James Randolf Van Horn quit Tucson High School after his sophomore year to join the Navy. Just six months later, at age 17, he died on the U.S.S. Arizona.
His mother, Bonnie Cope, said he never talked about the Navy until the spring of 1941 when Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd gave a recruiting talk at Tucson High. “Then nothing would hold him. He was inspired. He wanted to go,” she told the Tucson Daily Citizen in 1958.
Van Horn could have joined other ships but chose the Arizona because it represented his home state. He enlisted in June and was on the ship by August. He was a seaman second class when he was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.
Van Horn’s hero, Rear Admiral Kidd, also died on the Arizona. He’d been billeted to the ship because she was the flagship of Battleship Division One, which Kidd commanded.
The Navy told Mr. Van Horn’s mother in December 1941 that he was missing and in February 1942 that he was dead. But “I never gave up hope as long as the war lasted,” she said years later.
James was born March 31, 1924 in Oklahoma to John Van Horn and Bonnie Simpson Van Horn. By the time of the 1930 Census, Mrs. Van Horn and her three children were living on a farm in New Mexico with her parents. She moved with the children in 1936 to Tucson, where James attended Roskruge Junior High School. It isn’t clear when the Van Horn parents divorced, but she remarried in 1939. The 1940 Census showed James living with his mother, step-father James Cope, and two siblings in Tucson.
At least one of his brothers, Dudley, also served in World War II. He joined the Army in 1943.
Sources: the Arizona Daily Star, the Tucson Citizen, Navy muster rolls; Census; Arizona and Oklahoma marriage records. Newspaper photograph. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.