed home to Pearl Harbor.

Christiansen ended up in San Francisco later in February 1942. He found his parents waiting there. They hugged Buddy hard. Both of them, he said.

The visit lasted about an hour and a half.

His parents had found out about Sonny's death on Jan. 17, 1942. It was February before Buddy knew for sure his older brother was gone.

Christiansen, who had just turned 19 when he boarded the Arizona, was the youngest survivor of the attack.

Remember the Arizona!
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