USS Arizona Survivor Recalls Pearl Harbor Attackby Nathan Schaeffer, Public Affairs Specialist, VA Medical Center, Muskogee, Okla. on December 7, 2014
Shortly before 8 a.m. on Sunday, December 7, 1941, Lonnie Cook had just taken a shower and had plans to spend a day of “liberty” in Honolulu. Standing in front of his locker in Turret 3 aboard the battleship USS Arizona, he heard a rumbling in the distance.
“We didn’t think much about it,” said Cook, who is 94 years old and one of only nine USS Arizona survivors still living.
“The chief turret captain came all the way from Chief quarters and tumbled into the bottom of the turret and said the Japanese are bombing us.”
Cook and the 17 Sailors in Turret 3 fired on the Japanese planes overhead with their 14 inch guns. But at approximately 8:10 a.m., a bomb struck the Arizona which was anchored at Pearl Harbor Naval Base.
“I was on the shell deck where they store the projectiles,” said Cook. “I was on the ladder going up when it blew up. It knocked all the lights out and it knocked a lot of things loose, projectiles loose.” The ship erupted into flames and smoke came pouring into Cook’s turret.
“I went on up in the gun mount and it was smoky and the people in charge thought they were gassing us,” said Cook. “They gave the order to go out on deck and most of the machine gunning had slowed down by then.”
As the Arizona sank, Cook helped rescue as many Sailors as he could. “We took all the people we could out of the compartments,” he said. “People came out of there with so many burns, if they called me by name, I couldn’t even tell who they were.”
With the deck of the ship almost at sea level, the order was given to abandon ship.
Volunteered to go back the next day
“We went out on deck and took life rafts down off the side of the turret and put them in the water,” said Cook. “It had sunk down about 15 or 18 feet. We had been busy and didn’t notice it.” Cook, one of the lucky survivors, spent the night in a bomb shelter on nearby Ford Island. The next day, he volunteered to immediately go back to sea.
“Nobody seemed to be telling us what to do and there were eight or 10 of us out of the Arizona gun crew that heard they wanted people to volunteer to go on destroyers,” said Cook. “We told them that if they would put two or three of us together on a destroyer, we’d volunteer. So they agreed and I went on the USS Patterson.”
During the remainder of the war, Cook also served aboard the USS Alywin, USS Pringle and USS Hall. He also took part in the Battle of Coral Sea, Battle of Midway and invasions of the Marshall Islands, Philippines, Guam, Saipan, Tinian, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.
“All we had to worry about was submarines, mines, and suicide planes,” said Cook about life at sea in the Pacific.
Today, Cook lives in the same town where he grew up, Morris, Okla., with his wife Marietta. He has received his health care at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center in Muskogee, Okla. since 1994.