March 26, 2008 Edition

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Pearl Harbor attack
survivor is remembered

Don House
Guest Writer

On Sunday, March 16, it was my honor to speak at the funeral service of Alva Randle Jones, age 90, one of the last survivors of the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Randle was the son of the late Frank and Lydia Jones of Hoxie. His early life was a mixture of family, God, poverty and hard work.

War was looming and young Randle decided to volunteer. He told his family that he didn't think he would like digging foxholes, so he joined the Navy.

Randle was assigned to the USS St. Louis. It was 1941 and the ship and its sailors were patrolling the Wake, Guam and Midway and the Philippine Islands.

The St. Louis went to Hawaii for general repairs and supplies. It docked in the Port of Honolulu in Battleship Row. As sunrise broke over the horizon on Sunday, Dec. 7, an alert had come that a suspicious carrier ship was several nautical miles off Hawaii.

The young sailor, Randle Jones, was assigned to the bridge of the St. Louis. On watch, it was 7:53 a.m., and Randle witnessed the first wave of olive drab Japanese bombers as they made their approach. Almost simultaneously as the air strike began, a midget submarine fired two torpedoes at the St. Louis.

Randle later told that he had received a call from the boiler room and was asked what was taking place. He told them that two torpedoes were headed starboard toward the St. Louis.

The torpedoes did not strike. One torpedo fizzled out of control, and the other struck a reef that lay between it and the ship. Already, the sailors were manning the guns and firing at both the planes and the suspected sub. Waves of planes fired upon Battleship Row.

Within four minutes of the strike, the commander was on the bridge with Randle and ordered the cruiser out of the harbor. Randle told friends that as the ship was being readied, the most hellish bombardment imaginable was taking place. The Empire of Japan was changing history.

Within 10 minutes of the strike, the St. Louis was zigzagging out of the harbor. Randle had recalled that as they went by the Arizona, its side was gaping open like a tin can. With the ship fully ablaze, the Arizona was sinking and taking 1,300 lives with it.

The St. Louis fired 17,000 rounds of ammunition. Randle said it was two hours of hell. His ship joined others in search of the distant Japanese ship that was cruising about 30 minutes out to sea. Taking a lot of machine gun fire, the St. Louis received only minor damage. It was the first ship to leave the harbor.

The St. Louis remained very active throughout the war. Randle was promoted to quartermaster. He turned his navigational skills into an art. Every sunrise as Jones looked from the bridge of his ship, he was surely reminded of Dec. 7, 1941, the day that lives in infamy.

He continued to see a lot of war action. He went on to serve in Korea and spent 31 years in the U.S. Navy. He returned to Hoxie for a while and then moved to Sherwood, where he spent his remaining days.

He died early on the morning of March 13, 2008, at Doctors Hospital in Little Rock.

He was laid to rest in Lawrence Memorial Park in Walnut Ridge beside his parents and his wife, Martha. The Veterans of Foreign Wars accorded full military rites at his graveside. The Navy Hymn and Navy Blue and Gold were played at his funeral.

It was my honor to remember the military career of what was one of Arkansas' last Pearl Harbor attack survivors. Because Alva Randle Jones and others like him served, we live in freedom today. Mr. Jones was a fine example of the men and women who answered the call to duty.

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