Joseph Lloyd Alsop, Pearl Harbor survivor

World War II veteran witnessed attack on Pearl Harbor and participated in D-Day invasion

December 03, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Joseph Lloyd Alsop, who was stationed aboard a Navy minesweeper during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and later participated in the D-Day landing in Normandy, died Nov. 23 of respiratory failure at St. Joseph Medical Center.

The longtime Towson resident was 88.

Mr. Alsop was born and raised in Fredericksburg, Va., and after high school enlisted in the Navy in 1939.

On Dec. 6, 1941, Mr. Alsop's ship, the USS Boggs, an old three-stack World War I-era destroyer that had been converted to a high-speed minesweeper, was steaming into Pearl Harbor after a week at sea towing targets for gunnery practice.

Its crew was eagerly looking forward to shore leave. Expectations of meeting girls, dancing into the wee hours and enjoying a few cold beers were short-lived.

Before tying up, the ship's complement was informed that leave had been canceled and the Boggs was immediately returning to sea to take up patrol duty off Oahu.

"I had been at sea all week towing targets for the gunnery practice for the larger ships (cruisers)," Mr. Alsop wrote in response to a 2006 request from a student at Warsaw Community High School in Warsaw, Ind., asking for his recollections of the Pearl Harbor attack.

"To the best of my knowledge, this was the first patrol ever in the Pearl Harbor area. We were to patrol up and down the waters looking for anything (submarines, mines etc.), something, which might be harmful to the United States of America," wrote Alsop, who was assigned to the ship's engine room, where he tended its boilers.

Shortly before 8 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 7, Mr. Alsop and his shipmates, who were some distance offshore, could see waves of Japanese aircraft over Pearl Harbor.

"We knew we were in trouble because we were within the three-mile area of the harbor and we could see many planes with that famous 'red ball' - the Rising Sun - the symbol on the tails and wings of the Japanese planes, and they were dropping bombs and torpedoes from the sky," he recalled.

Adding to the crew's worries was the fact that the Boggs did not carry any armament. It was, after the attack, outfitted with four 3-inch guns, Mr. Alsop wrote.

In a 1996 interview with The Baltimore Sun, Mr. Alsop said, "We could see what was going on, the planes flying over and the fire and smoke. We dropped depth charges once or twice, but I don't know if anything was there."

The Boggs was the first ship to enter the harbor after the attack ended.

"Everything was still burning when we came in; it was a sight I'll never forget," he said in the 1996 interview.

In his memoir written for the Indiana high school students, Mr. Alsop described the scene as the Boggs slowly steamed into Pearl Harbor as one of "utter confusion."

"Ships were burning, half of them up on the beach; motor launches were in the water picking up people, and smoke and fire was everywhere," he wrote. "It was total devastation. ... The Arizona had been sunk, and the smell of fumes and smoke lingered everywhere."

The Boggs' task was to make sure there were no mines in the harbor endangering ships attempting to leave or enter.

Mr. Alsop wrote: "We were lucky. There were no mines."

In response to a student question about how he felt after the attack, Mr. Alsop wrote, "We didn't feel safe and comfortable for a long time. I do remember that night after the attack, none of us felt safe sleeping below deck, because we had heard talk that the Japanese had two-man submarines in their possession, and nobody wanted to be below deck and get torpedoed."

Mr. Alsop explained that if his ship had been torpedoed, they would have had a better chance of survival being topside and jumping over the side.

"We used our shoes as pillows and slept up on the steel deck for a long time."

Later in the war, Mr. Alsop joined the crew of the destroyer USS Frankford - nicknamed "Hot Dog" - in the Atlantic.

On D-Day - June 6, 1944 - the Frankford, which was 1,000 yards offshore, was to provide coverage for the U.S. troops who had successfully landed on the beach at Normandy.

"As the brave infantrymen crept up the hills toward the firing guns of the enemy, they would report back specific locations of the enemy gun batteries, and they would tell us where to fire," he wrote.

Though the ship was dangerously close to the shore and vulnerable to the German artillery batteries, Mr. Alsop wrote, "We did what we knew we were there to do - it was our job.

"To give you a personal example of the intensity of this battle, one of my fellow mates began the day with thick, coal black hair, and by that evening his hair was totally white," he wrote.

Reflecting on his wartime career, Mr. Alsop wrote to the students that he was "personally more affected by the Normandy invasion," yet acknowledged that the two historic events he participated in "helped mold me into the man I am today."

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