Pearl Harbor Survivor John A. Rauschkolb did not talk often about Pearl Harbor before he retired as a US Postal worker. Then he began to share his stories and became the leader of the local Pearl Harbor Surivor’s club in Marin County, California.
Rauschkolb, joined the Navy when he was 17 years old and had not graduated high school. He had his parents’ permission. He was assigned to the USS West Virginia.
When the attack began on December 7th, 1941, Rauschkolb was on the signal bridge of West Virginia. This gave him a good vantage point for the attack. Others below deck did not know what was happening until their ship was hit by torpedoes.
“I could see the planes headed towards the ship. I could see that they were Japanese and watched the torpedoes drop from the aircraft headed for the USS West Virginia,”
The West Virginia has the misfortune of being the easiest target for the Japanese torpedo planes during the attack. She was outboard of USS Tennessee, which in turn was protected from torpedoes. Over half of the torpedoes used by the Japanese were aimed at USS Oklahoma, another outboard ship, and USS West Virginia.
“I felt six torpedoes and two bombs hit the ship. You could hear the tremendous explosions, feel the vibration in the metal throughout the ship and see the fire. The U.S. Navy said the ship was hit by seven torpedoes, the Japanese Navy said nine.”
Rauschkolb witnessed the fatal blow to Captain Bennion of the West Virginia when he was hit by shrapnel from nearby Tennessee. The zeros were strafing the bridge of West Virginia and Rauschkolb had to dive overboard to avoid getting hit by gunfire.
Oil was already burning on the surface of the water. Rauschkolb swam under the burning oil to arrive at Tennessee alive. He then went on to help put out fires and rescue others.
Later, Pearl Harbor Survivor John A. Rauschkolb was dispatched to the USS Arizona. There he assisted in the collection of the bodies of fallen comrades.
“The most difficult job that I have ever had in my whole life was handling the dead bodies,” he later recounted. “They were terribly burned, and the stench of human flesh burning is a smell that remains with me to this day.
“We could not identify the dead, no dog tags and no DNA then,” he said. “We only had parts of the bodies anyway. It was very, very difficult.”
After Pearl Harbor, Rauschkolb was assigned to the USS Raleigh, a light cruiser, and spent most of the remainder of the war patrolling in the North Pacific and Aleutian Islands, guarding against a Japanese attack from the north.
Pearl Harbor Survivor John A. Rauschkolb died in San Rafael after a sudden heart attack in October, 2013. We salute his service. Mahalo!