My grandfather's memories of Pearl Harbor

By Roger Douglass

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 7 2011 8:00 p.m. MST

USS Oklahoma (BB-37)

Public Domain Department of Defense. Department of the Navy.

I want to first start off by writing; my grandfather, Gordon Elmer Douglass was a very humble man. He never bragged about his service in the navy. He never bragged about the experiences that allowed him to survive the attack on Pearl Harbor. My grandfather would probably be embarrassed that I’m writing this. I write this to honor him and to honor the sacrifices made by all those who fought tyrany in World War II. I write this to honor the memory of those who died at Pearl Harbor and the 429 shipmates of my Grandfather who went down with the “Okie”. Roger Douglass, December 7, 2011

Gordon Elmer Douglass was born September 30, 1918 in the small mining town of Eureka, Utah. His father was Samuel Douglass and mother was Pearl McClellan Douglass. Grandpa Douglass was very generous to me. About a year before he died he helped me pay off a large debt that I owed. I could never repay him but I named my first born boy, Gordon Roger Williams Douglass, after him. Grandpa Douglass was from a generation that has been named The Greatest Generation because of the sacrafices their generation made to the United States of America to make it a better place. This was a generation that suffered through The Great Depression and World War II.

December 12, 1940, my Grandfather was commissioned Ensign in the United States Navy and was assigned to the USS Oklahoma which had been based at Pearl Harbor six days earlier. The USS Oklahoma was a World War I era ship that had been commissioned May 2, 1916. She was modernized between 1927 and 1929 and was made famous in 1936 for rescuing U.S. citizens from the Spanish Civil War in 1936. This is my grandfather’s story, in his own words:

“I’ve always had a good memory for people, and at a church fireside I saw a fellow who looked like Keith Taylor. I looked at his right hand and he was missing his thumb, so then I knew it was Keith. He didn’t recognize me until I introduced myself to him. I said that he hadn’t seen me since I was 13 in 1932, because that is when I moved to Salt Lake. He said, “You haven’t seen me since I was 8, because that is when I moved away.” He seemed quite excited about meeting someone from home and he gave me his card. He said that he now had a large room with two beds, and if I ever needed to stay in town overnight, to call him on the phone.

On December 6, I had the coding room watch from noon until 4:00 PM. I thought that if the boat to shore was late that I might still have time (to go see Keith.) I ran to my room and changed clothing, but by the time I got to the gangway, the boat was on its way to the officers landing. We were never allowed to call a boat back, so I just went back to my room, and felt sorry for myself. I had notified the duty officer and the wardroom that I was going ashore. Now I notified the steward that I would be aboard for dinner. As I walked into the wardroom, Ensign Stern was playing the record Perfidia on the Victorola. He asked me if I was going to stay aboard ship. I replied that I was, and he asked me if I would stand by for him so that he could go ashore. I agreed, so he called his duty officer, who declined his request because I was not a qualified engineering officer.

I lay down on my bed to rest before changing back to my uniform. I was just settled down and almost asleep, when the Officer on Deck announced that in 10 minutes an extra boat would be leaving the USS Maryland, which was tied to the Okie’s starboard side. I jumped up to go ashore. Then I thought, no I’ll just stay aboard now. I became restless though. Whispers came to me saying, “Gordon, you don’t get enough exercise. Go ashore, go out on a date, have some fun.” I said, “Okay, okay.” I jumped up and went to my wall safe. I don’t know why, but I removed all my money from my safe ($280.00). I put $30.00 back, which was enough to pay my mess bill. This was an odd thing for me to do, because I never carried more than $28.00 with me. I packed a bag with shoes, socks, trousers and shirt. I took the extra bag of clothes so that I could go on a hike if I wanted. Then I ran topside and arrived just in time to board the extra liberty boat.

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