OC1c Henry Symontte

Unknown Sailor

OC1c Henry Symontte

A year after Henry Symonette’s death at Pearl Harbor, his family placed a newspaper notice in The California Eagle in Los Angeles that said: “Far away in the briny deep. Lies the body, which God giveth. Leaving us alone to weep.”

It was signed by his widow, Mildred; his parents, the W. H. Symonettes; and a niece, Virginia Gibson.

Mr. Symonette, an officer’s cook and petty officer first class on the U.S.S. Arizona, had served in the Navy for 23 years when he was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. His body was never recovered.

He enlisted at Key West, Florida in June 1918 from Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas. He was a mess attendant third class at Headquarters, 7th Naval District Submarine Base, in Key West through the end of World War I – Nov. 11, 1918.

He last re-enlisted on August 17, 1935 and by then was a mess attendant first class.

He and Mildred L. Hatcher, 30, married in California on Nov. 21, 1938. A newspaper mention of their application for a marriage license said he was 36. That would mean that he was born in 1902, but his 1918 enlistment papers and later Navy records say he was born April 24, 1900.

Other publicly available records reveal little more about Mr. Symonette, but circa 1990 revisions of an early 1942 Navy list of those who died on the Arizona says his widow was Tommie May Symonette of Los Angeles while the Veterans Administration says that the family lived in Pasadena.

However, his commitment to military service says a great deal about him and the times in which he lived. Mr. Symonette was black, which meant only one job path was open to him in the segregated Navy since the Wilson Administration. He started as a mess attendant — a sailor who cooked, cleaned, and performed other services. As a cook for the battleship’s officers, he had advanced five grades to petty officer first class – a senior non-commissioned officer, but that was as far as he could go.


Sources: The California Eagle of Los Angeles; Navy service records, muster roll, and casualty  lists. 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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