Military Traditions

December 6, 2018 By Jeanne Michael

True Story from the Arizona Memorial

Recently, there were many signs of trouble as the tourist boat landing area at the Arizona Memorial began crumbling away. Then came the announcement that the memorial was closing indefinitely for repairs. It reminded me again of December 7, 1941 — the day the Arizona was bombed and sank—and how that event is connected to my family.

My husband Mike’s dad, Captain W. H. Michael, MC (Medical Corps) USN, was stationed at Pearl Harbor. On the night of December 6, he held a dinner party and one of the guests was Commander Johnson, a doctor on the Arizona. He was newly married, and his wife had just gotten clearance to join him. Until her arrival, he lived on the ship. The party ran late and Commander Johnson was invited to spend the night but said he had a long list of things to do before his bride arrived and that Sunday would be a good day to start so thanks, but he’d better return to the ship. He was killed as he lay sleeping and went down with the ship.

He came from a southern state, which at that time ruled that, with no will, the estate passed to remaining relatives. No will was found and his only blood relatives were a sister and a brother who insisted that, since he hadn’t decided to leave anything to his bride, it was all theirs! The more my father-in-law thought about this, the madder he got. Particularly since he recalled Johnson talking about redoing his will. All officers had a safe in their cabin. Could a new will be there? Of course, there was the problem of getting to it. The Arizona sank in only 30 feet of water so it was not even an ocean dive.

Finally, Captain Michael managed to get the Navy’s permission to send down divers. The will was found and it left everything to his bride. That was quite a blow to the greedy siblings!

During the almost 30 years that we lived in Hawaii, we had lots and lots of company. A trip to the Arizona Memorial is high on all tourists’ to-do lists. You see a big wall as you step into the Memorial upon which is listed the names of all the crewmen who went down with the ship. We always paused, briefly, and thought of CDR Johnson and his siblings who ended up losing what was never theirs.


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