Sailors Trapped Deep in Sunken USS West Virginia Tapped on the Ship's Hull to Alert Rescuers Who Stood By Helpless

Yana Bostongirl
ShipwreckPhoto byPhoto by Vlad Tchompalov

The USS West Virginia was berthed at Pearl Harbor when it came under attack by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. It suffered catastrophic damage when it was hit by two bombs and seven torpedoes. Over a hundred members of the USS Virginia's crew would lose their lives as a result of the surprise attack.

When the stricken battleship capsized and sank to the bottom of the harbor bottom, it carried with it several sailors who were trapped deep within the wreckage.

Following the attack, rescuers were alerted to tapping sounds coming from within the ship signaling that people were alive deep in the forward hull. But all they could do was watch helplessly because the trapped sailors were sitting on tons of live sunken ammunition and no technology existed back then to rescue them.

According to reports, a haunting discovery was made when salvage operations were undertaken 6 months later: "With the major holes patched, 800,000 gallons of fuel oil, all projectiles and other supplies were removed from the ship to reduce weight. As water was pumped out of the ship, salvage crews began to work through compartments, removing the remains of 66 trapped sailors. Marks on a bulkhead in one compartment indicated three sailors survived there for 16 days. With access to food and water, they held on until the breathable air ran out."

The bodies of the three sailors found huddled together in an airtight storeroom were those of Ronald Endicott, 18; Clifford Olds, 20; and Louis “Buddy” Costin, 21. They had marked time by crossing off 16 days in a red pencil not knowing that help was not coming and that their country was at war as this excerpt explains: "The clues left in the dry storeroom hinted at a horrifying demise. Flashlight batteries littered the floor. The manhole to a supply of fresh water had been opened. Emergency rations had been eaten. And the calendar. A foot high, 14 inches long. A red “X” scratched through the dates from Dec. 7 through Dec. 23."

Per reports, families of the sailors who were trapped and perished in the sunken battleship were not told about how they had died.

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