George F. Bland, Sr., an African American was the oldest son of seven children born on January 13, 1922 to Lewis and Frances Bland. He enlisted in the Navy on July 19, 1940 after graduating from high school.
Upon graduating from basic training at the Norfolk Naval Station, he was assigned to the USS Mississippi and headed to Pearl Harbor. In early 1941, he was transferred to the USS West Virginia serving as a 19 year old Mess Attendant 2nd Class.
On the morning of December 7th, he was below deck in the officer’s mess when he heard rumblings in the distance that kept getting louder when at 0755 he heard “Away Fire and Rescue Party” followed by “General Quarters” then suddenly the ship was hit on port side by a torpedo. He headed down the corridor for his battle station as the lights flickered, hearing explosions and sailors screaming. The ship began to list rapidly to port as burnt flesh filled the air. The ship was plunged into darkness as he still attempted to get to his anti-aircraft battery magazine then suddenly, there was another heavy shock felt to port. Counter flooding measures were also being taken to stop further listing.
Once top side, the sky was dark filled with smoke as he heard the order given to Abandon Ship. He could see sailors jumping between the USS West Virginia and the USS Tennessee as the USS Arizona exploded sending a concussion blast wave down between the two battlewagons. Trying to determine the next move, a rope appeared off the side of the Tennessee. It was a leap of faith to grab the rope as burning powder, oil and debris from the Arizona filled the waters below. The heat was intense as he muscled up the rope to top deck of the Tennessee.
Once on top deck, he immediately saw a hole in the deck and looked around in shock to see the start of WWII. Minutes later he joined up with fellow sailors assisting with getting the wounded into motor launches headed to Ford Island. He was soaked in seawater, bloody from a shrapnel wound to the wrist and limping from an injured ankle.
He received the Captain’s Commendation Medal for action taken against the enemy at which time the vessel was bombed and displaying the highest qualities of leadership, courage and initiative in assisting the Medical Officer in rendering first aid to wounded. He was reassigned on the 14th of December to the destroyer, USS Mugford that went through 17 military engagements. He received seven campaign ribbons for service while onboard the USS Mugford during the war.
He was honorably discharged from the Navy on August 22, 1946. He retired from the US Postal service with over 25 years of service and was married for 50 years to Ethel V. Bland where they had one son and two grandsons. He passed away in his sleep on Mother’s Day at the age of 93 in 2014.
Submitted by Frank Bland and published in Pearl Harbor Remembered, Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of December 7, 1941 with the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors, Inc., M.T. Publishing Company, Inc., 2016.