S1c Harl Coplin Nelson

Unknown Sailor

S1c Harl Coplin Nelson

Harl Coplin Nelson had jaundice and was in the sick bay on the U.S.S. Arizona on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.

His friend Donald Stratton, who would be one of only 337 survivors from the battleship, had filled his cap with oranges after breakfast and planned to take them to Mr. Nelson. But riight then, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor began, killing Mr. Nelson and 1,176 his shipmates  on the Arizona.

Mr. Nelson was born Oct. 11, 1917 in Nevada County in southwest Arkansas. His mother, Verna, was a homemaker and his father, Frank, a farmer.

The Depression was hard on Mr. Nelson’s family. The 1940 Census showed that his father worked all of 1939 and earned no income from that endeavor. Harl was listed as an unpaid family farm hand in 1940. The previous year he worked 40 weeks and earned $25. A younger brother had earned $36 and worked 39 weeks as a laborer for the Civilian Conservation Corps, a federal jobs program. Harl had completed the 8th grade.

Mr. Nelson enlisted in the Navy on Nov. 9, 1940. He was a seaman first class when he died. 

He and Mr. Stratton were assigned matching battle stations and also ran the incinerator on the Arizona, burning boxes and other trash. “We worked together for about six months,” Mr. Stratton wrote in his 2016 memoir, “All the Gallant Men.” “It was good to have a buddy with you, because it was pretty boring work. We also went on shore leave together, where we might go to the north end of the island to watch the pipeline waves that Hawaii was so famous for, or to the south end of the island to watch the geyser spew. Those may seem pretty tame entertainment for a couple of sailors on leave, but Harl was from Arkansas and I was from Nebraska, and, well, you just don’t see things like waves and geysers in our neck of the woods.”


Sources: “All the Gallant Men,” by Donald Stratton with Ken Gire; U.S. Census; Navy muster rolls; draft card.; The Arkansas Gazette; Defense Department. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.

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