Life's not fair


Matt Paust

Matt Paust
Gloucester, Virginia,
December 31
Sorry - writer's block... BTW the "birthday" listed above is false. I prefer to keep that day private, but am not permitted to do so here, so I'm forced to lie.


DECEMBER 7, 2011 12:52PM

It took three trapped men 16 days to die at Pearl Harbor

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 west virginia

 USS West Virginia

[I first heard this terrible story in the early days of the Internet, probably pre-Google, from a newspaper colleague.  She covered the Navy at the time and had heard it from one of her sources.  I wanted to research it and write it up for our paper.  My colleague gave me her blessing to do it, but her source had shipped out.  I went to the Internet and found nothing.  There were stories about the USS Oklahoma, on which sailors trapped for 24 hours were rescued, but nothing on the USS West Virginia, where this terrible nightmare had occurred.  I checked at the public library and came up empty

I thought about it again this morning while reading OESheepdog's remembrance of the Japanese attack on our Navy at Pearl Harbor 70 years ago today.  This time Google led me to a 1995 story in the Honolulu Advertiser by Eric Gregory.  I can't imagine how anyone could tell the story any better then Mr. Gregory has.  I've copied his introduction below and have embedded a cyberlink to the complete story.]


By Eric Gregory

Honolulu Advertiser

At first, everyone thought it was a piece of loose rigging slapping against the wrecked hull of the USS West Virginia.

Bang. Bang.

To the survivors on land, it was just another noise amid the carnage of Pearl Harbor a day after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack. Like the sound of fireboats squirting water on the USS Arizona. Or the hammers chipping into the overturned hull of the Oklahoma.

But they realized the grim truth the next morning, in the quiet dawn. Someone was still alive, trapped deep in the forward hull of the sunken battleship.

Bang. Bang.

The Marines standing guard covered their ears. There was nothing anyone could do.

When salvage crews raised the West Virginia six months later, they found the bodies of three men huddled in an airtight storeroom: Ronald Endicott, 18; Clifford Olds, 20; and Louis "Buddy" Costin, 21.

But the most haunting discovery was the calendar.

Sixteen days had been crossed off in red pencil. The young sailors had marked their time, not knowing what had happened to their ship or that their country was at war.

For 54 years, their story has been told in hushed tones among the West Virginia's survivors. It has become a symbol of courage and perseverance for these aging men.

Few people knew the whole truth. The Navy never told the families how long their loved ones had survived. And for those brothers and sisters who eventually found out, the truth was so devastating they kept it a secret. Even from their own parents.

Read the entire story here: 16 Days to Die


west virginia

USS West Virginia years before the Pearl Harbor attack 

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thanks for humanizing this day.

dad would say, every dec 7,
"Jim, now, do you know what day this is?" in ponderous serious-ass
tones that i found fascinating as a kid but later,
in my 20's and 30's, absurd.

his seriousness never ever altered.

i got flippant.
"vj day" or " vd day" or ''independence day" or
(god forgive me)
"day they wrote the magna carter & america was formed"
"day teddy roosevelt made that famous speech"
"day they bombed the twin towers"

always in disgusted German disdain
(noone can do it like a German)
"ach, no, no, no .You know this. come on!"

i dunno if i am gonna go to the link. maybe.
god, dad, sorry.....
Pretty grim, stuff, James. Somebody with the chops could do a drama of those 16 days. Not sure I would even want those chops.

since the horror's tough to imagine, i appreciate, honestly, your helping us See. r.
haunting. my great uncle worked for dole so he was on the island. he had sent his wife and daughter back to the states just weeks before.
I heard this story in US from a veteran of Pearl Harbor. I thought he was trying to scare me out of going on an Atlantis sub. This is horrifying. It's just the way it was described to me at an old man's deathbed.
I had no idea and am going to read the article. Why are these Pearl Harbor stories not on the cover..
Well done and THANK YOU
Thank you for remembering this day and also for tell us about these three brave men.
This story just breaks my heart. What a terrible way to die.

I can't go to the link, my God, the story told above will keep me up tonight. I will never, ever, be surprised at how cruel the human race can be to one another.
I consider this to be one of the cruelest ways to die.
Thank you for sharing this. It was awful to find out about, but it had to be told and the story had to be spread. I pray those boys suffered less than we think. I hope people thinking about going to war read this, to truly understand the extent of the sacrifice they might have to make. May these three men rest in peace.
I still await the story of the actions of the 7th Fleet all throughout that area that CAUSED the Japanese to hit that fleet even though they knew full well that they could never defeat the United States in an all-out war. That story was told to me by a Canadian relative who was in Pearl Harbour on business for months before the Japanese attack.

He noted also the great efforts made by the Japanese to avoid any civilian damage on shore. Little was done.

Knowing why this all happened makes the deaths of all - including these three young men - even more of a horror.
I can't even click on the link, Matt. Cruelty and merciless deaths too much to handle just now.
When I was a boy my dad told me about Floyd Collins, the caver who was trapped in a collapse in Kentucky for several days or longer and died before they could get him out. It gave me nightmares for years. Good thing he didn't know about the West Virginia or I'd have needed psychiatric care.
This story was chilling.

I always think of my father on Pearl Harbour Day. It was a day that changed his life. I realize now how young he was...twenty. I grew up hearing the speculation/belief Roosevelt knew it was coming and allowed it to happen to be able to break his campaign promise to stay out of war.
Thank you for posting this, Matt. It is grim but people should know. R
Oh my God. I can't stand to think of their families, of their moms and dads. My dear sweet Lord. What a tragedy. ... I recently heard another wrenching story on NPR, told by a Pearl Harbor survivor. I can't even repeat it here it's so harrowing. You can listen to it here:
this is an incredible story but I feel the news report is a little hard to follow. it seems to state that the ship was under water but that sentries were patrolling nearby, enough to hear knocking. true? was it half submerged?
there are many ways to look at this but I say it shows how wars and their true horrors/brutalities involve coverups. this story has been buried for 60yrs or more. I dont think it served anyone to cover it up. I think we need to face the reality of war, and then maybe there will be less of it. I commend the courage of the soldiers, but lets try to figure out a way to have fewer of them. is that an extremist position? in a simple word, no. it is our military that is at an extreme. at a time in history when we have more than ever in all of recorded history.
in fact I suspect & would argue part of the official coverup is intentional because the public would clamor to RESCUE these guys, and the military honchos probably thought it wasnt WORTH THE TROUBLE.
by the way, as far as historical accuracy, has anyone read all the information that FDR had prior knowledge of the attack & was warned & chose not to pass on that warning?
Read the article. It was an awful way to die and I can hardly imagine it. But their families deserved to know; I'd want to know if it were my loved one. I'd also want to know they died together and had each other until the end. Better to be blown apart on a battlefield or their way? Who knows. We'll never know what their last moments were like or what they'd have chosen. I wonder if the Marines who heard that rapping ever forgot it.
This is the saddest thing I've read in a while. Thanks for bringing it to light.
I found what you wrote disconcerting enough that I need to get my Pollyanna little self to first assimilate this. I'll try to read the story another time. Don’t know if I’ll be able to. I need to get me some big girl pants.
This story (less embellishments) appears on the official USS West Virginia website. I'm with vzn on this; the Honolulu reporter and the relatives of the men may have, for hearfelt reasons, embellished the tale. The bow of the WV was under almost 40-feet of water; more importantly, it was about 400-feet offshore of Ford Island. Most importantly, there was no "quiet dawn" the next day. The welding torches, jackhammers, salvage work went on around the clock for months, a constant din according to those who were there, including a man I knew who served aboad the Vestal, a salvage ship that was moored next to Arizona, about 100 feet astern of WV (Vestal was hit on the 7th, returned to salvage Arizona). The concrete mooring quays of Battleship Row ran in a straight line, but offshore, and they angled away from the island. That's why WV's bow would have been well offshore. Also mystifying about the following quote is why the trapped men were not tapping SOS--as opposed to random taps, not that anyone could hear them in any event.

From the news story: "But they realized the grim truth the next morning, in the quiet dawn. Someone was still alive, trapped deep in the forward hull of the sunken battleship.

Bang. Bang.

The Marines standing guard covered their ears."

Where were the Marines standing guard? At least 400-feet away.

Still, it's a sad and powerful tale. The terror of the doomed men needs no embellishment. I was a reporter, excorted Pearl Harbor survivors there in 2001. Their stories need no embellishing. I can't fathom why newspaper reporters (like the Honolulu reporter) feel the need to juice up their stories at the expense of the truth, or, to just run with a compelling tale without thinking through the logic, without getting more sources.

A fine tribute though, Mr. Proust
Thanks for the accuracy check, Scot. Having been a reporter you probly know the temptation many writers face to jazz up a story a tad, with the rationalization that the story "took on a life of its own." But as you say, the hard facts are horrible enuf without any jazz.