National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day
By Mayor Gavin Buckley
On the grounds of the Maryland State House in Annapolis sits a ship’s bell. It is out in the open, in the southwest corner of the property where Francis Street intersects with State Circle. It is green from weather.
On the front it reads: “U.S.S. Maryland 1921”.
Today, on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, it is an interesting time to have a look at this bell, one of the many historic artifacts that we pass by each day in our City. On the 79th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, it is one worth examining.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the U.S.S. Maryland, a Colorado-class battleship, was moored at Pearl Harbor. According to history.Navy.mil, she was two ships behind the U.S.S. Arizona, which was hit by four armor-piercing bombs and exploded during the Japanese attack. The Arizona lost 1,177 personnel and the ship was a total loss.
The Maryland sat on the port side of the U.S.S. Oklahoma. The Oklahoma took five torpedoes and capsized. The Oklahoma lost 429 personnel.
The Maryland, by comparison, was lucky. She was hit by two bombs with four casualties. The Japanese initially reported her a total loss, but she had only suffered minor damage.
Onboard the ship on December 7, the crew were getting ready for shore leave at 9 a.m. after recently returning from maneuvers. After Japanese aircraft appeared and the adjacent battleships took incoming, Maryland’s bugler blew general quarters.
According to the Navy’s Action Report, Seaman First Class Leslie Vernon Short, a machine gun strike, while writing a letter near one of the gun groups and observing the bombing of Ford Island, loaded a machine gun and opened fire, taking today the first two approaching torpedo planes. Seaman Short did this before battle stations had been manned.
Seaman First Class Andrew Joseph Geiser arrived at his battle station and had the aviation gasoline stowage compartment flooded, likely avoiding a serious explosion after an enemy bomb struck the forecastle directly above the gasoline stowage.
In addition to these and other heroics, surviving crew from the capsized Oklahoma swam to and climbed onboard Maryland to assist with anti-aircraft defense.
After returning to the shipyard in for repairs, she returned to duty in 1942 and saw service in the Pacific war, first at the Battle of Midway, later patrolling the Fiji Islands.
She participated in pre-invasion gunnery against Saipan and was torpedoed by Japanese aircraft (and returned to Pearl Harbor for repairs). In 1944, the Maryland was back in action for the Palaus operation in September. She later bombarded enemy positions ashore during the Leyte invasion and fired on Japanese warships during the Battle of Surigao Strait. She was later damaged by a “Kamikaze” suicide plane but repaired in time to participate in the Okinawa operation during the spring of 1945.
At the end of the war, she spent time transporting servicemen home from the Pacific. She ended up at the shipyard in Bremerton, Washington for inactivation and was decommissioned in April of 1947. Mothballed until 1959, she was sold for scrapping, but Maryland ended up with her bell – dedicated on the grounds of the State House in 1961.
Prior to her heroics at Pearl Harbor and in the Pacific Theater, the U.S.S. Maryland, commissioned in 1921, sailed her shakedown cruise on the East Coast and found herself in great demand, appearing at Annapolis for the United States Naval Academy’s Commissioning in 1922 and at the anniversary of the battle of Bunker Hill in Boston the same year.
Her bell is all that remains. That bell is now a part of our City’s story. If you happen to be near the State House on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, examine this relic of our Naval history. She has many stories to tell!