Over 2,000 Americans were killed as a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. For three sailors, their deaths would come after 16 horrifying days of being trapped underwater.
Twenty-one ships were damaged or destroyed in the attack. Among them was the USS West Virginia. The Colorado-Class battleship went down after being hit with two bombs and seven torpedos. The ship went down so quickly that nearly 70 men were trapped below deck, unable to escape the doomed ship.
In the days and weeks following the attack, an eerie banging sound could be heard from the forward hull of West Virginia. Workers who were engaged in salvage and clean-up soon realized men were still alive and trapped in the sunken ship.
Much to everyone’s horror and dismay, there was nothing that could be done to get to the trapped men. The wreckage prevented access to the interior of the ship, and fuel and oil in the water precluded any attempt to burn a hole in the hull.
The persistent banging continued for days. It wasn’t until months later that West Virginia was accessible enough to reach the forward hull. There, workers found the bodies of three men who found an airlock in a storeroom. In the storeroom was a calendar, with red pencil markings crossing off the sixteen days they were trapped before finally running out of air.
The sailors were Ronald Endicott, 18; Clifford Olds, 20; and Louis Costin, 21. The attack happened so suddenly that it is unlikely the men even knew what happened to cause them to be trapped in this way.
West Virginia was raised and spent the next three years being repaired. Her first major action after Pearl Harbor was the invasion of the Philippines in October 1944. The ship and crew conducted themselves honorably throughout the war. West Virginia was decommissioned in 1947 and eventually sold for scrap. Some parts of the ship remain on display in parks, museums, and schools. They stand in memory of the gallantry of West Virginia‘s crew. They also serve as a reminder of the tragic story of those three brave sailors.
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