On the morning of December 7, 1941, an aerial striking force of the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, in the US Territory of Hawaii. In the chaos and horror that ensued, there were men who were able to keep their wits and help those around them, putting their own lives in mortal danger. One of these men was Chief Boatswain Edwin Hill.
Hill had served the US Navy since 1912, and was stationed aboard the USS Nevada on the morning of the Pearl Harbor attack. As the ship began taking on water and fires burned across her decks, Hill knew he had to take action, even if it meant putting his life at great risk. Still tied to her mooring, Nevada needed to escape, and Hill would be the man to make it possible.
A Battleship Escapes
When the attack began, most of the battleships lined up along the southeastern side of Ford Island—Battleship Row—were trapped where they were moored. The exception was the USS Nevada (BB-36). Though her crew attempted to steer her away from the harbor and the incoming Japanese torpedoes and bombs, she was too important a target for the attackers to ignore. Forward of the USS Arizona (BB-39) and without another ship moored alongside, she had the clearance to maneuver, but Japan’s fighters and bombers were too persistent.
One Type 91 torpedo struck Nevada at frame 41, and while the torpedo bulkhead didn’t give, water started to leak through the joints. Port side compartments flooded and damage control crews rushed to do what they could, but eventually five more bombs struck and Nevada was in desperate trouble.
Edwin Hill, Nevada’s Savior
As Japanese aircraft strafed Nevada, Edwin Hill jumped overboard into the harbor. From the murky and dangerous waters, he climbed onto the dock that Nevada was tied to and released the battleship from her mooring. Other men might have left it at that, satisfied with having provided their ship with a means of leaving the harbor. Hill, however, dove back into the water so he could climb aboard his ship again to resume helping his fellow-sailors. As the Japanese planes continued their assault on Pearl Harbor, Hill directed several younger, less-experienced sailors to take cover behind the ship’s gun turrets.
A Hero Meets His Fate
During the second wave of the attack, Hill was working to drop the battleship’s anchor when one of five bombs struck the bow of the USS Nevada. In the chaos, Hill was killed. Eventually, the battleship was grounded and prevented from sinking and blocking the harbor entrance, but as the crew started to assess the damage, Hill’s body was found.
The official citation for the Medal of Honor he received for his heroism that day indicated he had been killed by the bomb that struck the bow, but bullet wounds found on his body suggest he could have been killed by strafing fire. Whatever the cause of death, Chief Boatswain Edwin Hill died a hero.