CYA Frank Bernard Head,

Unknown Sailor

CYA Frank Bernard Head

In his last letter to his older brother back in North Dakota, Navy man Frank Peter Bernard wrote, “I think that I will get hitch to that little girl up in Washington she is a honey and she will join the church to marry me what do you think of that is it all right to do that…”

Mr. Bernard was killed 30 days later in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was a shipfitter and petty officer second class on the U.S.S. Arizona.

Mr. Bernard was born July 24, 1915, in Grafton, North Dakota, to Henry Bernard, chief engineer at a flour mill where his brother was chief miller. The father was also a Spanish-American war veteran and Canadian immigrant. His mother, Josephine Collette Bernard, was a homemaker.

He was a Boy Scout and attended high school in Grafton for two years. A relative later said he appeared to be a “devil-may-care kid” who “had the ability but apparently lacked the motivation” to finish school. 

He enlisted in the Navy in September 1935 and at the end of training at the Great Lakes, Illinois, Naval Training Station was chosen as honor man for his company of 84 sailors. A news account said his selection “is based upon the degree to which he has assimilated the course of instruction given him, as well as upon his aptitude for the Service as shown by willing and prompt obedience to orders, neatness and cleanliness in person and habits, and application to naval life in general.”

Mr. Bernard finished his first enlistment in June 1941 and immediately signed up a second time. He received a promotion to shipfitter second class in September, and proudly told his brother, Henry Jr., about it in the last two-page, single-spaced letter, dated Nov. 7.

At the time of the attack, his parents were staying in Long Beach, California, near San Pedro Bay — the mainland home base for the Arizona. A news story first reported — incorrectly as it turned out — that John Grabinski, a North Dakota friend of their son, had been killed. Only later did they find out that their son was dead.

The next February, the Grand Forks Herald reported on a state picnic attended by about 3,500 North Dakotans who had moved to California or were wintering there. A man representing the government of Poland rose to speak about Grabinski, who was of Polish descent, and who the man said died at Pearl Harbor. “When he had finished reading, a man and his wife arose in the audience, asking if he might interrupt for just a moment.” The man explained that Mr. Grabinski was alive but that “the boy killed was our son!” The crowd rose around Mr. and Mrs. Bernard “and stood in silence for a moment in honor of the dead hero and the parents who made the sacrifice.”

Henry Bernard Jr. named one of his sons Frank Peter in honor of his brother.

Sources: Special thanks to Dick Bernard for most of his information about his uncle Frank. Thanks also to Dave Calvert for the 1938 photo, which shows his dad, H Max Calvert, on the left and Frank Peter “Petey” Bernard on the right at Long Beach, California. They were Navy buddies. Other sources include: the Walsh County (North Dakota) Record; Navy muster rolls; Census. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona. Researcher’s note: The confusion about Mr. Grabinski was not isolated in the chaos immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Personnel records were kept on paper and were not immediately available. In researching the attack, I’ve come across at least a dozen similar mix-ups. The family of one U.S.S. Arizona sailor was told he was missing, then aliv and then killed.
NOTE: If you are a family member related to this crew member of the U.S.S. Arizona, or have additional information, pictures or documents to share about his life or service to our county please contact us through our FAMILY MEMBER SUBMISSION FORM