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James Wire, 82, was a ship fitter third class aboard the USS Tennessee. He was 23 at the time. He remained in the Navy, retiring in 1968 after 30 years.

WE SAVED most of the guys on topside that weren’t blown apart. One Japanese pilot was lying there, and they let him stay for three or four hours while they got our men out. Then they started gathering the dead guys that had been blown off the ships. They looked like a bunch of logs—it was the most horrible thing I had ever seen. Some officers went crazy. A second-class quartermaster was on the bridge when he saw all of it, and it just blew his mind. He went absolutely crazy, started tearing his clothes off. Two or three guys had to grab hold of him and try to restrain him.

They took the Japanese pilot down to the sick bay, and they wanted me to help carry him, but I wouldn’t. I was so angry at what the Japanese had done. Then I thought, “The government must have known something was going to happen. Why didn’t the government give us at least five minutes warning? Or 10 minutes?”
The West Virginia would have turned upside down but for one man, a damage-control officer. He went along and opened the hydraulic valves. It took about 32 turns to open each valve, and he opened them. I was in the damage-control section so I know what he had to do. Everyone had been told to abandon ship. This man saved the West Virginia from turning upside down like the Oklahoma did. [The West Virginia was eventually repaired and sent back into service.]

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