Brothers Served On Same WWII Ship
All Six Of Hinsdale's Fahlgrens Survived Pearl Harbor And The War
As we look towards Memorial Day, Krista Fahlgren of Malta thought maybe people might enjoy an article about the Fahlgren boys from Hinsdale. Her grandfather, Carl “Swede” Fahlgren used to contribute to the Phillips County newspaper for Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day and Pearl Harbor Day. His six brothers all served during WWII, with five of them serving in the Navy on the same ship, which was hit during the Pearl Harbor attack. Carl Fahlgren, the youngest, was turned down for service and lived in Malta. They also had a sister, Irene.
The last Fahlgren brother, Ervin, passed away in March 2012.
One of the brothers, Glen, later wrote an account of their experiences that has been shortened here.
Three of Fahlgren brothers, Gordon, 28. Warner, 20, and Vern, 18, joined the Navy in February 1941.
Another brother, Leonard, 24, joined the Army on March 1941. Glen, 23, and Ervin, 21, joined the Navy in July 1941.
Gordon was assigned to the USS Vestal AR-4, an auxiliary repair ship. Warner was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, a battleship, and Vern to the USS Hovey, a destroyer, all at Pearl Harbor.
The brothers decided that they all wanted to be assigned to the repair ship Vestal, so their mother wrote to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and asked that her five sons serve together.
A reply dated July 17, 1941, from Adm. Chester W. Nimitz granted her request and complimented her on her patriotism in giving six of her sons to the Army and Navy.
After basic training, Glen left for Hawaii to join his brothers on the Vestal. Ervin stayed behind and took a course as a machinist.
During October and November 1941, the Vestal’s welders were welding portholes shut on all the destroyers and cruisers. The crews were getting ready for an emergency – war.
By the end of November, the crew had welded portholes shut on all the destroyers and cruisers. Next in line were the battleships. On Friday, Dec. 5, the Vestal tied up to the USS Arizona.
The Fahlgrens had liberty on Saturday afternoon, Dec. 6, and got back to the fleet landing about midnight.
Glen was up at 4:30 a.m. to make bread, coffeecake for Sunday breakfast and pumpkin pie for lunch. He was rolling out pie shells when a master-at-arms sailor ran by the bake shop shouting “general quarters.”
Glen ran out of the bake shop at 7:55 a.m. and down to the deck. Ten or 15 sailors were looking aft between the Vestal and the Arizona, and Glen saw a huge cloud of smoke.
An officer yelled for the men to get to their general quarters stations.
Glen looked up to see who was yelling and spotted a Japanese plane dive-bombing the Arizona, firing its machine guns at the men on the Vestal.
Glen and Zevodnick, a ship’s cook, ran into the mess hall. Zevodnick turned into the galley. A machine-gun bullet from the plane hit the open hatch into which Zevodnick turned.
Glen raced through another hatch. In the mess hall, he saw Zevodnick, bleeding from shrapnel from the bullet that hit the hatch, and brother Vern.
At about 8:05 a.m., a Japanese bomb came through the mess hall about 20 feet from where the brothers stood. The concussion knocked them down.
Almost simultaneously, the Vestal was hit aft near the quarter deck. The bomb went through every deck and out the bottom of the ship, damaging the rudder and steering mechanism.
When the Arizona’s forward magazine exploded, the concussion blew the Vestal’s captain overboard. The Vestal’s chief executive officer gave orders for the crew to abandon ship. Crewmen used axes to cut the lines to free the Vestal from the burning Arizona.
The Vestal’s captain swam back to the ship and rescinded the orders to abandon ship. Many men had already left the ship, including Gordon, Warner and Vern Fahlgren.
A Navy yard tug boat shot a line to the Vestal and pulled it away from the burning and sinking Arizona. Listing and taking on water, the Vestal was pushed into shallow water to keep it from sinking.
Gordon returned to the Vestal as soon as the attack was over. Warner and Vern were gone for several days. They were put on gun installations on the beach, in case the Japanese returned. For those few days, the brothers did not know if they all were OK.
The Vestal was repaired and put back in service in April 1942. Ervin joined his four brothers on the vessel, and they served together until the five Sullivan brothers, serving on one cruiser, were all killed at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942.
Then the United States changed its policy to keep so many members of a single family from serving together, and the Fahlgren brothers were split up.
In November 1942, in honor of her many sons in the service, their mother, Theresa Fahlgren Lindstrom, christened the USS Susquehanna at the Tacoma, Wash., shipyards.
The Fahlgren brothers all returned safely from World War II.
Krista Fahlgren is the daughter of John and Mary Fahlgren of Glasgow and Rudy and the late Susan Solis of Malta.