Local Pearl Harbor Survivor Ships Out for the Last Time

Jerald Douglas "Doug" Huggins served aboard the light cruiser, USS St. Louis, during World War II and survived the attack on Pearl Harbor. He passed away peacefully August 21, 2016, surrounded by those who love him. He was 93. 

Doug grew up in Pasadena, Texas, and enlisted in the Navy shortly after his 18th birthday. He was a 19-year-old Seaman First Class assigned to the USS St. Louis (CL-49) on December 7, 1941. Doug told me that, as the ship escaped from Pearl Harbor during the attack, he was below deck and watched through a porthole as torpedoes from a waiting Japanese submarine sped towards his ship; fortunately, a coral reef between the vessels took the hits.

His son gave me this account of Doug’s experience that day:

“St. Louis was moored outboard of at least two other ships that were at a pier, and for Sunday morning services, canvas awnings were up as usual. The ship apparently could not get full shore steam service so had a boiler or two hot. Dad was planning to go over to the Arizona to meet up with his best high school friend, Bobby Shaw, who was a musician serving onboard the Arizona, with plans to go into Honolulu after church services. When the first Japanese planes attacked, Dad was up and about, and was pressed into cutting down awnings with his pocketknife and helping disconnect shore power, water, and moorings while the ship got steam up to try to get underway. One or two rounds of strafing from incoming Japanese planes struck the armor gun turret above where he was removing the awnings, but he fortunately was not hit.    
            “Sadly, he watched the Arizona explode and was pretty certain he had lost his friend. St. Louis got underway and headed for the exit channel with all the speed they could make, and had a near miss with one of the damaged battleships that had also gotten underway but was taking on water and was crossing from Battleship Row to Hospital Point to intentionally run aground, intending to avoid blocking the harbor, and improving the chances of salvage... As they exited the harbor, Dad was watching from his battle station (I believe it was in Aft Fire Control) as a torpedo wake appeared heading for the ship, but luckily it apparently struck either a reef or a ridge of dredge spoil paralleling the exit channel and went off, so the ship was spared.

“There obviously was a lot of confusion, and a lot of ordnance going up in the air trying to shoot down the attacking planes, which had to come down somewhere, so there were other small explosions and splashes nearby, but I believe St. Louis was the largest ship to actually get underway and out of the harbor during the attack, exiting with a number of destroyers, and was largely unharmed. The available ships formed up as a small impromptu task force and went out to try to find and attack the Japanese fleet and scout to see if there was an invasion force following up on the air attack. I recall him saying that some or all of her main battery were out of commission because equipment was removed elsewhere in the shipyard for repair, but the anti-aircraft guns were working as they left the harbor.

“If I remember correctly Dad said it was several days before they returned to Pearl and the crew were dismayed at the extent of the death and destruction.  Years later on a return trip to Hawaii Dad was able to locate Bobby Shaw's grave in a local civilian cemetery and was able to say goodbye.”

Doug separated from the Navy in 1946 as an Electrician’s Mate First Class with six years of active service. After the war he pursued a successful career in sales that took him, his wife Ruth, and children all over the country. They moved to Colorado Springs in 2013.

Doug participated in the annual Pearl Harbor Day Proclamation at the El Paso County Commissioners meeting on November 2013 and was honored at the 72nd anniversary Pearl Harbor observance on December 7, 2013, in Colorado Springs

In March 2014, the Navy League Colorado Springs Council inducted Doug as an Honorary Member of the council “For Heroic Service to the United States of America at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 December 1941.” Following the council dinner meeting, he provided a sobering presentation and slide show on the events of December 7, 1941.

Doug was again honored at the Colorado Springs Pearl Harbor commemoration on December 7, 2014. He will be interred with military honors at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, at 2:30 PM, Tuesday, August 30th.

Doug Huggins was a humble hero in life and a living voice from our history. I was proud to know him and fond of him, and am saddened at his loss. Fair winds and following seas in your new assignment, shipmate.

Bunny Blaha

CDR, USN (Ret)                                                                                                 

 Secretary, Navy League Colorado Springs Council

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