USS Maryland survived Pearl Harbor attack Battleship: A week later, 'Fighting Mary' was able to sail away for repairs, and later lived up to its nickname as the U.S. pushed Japan back in the Pacific.

Remember When

December 07, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Baltimoreans were shaken from the doldrums of a late autumn Sunday afternoon when on Dec. 7, 1941, the voice of NBC broadcaster Ben Grauer broke into the theme song of Sammy Kaye's "Sunday Serenade" with the first bulletin announcing the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Sunday Sun raced an extra edition onto the streets, and newsboys fanned out through the city shouting the ominous headlines: "JAPS DECLARE WAR ON U.S.; Honolulu, Manila Bombed; NAVAL BATTLE OFF HAWAII."

Front-page stories only hinted at the devastation caused by the early morning surprise attack.

"Honolulu, Dec. 7 -- A naval engagement is in progress off Honolulu, with at least one black enemy aircraft carrier in action against Pearl Harbor defenses," read the lead story.

"Washington, Dec. 7 -- The White House announced today that heavy damage had been inflicted in the Japanese attack on Hawaii and that there probably had been heavy loss of life."

Those who thought this might be another Orson Welles radio broadcast were quickly dissuaded from that notion when an NBC radio reporter in a live broadcast from Honolulu, said, "It is no joke, it is a real war."

The Oklahoma was hit

At that moment, some 5,000 miles away from Baltimore, below decks on the battleship USS Maryland, Garth E. Summers, then a 19-year-old private in the Marine Corps and a communications orderly aboard the ship, heard an airplane flying overhead. Going to a porthole to see what it was, he witnessed the battleship Oklahoma, tied up next to the "Fighting Mary," take a hit from a torpedo. The geyser created by the explosion poured water through the porthole, drenching an astonished Summers.

"I ran topside and saw oil spreading over the water, and smoke. I looked across the channel and saw a torpedo plane coming for us. He was so low I could see the pilot's teeth. He was smiling," said Summers, 74, from his home in Temple Hills, Prince George's County, the other day.

"Shortly after 8 a.m., things began to really happen. The Maryland began taking on water. As the Oklahoma rolled over, she broke all her lines with a loud crack. It was just unbelievable," recalls Summers, who will be the speaker at a memorial service at 11: 45 a.m. today aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney at Pier 4, Pratt Street. The Taney is the last ship afloat that was present during the attack 56 years ago this morning.

Summers, who finished the war as a fighter pilot, is today a mechanical engineer retired from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. "All these years later, and it is still unbelievable to me what happened that morning," he said.

The Maryland, which had been connected to the Oklahoma by a gangway as well as lines, escaped serious damage. Ahead of the Maryland was moored the battleship California and astern were the Tennessee and the West Virginia moored together with the Nevada and Arizona moored farther astern. These battleships, off Ford Island, made up the famous "Battleship Row," a major objective of the enemy attack.

"The Maryland, which had fought off three enemy aircraft, sustained a bomb hit in the forecastle and three hits on each side near the bow. Fires that had broken out in the forecastle and signal bridge were quickly extinguished, but frequently, flames from the burning fuel oil on the water threatened to engulf the battleship," reported The Sun in 1944.

Two officers and two crewmen were killed when two 500-pound bombs hit the vessel.

A week later, the Maryland, with a patched hull, was the first battleship to leave Pearl Harbor. The ship sailed for Puget Sound, Wash., where it arrived 23 days later in the company of the battleship Tennessee. Both ships were repaired there.

"Off San Francisco, the waters were so rough that the patch cracked and the pumps could barely handle the water flowing in," said Wayne D. Ring, then a 22-year-old sailor from Kansas, and now secretary-treasurer of the 800-member USS Maryland-BB46 Veterans Association.

Locked-up ammunition

"The day of the attack, I was down in the plotting room," said Ring. "General quarters were sounded, and I headed for my battle station. Our guns didn't go into action for 10 minutes because all of our ammo was locked up. We had very little critical damage and were very fortunate.

"I saw the Oklahoma capsize, and as she rolled over she jammed us against the quay. A week later they had to dynamite us to get us out," said Ring, who lives in Lemon Grove, Calif., and is retired from the Navy.

The memories are still painful for Ring. "I remember bodies floating in the water; ships burning, and that awful thick, black smoke. I remember hearing tapping on ships' hulls by men trapped in sunken ships hoping to attract rescuers. I saw many horrible things," said Ring, 78, in a voice cracking with emotion.

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