6 December 1941, Pearl Harbor

By Major Van Harl USAF Ret.

There was a saying in Monaville, West Virginia in the 1930’s, “coal mine, moonshine or move it on down the line.” If you could not work in the coal mines and accept dying at a young age, then you brewed illegal liquor up in the mountains. Otherwise you got out of Logan county to find work. For the brothers John and Joseph Triolo, it was the US Navy in 1937. The depression was still on and a military job was something to be coveted.

When the Triolo brothers came home on leave after Navy basic training, there was a buzz in the air about them. The brothers were headed to Long Beach, California to go to sea on their first ship, the USS Oklahoma. While on leave at home, they made such an impression on their best friend from high school, Donald McCloud, that he also joined the Navy. In fact Joe Triolo, while working temporarily at the local Navy recruiter’s office, was the one who graded Donald’s Navy entrance exam and sort of helped Donald out on his test score.

After basic training, Seaman McCloud was shipped out to the west coast and was able to request an assignment on the USS Oklahoma. The three new sailors and lifelong friends were headed to the Pacific on patrol, aboard the proud WW I era battleship. Because of his good test scores, when Seaman McCloud reported to the USS Oklahoma he was put in the fire control division, working down below decks. Normally in those days, a new sailor worked as deck crew, top side. Only after you proved yourself did you get to move into a specific career field such as fire control; these were the men who worked the big guns.

Joseph Triolo was the first to leave the USS Oklahoma. In 1938 he moved to another ship in the Pacific fleet. His brother John Triolo stayed on the Oklahoma until November of 1941, when he got orders to return to the mainland to attend aviation maintenance school in Norfolk, Virginia.

By 1941, Donald McCloud was Petty Officer Second Class McCloud. He had done well in firing those big 14 inch guns on the Oklahoma and progressed in rate/rank. He was offered the chance to leave the Okie but declined.

In December of 1941, Joe Triolo was stationed on board the USS Tangier, a seaplane tender (repair ship) that was sailing in and out of Pearl Harbor that fall. When the USS Oklahoma pulled into Pearl, Joe made arrangements to meet his old high school friend, Don McCloud. The Oklahoma had a baseball team and the team was playing a game the afternoon of 6 December 1941 on Ford Island, which is in the middle of Pearl Harbor.

Joe Triolo met his friend at the game. They spent most of the afternoon talking about home. When the game was over, Donald suggested they get a couple of beers, but Joe was broke. Donald McCloud lent his friend $2 and they headed to the Enlisted Men’s club on Ford Island. At the end of the evening the two friends returned to their ships, never to see each other again.

The next morning the Japanese Navy sent in their carrier-based aircraft and tragic history was made. Joe Triolo had spent the last three years in the Pacific and knew what a Jap plane looked like. When the enemy’s aircraft flew over his ship, there was no question in his mind about who was attacking them. Joe Triolo manned his .50 caliber machine-gun on the starboard side of the bridge and the USS Tangier was credited with three aircraft kills that day. He personally fired on the aircraft that crashed into and sadly caused the sinking of the USS Utah.

The Oklahoma had all its water tight doors open for an upcoming inspection, causing it to roll over and sink after multiple torpedo hits. 429 Sailors and Marines died on the USS Oklahoma, including FC2c Donald R. McCloud.

When the Okie was raised and the bodies of her dead crew members were removed, only a few were identifiable and could be sent home for a military funeral. Donald McCloud's body was never sent home. The remains of the unidentified were buried in unmarked mass graves at the Punch Bowl National Cemetery, in Hawaii.

Finally, on 7 December 2002, a marker was placed over the mass graves (www.ussoklahoma.com). “We buried an old Naval veteran today,” unlike in the poem "The USS Oklahoma Veteran," not all combat-killed Americans are buried where family can go to visit and remember. No-one can visit Donald Robert McCloud, but he is not forgotten. If money spends in Heaven, someday Chief Petty Officer Joseph Triolo, US Navy Retired, will repay his friend $2.

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Copyright 2008, 2013 by Major Van Harl USAF Ret. and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.