One of the few remaining survivors from the USS Arizona, sunk on Dec. 7, 1941, with the loss of nearly 1,200 lives, died late last week at age 91.
Vernon Olsen, then just 21 years old, scrambled to his battle station atop the after mast of the Arizona that fateful Sunday morning nearly 70 years ago when Japanese planes struck.
Years later, he would tell of seeing a Japanese bomber coming in between the ship’s masts to drop a bomb while Olsen, manning a 50-caliber machine gun, waited helplessly for ammunition.
The plane was so close that Olsen could see the Japanese pilot grinning, he said in 1998 interview with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. When the bomb exploded, it all but obliterated the ship.
Olsen was a fortunate man. He not only cheated death at Pearl Harbor but swam away from the carrier USS Lexington as it was sinking during the Battle of the Coral Sea months later, and took part in the Bikini Atoll atomic bomb tests after the war.
Olsen, who lived in Port Charlotte, Fla., will be going back to the Arizona, according to the Charlotte Sun. The family plans to bury his ashes at the Arizona National Memorial in Pearl Harbor, according to his wishes.
The bomb that did in the Arizona hit between gun turrets Nos. 1 and 2, penetrating the armored deck near the ammunition magazine located in the forward section of the ship. The resulting explosion destroyed the forward part of the ship.
Olsen and everyone else able to abandoned ship, even as planes flying overhead continued shooting at them.
Eventually, he was pulled from the water and taken to shore, having suffered burns to his arms.
With Olsen’s death, it is believed that fewer than 20 Arizona survivors remain.