In April 1940, the USS Arizona moved from its home in California to what would become its final resting place in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. After serving in World War I, the Arizona was stationed in Hawaii to deter Japanese imperialism. On that fateful December day in 1941, two of the 1,512 crewmen on board were from the Titusville area and only one would survive.
Robert William Clark, Jr. grew up in Pleasantville after being born in Grand Valley on October 1, 1917 to Robert William Clark Sr. and Jennie Bell Twombly Clark. Robert was the third of four children with older brother Marion, older sister Helen, and younger sister Mary. Robert graduated from the high school in Pleasantville in 1936 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy on October 9, 1940. He served as a Fire Controlman Third Class.
Shortly after entering the service, Clark wrote a letter to his sister Mary in April 1941. Without giving away his exact location, other than that he was stationed on the USS Arizona, he described a very exciting day in March. A mail plane delivering letters to the ship crashed into the ocean nearby. Sailors rushed out to rescue the pilots. Before they could pull them to the ship, hammerhead sharks began circling and sailors fired at them from the ship. The sharks were not killed and backed off long enough to save the pilots, though one was stark naked, his clothes being lost in the scuffle. The mail from the plane was recovered and a blurry letter from Clark’s mother was sent back to Pleasantville by Clark as a “souvenir of a day’s adventure on the Arizona.” Clark and his family could not imagine what the end of the year would bring.
On December 7, 1941 the USS Arizona was struck four times by Japanese aircraft bombs. The bombs and explosion afterward killed 1,177 of the 1,512 crewmen on board. However, that news could not travel quickly across the thousands of miles back to the Oil Region.
On December 9, the Titusville Herald reported that, “The latest developments in the war are causing much concern in Pleasantville as a number of local boys are stationed in the new war zone. Alfred Scott and Richard Manuel are with the U.S. Army and Robert Clark is with the Navy in the Hawaiian Islands. Maurice Monroe is stationed in the Philippines.” In addition to the men mentioned, Eugene Brown, who had attended Titusville schools while living with his grandparents in Titusville, was also stationed on the USS Arizona.
By December 15, the country knew that the extent of damage at Pearl Harbor was enormous, but many refused to believe Japanese claims of sinking the USS Arizona. Hope was kept alive through the holidays as Alfred Scott reported safe to his parents and since the families of Clark and Monroe had heard no word from the military, it was assumed that both their sons were safe. No update was received regarding Brown.
On Sunday, January 18 at 11:48pm, the Clark family received a Navy telegram which informed them that after extensive search of the area, it was impossible to locate their son, Robert W. Clark Jr., and therefore he was declared to have lost his life at Pearl Harbor.
The Pleasantville and Titusville communities deeply felt the loss of Robert Clark. He was the first person from the region to give his life in World War II. On February 6, 1942, a memorial for Clark was held at the Pleasantville Presbyterian Church with more than 250 people in attendance. It was decided that the high school be named for the fallen sailor, Robert Clark High School.
In April 1942, it was finally determined that former Titusville boy Eugene Brown had survived the sinking of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. Brown, a Seaman First Class, jumped from the stern of the ship when it went up in flames. He swam 300 yards to shore and watched three Japanese planes fall from the sky and a fourth crash onto the sinking Arizona. One of Brown’s best friends was killed in the attack and Brown went on to take part in the successful attacks on the Marshall and Gilbert Islands.
Maurice Monroe, who was stationed in the Philippines during Pearl Harbor was taken prisoner of war by the Japanese after the surrender of Corregidor in 1942. He survived three years as a POW in Manchuria and returned home in November 1945 after being away for more than four years.
Richard Manuel was transferred from Hawaii to the Philippines where he also survived a time as a prisoner of war after the surrender of Corregidor and returned home on furlough in 1945.
In 1962, a national memorial was opened at the final resting place of the USS Arizona where visitors can pay their respects. Many Arizona survivors have their ashes placed in the ship after death and veterans who served onboard prior to World War II can have their ashes scattered atop the water that surrounds her.
Many local men and women have honorably served their country for centuries. One of those men was Robert W. Clark, Jr. whose body rests in Pearl Harbor and whose spirit of sacrifice lives in the Oil Region still.
Sources: Titusville Herald 4/19/1941, 12/9/1941, 12/15/1941, 12/16/1941, 12/23/1941, 1/20/1942, 2/7/1942, 3/19/1942, 4/14/1942, 8/11/1942, 11/15/1945, 11/21/1985; US Military Service Records, US Navy, US National Archives, 1950 Pleasantville Yearbook