WWII vet returns to Pearl Harbor 69 years after surprise attack

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 he was there. When the formal peace treaty was signed on September 2, 1945 he was there. When the 69th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the dedication of a new visitors center and museum was held Dec. 7, 2010 he was there. Walden Danielson, 91, of St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, was accompanied by his niece, Ginger Hanson of New London, and nephews Fred Danielson of Shreport, La., and John Danielson of Wenatchee, Washington. He jokingly referred to them as his ‘mafia.’ “I was fortunate enough to have them guard me on the whole trip and make sure I got back.” Danielson, who spent Christmas at his niece’s home in New London, talked about his time in the military and his memories of the attack. Danielson enlisted in the Navy in 1938 and was on board the battleship USS Tennessee when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. “It was a hell of a way to spend a Sunday morning,” he said, “and with the rest of the country, I was caught with my pants down when the attack began (in the bathroom) so I share that in common with the country.” When they sounded the general quarters alarm, the guy sounding the alarm was pretty well shook up and they could hardly recognize what the bugle call was. The next thing that crossed his mind was that it was pretty bad of them to call a drill on a Sunday morning. “But I realized it wasn’t a drill before I got to my battle station, which was in the transmitter room below the armor deck.” Since he was in the transmitter room, the only knowledge he had was what came over the sound power phones. “My buddy was in the conning tower and he was giving us a blow-by-blow description. He said the Oklahoma had just rolled over, but it wasn’t until we secured from general quarters, about two in the afternoon, when I got on top side and saw the results of the attack.” What a way to spend a Sunday, he said. But he wasn’t surprised about the attack, it had been anticipated for a long time. “The only oddity was that this was the first time that all battleships – three divisions, were in Pearl Harbor at the same time.” The day of the attack the West Virginia was tied up alongside of them and was sunk by torpedoes. That pinned the Tennessee against the pier. “We couldn’t move a 16th of an inch in any direction and we were that way until some demolition experts from the states came out and blasted the pier so we could move.” He said The Marilyn was in front of them and was pinned by the Oklahoma when it rolled over. The Arizona was 75 feet behind them and the fire from the Arizona and the oil burning on the surface actually buckled the plates on the side of the Tennessee. It was more than a week later before they got out of there. “We had taken two direct hits. They dropped 1,600 pound shells, armor piercing shells that had fins welded on them so they could act as aerial bombs. One hit the center gun on Turret Three where it goes into the berribet.” He added, “another one actually had my initials on it because it hit the yard arm and kind of glanced off and went down through Turret Three where it broke into pieces and burned.” Danielson said he was lucky the bomb burned rather than exploded. Danielson said it was a stroke of faith that they had changed places. “We were suppose to have been tied up to the West Virginia, and the West Virginia would have been inboard where we were but as we steamed into the harbor, they got out of order and they just changed our mooring. It was just a stroke of faith that Tennessee wasn’t outboard.” Danielson said there was no time to think when the attack started. “You become kind of a fatalist. You realize you have no control over your life at all because other forces are acting and all you can do is accept what’s coming because there was nothing that could be done to alleviate it. We were sitting ducks.” The Nevada was able to get underway, he said, because she was a steam engine. “It takes time to get steam up and be able to move. The only thing that accomplished was they could turn the screws and make that oil and fire move away from the ship.” He said it was fortunate the first class quartermaster was the first one on the bridge and called for steam. Danielson said if they had been positioned anywhere else he wouldn’t be here today. Danielson said he wasn’t scared for his life. “I had no control over my fate and I had that same attitude throughout the war.” He was in Tokyo Bay when they signed the Peace treaty so he saw World War Two from the beginning to the end, from the first day to the last. “I was on an assault cargo ship in Tokyo Bay. We didn’t actually see the ceremony, we just heard it broadcast like everybody else did. It was very moving. They just announced it as McArthur had them sign the peace treaty.” Danielson did go back for the 25th anniversary as well, now the 69th, with the next one to be held in two years in Fredericksburg, Texas. He really enjoyed himself while there and he ended up being dubbed the ‘chick magnet.’ “I never had so many young ladies come up and ask me for my autograph. They also wanted their picture taken with him. “Even three girls from China, so now my picture’s in Peking and other places too.” His wife of 52 years, Dorothy, said she didn’t mind, especially since he had his ‘mafia’ with as protection. That trip was quite something, Danielson said, and on the plane coming back Hanson told the stewardess there was a Pearl Harbor survivor on board. “So when we landed in Minneapolis, the head stewardess announced ‘you have made this trip with a Pearl Harbor survivor’ and the whole plane clapped. The pilot was standing there when they left the plane and shook hands with me.” His nephew, Fred, said the amazing story about Walden is that he is their hero. “He is one of the few that really was there at the beginning of the Pacific War in Pearl Harbor and he stayed in the Pacific all the way through until the signing of the surrender in Japan and Tokyo Harbor. That’s really his story.” It’s unbelievable, he said, that he uncle witnessed the first raising of the flag on Iwo Jima. “A lot people don’t know there was two flag raisings on Iwo Jima – the first one was a small flag that some troops put up and that’s the one he saw. They did the photography of the second bigger flag later on. Walden said when he witnessed the flag raising on Iwo Jima, they were probably six miles at sea from Iwo Jima. “We were watching the activities with binoculars and I did see when the first flag was raised and realize what a morale booster that was when that went up on Mount Suribachi.” That first flag raising wasn’t as dramatic as the one they posed with all the guys straining to raise the flag, he said. “The first flag that went up was just on a straight steel pole. The other one was all staged from one end to the other and the guys that were in that picture had a tough time living their lives out because they were paraded around the country as the heroes of Iwo Jima and they weren’t. All the marines were the heroes on Iwo Jima.” Walden left the Tennessee in May of 1942 and got on a net tender, which is a small tug like ship that handles the submarine nets at the harbor. I went aboard her at 10 p.m. and we sailed at 6 a.m. “The best speed we could make was ten knots under favorable conditions. We went to the Fiji Islands and put in some battleship moorings and when we left there and headed for New Zealand we ran into a typhoon.” They were accompanied by an old merchant tanker, the old SS Illinois, which Walden said had been taken out of a graveyard somewhere and painted with dark grey colors, plus a tuna boat from San Diego that had been taken over by the Navy. “The tuna boat could ride the heavy sea. In that little tug we would freefall from the crest of one wave to the valley of the next, with the ship completely out of the water, and then we’d hit the bottom.” He said he was in the radio shack through the whole thing. “I didn’t want to go down in the compartment because most of the crew were sick and tied in their bunks.” At one time, Walden said he had everything straight with the Lord. “We were on first terms because I never expected to survive that.” Walden said the only thing that led them to survival was the captain who was a retired captain with a commission as an ensign who kept the tug heading into the wind. “If we had ever turned sideways we’d have rolled.” Walden was in radio maintenance while on the ship. “At that time they had radio technicians, guys that were trained as radio techs to repair equipment. That was part of the radioman’s job after second class. So it was just a matter of routine maintenance of equipment and actually no change from the day to day routine.” He said the next time he saw the Tennessee after taking her back to the states was at Iwo Jima. “She was bombarding Mt. Suribachi and it looked to me like she was maybe 300 yards off shore and the 14 inch guns just laid level and salvo after salvo, changing the complexion of Mt. Suribachi. I was on an assault cargo, the USS Yancey.” Walden was Chief Air Traffic Controller at the combined station tower in Fairbanks. “My Navy career cast my whole life career. The training I received in the Navy as just a poor farm boy.” He was Quartermaster of the Navy working on the bridge taking care of navigation and steering. He said each division stands a four hour bridge watch and he was lead helmsman so two hours each shift he steered the 36,000 ton battleship. “We were in the Caribbean in 1939 and here I am steering this Battleship and I thought if the people back home could see me now.” The steering on a battleship is nothing fancy, he said, it’s just like a streetcar, there’s just a lever to move, no big wheel, just a lever. Danielson said he will never forget the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the trip back there with his niece and nephews.

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