When the Japanese attacked the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941, Baker 3rd Class Dale Augerson had just put a batch of apple pies in the oven aboard the battleship USS West Virginia. The battleship was moored at “Battleship Row,” together with most of the fleet’s other capital ships.
“I was in the kitchen baking apple pies when the Japanese arrived,” said Augerson, 86, who now lives in Rotonda. “The chocolate cakes were already done for the weekend. The announcement came over the PA system: ‘Fire and Rescue report to Ford Island.’ That’s where the Japanese first hit.
“Then came the second announcement: ‘General Quarters!’ Machine gun bullets were ricocheting off the decks of the West Virginia from the enemy fighters flying overhead.
“My battle station was five decks below the main deck. I handled the 5-inch shells and put them on the hoist for the main amidships guns.”
As Augerson tried to reach his battle station, he was stopped. The West Virginia had already been hit by a torpedo or two and was listing by 30 degrees. It was impossible for Augerson to reach his battle station, so he, along with hundreds of other sailors, were ordered to the far side of the battleship to help offset the ship’s list.
Before the battle was over, the West Virginia took five torpedoes in her port side and two hits from armor-piercing bombs, which caused extensive damage to the battleship.
The attack that brought the United States into World War II was brief, but when it was over, 19 ships were damaged or sunk. On the ground at Wheeler Field, 188 planes were destroyed. Some 2,400 sailors, soldiers, Marines and civilians died, and 1,178 were wounded.
During the heat of battle, Capt. Mervyn Bennion, skipper of the West Virginia, was badly injured by shrapnel from bomb fragments while on the bridge. He died from his wounds a short time later.
Mess Attendant 2nd Class Doris Miller was standing beside the captain when he went down. He helped move the wounded officer to a safer place. The mess attendant then got behind a .50-caliber machine gun and did his best to hold off the attacking enemy planes.
Miller was awarded the Navy Cross by Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz aboard the USS Enterprise at Pearl Harbor on May 27, 1942. Later in the war, Miller died at sea when the carrier he was transferred to, USS Lissome Bay, was torpedoed and sank.
Augerson didn’t know Miller well, but he recalled “he was one of the mess boys aboard ship.”
Continued Augerson, “I was moving below trying to reach the ship’s undamaged side when the West Virginia was hit by a 1,500-pound bomb. A buddy of mine was above in the Issue Room, where we keep the flour and sugar, when the bomb hit. He was disintegrated.
“I was about 12 feet below him on a lower deck and approximately 30 feet away from him. The concussion from the bomb knocked me out for 12 hours,” he said. “When I woke up I was on Red Hill in the hospital.
“There was a Frenchman I knew in the bed next to me when I woke up. He was covered with oil from head to toe,” Augerson said. “He had swallowed some oil, and that’s the reason he was in the hospital.”
Augerson spent 10 days in the hospital recovering before he reported to the Receiving Barracks at Pearl Harbor, where he found his chief, his immediate superior aboard the West Virginia.
“By then the chief and his crew were serving 25,000 people a day at the Receiving Barracks. I became one of the bakers at the barracks,” he said.
Months later, Augerson went back to sea aboard the USS Windham Bay, a small Jeep carrier made by Kaiser Aluminum Company.
“She was a ‘Kaiser Coffin.’ The carrier was made out of aluminum, and sometimes shells would go through her and come out the other side without exploding,” he recalled with a grin.
He and the Windham Bay went island hopping to exotic destinations like Saipan, Kwajalein, Leyte and a number of islands in the New Caledonia portion of the Pacific.
Late in the war, Augerson was transferred to a troop transport, the Gen. N.B. Stewart.
“We were the second ship to sail into New York Harbor when it was announced World War II was over. Tug boats with their water cannons spraying greeted us as we sailed into port,” he said. “A bunch of dancing hula girls aboard another ship almost capsized our transport when all the servicemen aboard ran to the rail to see them.”
When the crew was finally given liberty in New York City, a few days after the end of the war, they must have had a fantastic time judging from the smile on the old sailor’s face 60 years later.
“The Lincoln Hotel, near Times Square, was our hangout, we owned the place. We got ‘bombed’ and had a lot of fun there,” Augerson said. “A gentleman invited seven or eight of us to his house for a private party. New Yorkers were really nice to us.”
Dale L. Augerson, CCS, born Jan. 25, 1918, Altona, IL, graduated high school and from the American Institute of Baking. He enlisted in the USN Sept. 10, 1940, and after training boarded the USS West Virginia in Bremerton, WA.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Wednesday, December 7, 2005 and is republished with permission.
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