Granvil Ray Williams was born in Big Spring, Texas in 1919. When he was very young, his family moved to San Antonio where he spent his “growing-up” years. He enlisted In the Navy in December 1939. He was sent by train to San Diego, California for basic training. He was then immediately assigned to the Battleship, U.S.S. West Virginia, with homeport of Long Beach, California. He says, We trained often in the open ocean and were frequently in and out of Pearl Harbor. The entire Sixth Fleet had conducted night battle exercises and returned to Pearl Harbor on Dec 5, 1941 when Granvil mailed a letter back home to his fiancé, Helen Creswell. He had an approved leave that was supposed to start on December 7th and he was coming home to be married. The Japanese changed those plans, (see what Helen says below).
Just before 8AM on December 7, 1941, Gunners Mate 3rd Class Williams was making his way to his battle station, the forward Anti-Aircraft Directory, high above the ship’s bridge. He was in position to see as the Japanese planes began coming in and sweeping past the ship, below his eye level. Looking down, he could see the rising sun Insignia on the aircraft and the expression on the faces of pilots staring back towards him. Granvil was blown off his feet when the battleship, Arizona (immediately astern) blew up. The West Virginia was hit with (a total of) eight torpedoes and three 500 pound bombs. The directory was put out of action so G.R. made his way down to the deck. The ship was listing to starboard and already beginning to sink. G.R. pulled a dead sailor off one of the anti-aircraft guns and had just put the gun back into action when a bomb detonated near mid-ship, blowing all the gun crews off thee guns. He says, I was blasted into and over the gun shield, over the rail and into the water with broken left leg, broken right shoulder, and flash burns to all my exposed skin. My eyebrows were completely burned away. Oil from the fuel tanks already covered the surface so when I hit the water, the oil in my eyes blinded me. I lost consciousness, but was later told that a shipmate held my head above water to save me from drowning and a sailor from the battleship Tennessee pulled me into a life raft and beached it on Ford Island. I regained consciousness and lay there helpless as planes continued to come in, strafing sailors in the water; but passed out again when a crew came by and gave me a morphine shot.
G.R. woke up in a plantation hospital and was later taken back in to the Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital where he remained for about a month. He requested immediate assignment to another combat ship and was ordered aboard the carrier, Enterprise, even though he had not healed well enough to perform his assigned duty as a 20 mm. anti-aircraft gunner. He served aboard Enterprise during engagements around Kwajalein, the Marshalls, the Solomons and the Gilbert Islands and was again wounded in action by shell fragments. He returned to the West Virginia after the battleship was raised in 1943 and sent to Bremerton, Washington for overhaul. At that time he finally got 30 days leave home to San Antonio. He and Helen married, nearly two years after they had originally planned, and days later, G.R. returned to duty on the West Virginia. After the war, G.R. entered Federal Civil Service working at Kelly Field in San Antonio and he retired there 27 years later. He and Helen have since lived in retirement in Canyon Lake and in Kyle.
We didn’t exactly date as teenagers growing up in San Antonio. But, we went to Harlandale High School together and both our families attended Taylor Tabernacle (Pentecostal Church) so we saw each other every day of the week. We would have been married in Dec 1941 if it had not been for the attack on Pearl Harbor; as it is, this is our 56th wedding anniversary year. We are proud of our four daughters and seven grandchildren. One of our daughters (a school teacher) and her husband own the house next-door to us and they help out a lot because G.R. has recently had a shoulder replacement and his disabilities do not permit him to drive. In addition to the Military Order of the Purple Heart, he is a dedicated member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Assn.
Granvil Ray “G.R.” Williams provided this Purple Heart story for publication in the March 1999 issue of PATRIOT BULLETIN. G.R. passed away in May 2010 and was buried in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.