Wednesday, December 7, 2016

75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

USS Ward photo from 1918, near the end of the Great War (World War I)

December 7th.

Yes, it's Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day--the 75th Anniversary. And it's so much more.

You see, my grandfather was at Pearl Harbor, the most devastating attack upon American soil until 9/11. Notice, please, that I didn't say "in" Pearl Harbor. No, he was on the USS Ward, an insignificant destroyer, a remnant of the US Naval fleet from the Great War (WWI), that was patrolling outside the harbor in the early hours of 7 December. It was within the first 24 hours of LCDR William Outerbridge's first command. My grandfather, Richard Edward Farwell, was the First Officer, also his first command.

Captain Richard E. Farwell--my grandfather

And what happened next is a oft-forgotten event of history: 

From Wikipedia:

On the morning of 7 December 1941, under the command of LCDR William W. OuterbridgeWard was conducting a precautionary patrol off the entrance to Pearl Harbor when she was informed at 03:57 by visual signals from the coastal minesweeper Condor of a periscope sighting, whereupon Ward began searching for the contact. At about 06:37, she sighted a periscope apparently tailing the cargo ship Antares whereupon she attacked the target.[4] The target sunk was a Japanese Ko-hyoteki-class two-man midget submarine and thus Ward fired the first American shots of World War II a few hours before Japanese carrier aircraft formally opened the conflict with their attack on the Pacific Fleet inside the harbor. The submarine was attempting to enter the harbor by following Antares through the anti-submarine nets at the harbor entrance. Ward fired several rounds from its main guns hitting the conning tower of the sub and also dropped several depth charges during the attack.

And from the Minneapolis Star Observer:
At 4 a.m., a minesweeper signaled the Ward that it had sighted a submerged submarine in the area.
The crew conducted a search, but nothing was found until, at 6.30 a.m., several of them spotted what appeared to be a conning tower or buoy moving in the water. Alerted, the Ward’s captain spied the object and confirmed to his satisfaction that it was a submarine preparing to enter the harbor channel behind another Navy ship. The fact was alarming because all U.S. submarines in the area were under orders to operate on the surface with a destroyer escort.
If there was any hesitation about what to do next, it was short-lived. At 6:45, the captain ordered to “commence firing!” A shell from the ship’s No. 1 gun missed, but the nine-man crew of the No. 3 gun next fired a shot that was seen to hit the base of the conning tower. The sub disappeared beneath the waves. The crew had sunk a Japanese two-man midget submarine (the wreckage, with a shell hole in the conning tower, was discovered in 2002).
The Ward immediately notified Naval Command at Pearl Harbor that it had attacked and fired upon a submarine operating in the restricted area. But in a frustrating counterpoint to the swiftness of her captain’s and crew’s reactions, the message was essentially ignored.

And thus, the crew of the USS Ward discharged the first American shot of World War II. 

In 2002, the Japanese midget submarine was found by divers, right where the Ward reported discharging their weapons. Here's the link to the article in the Honolulu Observer. 

Japanese midget sub sunk by the USS Ward, 2005 expedition

Then 7 December became even more important for my family three years later. On 7 December 1944 in the Leyte Gulf, the Ward was struck by a Japanese kamikaze pilot and my grandfather, Captain Farwell, managed to evacuate all personnel with no casualties. In fact, from Pearl Harbor to the Leyte Gulf, the USS Ward sustained no casualties.  

USS Ward, sinking in the Leyte Gulf after being hit by a kamikaze. My grandfather is the man with the helmet and jacket all the way to the left on the USS O'Brien, watching the Ward ship sink.

The crew of the Ward were rescued by the USS O'Brien, commanded by William Outerbridge, the captain the Ward at Pearl Harbor. Outerbridge had to give the order to scuttle the Ward, so with my grandfather, captain of the USS Ward at his side, the two men who had captained the Ward watched it disappear into the sea. 

For those of you who love naval history, here's the whole history of the USS Ward, from being built in a mere 15 days to the sinking in the Leyte Gulf:

This afternoon my mother is giving a talk on the USS Ward and her father's part in firing the First Shot to the Honolulu Rotary Club. I wish that it could be recorded as I really want to be there to soak up all of the family history. 

Other 7's run through my family: my grandparents were married on 7 January 1943, and my mother was born on 7 October 1943. 

Then I gave birth to our youngest child on 7 December, and we named him for my grandfather by giving him the middle name "Edward." My grandfather was not alive to meet his namesake, but I think he'd be proud just the same to have a great-grandson born on this memorable day.

So Happy 17th Birthday to Benjamin Edward, born on this most important day in the history of our family.

In remembrance,

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