Paul Urdzik remembers.

USS Vestal - AR 4

I had just finished breakfast and had one leg up getting into my center bunk, ready to settle down with the local Sunday newspaper when General Quarters sounded.

Everyone started cussing and grumbling about, "What a hell of time to hold a drill". I headed for the engine room.

At the well deck, someone shouted, "Get back! Here they come, strafing the ship." We ran back into the passageway and about four of us tried to squeeze into a corner behind a water fountain.

As I started back across the well deck, I noticed Lionel Baker, Pharmacist Mate - Second Class, kneeling over and tending to one of the wounded and several other lying about the deck.

With a quick glance to the right, I noticed the Arizona was a mass of flames and one of the AA guns was blasting away. Just about that time a plane was passing by very low and close. I saw the pilot looking over the Arizona, and as he pulled up, I noticed the red ball on the wing. Yes, I could have hit it with a stone if I had one to throw.

The engine room was taking on water due to the bomb hit aft. The bulkheads were bowed, buckling inward and leaking throughout. The ship's Damage Control Department was really on the ball, bracing and shoring up the bulkheads against the main engines to keep them from collapsing. To me, they are the unsung heroes. We owe them many thanks, and I say they saved the lives of everyone in the engine room.

When the Arizona blew up, it lifted and rattled the deck plates, knocking everyone off balance, and the Vestal also did a little bit of a dance.

Because of lost communication with the top side, the Chief Engineer sent a man up to see what was happening. In no time the man returned and said, "Sir they are abandoning ship." To which the Chief Engineer replied, "Let's get the hell out of here."

As we reached the well deck, the top side PA system was announcing "All hands back to your battle stations and prepare to get under way." So, back to the engine room with everyone following the Chief Engineer like a flock of sheep.

What happened, when the Arizona blew up, the Captain and some of the men were blown overboard, and the executive officer gave the order to abandon ship. The Captain came right back on board - water and oil soaked. He ordered everyone back to their stations to get underway. The shaft alleys were flooded and engine crank filled the water sloshing over the deck.

Normal steam pressure for getting under way was 250 pounds. All we could get from the from the fire room was about 50 pounds, because of ruptured lines and leaks throughout the ship due to the bomb hits - one forward and one aft. As it was, the 50 pounds of steam was enough to turn over the main engine and beach the ship off Aiea.(30K .GIF file)

We witnessed all of the activity and commotion going on around the big white house sitting in a pineapple field half way up the hillside form Aiea overlooking the harbor. A German couple was arrested for spying and relaying information to the Japanese. Admiral Nimitz came aboard in February 1942 to present Captain Cassin Young with the Congressional Medal of Honor and also presented Lionel Baker, Pharmacist Mate - Second Class, with the Navy Cross.

Later on, Captain Young left the Vestal to take command of the cruiser, San Francisco, and nine days later, I am sorry to say, he lost his life. As the story goes, our main fleet met the Japanese main fleet one night in a major battle, and it was said that Captain Young took the San Francisco right down through the middle of the Japanese fleet. After the battle, we were sent to look the cruiser over, but were ordered to leave the area because no one knew who was winning at the time. Needless to say, the San Francisco was a sorry looking sight.

On December 6, 1941, John Parker, (F 1/C Fire room) my best friend and who by coincidence enlisted in the Navy the same date as I, (December 7, 1939) two years to the day, were talking about how we were going to celebrate our second anniversary in the service. I told him, "Nothing special, just make the rounds."

Well, later after things settled down, he came up to me with that sly laugh of his and said, "Boy Urdz - they sure gave us some kind of celebration didn't they?"

I can't even begin to put in to words or describe my feelings of the pre-war visits to the islands and of its people. Like watching and listening to the radio program "Hawaii Calls" being broadcast to the states from under the Banyan Tree (Moana Hotel). and also meeting the island's famous Hilo Hattie along the way. It was just another world.

Thank you and Aloha.

Paul P. Urdzik

Paul died October 20, 2003. On May 11, 2004, his ashes were scattered at Pearl Harbor, with full military honors. The ashes were scattered next to the U.S.S. Arizona, a spot where the Vestal was moored at the time of the attack in 1941. Click HERE for pictures of that ceremony

  • Picture of USS Vestal and USS Arizona during the attack.
  • This remarkable photo (84K .GIF file) was taken by one of the Japanese attackers. The Arizona has not yet been fatally hit but near misses may be seen. Oil pours from the wounded USS West Virginia and the USS Oklahoma (top left of picture) has started to capsize.