Members Stories




Henry Alfred Sarwine, CFC USN

December 7, 1941 dawned rather cool for Hawaii, but, I thought, after breakfast I may as well clean up and go ashore to wander around. But, shortly before 8 O-clock, the volume of noise of aircraft in the area enticed me to look out the porthole to see what it was all about. There, to my surprise was a plane pulling up from a torpedo run, and the wings had red balls painted on the underside! It's Japanese, I shouted, We're being attacked! My companion chiefs crowded around to see through that same porthole, jamming me tighter into the bulkhead. That plane dropped something, I said. But it was too late. That torpedo hit and my face was thoroughly splashed with fuel oil. Turning around I found I had been deserted. All the curious viewers were long gone, heading for higher ground.

I rushed to topside and from the Air-Castle I saw the flag being raised. Good, I said. We're showing our colors. Then a plane passed over spraying the deck with machine-gun bullets. It looked just like scenes in the movies, as wooden splinters splashed from the teakwood deck.

By then the ship had a very bad list to port. Abandon Ship! was the word announced.

The Starboard Gunwale was quite high, the water surface, way down below. The underside of the ship showed sea growth and large intake openings. Well better slide for life, it would be dangerous to try to walk down. So I sat and slid, hoping to avoid those intake openings. Made it OK. I hit the water with a great splash then headed for Ford Island. On the way, a young man hollered, I can't swim! Hang on, I said, I'm going that way. We made it ok and found a ditch that had been dug for sewer installation. We used that ditch as a trench, to protect us from the bombs that were falling all around us.

My poor ship, the USS Utah, was strictly upside down by that time. People were still walking on her bottom, and we could still hear sounds of from someone trapped inside. From somewhere, metal cutting torches appeared and a hole was cut into the ships bottom, while bombs were still falling.

I left the trench before seeing the results of the torch cutting. Someone had gained access into a magazine on Ford Island, and I was supplied with a 45 automatic and two boxes of ammunition. Let the Japs come, I'll get a few at least!

But everything was calm, where'd they all go?

The world was trigger-happy that night, bullets flying all over for no reason. I didn't get to fire a single shot.

Within the week, I was assigned to the USS New Orleans (CA32). She was a mess, all torn up, undergoing overhaul. We put her back together in short time and back into the main conflict.

Later, in 1942, the New Orleans was badly damaged loosing the entire bow and #1 turret, in another attempt to stop the Tokyo Express from supplying Japanese forces to Guadalcanal. At that time I was transferred to the USS Helena (CL 50).

The Helena was a gallant ship, took part in 13 engagements before the Japanese torpedoes sent her to the bottom on July 5th 1943. She too was trying to stop the Tokyo Express. I was rescued by a US Destroyer, the USS Radford.

Guess the Navy Dept. figured I was a Jinx by that time. They sent me to the Navel Gun Factory in Washington DC for duty. The war ended later, I had been assigned by then to the USS Canberra (CA70). The rest of my navy tour was far less noteworthy, including such ships as the USS Thompson (DMS33), and the USS Yorktown (CVA10).

Story submitted by a descendant If anyone knew Chief Sarwine please contact submitter via e-mail:

Members Stories