It wasn’t until 24 hours later that Bob Brown realized how close he might have come to being a Pearl Harbor casualty. The 19-year-old seaman first class was far below decks of the battleship USS Maryland, surrounded by 16-inch turret ammunition, when word came over the loudspeaker that the harbor was under attack. That was all Brown and the seven or eight other men in the ship’s magazine knew of the Japanese bombing. They couldn’t hear a thing. “It’s hard to conceive that anything that makes as much noise as bombs falling couldn’t be heard” he said, “but we were surrounded by tons and tons of armor and steel. We were six decks below where the action was taking place.” A safe place to be, it seems, until you consider what happened to men in similar positions aboard other Navy vessels.
The Maryland, tied up to a Ford Island mooring, lay inboard of the more exposed USS Oklahoma, which was struck by five torpedoes and turned over. Several hundred yards away, the USS Arizona, also tied up alongside Ford Island, was hit by eight heavy bombs, detonating the ship’s magazines and sinking it. Brown and his shipmates knew nothing of this. They were at their battle stations but there was nothing they could do. The ammunition they were responsible for was to be used with 16-inch guns designed for bombardment of shore or other ships, not fighting enemy aircraft. “It was a very helpless feeling,” he said. “I wasn’t scared, I don’t know anyone down there who was. We just didn’t know enough to be terrified.”
After the attack, it was nightfall before Brown was able to climb topside. “All we could see were the fires burning around the harbor, there was no other light,” he said. “We were completely blacked out.” The next morning, after he was released from duty, he and some shipmates surveyed the damage. It wasn’t until then that he realized how lucky he was. People in the same positions on other ships were killed. The Maryland was hit by one bomb that struck the canvas awning across the forward end of the ship. Three sailors drowned when they became trapped in flooded compartments. The ship was repaired and was back at sea in early 1942.
Story published in Pearl Survivors: Eyewitness Accounts in their own words. Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, Salute to U.S. Veterans Who SURVIVED the Date “That Will Live in Infamy” by Dick Jensen, 2001