80 years ago the Empire of Japan attacked the United States, destroying much of the Pacific Fleet and killing over 2,000 sailors. There are many stories of heroism on that day; one in particular involves the actions of lieutenant commander Samuel Fuqua, senior officer on the USS Arizona. Nearly half of all the sailors killed in the attack were on the Arizona.
Commander Fuqua was at breakfast when the air raid sirens sounded sortly before 8 AM. Running to the quarterdeck, he was immediately strafed by enemy gunfire, then knocked unconscious when a bomb exploded a few feet away. After regaining consciousness, he began directing firefighting operations until a second bomb detonated the ship’s ammunition magazine, killing over 1,000 men. Fuqua, a stub of cigar in his teeth, set about calmly and efficiently evacuating the surviving men from his ship. The ship was rapidly sinking, and the enemy continued to strafe the decks. Once he was certain his men had safely abandoned ship, Fuqua and two other officers took a lifeboat and began rescuing survivors from the water near the ship. They dodged not only the burning oil slicks near the ships but continuing fire from the Japanese planes circling overhead.
For his distinguished conduct and heroism at that time, Commander Fuqua was awarded the Medal of Honor. He would go on to plan several operations in the Western Pacific during the war, retiring from service in 1953 with the rank of Rear Admiral.