Pearl Harbor long ago, but never forgotten

The sneak attack on Pearl Harbor 67 years ago today claimed the scion of a Unaweep Canyon ranching family.

A survivor of the attack later moved to Grand Junction, where he once worked as a planning director and now is retired.

The survivor, Don Brown, and a relative of the Grand Valley’s first casualty, James Edward “Jimmy” Massey, don’t dwell on the attack of that day, but they can’t quite escape it, either.

“I never think about it, never,” Brown said. “What good is that going to do?”

Dean Massey, regional president of Wells Fargo Bank of Western Colorado, said the life and untimely death of his father’s cousin is “a family legend.”

Jimmy Massey was aboard the seaplane tender USS Curtiss that morning and, his family learned long afterward, died from the concussion of a bomb that struck the Curtiss.

“The thing I will always remember on the Massey Ranch was a corner in the living room that had on display all of Jimmy’s medals,” Dean Massey said.

No memorabilia is on display at Brown’s Orchard Mesa home, but when bidden, Brown has a copy of “Day of Infamy,” a book about the attack in which his experience gets a mention.

Of the actual day, Brown has few, but stark, memories.

He recalls walking around his ship, the battlewagon USS West Virginia, atop the armor plating.

The plating was solid steel, about 18 inches thick, more than wide enough for a sailor to walk comfortably atop it, Brown recalled.

The West Virginia steamed into Pearl Harbor on Dec. 6 with the crew at battle stations. The state of combat readiness was dropped when the West Virginia got into the harbor, he said.

The following morning, he was smoking a cigarette three decks down when he heard an explosion, and the crew again was called to battle stations.

“I don’t know why we knew that it was the Japs, but we did,” he said.

It was his job to coordinate the ammunition supply to one of the 5-inch guns above, but the phone hookup he was to use was dead.

As torpedoes struck the ship, the lights went out, and the order was given to abandon ship.

Everyone in his compartment raced to a single hatch, and two crewmen were trampled to death there, he said.

Brown made his way forward to another hatch and climbed to the second deck, but was prevented from going topside because Japanese aircraft were strafing the ship.

Brown noticed open portholes and closed them, taking a peek outside as he went along.

“I saw nothing” through the portholes, he said.

His last recollection aboard the West Virginia was that it was struck by another bomb. His next recollection was from a bunk in the hospital ship USS Solace.

The West Virginia settled evenly on its keel and was later raised up from the seabed and rebuilt.

Brown’s family knew the West Virginia was sunk but didn’t know his fate until the day after Christmas that year, when his letter reached them.

Massey’s family received a telegram Dec. 12.

The commissary at the Grand Junction Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center is named for Jimmy Massey.

His father, who had encouraged Jimmy to enlist, never recovered.

“For as long as I knew my great-uncle,” Dean Massey said, “I never heard him mention Jimmy’s name to anyone.”


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