PVT Kent Blake Fitzgerald
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PVT Kent Blake Fitzgerald
Kent Blake Fitzgerald enlisted in the Marines right out of school in 1940. He was 18 years old and 4 months when he started boot camp in San Diego in August. He finished boot camp the first week of October 1940 and returned home to Salt Lake for leave. Afterwards he returned to San Diego and he was assigned to the USS Arizona. He sailed with the Arizona to Bremerton Washington. The Arizona was there for an overhaul and would be there until January 1941. Kent was primarily assigned to guard duty.
When the ship departed Washington they sailed to San Francisco and had shore leave for 3 days and then to San Diego. They arrived in Honolulu February 3rd 1941. When they arrived they received a new Captain, Franklin Van Valkenburgh They would go out to sea every other week while at Pearl Harbor. He celebrated his 19th birthday in Hawaii. He wasn’t overly impressed with Hawaii, saying it wasn’t all that it is cracked up to be.
Life on the ship had its routines. When at sea he would be on duty for 4 hours and then off for 8. They would also practice drills in the afternoon. While in port it was similar but they would have a day on and a day of liberty.
Kent was a gunnery private and would have been assigned to a five-inch guns. These were above the main level on the center of the ship on each side – called the upper deck. They were inside what is called a casemates. Essentially a steel encased bunker or an enclosed gun rooms, just behind the second turret. The Marine Detachment quarters were located directly adjacent to these casemates to ensure that most of the gun crews would only be a few steps away from their battle stations in the event of an emergency.
Arizona’s Marine gunners would conduct drills frequently, sometimes for hours on end, as there was intense pride in having the most efficient gun crews. When not doing live fire drills, they would use a working model of a gun’s breech block to practice the timing of the loading process. Internal competition was promoted to encourage performance and loaders who weren’t up to snuff were given less demanding positions.
June 10th they sailed again for San Diego, arriving on the 17th. They were on leave for 10 days For over a year the entire pacific fleet was moved and based out of Hawaii. I imagine that the facilities and defense of the mainland cause a lot of transpacific sailings. This would put them back at Pearl Harbor for July 4th.
On 22 October 1941, during an exercise taking place in heavy fog, the Arizona was hit in the bow by the Oklahoma. Arizona had been scheduled to depart for Bremerton Navy Yard in November to undergo an overhaul. The accident instead required her to be dry-docked at Pearl Harbor for repairs to the collision damage. As a result, she remained in Hawaii. The ship followed its normal training after dry dock.
It went out on a sortie for a night-firing exercise on the night of 4 December as part of Battleship Division One, alongside Nevada and Oklahoma. All three ships moored at quays along Ford Island on the following day. On 6 December, the repair ship Vestal came alongside to assist the ship’s crew with minor repairs.
On Saturday night, December 6, 1941, Kent likely attended a rousing musical competition, the Battle of Music at Bloch Arena at the Pearl Harbor Naval Station. He would have listened to several bands compete to play against the Arizona’s band on December 20th. With the entire fleet in Pearl Harbor there would have been a lot of sailors and marines to entertain.
On board Arizona, the ship’s air raid alarm went off at about 07:55, and the ship went to general quarters soon after. We don’t know much of the details as they pertained to Kent on December 7th, but likely he would have scrambled to his post in the casemates. We do know that while the wide casemate openings allowed the guns to train side to side in a wide arc, they could only elevate a maximum of 20 degrees, rendering them useless for anti-aircraft purposes.
Shortly after 08:00, ten Nakajima B5N2 “Kate” torpedo bombers attacked Arizona with armor-piercing bombs. The aircraft scored four hits and three near misses on and around Arizona. The last bomb hit at 08:06 in the vicinity of Turret II, where he would have been just 20 feet behind. About seven seconds after the hit, the forward magazines detonated in a cataclysmic explosion, mostly venting through the sides of the ship and destroying much of the interior structure of the forward part of the ship. This caused the forward turrets and conning tower to collapse downward some 25–30 feet and the foremast and funnel to collapse forward, effectively tearing the ship in half.
The five inch casemates and adjacent Marine Detachment living quarters were directly exposed to the violent blast and immediate searing flames. Those Marines not killed instantly were burned beyond recognition and didn’t survive long after. 15 of the 88 marines on board survived, most with severe burns. 52, including Kent, were never identified.
He was awarded the Purple Heart. This was sent to his father Walter Day Fitzgerald. He also earned the American Defense Service Medal and the Asia Pacific Campaign Medal. From what we can tell these were never awarded or received.
Source:The above biography was written and submitted by Kent’s grand-nephew Mark Fitzgerald. He also submitted the profile photo.
Kent Blake Fitzgerald was born March 1, 1922 in Richfield in central Utah to Walter Fitzgerald, a real estate agent, and Beatrice Blake Fitzgerald, a homemaker.
The boy was 10 when his mother died at age 46 a few weeks after the birth of another son.
His father remarried Vera Harding the next year.
Kent Fitzgerald attended elementary school in Richfield and in Salt Lake City. He graduated from West High in Salt Lake City and belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Mr. Fitzgerald enlisted in the Marines in August 1940 and was a private on the U.S.S. Arizona when he was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.
Sources: the Salt Lake Tribune; the Deseret News of Salt Lake City; the Salt Lake City Telegram; Utah death record; Marine muster roll; Census. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.