Veteran recalls Pearl Harbor service on attack’s 80th anniversary

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Stanley Maltzman in New York City as
a young Coast Guardsman. He went
to the recruiter’s office to enlist the
day after the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbor.

By Joanne E. McFadden
For Capital Region Independent Media

GREENVILLE — Stanley Maltzman of Greenville remembers being in the kitchen of his parents’ New York City home paint-
ing when news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor came over the radio.

At 7:55 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese launched 353 aircraft from four aircraft carriers with bombs targeted
for American ships, aircraft and military bases on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. In addition, 61 ships of the Japanese fleet sup-
ported the surprise attack.

“My mother came out of the kitchen crying because she figured I was going to go,” Maltzman said.

Like many other young men around the nation, Maltzman did indeed want to enlist. He chose the United States Coast Guard because there was a neighbor who was in that service.

“He used to come home every other weekend, and he would tell us these stories,” Maltzman said. “As a kid, we would eat them
up.”

On Dec. 8, Maltzman went to the Coast Guard recruiter to sign up. When he did not hear anything after two weeks, he went
back.

USS Centaurus (AKA-17) unloads trucks and other supplies into its landing
barges at Los Negros Island in the Admiralty Island Group. Centaurus took
part in the Bismarch Archipelago Operation from April 5-9, 1944.

Meanwhile, Oahu’s civilian and military population was reeling from the devastating attack that killed 2,403 U.S. personnel, including 68 civilians, and wounded 1,178 others. The bombing destroyed or damaged 19 vessels, including eight battleships. Fortunately for the Americans, the Navy’s aircraft carriers assigned to the U.S. Pacific Fleet were out at sea on maneuvers.

When the Coast Guard called Maltzman up for service in March 1942, he packed a bag and said goodbye to his parents.

“My father took me down to the trolley car and took me down to Third Avenue somewhere, and then I took the subway down-
town,” he said.

Following boot camp at Manhattan Beach, the Coast Guard assigned Maltzman to Hoffman Island Signal School, where he
learned visual communications, including blinker lights and signal flags. He did that job in Groton, Connecticut, signaling
submarines as they returned to base, and he petitioned the Coast Guard to assign him to sea duty.

Maltzman at Pearl Harbor with shipmate John Hough, who died earlier this
year.

It took six requests before Maltzman was assigned to the original crew of the USS Centaurus (AKA-17), an Andromeda
Class attack cargo ship commissioned on Oct. 21, 1943, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. An original crewmember of any vessel is
called a “plank owner.”

After the ship’s commanding officer, Captain George Evans McCabe, trained his brand-new crew, the ship made its way south
to the Panama Canal. The journey to the Asiatic-Pacific Theater had its difficult moments.

“We had a pilot that came aboard to direct us,” Maltzman said. “He almost ran us aground crossing the equator. The captain
threw him away and took over.”

“We got into the Pacific Ocean,” Maltzman said. “We didn’t know what we were doing and where we were going yet. We had a hell of an ocean ride.”

Centaurus made its way to Pearl Harbor where the military was still repairing the damage to its ships and aircraft.

“It was kind of a thrill to be at Pearl Harbor and see all the ships,” Maltzman told interviewers from the Veterans Oral
History Project. “They were still getting mud and stuff out of the battle wagons [battleships], the few that they raised, and smoke was coming out and oil was coming up from below the Arizona. It was kind of sad in a way, but yet it showed a determination the way that people were attacking rebuilding the ships. It was a wonderful sight.”

Of the eight battleships anchored at Pearl Harbor on the morning of the attack, the Navy was able to repair six, while two,
the USS Arizona (BB-39) and USS Oklahoma (BB-37) were damaged beyond repair. The battleships were Japan’s main tar-
gets.

The USS Centaurus did not remain long at Pearl Harbor. From Hawaii, it sailed west to take part in the invasion of Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands at the end of January 1944. Maltzman, then a Signalman 1/C, with a crew of six others, would take
a position on the ship’s flying bridge near the smokestack using signal flags and blinking lights to communicate with other ships.

“It was the highest part of the ship,” Maltzman said. “It was kind of nice to be up so high.”

As an attack cargo ship, Centaurus had 12 landing barges aboard. As the U.S. Pacific Fleet made its way from island to island, capturing them from the Japanese, Centaurus’ crew loaded soldiers and Marines, along with equipment and supplies,
into its landing barges and delivered them to the islands, including the Admiralty Islands, Guam, New Guinea, Peleliu, and
Okinawa Gunto, among others.

“We would land in the nearby vicinity of the island and lower the landing barges,” he said. “Then the marines or soldiers
would climb overboard on rope and go down and aboard the landing barge.”

Three or four of Centaurus’ crew members would then deliver them to the island. In total, Centaurus participated in six campaigns and received six battle stars for its World War II service.

“I was lucky my ship never got hit,” Maltzman said.

Maltzman has a keen memory of the Battle of Okinawa, which took place from April 1 to June 14, 1945.

“All the guys went ashore and everything, and it was very quiet because the Japanese had gone up over the mountain, away
from the beach,” he said. “They had quite a fight. We were on duty 24 hours to watch for invasions, the battles of the planes
coming in to get us. That’s when we shot down two Japanese kamikaze planes.”

When all was quiet, Maltzman’s shipmates put him in the bosun’s chair and lowered him over the side of the ship to document the events.

Maltzman’s ship, USS Centaurus (AKA-17)

“It was quite a thrill. They all knew I was an artist or trying to be an artist, so they got me to paint the Jap flags on the side of
the ship,” he said.

Maltzman carried his sketch book and pencils with him during his service.

“I wanted to be an artist, and I was drawing things — invasions and so forth,” Maltzman said.

At some point during its wartime service, the crew nicknamed the ship “Centaurus-Maru.”

“All the Japanese ships were called something ‘maru,'” Maltzman said.

Japanese sailors often attached the suffix “-maru,” which signifies “something beloved,” to its vessels.

When Centaurus took over a hundred Japanese prisoners of war aboard to transport them back to Pearl Harbor, Maltzman
got permission to sketch one of the prisoners.

“He signed my sketchbook,” Maltzman said. “He liked it, except that I made the eyes a little too slanty.”

He remembers that the prisoners liked being aboard the Centaurus. “They were very happy with us, the Japanese,” Maltzman said. “We would allow them to come topside, on the main deck upstairs. They bathed every day. They washed with ocean
water. It was nice in a way.”

Maltzman left Centaurus when it arrived back at Pearl Harbor after the U.S. victory in Okinawa, but he wishes he could
have remained on board. The ship continued to Japan for occupation duty and then went on to serve in China.

“I would have been tickled pink to go to China and draw pictures,” he said. “I’m sorry I missed it.”

Through ship reunions, Maltzman kept in touch with shipmates and got to know those he did not know well during his
time in the Coast Guard.

The American Legion Post 291 will be holding a Pearl Harbor Remembrance Ceremony at 6 p.m. on Dec. 7 at its building at
54 Maple Ave., Greenville. The public is invited to attend.


I wanted to write about the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor because it was the 50th anniversary that gave
me my start in journalism.

I had always been interested in military history, and I took the opportunity of the 50th anniversary of World War II to interview veterans and write their stories. I began with several Naval Academy graduates who had been in Pearl Harbor during the time of the attack, articles which appeared in Hawaii Navy News and another newspaper, The Flagship.

I listened as these former naval officers described what had happened for them that morning. Walter Stencil was officer of the deck on the battleship USS Tennessee (BB-43) when the attack hit.

“The whole harbor was on fire,” he said. “Viewing that ship which was directly astern with her back broken, jack-knived, her foremast canted forward with men hanging over the railings of the various levels, dead at their posts, was a sobering sight.”

The ship to which he referred was the USS Arizona (BB-39). Moored inboard of the USS West Virginia (BB-48) on “Battleship Row,” the Tennessee could not leave the dock, as West Virginia had taken torpedo hits and sunk. One of Stencil’s classmates, LTJG H.B. Stark, recalled how he could hear his shipmates, trapped below in the sunken ship, pounding on the hull to let their shipmates know they were alive. The sounds ceased before the crew could effect a rescue.

Stencil recalled his classmate, Herold Harveson, who had been serving on the USS Utah (BB-31) at the time of the attack. Harveson was one of 58 crewmembers who died when the ship sunk in 12 minutes time. He remains entombed there. I found his name on the memorial plaque at Honolulu’s Punchbowl Cemetery. The destroyer escort USS Harveson (DE-316), which saw distinguished service in World War II, is named for him. The United States built 563 destroyer escorts during the war. One, USS Slater (DE-766), remains a museum ship in Albany.

Others who were off-base recall as shipmates rushed to pick them up so they could head to Pearl Harbor to be greeted by a horrific scene. Ralph Benson was stationed aboard the USS Shaw (DD-373), which was in dry dock when the attack occurred. The Navy assigned Benson to the somber task of identifying the dead.

“It was a sight I’ll never forget,” he said. “Some just looked like they had gone to sleep, and others, you could tell, had
been in terrible explosions.”

Lawrence Julihn was aboard the submarine USS Thresher (SS-200), which was returning from sea when the attack
occurred. Mistaking it for an enemy sub, U.S. Army bombers attacked the vessel when it attempted to surface. After finally making it safely into the then-chaotic port, Julihn learned from a friend who had been on board a destroyer that the ship
had attempted unsuccessfully to fire a torpedo at Thresher, having mistaken it for a Japanese submarine.

These first stories of my journalism career fostered a healthy respect for what had happened at Pearl Harbor and the subsequent U.S. war effort in all theaters, and I had the privilege of recording and preserving first-person accounts of
that day.

The day after the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, my father, a Navy veteran who was in Pearl Harbor many
times during his own service, baptized my daughter on board my husband’s ship, USS Cushing (DD-985), using the ship’s
bell as a baptismal fount. The backdrop for this ceremony was the USS Missouri (BB-63), the ship on which Japanese Foreign
Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, representing the Emperor of Japan, signed the instrument of surrender.

To this day, ships that sail past the USS Arizona Memorial still render honors to the fallen. “Attention” sounds, and all
hands come topside to man the rails of the ship, saluting as they pass the memorial.

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