Pearl Harbor Attack – An American Sailor’s First Hand Account

At a family reunion one year I sat down and listened to the story of my Uncle Ray. He was there the day of the Pearl Harbor Attack. A Pearl Harbor survivor . I loved hearing his story. He gave me a copy of the write up in the book. The book contained many Pearl Harbor survivors stories. I still have that paper today and since he died in 2008 I’m so glad I do, his story would be lost forever. As I was retyping his memory I remembered him telling me the stories of that day. His eyes lit up as he remembered that day, so proud for serving his country. I hope you enjoy this look back at history.

Hear the story of what it was like to be there the day of the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. My Uncle Ray was serving in the Navy that fateful day and he had a few close calls, but luckily he survived and told me his story.

Raymond Lee Enslsey, USN, USS Pruitt was born May 10, 1922 to Thad Francis and Naomi Dustine Ensley in Austin, Delta Co., Colorado.

Being the next to youngest of eight children (five boys and 3 girls) it appeared to me that his father was in need of any help he could provide for his remaining family in 1940. So, he opted to join the Navy and enlist for 6 years.

Joining the Navy

On August 26, 1940, he entered boot camp at San Diego. After boot camp they boarded the Cruiser USS Cincinnati where they chipped paint all the way to Pearl Harbor.

Upon reaching Pearl Harbor they were dispersed to different ships in harbor. He was assigned to the USS Pruitt (DM-22). She was a four-stacker destroyer built in 1913. She saw service in World War I, decommissioned in 1922, recommissioned in 1937 and converted to a mine layer. Her home port was Pearl Harbor.

Approximately October 1941, they (Mine Division I & II) went in for general overhaul. Number four (4) boiler was to be removed and replaced by a fuel tank. Numbers 1, 2 and 3 stacks were to be shortened to reduce top heaviness. Five-inch surface guns were to be replaced by antiaircraft guns.

The crew was removed to housing at the barracks at the receiving station near the main gate next to Hickam Field.

The week prior to December 7th

During the week prior to December 7, there appeared to be maneuvers of some kind being conducted by their Navy planes from Ford Island Naval Base. He doesn’t recall any Air Force planes participating.

On Saturday, December 6, he had gone ashore and picked up a brand-new set of tailor-made whites he had ordered, they cost him $30 a month and a half wages.

Pearl Harbor Attack

On Sunday morning, December 7, he was getting ready to go ashore and was putting on his neckerchief when they heard what sounded like explosions. They ran out of the barracks and they could see planes everywhere and black smoke rising in the area of Ford Island and general alarms going off everywhere.

The torpedo planes were using Stores Landing channel like a bowling alley to hit battleships tied up along Ford Island. The submarines base was just off this channel.

They had only been watching the horror for a couple minutes when one of the torpedo planes disintegrated into a huge ball of flame. Shortly after that they were picking themselves off the ground and scrambling for cover.

Within seconds a yard workman in a truck drove up and told them to get on, as there was need for personal to man other gun on other ships.

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Joining the Fight

Ensley and one other sailor off the USS Pruitt were put on the USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) which was in dry dock. They took their name, rank, serial number and ship they were off of and assigned them to a five-inch antiaircraft gun on the star board just aft of the superstructure. They were carrying ammunition from an elevator in a passageway amidship. It seemed they had only been there five or six minute when an officer with scrambled eggs on his hat ordered Ensley from the bridge to report to the five-inch gun on the port side.

It wasn’t long after he moved to the port side of the ship. That he remembers they had shot down one Japanese plane. When an armor piercing bomb took out the five inch AA gun on the starboard side. The shipmate who came aboard with him was killed. And he likely would have been killed too if the officer with scrambled eggs on his hat hadn’t ordered him to the other side of the ship. To this day, he can’t remember the name of the shipmate that went with him to the USS Pennsylvania. He was not acquainted with him, as he was in the deck force and he was a fireman.

There were two destroyers in the same dry dock just forward of the USS Pennsylvania. They were the USS Downes and the USS Cassin. Both were destroyed.

He remained aboard the Pennsylvania until approximately five p.m. December 7 whereupon he was instructed to return to his ship.

Miscommunication causes confusion

Upon reaching the quarterdeck of the USS Pruitt he was informed by the O.D. that he had been Killed In Action (KIA) on board the USS Pennsylvania during the morning. And the information has been reported to the Naval Command at Pearl Harbor. A notice of his demise was also sent his parents. He wasn’t the only one who was reported KIA and later found out to be living.

It seems like it was three of four days after the attack the Navy came up with a form they could use to notify our loved ones of their condition. There were several statements relating to your condition and you could check the most closely describing your condition. Then you signed your full name. The Navy did not allow you to write anything else or add any details to the form.  Just check the box and your full signature.

He learned later from his parents the form letter only caused them even more consternation. They didn’t know if it was his signature or not on the form letter because they had never seen him fully sign his full name at any time. You see, from birth, to entry in the Navy, he was known as “Sonny.” It wasn’t until the Navy allowed them to write home. Then he was able to sign as “Sonny” that his parents were convinced he had survived the attack on Pearl Harbor.

This isn’t the first time I have shared about Pearl Harbor. I shared the story of Pearl Harbor through a daughters eyes in 2014. Check out the full post here.

This is Day 27 of 31 Days of Deployment Stories.

If you missed a day you can see the whole series here. Yesterday I shared my last Spouse Spotlight: Your Husband Has Never Deployed Before. Tomorrow I will share another story from World War II. Life in the Navy after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Don’t miss a post. Sign up for my weekly email list here.

4 comments on “Pearl Harbor Attack – An American Sailor’s First Hand Account

    • I was certainly fascinated when I got to sit at his feet and listen to it. I know he loved telling it to people so I know it would make him happy to get to a chance to share in this digital age. Thanks for reading.

    • It was really interesting to hear him share his experience. He could remember so many intimate details of that day. I’m so happy I could share it.

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