Carl Carson: World War II

Survivor, USS Arizona

We were told the Germans might use poison gas.

Excerpted from interviews with Carl Carson, taken for the National Geographic program, Pearl Harbor: Legacy of Attack, on the National Geographic Channel.

"I need to tell this, so that young people will understand…I lost a lot of good, dear friends over there. .. it’s just awful hard to even think about them. And almost lost my own life…They were really my family. I was just a young kid, and it...was hard to lose all of those people. It’s hard, hard for people to realize... what it does… "

Well, I was out on deck doing the morning chores, which you did every morning… all of a sudden, this plane come along, and [I] didn’t pay much attention to it; because planes were landing at Ford Island all the time. And all of a sudden, the chips started flying all around me and the plane – it was strafing me…They went between the ship and Ford Island, and I could look up and I could see the meatball on the wings and I could see the pilot sitting up there…I ran forward and tried to get under cover. And the officer of the deck, which was one of my division officers, ordered me back out to close the hatches on the thing…and then another came around about the same direction and strafed us. But I don’t think anybody that was out there working at the time got hit.

…I went forward and went inside the ship, and then started back to my battle station and a bomb went off. I learned later it was back about turret number 4 – about where I’d been working about 10, 15-minutes before. And evidently it knocked me out, ruptured both my lungs…And all the lights went out…I don’t know how long I laid there. But when I woke up, I picked up a flashlight…and started down, into my battle station…They wouldn’t let me in the door-the water tight door which you’re not supposed to open in battle conditions-but I managed. It seemed like it was about 20 minutes…and I finally outlasted the guy on the other side.

And when I got into the turret, it was totally dark in there except the flashlight. And one of my division officers...said, “boy you’re a good boy Carson.” And he said that’s exactly what we needed. And it was, it was no panic down there or anything. But there was smoke and water knee deep. ...and the senior division officer…told us to all come out on deck & help…fighting fire & so forth…but there was nothing we could do. The ship was a total loss and the commander…said well we just as well abandon ship. But before I did, I run into a friend of mine…he was crying and, and asking me for help. And I looked at him in horror. And the skin on his face & his arms and everything was just hanging like, like a mask or something. And I took hold of his arm. Skin all came off in my hand. And there, there was just nothing in this world I could do for that boy. And that has bothered me all my life…But he died. He did die later.

Well, they gave the word “abandon ship” and we just practically stepped off on the quarter deck into the water...I didn’t know how bad I was hurt. And I got out there about 10 feet and I guess I must have passed out. (I) went down in the water and everything was just as peaceful and nice, that it would have been so easy to just let go. And I saw this bright light and something made me come to. And so I got back up to the surface of the water and…the oil was a fire all around…the fire was approaching me, wasn’t but two feet from me and he reached down and pulled me up out of the water. And that man saved my life. And a motor launch came along and I either jumped or fell into the motor launch…And they took me over to Ford Island. (I) walked down to the barracks with the rest of the crew…I guess I must have passed out because my…friends and shipmates took me over to the sick bay at Ford Island…later there was a dead shell hit right in the center of the sick bay, and it kind of brought me to and I looked over. Another shipmate[was] laying across from me in I guess the bulk head and he was holding his intestines in with his hands. And he looked up at me, and he said… “war sure is hell isn’t it, shipmate.” And I said, “yah it is.” And I wasn’t bleeding anywhere so I got up and walked out of there.

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