Townspeople filled the First Baptist Church in Homestead, Florida, in January 1942 to mourn the deaths of two of their own at Pearl Harbor.
John Anderson Arrant and Earl Walter Smith were on the U.S.S. Arizona when it was bombed and sunk by Japan on Dec. 7, 1941.
It is unclear whether the two were friends before they joined the Navy, but they surely knew each other. They were just ten months apart in age, and Homestead had fewer than 3,000 people when they were kids.
Mr. Arrant was born Sept. 27, 1917, at Seale, Alabama. His father, John C. Arrant, was a farmer and his mother, Mary Thigpen Arrant, a homemaker. The family moved to Homestead in 1922.
He was in high school at Homestead when he quit to enlist in the Navy on Jan. 20, 1936. He had advanced to machinist’s mate first class by the time he died.
Mr. Smith was born Nov. 15, 1916, in north Georgia. HIs father, Andrew Smith, was a farmer, and his mother, Florence Hood Smith, a homemaker. She died of cancer when Earl was 11. His father died less than two years later of pneumonia.
Earl, known as Smitty, moved to Homestead to live with an older brother, Arthur, and his family. He graduated in 1937 from Homestead High, where he played several sports. A news article in 1936 described him as the “talkative captain” of the basketball team.
He apparently had a military career in mind long before he joined the Navy on Aug. 25, 1937. He attended a citizens’ military training camp at Fort Screven in Georgia in the summers of 1935-37.
Mr. Smith had advanced to fire controlman third class by the time he died. His Navy commitment had ended in August, but with war looming, he was kept in service. He was also a member of the Arizona’s baseball team.
The sailors’ local newspaper, The Homestead Leader-Enterprise, reported on Dec. 19, 1941, “No news is good news, is the theory on which the families of Earl Smith and Anderson Arrant base their hope for the safety of the two youths…”
Their hopes ended in mid-January 1942. Arthur Smith was told that his brother’s body had been recovered but that it wasn’t possible to send him home. At about the same time, the Arrant parents were told that John was dead, though no body was found.
Their memorial service, on a Sunday afternoon in late January, included a talk by the principal of Homestead High and participation by clergy from the Baptist and Methodist churches. Classmates and members of the local American Legion attended.
Homestead organized Veterans of Foreign Wars post 4127 in June 1945 and named it in honor of Mr. Smith and Mr. Arrant.
Mr. Smith’s body was returned to the mainland after the war ended and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Mr. Arrant — along with most of the 1,177 sailors and Marines killed on the Arizona — remains on the battleship
Sources: The Homestead (Florida) Leader-Enterprise is the main source for this profile. Other sources include: the Miami News; Census; Navy muster rolls; grave markers; Georgia death certificates. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.