PFC Richard Patt Stoval

Unknown Sailor

PFC Richard Patt Stoval

“Well, I took my first ride on a battleship today,” Richard Patt Stovall wrote from the U.S.S. Arizona in January 1941. “We were underway about eight hours and were never over five or six miles from port. The ship just came here from dry dock at Bremerton, Wash., where it had a complete overhaul. We went in an extended figure eight all day testing some new instruments and equipment. I don’t know what kind of instruments they are. The entire Navy and its operations are very secretive these days. No one knows what goes on except the Department of Pacific, and they won’t tell.”

His letter to his parents in Hartley, Texas, population 150, was such big news that the daily newspaper in nearby Dalhart in the panhandle northwest of Amarillo published the entire thing. He had joined the Marines the previous October.

“You asked me what we had to do aboard ship,” Mr. Stovall wrote. “If I took time to enumerate all the duties of Marines afloat, I would be here all night, and it would take about a dollar to mail the letter. The primary duty of Marines afloat is to form a landing force as part of the Navy — that is in time of war. In peace time we have orderly and sentry duties. We walk around with a billy club and see that the ‘flat feet’ (sailors) stay in line. They don’t appreciate it, but they have to put up with it.”

In his next letter, he wrote: “Well, here I am practically in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and I am still completely fascinated with the whole thing. This is surely the most interesting experience of my life — up to the present moment. There is nothing to be seen except water, and it is a very beautiful sight. At the present time the water is pretty rough, and the entire surface is just a mass of whitecaps just as far as the eye can see. Then, too, there are two destroyers and one cruiser with us, and we are constantly maneuvering. It really is fascinating to watch these men o’ war maneuver into battle formation.

“You should see these two destroyers bounce around. You can’t see them half the time for the spray. They must be difficult to ride. I almost got seasick on this ‘battle wagon’ and it doesn’t rock but very little. It takes a powerful wave to move 35,000 tons to any great extent. Right now, the waves are breaking over the forecastle every time we dip in (which is about every five seconds) and all the water-tight hatches and doors are closed. Still, if you don’t pay particular attention to it, you never notice the roll of the ship. It is almost unbelievable how the ship rides so smoothly, gliding through the mountainous waves. They will average 30 feet in height.”

Near the end of the second letter, the 22-year-old wrote: “Despite the great adventure I am having, I still get lonesome for home, my folks and my friends.”

Mr. Stovall, born Nov. 27, 1917 in Bardwell, Texas south of Dallas, was the son of Judson Clyde Stovall and Essie Regina Cates Stovall. The father farmed to support their family of eight boys and three girls.

In 1927 the family moved over 450 miles north-northwest to Hartley. Ten years later, Richard Patt Stovall graduated from Hartley High School and worked as a farm hand before enlisting.

He was a private first class when he was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. He is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at the Punchbowl in Honolulu.

Mr. Stovall and a Guy Dugger, a Dalhart man also killed in the attack, were honored at a memorial service in January 1942 at the Central Methodist Church in Dalhart. Clergy from several churches participated in the service, which was organized by the American Legion.

Men from Hartley organized Legion Post 494 in 1946 and named it in Mr. Stovall’s honor.


Sources: the Dalhart Texan; the Amarillo (Texas) Daily News; Fort Worth (Texas_ Star-Telegram; Texas State Historical Association; Texas Genealogical Records for Ellis County; Census; Texas death certificate. Marine photograph. 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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