"Charter members of America's
"WE MET IN THE GUTTER"
Our affections started more than 57 years ago.
I enlisted in the Navy at age 16, had duty on a Destroyer the first year.
On September 9, 1940 we formally transferred the ship to British consigners. My
picture was in Life Magazine September 23, 1940 teaching the British how to fire
At age 17 1 was transferred to a Battleship on the West Coast, Port of
Long Beach. On New Year's Eve, 1940, my shipmate Johnson and I received liberty
to go ashore on a 48-hour pass. We rode a trolley car from Long Beach to Los
Angeles and got off near 7th and Broadway. 7th Street being closed to traffic,
we joined a huge walking party going West on 7th. A few hours passed and too
many drinks and my shipmate kinda' passed out in the street along the curb. (We
used to call it the gutter). Three young Samaritans stopped to help me. Being
near a cafe, the young man got strong coffee and with the help of his two young
lady companions we managed to get him on his feet and soon he was in shape to
send back to the ship. I continued to walk with the three.
At midnight, bells, whistles, firecrackers and noisemakers filled the air.
Of course being a sailor I had to get a small kiss from Marie. Before saying
goodnight I got the most important phone number of my life. The next day, New
Years Day, our picture appeared on the front page of L. A. Times and the
headline stated, "even the Navy gets into the New Years spirit". I
called Marie and took a taxi to her residence and met the family. Her mother had
prepared a large Italian dinner and her father was proud of his homemade wine of
five barrels in the cellar.
Our ship was in and out of port for a few months. Marie and I were walking
on Pine Street passing windows and suddenly stopped by a jewelry store; she
remembers the very day, September 19, 194 1. We noticed the beautiful rings
displayed. We decided to get engaged and entered and purchased two rings on time
payments. Without notice our ship left for the South Pacific to engage in
exercises in and out of Pearl Harbor.
I was on top deck at 7:55 a.m. December 7, 1941 when I saw Japanese
bombers roar out of the overcast sky. Being a First Class gun pointer, I raced
to my battle station gun Number 9 even before general quarters sounded. We were
one of the first ships to return fire. A short time later into battle our gun
ran out of ammunition. I left my crew at the gun to get more shells and as I was
returning a bomb struck my gun wiping out the entire crew. The planes severely
strafed the ship and surrounding docks.
Being the Flagship of the fleet the Japanese reported the Pennsylvania had
been sunk. Hearing this news, Marie pictured the worst. Near Christmas we were
issued a postcard to be mailed with small squares to check of wounded or not
We got patched up enough to return to Hunter Point, San Francisco. On
arrival I called Marie. She promptly told her parents she was going to San
Francisco to get married. Her old fashioned Italian parents tried in vain to
keep her home. We were married January 10, 1942.
In a couple of months and with new guns we were ready to leave this port.
We served in a seven-battleship task force; we participated in many major battle
campaigns from the far North Aleutian Islands to the South Pacific.
Just before the end of the war a Japanese plane launched a torpedo that
struck our ship causing extensive damage.
From the first action at Pearl Harbor to the end of World War II the
Pennsylvania steamed almost 150,000 miles and fired more ammunition than any
other ship in history. She was the only Battleship to take part in every
amphibious combat operation in the Pacific.
Although hit at Pearl Harbor and again at the end of the war, the
"Pennsy" had a career between those disasters so distinguished it
would make any man proud to number himself a member of her crew.
My experience at Pearl Harbor and through World War II makes me more aware
and more appreciative of my freedom and my wonderful country. Each time I see
our flag and hear "God Bless America" my heart swells with pride.
We now have two sons and three grandchildren. I was honored to carry the
Olympic Torch 1996 on Pacific Coast Highway, Capistrano Beach, California.
The young Samaritan who helped with Johnson is my brother-in-law and the
other young lady is Marie's sister. They also were married later in the year
Les & Marie Blair
It has taken me a long time to get this on the
site and I do apologize to them for the delay.
Les and Marie have sent me many articles about their life together and it is indeed impressive. I first met them at the Tucson reunion where they had a enlarged picture of the two of them in Navy Blues that was sitting in the hospitality center. I couldn't help noticing that these two were inseparable, definitely soul mates. Les, among his many other tasks, gives lectures to students about his experiences and shares his memorabilia. I have read several newspaper articles about the work that he does and my hat is off to this "Great American".