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USS Arizona survivor tried to rescue shipmates

  • DENNIS ODA / 2006
    Ret. Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Langdell, right, with his friend Bob Lovell, attends the 65th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Langdell died Wednesday at age 100.

YUBA CITY, Calif. » The oldest living crew member of the battleship USS Arizona to have survived the Japa­nese attack on Pearl Harbor has died in Northern Cali­for­nia at the age of 100.

Retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Langdell died Wednesday at a nursing home in Yuba City, Calif., according to his son, Ted. A tally maintained by the USS Arizona Reunion Association, for which Langdell had served as president, identified him as not only the oldest Arizona survivor, but the last surviving officer from the naval ship that lost 1,177 men — nearly four-fifths of its crew — when it was bombed Dec. 7, 1941.

Langdell was an ensign on an assignment that had him sleeping on a military base adjacent to the ship in Hono­­lulu on the morning Pearl Harbor was attacked. He spent the following hours and days trying to rescue shipmates from the burning water, preparing for another possible air assault and leading the survivors tasked with removing the remains of the dead from the partially sunken ship, his son said.

"I felt absolutely helpless as I watched the attack," Langdell said on the 56th anniversary of the attack that drew the United States into World War II. "If I had been aboard, I would have been killed in that No. 2 (gun) turret. That was the one that blew up. It was my luck to be assigned off the ship that day."

The New Hampshire native spent another four years in the Navy before going to work as an auctioneer, a furniture manufacturer’s representative and, eventually, the longtime owner of a Yuba City furniture store.

Ted Langdell said his father did not talk about Pearl Harbor during his childhood and returned there for the first time since the war in 1976, when his older son was in the Navy. After that, Langdell took comfort in meeting with fellow survivors and pride in always wearing a USS Arizona hat.

"It drew attention not just to him, but gave him the chance to tell stories," the son said. "Anyone in the service has stories to tell if you make the effort to listen and to really hear and try to understand what they are saying."

Per his wishes, Langdell’s ashes will be put aboard the USS Arizona Memorial, mostly likely on Dec. 7.

The reunion association says there are now eight remaining survivors.

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