- Category: USS Arizona Survivor Stories
- Last Updated: Saturday, 21 November 2015 23:33
- Published: Friday, 23 May 2003 00:00
Harry Lionel Fitch
Ensign on 7 December 1941
Submitted by Harry L. Fitch
I am an Arizona survivor. I am a survivor of the Arizona because I was not aboard at the time of the attack. I had gone ashore to Honolulu on Saturday, December 6th, to buy my mother in Michigan a Christmas present. My shore leave did not expire until 0800 the next morning. I had not been dancing for six months. So, when the girl who sold me the Christmas present went dancing with me in the evening, we had such a good time that I missed the last boat trip back to the ship. But, it didn't matter, because I could catch an early boat in the morning and be back on board before roll call. After I had taken my date home in a taxi, I got a room in the Seaside cottages at Waikiki. Early in the morning, I was on my way back from Waikiki to Honolulu and on by taxi to Pearl Harbor. As the taxi raced through the gates of Pearl Harbor, great clouds of black smoke filled the sky. I thought the rows of big white fuel tanks would be bombed and burning but as we passed, the white tanks squatted quietly row on row completely untouched.
As our taxi came to the boat landing, I could see the smoke rising from burning oil floating around the ships. The smoke was so thick we could not identify which ships were burning. Ships' boats were criss-crossing through oil and water, and then I spied the Arizona boat making a bow wave as it approached the landing and the boat's crew leaped onto the dock to secure the boat, men in grimy dirty white uniforms began leaping onto the dock. I edged close to the boat to jump aboard, when Ensign "Greasy" Glenn jumped off the boat onto the dock. He yelled: "It's no use, Fitch. The ship's been abandoned." I couldn't believe it. Then I began hearing snatches of talk, a bomb going down the stack and blowing up. At first I was stunned. The sense of tragedy has taken a while to develop. It gets revived every year around December 7th at the Arizona Reunion.
USS Arizona survivor Harry Fitch of Port Townsend, Wash., saw the memorial for the first time in December during ceremonies for the 60th anniversary of the attack.
HARRY LIONEL FITCH
``I grow old. . . I grow old. . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Til human voices wake us, and we drown.''
-- Stanza from The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot
Harry Lionel Fitch, age 90, a resident of Port Townsend, passed away with a smile on his face on June 3, 2005.
Harry was born September 24, 1914, in Luther, Michigan, the only child born to Minnie Frisbie and Harry Russel Fitch.
He enlisted in the United States Navy in June 1941 and was assigned to the USS Arizona as an ensign. Following Pearl Harbor, Harry spent the balance of World War II on the USS South Dakota.
After the war, he taught naval science at the University of Michigan.
From 1951 to 1954, he was given command of the destroyer USS Murray. He retired as commander of the Fleet Sonar School in Key West, Florida, in January of 1962.
He went on from naval retirement to get an MFA from the University of Oregon in 1966 and was a professor of English literature at Central Oregon Community College in Bend, Oregon, until his passion for fly fishing and travel exceeded his interest in teaching.
Harry charmed many with his marvelous sense of humor and bright wit. He loved literature and would often recite quotes from his favorite poet, T.S. Eliot, or boldly regale the words of Shakespeare and numerous others.
He married Marcia Ann Wellman on May 17, 1948. They divorced in 1963.
He is survived by three children: daughter, Cita and her husband, Garth Meyer, of Dearborn, Michigan; daughter, Sarah Fitch and her partner, Ti Barry, of Port Townsend, Washington; and son, Pete Fitch and his wife, Geraldine, of Belleville, Michigan; and 7 grandchildren.
Services will be held at a later date when his ashes will be interred on USS Arizona with full military honors at Pearl Harbor as per his wishes.
Memorial contributions may be made to your local Democratic Party.
There will be a Celebration of his Life on July 3 starting at 5 p.m. The barbecue potluck will be held at 140 E. Middlepoint Road, Port Townsend, Washington.
Everyone who knew and appreciated ``Harry'' or ``The Commander'' is invited and encouraged to attend. RSVP to family; contact Sarah Fitch, 360-385-2744.
Special thanks to the compassionate caregivers of Kah Tai Care Center, to his skilled and caring physician for many years, Dr. Stowe, and to Dr. Nutter, Marge and Kris, who helped to keep a smile on his face.
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.