Sunday, December 07, 2014

Alex man was on Oklahoma at Pearl

[This post originally appeared on this blog December 7, 2008.  In memory of the Pearl Harbor attack, I'm re-posting]

Source : Anderson Herald-Bulletin, Anderson, Indiana, Sunday, December 8, 1991.

Alex man was on Oklahoma at Pearl by Jim Bannon.

When we put together our special Pearl Harbor anniversary section recently, we contacted some people in this area who were survivors of the attack.

Another survivor turned up later, and even though we couldn't get his story in the Pearl Harbor section, I thought it deserved telling.

John M. High is 72 years old now and lives in Alexandria. On the morning of December 7, 1941, he was a ship's cook first class serving on the battleship U.S.S. Oklahoma, anchored along battleship row at Pearl Harbor.

High has been in bad health recently, suffering two heart attacks and a stroke and his story was told to me by his son, Charles, of Anderson, who works at Delco Remy.

When the attack came, High was in his bunk, since he had just come off night watch.

The Oklahoma was hit hard. It caught fire and, though it did not sink, it rolled over. Many on board lost their lives.

John High managed to get from below deck to the main deck. Smoke and fire were everywhere. He jumped over the rail and swam through burning oil to safety.

His son says the one story that sticks out in his mind that his father tells of that day is the one about a Catholic priest. It seems several men on the ship were trapped by flames and the only way out was through a porthole.

The priest, a portly man, helped push 12 men through that porthole to safety. But when he tried to get through he got stuck and drowned when the ship capsized. "He saved those 12 men but he couldn't save himself," the younger High said.

He said his father never talked much about Pearl Harbor and World War II. He talked more about it after he had his first heart attack, Charles High said.

A twist on High's story was that his parents were notified their son was missing in action. High was from Rowesburg, W. Va. The message they received read: "The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your son, John M. High, is missing following action in the service of his country."

The message added that to prevent any possible aid to the enemy, the parents should not divulge the name of the ship he served on or where it was stationed.

Then on Jan. 2, 1942, his parents got the wonderful news that John was, indeed, safe. John High went on to serve the rest of World War II with the Navy in the Pacific, serving on several different ships.

He went almost nine years without seeing his parents, from 1936 to 1945.

How did he get to Alexandria? He met his wife while in the Navy. She was from Alex and when the war ended they settled there. High worked at Pierce Governor in Anderson for awhile and then joined Haynes Stellite Corp. inKokomo. He retired from Cabot Corp. (which bought Haynes) in Kokomo.

"My father is a very patriotic person," Charles High said, "He has a great love for his country."

Source: NARA Record Group 331, Muster Rolls of Ships based at Pearl Harbor, 1939-47, Oklahoma, BB 37, Muster Roll, 1941, June 30, image on-line at

[John M. High married my maternal great-aunt, Clara Ellen Wright- TJL]

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