The following story was recorded in 1994, from Bill Henderson's book "Escape From The Sea".
For information on Bill's book click HERE

Charles McClelland
Seaman First Class

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.

I was transferred to a hospital near San Francisco, and kept there for two to three months while the doctors reset the leg. The first time they reset it they put a pin in the leg and stretched it, the second time, they put in a stainless steel wire.
While doctors worked on me, the Helena was also being repaired. Within six months, we were both headed to the south Pacific for the invasion of Guadalcanal.

The Final Fight At Kula Gulf

On July 6, 1943, almost eighteen months after Pearl Harbor, we were fighting the "Tokyo Express" in Kula Gulf. My battle station was in the after fire control station where I was the "range keeper operator." After the first torpedo hit, I grabbed my lifejacket hanging on the bulkhead, and was lacing it up when the second one hit. In the excitement I failed to take off the head-phones and laced the jacket over the chest plate of the phone. The third hit knocked me down, and after I picked myself off the deck I managed to get the telephone disentangled. No one had to tell me we were going down. We just knew it. By the time I got to the main deck everyone was going over the side, so I went with them.
There were malted milk balls and canned meat on the raft, but the water in the casks was unfit to drink. I don't think it had ever been changed. As I recall, there were 30 of us on the raft, and we were in the water three days. We were all tired, and each morning there would be empty spaces where somebody was the night before, but I don't know who they were. The natives from Velle Lavella, a Japanese held island rescued us, and after getting us ashore they smuggled us up the mountain at night, there we joined Ensign Bauswine's group. As I remember there were 61 of us, plus the Japanese pilot the natives had captured.

After being rescued from Vella Lavella I returned to the United States. Like many of my shipmates I had contacted malaria during the week on Vella Lavella. I was assigned to the USS Houston, and after a shakedown cruise to South America I returned home and married Agnes. (We celebrated, our 50th wedding anniversary in 1994.)
After a month on the Houston I was transferred to the battleship Missouri, but due to a recurrence of malaria I was detached and assigned shore duty.

To see recent pictures of Charlie, click Here.

Charles McClelland Military Awards

Navy Unit Commendation

Purple Heart Medal

Good Conduct Medal

American Defense Medal

American Campaign Medal

Asiatic Pacific Medal
With Eight (8) Battle Stars

World War II Victory Medal

After the war I worked 30 years as a draftsman for Michigan consolidated, the public utility company that served Michigan with natural gas, and retired in 1979. Agnes and I are active members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, and have made two trips back to Pearl Harbor. We will never forget that fateful day in 1941.

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