J.C. Alton: About a month.
Daniel Rowe: About a month. K. So we're talking...
J.C. Alton: We left October the 1st to go to Hawaii.
Melanie Bailey: In that month, what did you all do? Were you all just training for, preparing for what might happen? Or what were y'all doing in that month before you all left?
J.C. Alton: Well, we were assigned gun mounts. We had training on loading them. After we got over there, we'd leave on Monday, and we'd come in Friday, spend the weekend in port. One section would have the duty. We had four sections on the ship. One would be the duty section. And uh, so, we would do the watches on the ship. Of course, there were a lot of divisions. The admiral would come by, with the speaker, announcing for them to stand at attention. We didn't have to salute him every time we saw him, we'd just salute him one time in the morning. The deck forces, they kind of did the maintenance on top. They'd clean, sweep it down every so often. We had a good deal, all ships didn't do that but ours. We paid a guy to take care of the chow. We had two tables, and he'd bring the food to the table, and we'd sit down just like at home and then get up and leave. And each man, there were twenty of them, would pay him a dollar apiece on payday, which was twice a month. But he made more money there than his regular salary.
Daniel Rowe: You had the weekends off in port?
J.C. Alton: Yeah, if we weren't the duty section.
Daniel Rowe: So, you were in Pearl Harbor for about two months prior to December 7th, correct? Can you walk us through the attack that day on December 7th? What it was like for you?
J.C. Alton: Yeah. Our section was duty section, and I had 4-8 watch in the afternoon. And the only aircraft we had in their pulled out about sundown and left. And I had 4-8 watch, and well I had 4-8 watch the next morning. Well, the PD takes long patrols, but they can fly a long ways. The water was so slick that morning. They were on pontoons. So he tried to take off and he couldn't make it. So he made three of four runs. When it was so slick, it made a vacuum on them pontoons. So they got a PT boat out there to run across. So, they had come out to raise the flag, and I was fixing to get relieved so I could go eat. I hadn't eaten breakfast when it started.
We got three torpedoes and one bomb hit. One torpedo didn't hit the hub, it hit the rudder. They flooded the opposite side to keep it from rolling over like the Oklahoma. We evacuated the ship and went to the Island over to our stations. That's where all the planes landed. We were the closest ones to the island. Maybe from like here to the street is how far we had to go to the island. So we evacuated, then we went back aboard. That was the first wave. We got back aboard. We was sunk, but we was up. We still had some anti-aircraft guns that were still above water. We went aboard and we still thought it was going to roll over. About that time, the second wave come in.
The Nevada was the only one that got in the way. They had come by about that time, so I know it saved some lives on the California because they looked after her. She run in the ground about two or three hundred yards from where we were, to keep it from blocking the channel. Of course it sunk. And we abandoned ship again the second time, went over to the Island. So, they were fighting the fire on the water and the ship, and they finally got the anchor chain around where we tied up, so it stayed upright.
We went back aboard that night. Somebody shot, and when they did, well everybody started shooting. They shot down a couple of planes, didn't kill the pilots. They bailed out. They were mad as a hornet. Then, the next day, West Virginia was tied up out port, and the Maryland was in port. Well the Maryland got one bomb hit, but you couldn't hit it with a torpedo. So they pulled her out there, course they was trying to find places for everybody, so I went aboard the Maryland. And they blew the quay up, took the Tennessee out. It got a bomb hit. The bomb hit the middle gun on the Tennessee, and the shrapnel killed the captain over on the West Virginia.
We came out, I didn't see it, I heard it, when the Arizona blew up. Course I didn't know that was what happened at the time, but it wasn't long before we figured it out. But it was a tanker. Pulled up in there right behind us, between us and the Maryland and the West Virginia. Now early that morning, 'course I didn't hear this until later, a destroyer out there started fighting with a sub, and they sank it. They never could find it until a few years ago. It wasn't where they thought it was, but they finally found it. And that was the first Japanese prisoner of war. It was one of them two-man subs. They didn't have much of a navigation system, because they followed a big one, the mother ship. And they run it up on the beach. So they didn't know where they was going. I stayed on the Maryland until it came back to the states in January to get repairs and put different guns on it. At that time we had 50s and 20 millimeters, but we didn't have no 40 millimeters. It's got 40 millimeters in a quad, that's 4 guns in a quad. Here is a picture of it.
Daniel Rowe: This is the Maryland or the California?
J.C. Alton: No, that's the USS West Virginia, after they redone it. I got transferred to it, and I stayed on it until the end of the war.
Daniel Rowe: You were transferred there in '42?
J.C. Alton: No, it was '43.
Daniel Rowe: Now, I don't want to jump back too far, but I do want to hear a little more about Pearl Harbor.
J.C. Alton: Okay.
Daniel Rowe: When you hear those sirens going off, telling you to get to yours battle stations, what's going through your head? What sort of emotions? Are you so trained that you're just all about your duty? Are you panicking?
J.C. Alton: Oh, no. We just go to our battle stations where we're assigned. And of course, they get down below first. And they said "this is not a drill," so we went to our stations. As far as I was concerned, I didn't expect, nobody expected anything. So until it hit the ship, you know well - anybody that says they weren't scared, well they're just not quite telling the truth. Of course it hits them after it's over more than it did at the time.
The army had put up a radar, and they just missed training on it. And this guy told them that there was a bunch of planes coming in. They said "oh, we've got some big 17s coming in from the States, don't worry about it." He says, "There weren't any 17 planes in this bunch." And they just dismissed it. Of course they was in a different place than I was. They was a few minutes from hitting us whenever that happened. And they shot down some of the 17s because they weren't armed. They just ran them over there where they had bases for them at the time. Yeah. Lot of them, they got burned from the burning on top of the water. And they take em over on the dock and they buried them. Of course every time they talk, someone always adds to or takes away from the numbers of how many was killed, but around 2,600 roughly.
Melanie Bailey: How have your experiences from the war affected you afterward?
J.C. Alton: Well, I've had lots of nightmares and stuff over the years. Those five inch .38s were right there above where we were on the .40s, and it made me hard of hearing. They finally, uh, they told me they'd give me my medicine free and they give me my hearing aids. Well, I'd bought hearing aids from Martin Audiology. Cost me five thousand bucks. I could hear better with them when I first put them in, but then I'd sweat and I couldn't hear as good with them. And my ears got infected. First one thing then another on that account, so I quit wearing them. I told them if, you know, I couldn't wear them. Now I don't know whether if they use another type of material or what it might make a difference. But they told me anytime I wanted to try them to come on up there and they'd try to fit me with some. So, so far I....
Melanie Bailey: So your hearing was affected by combat?
J.C. Alton: Oh yeah. Them five inch right there over my head. Now the sixteen inch, they stuck out quite a ways. They had more of a rumble. They didn't have quite a crack like the five inch did.
Daniel Rowe: So you said you had nightmares for a while. Did you, did those just go away?
J.C. Alton: Not completely. I still have them at times.
Daniel Rowe: Did you just kind of wait them out? Did you just let them go away? Did you seek help? Did the VA provide any help for stuff like that or were there just too many of you guys to...
J.C. Alton: Nah. Too many of them. Well, I took medicine for them a while. [...]