Edwin J. Hill
|"Against all odds, and against the backdrop of total devastation, a lone survivor defied what seemed to be an overwhelming enemy victory. This sight inspired thousands, and was forever etched in the memory of those present."|
- Kermit Bonner, "Final Voyages"
On December 7th, 1941, the United States Navy Pacific Fleet stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii got seriously horsecocked in a massive surprise attack by a fleet of 353 super-pissed Japanese fighter and bomber aircraft. The Empire of Japan, correctly believing that American naval power was a serious threat to their ability to completely donkey-slap the entire Eastern Hemisphere around with their raging kill-boners, launched an utterly balls-out sneak attack on the U.S., seeking to cripple the nine American battleships and three aircraft carriers stationed on the island base.
At the end of "Battleship Row" sat the monolithic vessel with the designation BB-36 – the USS Nevada. With the American carrier fleet fortuitously out at sea when the Japanese bombers rolled into town, she, along with her sister ships, were the prime targets for getting Imperially fucked up by the Axis Powers. At 8:05am, when the first wave of Zeroes streaked across the skies above Hawaii like gasoline-powered turbopropped bats out of hell, a torpedo plane from the Japanese Carrier Chairman Kaga zoomed overhead unexpectedly, releasing a powerful bomb that scored a direct hit on the massive battleship's hull and smashed a gigantic sucking chest wound in the side of the Nevada. Crews rushed to seal off decks and keep the ship from taking on water, but before anybody even knew what the fucking balls was going on, a second wave of Japanese planes ran up and took a dump on Battleship Row.
Another Imperial torpedo splashed down in the water beside Nevada, the explosion sending giant shards of shrapnel careening into the side of the damaged warship, but that bullshit seemed positively uninteresting compared to what happened next – a fucking giant-ass torpedo scored a direct hit to the forward magazine of the ship sitting in the docking berth next to Nevada, the USS Arizona.
The incredible, "this would be awesome if it wasn't happening to my next-door neighbor," action movie-style explosion rocked the entire harbor like a hurricane, the force of the blast knocking many of Nevada's sailors to the deck. At this point, completely surrounded by carnage, explosions, fire, and smoke, the Nevada's commanding officer decided to say, "fuck these assholes." He wasn't going to be a sitting duck for a bunch of jackasses to use for fucking target practice. He was going to make a break for it.
Unfortunately, there was a problem – the ship was tied up to the docks by several heavy-ass fucking ropes.
It was then that the Nevada's Chief Boatswain, Edwin J. Hill, sprung into action. He took a crew of sailors, sprinted from the bridge down to the pier and untethered the ship, probably by karate-chopping through two feet of cordage with a single knife-fisted strike. With all this fucking insane shit going on around him, things exploding, people screaming, and Zeroes strafing the ground with machine guns, Hill unhooked the ropes and watched the Nevada slowly begin to pull away from the docks on her mad dash to freedom.
But Chief Edwin Hill wasn't the sort of motherfucker who was going to let his men go to war without him. As the Nevada pulled out of her berth, Hill sprinted across the dock, swan-dived into the waters of Pearl Harbor, and swam like he had never swam before. He reached the ship, pulled himself on board, and got right back to manning his post.
Thanks largely to Hill's quick actions, the USS Nevada was the only battleship to pull away from the dock during the entire Pearl Harbor raid. With every other battleship in the Pacific Fleet burning, listing, or taking on water, she was going to make a fucking run for it. The sailors, Marines, and civilian personnel who saw this valiant ship steaming towards the open water were inspired by the courage of these brave crewmen, her balls-out gambit to escape the utter devastation surrounding her serving as a slight glimmer of hope among a day of tragedy, infamy, and suck.
Nevada, seen here looking pretty fucked up.
With Nevada clear of her berth and charging towards the sea, the Japanese intensified their attacks on the severely-jacked-up warship. Another wave of 23 Japanese bombers ominously took up positions for their run, as the anti-aircraft weapons on the deck barked like pissed-off German Shepherds threatening a mailman made entirely out of beef. Some of the AA guns found their mark, but there were simply too many bombers – explosions rippled across the bow as several torpedoes struck the wounded warship. Amidst the wreckage strewn across the harbor, the Nevada, burning and taking on water, continued limping towards freedom.
It was the third wave of Vals that knocked Nevada out on her feet. Their strafing run cockpunched the forecastle and the rear tripod mast, killed hundreds of sailors, and ignited fires in the gun casemate. This is a bad place for fires. Nevada's commander decided the only way to save the ship was to beach her. He ordered the ship to get as close as it could to the shore and attempt to drop anchor.
Edwin J. Hill was there once again. He had been troubleshooting the countless issues on the deck during Nevada's valiant escape attempt, desperately trying to manage his crew despite all the sucktastic fucking destruction and death around him, and now the ship depended on his expertise yet again. He quickly ran to his station, helped get the ship into position, and personally dropped the anchor in a way that would be most advantageous for the ship to, you know, not fucking sink to the bottom of Pearl Harbor.
Chief Hill didn't survive the battle – he was hit by a bomb almost immediately after getting the anchor deployed – but his mission was ultimately a success. Nevada had survived to seek bloody, murderous revenge another day. Hill was posthumously honored as one of fourteen Medal of Honor winners, all of whom displayed unquestionable courage during the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor.
The final death toll at Pearl Harbor was pretty fucking mind-blowing – the United States suffered 2,403 dead and 1,178 wounded, while Japan lost like two guys to heat exhaustion or something. 118 American planes were destroyed, many more were damaged, and the mighty Battleships Oklahoma, West Virginia, Arizona, and California were either sunk or irreparably damaged. Of course, we all know how the tale ends – America got completely pissed of like out of their minds crazy, mobilized, re-built, stomped through the Pacific one island at a time, crippled the Imperial Fleet at Midway, and ultimately exacted some Texas-sized vengeance on the Japanese Empire.
But that's not what this story is about. It's about Chief Edwin J. Hill, a man whose actions on this day were not only inspirational to the demoralized men and women stationed on the doomed Hawaiian naval base, but had even farther-reaching implications for the war as a whole. You see, partly because of his insanely brave actions on December 7th, the USS Nevada survived to be one of just three Battleships stationed at the Harbor that lived to fight. She participated in seven major military engagements during World War II, ranging from Okinawa to Western Europe, and holds the honored distinction of being the first Allied warship to fire on the coastline during the D-Day operation. Her constant bombardment in the hours leading up to the Normandy Campaign - pounding artillery positions, busting through walls, and detonating Nazi soldiers like giant man-sized beef grenades - helped soften up Utah Beach for the Allied invasion of Germany, and jump-started the battle that would turn the tide of the War in Europe.
|"What these men saw was the Nevada wreathed in clouds of her own amber smoke, uprooting gun emplacements, scattering pillboxes, and smashing tank and troop concentrations, but what you, as the only newspaperman aboard this American battleship in this invasion, saw was men rather than a machine that did all of this."|
- W.C. Heinz, When We Were One
Bonner, Kermit. Final Voyages. Turner Publishing, 1997.
Cressman, Robert. The Official Chronology of the US Navy in World War II Naval Institute, 2000.
Goldstein, Donald M. The Way It Was. Brassey's, 2001.
Heinz, W.C. When We Were One. Basic Books, 2003.
Smith, Carl. Pearl Harbor 1941. Osprey, 2001.
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