The men of the U.S.S. Arizona: Seamen, bakers, machinists, musicians

The men of the U.S.S. Arizona: Seamen, bakers, machinists, musicians

Brothers, cousins and lifelong friends died on the U.S.S. Arizona. 

Sons of veterans and sons of immigrants were killed in the attack.

A few of the 1,177 dead sailors and Marines had joined the military to see the world. Many more signed up because jobs were scarce in Depression-era America.

This is the story of some of the men, based mostly on newspaper articles.

Best friends Jesse Herbert Gurley and Harold Eugene Beggs were "country boys from tiny Johnson Co. Illinois,"  Beggs' younger sister, Virginia Beggs Karaker, recalled in 2015. Even at age 93, she wept as she remembered her brother, a young man she called a "sissy" because he was a good boy who didn't drink, smoke or cuss.

"After years of hauling hay by hand and using a horse to plow roads level when it rained -- Harold decided he wanted something else from life," the Courier and Press reported. So in October 1939 Beggs and Gurley went to St. Louis and joined the Navy. Beggs became a fireman and Gurley a storekeeper. They were 20 and 22 when they died.

Clyde Combs, who survived the attack, told the Palm Beach Post in 2001 that when the Japanese bombing began, he was trying to get off the ship.  "...And then, out of the smoke, walks this sailor. So, here he comes and he looks like cooked bacon, his hair all crisp and curly... He sees me and says 'Help me, Combs.' I reach out to take his arm and his skin just comes away in my hand... I thought, 'How'd he know my name?' I sure didn't recognize him. I learned later he was John Criswell, my pal from Indiana. We enlisted back home on the same day. Our service ID numbers were maybe one number apart."

Combs, the son of tenant Indiana farmers, said he'd never been on a train or even seen an airplane before he enlisted in October 1940 at age 19. He died in 2005.

At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, it was common for relatives and friends to serve on the same ship. It's long been documented that 79 brothers were on the Arizona and that 63 died. A father and son, Thomas Augusta Free, 50, and William Thomas Free, 18, also perished. What's less well known is that uncles, nephews and cousins also served and died together.

On the day she was notified by the Navy of her son's death, Rose De Armoun told the Fresno (Calif.) Bee that Donald Edwin De Armoun, and his cousin, Howard Ibbotson, had been inseparable since early boyhood. Ibbotson quit high school a month before graduation in 1939 and joined the Navy.  De Armoun followed a month later. 

Rural Camp County in east Texas, population 10,000 in 1940, lost three of its young men to the war. Cousins Royal Elwell and Weldon Harvey Milligan were killed on the Arizona. A second Elwell brother was rejected by the Army Air Force because he was color blind, his niece, Lisa Elwell Crain, wrote in the Longview (Texas) News-Journal. He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force instead but was shot down over England five months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Many men were sons of veterans. Charles Kramb, a World War I Air Corps veteran and widower, lost his sons John and James on the Arizona. Two months later he was notified that his only other child, Charles Jr., also died serving in the Pacific. The Rochester, N.Y., Episcopal church the family attended dedicated a window to the Kramb brothers in May 1942. The father and his second wife "sat in tearless, rigid silence" during the service, a brief International News Service article reported.

The Kramb brothers enlisted because they were poor and it was the depression -- a motivation for so many of the men. At least three had grown up orphans. Floyd Baxter Jones of Shreveport, Louisiana, was 17 when he enlisted and 20 when he died. He and his brother Harry, also a veteran, signed up because they needed work. Floyd was a mess attendant on the Arizona -- the only job available to a black man. Harry was in the segregated Army. "Floyd knew -- and so did I -- the conditions," Harry told The (Shreveport) Times in 1991. "What we had to do, we did. He didn't expect any big changes to come about in that time."

Edwin Jastrzemski, the youngest of seven children, wrote letters home in Polish to his parents in Michigan, according to research by his great nephew Andy Tessler and published in The Saginaw News. Jastrzemski enlisted in 1939 because he couldn't find another job. His official title was "seaman, enlisted 1st class" and he volunteered as an altar boy on the Arizona. A fellow Catholic, Victor Charles Tambolleo, was born in Minturno, Italy, and as a baby immigrated to America with his parents. The Catholic War Veterans Post in Cumberland, Maryland, was named for him in 1952.

Information about many men who died on the ship is limited to the basic facts -- birth and enlistment dates, home state, next of kin.  Most were too young to have spouses or children or career accomplishments. About a quarter of the 1,177 were teen-agers when they died. They were not blessed with long, full lives, but even now we remember them and honor their sacrifice.

There were 79 brothers on the ship and 63 of them died.

There were 79 brothers on the ship and 63 of them died.

Medallions with the men's names are being installed on the University of Arizona campus this week. A public remembrance ceremony will begin at 3 p.m. Sunday on the mall in front of the Student Union. All of this week True Tucson will tell the story of some of the men who died in the attack at Pearl Harbor.

A Tucson teen, an admiral and the captain of the U.S.S. Arizona

A Tucson teen, an admiral and the captain of the U.S.S. Arizona

Champagne glasses, sharks and other decor bicyclists wear on their helmets

Champagne glasses, sharks and other decor bicyclists wear on their helmets