Pearl Harbor Survivors Honored at Local Ceremony

December 14, 2017

By Seth Daniel

Emery Arsenault was just 18 when he was stationed with the Army as a radioman at Pearl Harbor.

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941 – the day that would live in infamy – he was just coming off a 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. shift. As they were wrapping up things at their post, they heard a wild cry from one of the guys still watching the radar.

It was the Japanese, and Arsenault said his life has never been the same every since he heard that cry and then saw the heavily armed planes emerge over the tree line.

“We were just going down to close out our outfit and our guy watching the radar saw the screen just light up,” he said. “The next thing we could see were those jets coming over the tree top level. They had big torpedoes on the wings. They went straight for us. All we had as weapons were rifles and five rounds of ammunition. We put our rifles on the ground and shot all we could at those planes. I don’t know if we hit anything, but it was all we could do. You know the rest of the story.”

The rest of the story is one that the U.S. Navy in the Charlestown Navy Yard and the rest of the country refuses to forget even 76 years later, with Arsenault and fellow survivor Freeman Johnson being honored on the deck of the Cassin Young last Thursday, Dec. 7, on Pearl Harbor Day.

Johnson, who is 97 and now lives on the Cape now, said he was a fireman on the USS St. Louis when the attack on Pearl Harbor happened. He said he was in his bunk and could hear the bombs start to explode.

“You could hear it,” he said. “That’s how I found out.”

Johnson’s task was to immediately get the #4 boiler rebuilt and ready so that the ship could move.

“The ship was being repaired at Pearl Harbor,” he said. “I had to quickly go inside that boiler and put it back together. That was my job that day, and you don’t see much inside a boiler.”

The ceremony was conducted by the National Park Service under the direction of Boston Supt. Michael Creasey – and co-hosted by the U.S. Navy and the Constitution Museum.

As part of the ceremony for the second straight year, Creasey welcomed Cassin Young II – the son of the Navy Yard ship’s namesake. Young II told the story of his father’s bravery at Pearl Harbor, for which he was awarded several commendations. His bravery there and in other parts of the Pacific Theatre – where he eventually died in battle – was the reason the Navy commissioned the ship named after him.

At Pearl Harbor, he commanded the USS Vestal, which was a repair ship that was tethered to the infamous USS Arizona – a ship totally destroyed in the battle.

At one point, Young II said his father was thrown overboard from the Vestal while trying to fire on the enemy planes. While others were abandoning ship, he swam through fiery waters back to the Vestal and ordered everyone to their posts. There, they helped save survivors from the Arizona and steered the Vestal to safety.

“He saw everyone abandoning ship and said, ‘Where the hell are you all going?’” said Young II. “He not only survived the blast and fiery waters of Pearl Harbor, but also he had swum back to his ship. Then he had the crew cut the ship from the Arizona and got it out of there.” Also in attendance at the services were Boston Veterans Agent Giselle Sterling and state Secretary of Veterans Affairs Francisco Urena.