Willard (Red) Brashier, Pearl Harbor Survivor

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Battleship Oklahoma

NOTE: Mr. Brashier was serving aboard the Battleship Oklahoma, at Pearl Harbor, on December 7th 1941. There were 79 Marines on board the Oklahoma that day 14 were killed (13 enlisted and 1 officer a 2nd Lt.). Mr. Brashier said when he shed his shoes and clothes he had $1.30 in change in his pocket. He thought he might need it if he got to shore, so he held the change in his hand. When he fell in the water and went under he was afraid the change would keep him under so he let the change loose just before he popped to the surface. Since he had not learned to swim he learned to dog paddle right then and there. The Brashiers were invited and attended the 50th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

At the time of the attack, at 7:55 am, I was preparing to work as a gun striker (cleaning 5 inch 51 guns) on guns that had been fired during the previous week at sea. Due to the annual military inspection we had not been able to clean the guns on Saturday. I had just left the Marine Compartment to go to the casemate where my gun station was located. As I came up to the top of the ladder and stepped on the main deck aft I noticed the signal flag, which meant prepare for colors, was being displayed. Not wanting to salute, because I was in work uniform, I turned to step back down the ladder until the flag was raised. At the same time I noticed some strange planes overhead. I was momentarily confused as to what was going on. A second later my friend, Peyton Ash of Houston, Texas came by. I ask him what was going on. He yelled The Japs are attacking. This brought me out of my confusion and I started to go to my gun station. On the way I ran into the Chief-Master-At-Arms who was herding all the people below decks. I ignored him and continued going to my battle station, which was as a trayman on a 5 inch surface gun. On the way to the gun I ran into my gun captain and asked him what to do. He never answered so I continued on to the casemate where the gun was located. This was a waste of time because the guns would not fire since the firing locks were not on the guns during the cleaning process. In the casemate were two sailors that I did not know. At this time the ship was shuddering from the impact and the explosions from torpedo hits, and starting to capsize. One of the sailors was on his knees saying his prayers, the other, a black man, saw me and asked, Boss which is the best way out of here. I pointed to the casemate opening. He left and I did not know what he did.

At this time I realized that the ship was doomed and that, deserting my battle station I could be court-martialed for this act. I made a split second decision that my best chance to stay alive would be to walk the bottom of the ship as long as I could. This would be better than drowning. I went out of the casemate through the life line and started walking the bottom of the ship as it turned over. I reasoned my way out of this dilemma, knowing that I could not swim; I stripped to my shorts in case I had to try to swim to Ford Island, which was only a few yards away from the ships berth in battleship row. As I was pondering my fate, I slipped and fell into the water. I seemed to stay under the water forever. I finally surfaced and realized that I was about 30 feet from the side of the battleship Maryland which was berthed between the Oklahoma and Ford Island. All this time in my confusion and fear I had not taken this fact into consideration. I gathered my wits about me and reasoned I had better try to get aboard the Maryland. Someone on the ship had thrown a line over the side, tied to the life line on the catwalk of the Maryland. Two sailors were clinging to this line. I dog paddled over and joined them. They were hostile and didn’t want to share it with me. I grabbed hold of the line and argued with them. A whale boat came within a few feet of us. I told the two sailors they had better get in the whale boat because I was not leaving the line. They left and I climbed up the side of the Maryland. As I started to go onboard the ship, two sailors, still in the water, yelled at me asking to help them. They apparently didn’t have the strength to climb the oily line. I looked around and saw what turned out to be a block and tackles secured to the Maryland. In my confusion and near panic I borrowed a pocket knife from a sailor standing by the mast. I cut down 5 or 6 of the block and tackles and threw them over the side of the ship. Reason finally prevailed; I calmed down and began hunting through the ship gear tied to the mast. There I found a small rope that I could use. I held onto one end and threw the other end in to one of the sailors in the water. I retrieved the rope and made a lasso, then pulled them aboard the ship with help of a fellow marine. I went inside the ship where a large number of sailors were just standing around. The gun crew on the boat deck above the compartment where we were, passed word that they needed some ammo for one point one anti aircraft guns.

I asked a sailor standing there where the ammo was stored. He told me to follow him and he would show me. As I turned to follow, I yelled some obscene words at the men just standing around to follow me. They moved in masse to follow my instructions. I carried the 1st box of 1.1 ammo back to the compartment where the racks for ammo were stored. When I arrived where the racks were stored I found them locked in a cabinet. Nearby was an iron on an ironing board that someone had been using when the attack had begun. I handed the iron to a big sailor standing nearby and told him to knock off the lock. He got it on the first swing. This allowed us to get at the rack of clips that we needed. The shell racks were designed to hold eight shells in the slip. We were attempting to load them by hand when someone told me that tables with holding angles and pins used to load the racks were stored overhead in the compartment we were in. We set up the tables and began loading the clips. During part of the next hour this kept me occupied.

I do not remember clearly after that, except that the Japanese attack was over and that I left the Battleship Maryland by walking across the gangplank leading to Ford Island. I went to the bomb shelter there. Here a fellow Marine told me some of our men were at the Ford Island barracks. On the way over to these buildings I was stopped by a sailor with a .03 rifle, who asked if I knew how to use it. I said yes and since he didn’:t know how to use it that I had better keep it. I then went on over to the hanger and found a Marine Corporal that was a member of our ships detachment. We stayed there the rest of the day and on early Monday morning more of our men and an officer arrived at the air station. He took charge and had temporarily attached to the Battleship Maryland where we stayed. He had us transferred to Marine barracks at Pearl Harbor.

First appeared on website 2006 and republished October 11, 2015