Frank John Zwolinski
Official Navy Photo, c. 1940/41

Just another sunny day in Paradise!


"A Day that will live in Infamy"
I was there!


..By Frank John Zwolinski as told to ..his son Frank John Zwolinski Jr.

USS USS Raleigh (CL 7)
Image courtesy NavSource Online

Sunday, December 7, 1941: I was on shore leave from my ship the USS Raleigh, stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A group of us guys had rented a little cottage in Pearl and we spent the night playing poker and drinking. Very early in the morning I had gone out and gotten some cheese and crackers for our breakfast. It was quiet and peaceful and beautiful as always in that tropical paradise.

We were sitting around eating and barely functioning cognitively when some guy came in and said, "You guys in the Navy?" That was pretty obvious. Although most of us were sitting in our skivvies and I was wearing civilian clothes, we had whites hanging on the wall. We said sure we are and he said, "You better get back to base - the Japanese are attacking!" We didn't believe him. We could hear the airplanes, but that wasn't unusual, you always hear airplanes. You could hear bombs, but we thought it was the Coast Guard running artillery practice. They would fly every Sunday. The Navy didn't go to sea on Sundays so it wouldn't interfere with their practice. Well, the guy kept talking and talking and it finally convinced some of us. I guess it convinced me because I went outside and looked up and there were the airplanes, flying pretty close, with red meatballs on their wings. Now we believed.

We packed up our gear quickly and headed over to the YMCA where my uniform was stowed in a locker. When we arrived there we knew something was wrong because there wasn't anybody there and on a Sunday morning that was probably the most popular place on the island. Usually there was a mob of guys there. I went in and changed clothes. The other two guys already had their uniforms on and when I came out they had disappeared. I don't know where they went to. I knew something was going on and I had to get back to my ship as fast as I could. There was a bus outside waiting and I still remember I had to pay a quarter to get back to base. Good thing I had change.

There were four lanes of traffic out to Pearl Harbor, with two lanes in each direction. The military had taken over all four lanes, with three lanes directed to Pearl Harbor, Hickam Air Field, and the other bases, and the last lane was for pilots trying to get back to their airplanes. They didn't know there weren't any planes left to get back to.

When the bus reached the main gate the guards wouldn't let the bus in. They were being very cautious -- finally. I was directed to get out and be identified, then sent into a receiving station on base. All kinds of people from all ships and stations were there. We could see columns of smoke from the distance and we knew that was battleship row and something was going on. I'm not exactly sure what I saw or heard. I was a second class signalman in those days with not that much experience. I got a cup of coffee and waited, still unsure of what was really happening.

They lined us up and asked for volunteers to help put out fires. The first 20 of us in line were automatically "volunteered", loaded into a truck, and taken to dry-dock. We were told two destroyers, USS Cassin and USS Downes, had been berthed together and both were hit by bombs and on fire. The truck let us off on the repair pier and we're jogging down the wide road where large ship cranes go. I didn't know any of

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Looking across Pearl
Image courtesy

the fellows I was running with. Suddenly I heard an airplane close by and machine gun fire. I just put the plane noise and the machine gun noise together and it scared the pants off me! I didn't know if the plane was diving, climbing, or coming at me. I didn't see who was firing. I didn't know if the plane was firing the machine gun or if it was coming from one of our ships. I just ran like hell. I found a shed with a sheet metal roof and dove under it. I was dumb enough to think I would be safe there. When everything looked quiet I looked around and found two guys from my ship had sought cover under the same shed. All three of us looked across the harbor and could see the USS Raleigh was still upright and looked okay, so we figured we've got to get back to the ship one way or another, even if we had to steal a boat! There wasn't any question now what was going on. We could see battleship row and every battleship looked either sunk or hit except for the Nevada. I saw the Arizona smoking like a forest fire, only blacker.

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USS Helena
Image courtesy NavSource Online

We headed towards the dry-dock, looking for any boats we might see along the way. The further down we went, the better the Raleigh looked: no smoke coming from her, and we felt flooded with relief. We saw the USS Oglala, an old mine-layer, one of the oldest ships in the Navy. It was laying on its side. It had been outboard of the USS Helena, which was one of our better cruisers. The Japanese shot torpedoes under the Oglala and the missile exploded against the USS Helena and flooded a large part of it's engine room. The pressure waves from the detonation ruptured the Oglala's hull. Because she was so old the plates just gave way and she capsized two hours later. The Helena was able to get away and put to sea.
Next to it was an admiral on the USS Argonne and he grabbed us and told us to get rid of all the loose stuff on the pier, stuff that could be hit and burned by bomb attacks. We helped clear the dock and then started heading back up the piers still hoping for a boat going by. One of the motor launches from the battleship came by and asked if we wanted any help. We all said we wanted to get to the Raleigh and he agreed to give us a ride. All we could think of was going back to our ship; that was our home. We had to go perpendicular to where we were and go around the left end of Ford Island, the south end. As we cut around we began to see the Raleigh's bow head-on and she's not straight up like we thought, but leaning over about 30 degrees and ships aren't suppose to do that. We knew something was wrong, but didn't know what. We still didn't see any smoke or fire.

All we thought of was getting back to the Raleigh and joining the fight. We didn't know it, but the attack was over and the Japanese had left. Right behind the Raleigh we saw the USS Utah, an old beat-up battleship used as a target ship. It had been hit by one torpedo, rolled over, and just kept on going, 85 bodies still in that ship. We came alongside the Raleigh and just stepped from the launch into the ship it was so low in the water. Of course I went to the bridge first, because that's where people are suppose to be during the battle stations. We couldn't get any radio station that wasn't a jumbled mess. We knew the Japanese had attacked us, but nobody really knew what was going on. Not out there.

I'm convinced that Franklin Roosevelt knew we were going to be attacked, or if he didn't' know he had a real suspicion. I think he wanted us to get into the war so we could be on the side of the British. Because there was a real strong group in the North East that wanted to go in on the side of the Germans, neo-Nazis, which was an organization of American Germans. There were a lot of Congressmen who wanted to be on the side of Germany.

To get back to my story, the first two Japanese bombers in the attack hit the Utah. The third pilot probably saw the Utah rolling over and hit the Raleigh instead. The Japanese pilots had been ordered to go for the big targets like the destroyers and aircraft carriers and skip the small targets like the light cruisers. Apparently the enemy planes expected to find the Lexington and Enterprise in these berths and when they weren't there they fired on the Utah and Raleigh instead. The airplane torpedo had struck the #2 fire room on the Raleigh, flooding it, then the #1 fire room and the forward engine room was completely flooded. The #3 fire room was the steaming fire room, but all the fires were put out by water and oil.

The crew had immediately gone to battle stations and it was thought the ship would capsize, but the order was given for all men not on the guns to jettison all topside weight and put both planes in the water. The

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The Light Cruiser USS Raleigh fights to stay afloat. Had she been at sea she would have been lost from the torpedo damage.
Image courtesy

planes were hoisted out by hand power alone. Both torpedo tubes, both catapults, and the steel cargo boom were all disconnected and jettisoned by hand power. Both anchors were let go.

Then the second wave hit and there were many near misses falling about the ship and only one bomb hit. The bomb had come down through the deck over head of the carpentry shop, through the bulkhead of the carpentry shop, through the deck of the garbage deck, through the living compartment where my locker was, into the shaft alley, then through the bottom of the hull and then blew up. It passed very close to two large tanks containing 3,000 gallons of high-test aviation gasoline. It didn't explode in the ship because it was an armor piercer and they're built to go through steel for a long ways. The left a great big hole forward and aft and it filled with water and oil. Ironically, the bomb was made from one of our old projectiles we'd sold as scrap metal. Water came through an eight-inch hole pretty fast. It would flood on one level on one side and then on the other side. The ship was flip flopping back and forth, with oil coming in. She sunk down by the stern, sinking down level with her after-deck.

The crew had immediately gone to battle stations and later in the battle report was credited with five planes shot down. After the attack and during the night of December 7th the ship would continue to list from side to side.

Crew was very busy, not knowing what was going to happen next and continually working to control the ship's balance. People were still at battle stations all the time until late in the night, with some minor chances of getting sleep a few people at a time. I slept on the bridge for three days. I couldn't sleep in my bunk because it was full of oil. We had to man all the guns, even though they were outdated and had to be hand loaded. The foremost gun was 160- feet in the air and ammunition had to be carried up a vertical ladder by hand.

Now our ship stability wasn't bad, but the bomb caused oil and salt water to come into the shaft alley. While everyone else was still manning the guns, our first lieutenant, Fritz Kline, and his repair parties put extra lines out to these keys to kind of tie us tight, so we'd quit this flip flopping back and forth. They also counter-flooded.

See, damage control in those days was not an exact science. People knew certain things about ships: about what would happen when heavy winds hit them or heavy seas or ice and things like that. But they didn't' have the expertise that damage control has now. Damage control on a carrier, for instance, is one of the most import jobs on the ship. It's tremendous. You've got a monster of 3,000 or 4,000 compartments, you've got hundreds of thousands of feet of cable wire, you've got a couple thousand doors, and you've got all those damn airplanes up there with aviation fuel tanks. By god, oxygen systems that will burn and you've got all these other gases that they use for aircraft of different types or for cleaning or whatever. We lost a lot of ships through accidents, but if you can keep the ship afloat for an

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USS Copahee (CVE 12)

Escort (Jeep) carrier of the Bogue class
Image courtesy

hour you ought to keep the ship afloat forever. That was our theory and it's true, but depends on the type of ship. Some of those little carriers we threw together with tin cans. The jeep carriers that we converted from merchant ships weren't very well built. They were like some of those damn merchant ships Kaiser was throwing together, one a day! If you make a ship one a day some of the welding is lousy. The Navy ships usually were pretty good because we had the professional engineers watching all of the steps on these jobs. Hell, there were errors in design and there were errors in workmanship and there were always mistakes that people made in the heat of the battle.

You get a torpedo on your ship and the first thing a person is going to think of is to get safe himself. But the first thing you've got to think

about is what the hell is my job, what have I got to do. You're trained so you should automatically do it. That's why we train people. Sometimes they don't do it. Sometimes you have new men that haven't been trained enough. Sometimes they just panic.

Ever so often in those early days after the attack somebody would test fire a gun (they'd put guns all over the place by then) and always somebody had itchy fingers. Half the time after one shot, everybody else would fire. We had four airplanes coming in from our carriers at sea after dark and all it took was one machine gun and everybody started shooting and shot down all four of our own planes. It was dark and you couldn't really tell whose planes they were. Either they were test firing a gun or somebody got scared. One of the four pilots got out alive, but the others were all killed. This is what fright does to you. We were in this condition for weeks, but there were no more attacks.

Of course we had worries about midget submarines being in the harbor. One of the destroyers sank a submarine in the harbor and couple more subs were sunk outside the harbor that didn't get through the nets. The anti-submarine nets were made of steel cables and strung across the channel, maybe 100 yards. They did a pretty good job.

The USS Utah was so old it wasn't worth trying to keep it afloat. It was the oldest battleship we had. Probably one of the last Japanese planes flying in was looking for the carriers that should have been berthed behind the Utah but hadn't come in. I don't know, maybe somebody told them not to come in. Anyway, one of the planes that had been designated to go after a carrier was the one that hit us and

Type A Ko-hyoteki-class submarine
Five of these boats participated in the Pearl Harbor attack, with two actually making it into the harbor.
they tell me that another one dropped a torpedo that went between us and the Detroit. This guy was a pretty lousy shot or a good one as the case may be to hit that little 50-foot section in between the two ships. Another one hit the Utah and the Utah just bounced up against those keys, that's what those concrete things are called, and started rolling back and never stopped. It was so open inside that she just flooded, progressively flooded, fore and aft. The ship had all that weight in it and she just kept going over. And a lot of the crew were up on the deck trying to make up their mind where to jump, you know. One of our guys in the repair shack saw a young officer running along the rail pushing these guys in to get them out of there. People are in a state of shock and they don't know what to do. He was pushing them in and just as he got the last guy in one of these big timbers slid, hit him, and killed him right on the spot.

A crew was sent over to the capsized Utah on Monday to cut out any men in the hull. Big ships have an inner deck around the hull that's way down under the water that's usually empty. It doesn't even have fuel oil. They call them the double bottoms. This guy was the ship engineer and he couldn't get out of the ship, but he was down there with some oxygen so was able to work his way into the double bottoms. I guess he found a wretch. We heard these tappings in there and they got torches and cut it open. They could tap and he could answer and they figured out where he was. He was in pretty bad shape. .

We pulled a couple of bodies out two or three days later that came floating out of the ship. I don't know where they were in the ship. They looked pretty horrible, I'll tell you. Some were in their underwear, which looked alright, but their arms were swollen up, their legs were swollen up, and their face and neck was swollen. It kind of made you ill.
We pulled a couple of bodies out two or three days later . . . They looked pretty horrible, I'll tell you.

We still didn't know if the war was over or whether we were going to keep fighting or what. Hell, we didn't know anything really, most people. And periodically some jerk on a machine gun somewhere would test fire it and if one guy test fired somebody else had to test fire his and by god, soon you have machine guns going off all over. Course you can't blame them. These guys were pretty nervous and scared.

It took about three days to pump out the water and oil from our ship. I finally got to my locker and saw my blues looking all shiny like new. I pulled them out and they were covered with oil. Everything was covered. I rescued a ten dollar bill and two ones soaked in oil. I probably should have kept them, but I washed the bills as best I could and later took them to the bank and cashed them in.

Later we got pontoons along side and stabilized the ship. Then they sent divers to patch the bomb hole. The couldn't do anything with the torpedo hole, it was just too big. Before Christmas they got the Pennsylvania out of dry dock and the Downes. They put us in place of the Pennsylvania and took the pontoons off and set us down on blocks and pumped us dry. It was the third Christmas in a row we had spent in the same spot.

I didn't get to shore for three weeks. My mom didn't know if I was alive or dead, but finally I got a message to her. By then the Navy had started censorship. They had to read everyone's letters to make sure we didn't tell where we were, where we were going, or what we were doing. But at least they knew I was alive.

In February of 1942 we left Pearl Harbor and sailed to Mare Island in Vallejo, California, for repairs. We had to wait four months for directions from Washington, which is longer than it should have been, but in one way I was lucky. It gave me the chance to get back home and get married. My four year enlistment was up and they weren't letting anybody go so I extended for two years which gave me a nice piece of travel money. Agnes and I married in Penn Yan, NY, in May. We drove across the country as a honeymoon and settled in San Francisco where Agnes settled in to wait again. I went back to the war.

Frank's Photo Album

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Frank visits with his parents, Frank Lawrence Zwolinski and Lillian (Cornish) Zwolinski
at their home on Lawrence St., in Penn Yan, NY as a Second Class, Seaman, Signalman, c. 1941.
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Frank with Betty Boop, c. 1941
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"Navy Boys:" in San Francisco, c. 1942. L to R, Gene Priest, Buddy Gentry and Frank John Zwolinski, all served on the USS Raleigh (CL-7)
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Frank in Penn Yan, NY as a Second Class, Seaman, Signalman, c. 1941
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Company 17, Newport, RI Training Center, 1938
Frank John Zwolinski is in the second row behind the Officer
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The 'Signalman Gang' on the USS Raleigh (CL-7) 1944. Frank is in the back row, 2nd from the right.
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