Seventeen year old, Charles McClelland
USS Helena CL 50
On liberty in Honolulu, Hawaii summer of 1941.
The Attack on Pearl Harbor
Early in the morning on December 7th, 1941 I was on watch on the USS Helena as the messenger for the Officer of the Deck. One of my duties was to raise the Union Jack on the bow flag staff when the marine color guard raised the colors on the stern flag pole at 8 A. M.
As I was going to the bow I heard an explosion on Ford Island. I looked over and saw a plane coming straight at the Helena and watched in horror as it dropped a torpedo that came through the water straight at us. It was about five minutes eight.
Our ship was tied up at the dock, and tied to our outboard side was a smaller ship, a mine-layer. I thought I was safe, because the mine-layer would take the hit, and I figured I was about as far away as possible, but it wasn't far enough. The concussion from the torpedo threw me up in the air, and when I landed on the deck I broke my leg although, I think "mashed" is a more accurate term.
I was wearing dress whites, and I remember being stretched out on the deck unable to feel anything, or get up. After a while a shipmate picked me up, threw me over his shoulder, and carried me off the ship. That's when I felt the pain. He laid me down on the dock and after the first attack I was taken to the Naval hospital. There were so many other men in the hospital with life-threatening injuries that it was a week before the doctors got around to me.
My brother, "Little Mac" was also on board the Helena and received painful burns from the torpedo explosion. After recovery he was transferred from the Helena's roster to shore duty.
In the meantime, my parents were notified by the Navy department that I was missing in action. I was listed as missing because the sailor who took me off the ship didn't tell anyone. It wasn't until Dec.16 that my parents were informed that I was injured, but safe. When my mother received the first telegram she called my girlfriend, Agnes Brinkman. Agnes later told me that her usually noisy trip to school the next day was very quiet.
Read the Navy telegram to Charlie's Dad. Click HERE.