79 years ago today, an attack was launched on Pearl Harbor and my grandfather was there to witness it.

Robert Clayton Jones, my Grandfather, was born on September 13, 1921, in Lowndes County, MS. While in the Navy, he was stationed on the USS California and based at the U.S. Naval Station in Pearl Harbor. When I was in high school, I was asked to write a story about someone close to me whom I looked up to. I called my Grandfather, got some basic information about his life, and he started reflecting on the events of that day. Looking back now, I consider myself lucky to have been one of the few people gifted with that story.


The USS California, the flagship of the Battle Force, was deployed to Hawaii in 1940 and was based there as tensions rose in the Pacific over the next year.

Hoffman Photo Service
Hoffman Photo Service

In 1941, my Grandfather was aboard the California and had just started shaving when, at approximately 7:55 am, all hell broke loose. Immediately, two torpedoes punched through the hull, ripping the ship wide open. Seawater quickly mixed with the fuel oil, resulting in equipment failures and all power and lights were lost.

An article from the Naval History and Heritage Command stated,

She was later hit by a bomb and near-missed by another, which caused additional flooding.


She was ordered abandoned, and, when the crew returned on board sometime later, it was impossible to control her flooding. Despite strenuous efforts, she slowly settled to the bottom of Pearl Harbor, coming to rest on December 10, 1941.

In total, 102 died aboard the California, and 62 more were wounded. Luckily, R. C. Jones was not one of them. He and approximately 45 fellow crew members ended up in the water and swam for nearly a mile to safety. What happened over the next few months remains a mystery. His parents received a telegram from the Navy stating that he was Missing in Action and if they were to hear from him, tell no one in fear of that information getting back to the enemy. After nearly six months, my grandfather's M.I.A. status was cleared and he went back to work.

In just under two hours, the Japanese had sunk four U.S. battleships (Arizona, California, Oklahoma, and West Virginia). The Nevada was beached and the other three battleships at Pearl Harbor received considerable damage. Of the U.S. aircraft, the Japanese managed to destroy 188 and damage an additional 159.

A total of 2,335 servicemen were killed and 1,143 were wounded. Sixty-eight civilians were also killed and 35 were wounded. Nearly half of the servicemen that were killed were on board the Arizona when it exploded.

Let's take a look at the present day. In my uncle's home sits a shaving mug and brushes. I've seen these for years but had never asked the story behind them. This collection of men's grooming tools belonged to my grandfather. Through some historical research, this may not have been the real mug and aftershave he had with him that day, but it's a reminder of one of the reasons my grandfather was alive to see me and my family grow. Had he been in another part of the ship, the story I tell now might have been different.


Today, I honor my grandfather and everyone involved in that horrific day 79 years ago. Please take time and tell a soldier you know, "Thank you." Had it not been for their bravery and sacrifice, we wouldn't live in the country that we do today.

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