Albert V. Paulek

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September 22, 1918 – April 22, 2015

Albert Paulek & Brent Spencer

WWII – U.S. Navy 1940 through 1960: Chief Petty Officer – National WWII Memorial Honoree.

Pearl Harbor

By April of 1940, the war in Europe had been raging for eight months. Germany was preparing to attack western Europe and within weeks, France would fall, leaving England to face Germany alone. In Asia, Japan had brought China nearly to its knees after several years of war and was hungrily eyeing the oil fields of southeast Asia. Meanwhile, a strong isolationist movement in the U.S. had kept America out of the war. That month, the U.S. Navy decided to relocate its Pacific Fleet from San Diego, California to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to be closer to the action in Asia. A major problem, though, was fuel. Since Hawaii had no oil resources, all fuel had to be imported. The tanker U.S.S. Cimarron (AO-22) was pressed into action and spent the next several months speeding back and forth across the Pacific, carrying fuel from San Pedro, California to Pearl Harbor. She was joined in August of 1941 by the U.S.S. Neosho (A0-23). On December 6, 1941, the U.S.S. Neosho, with Albert Paulek aboard, pulled into Pearl Harbor with a full load of fuel, finishing its sixth round-trip from the U.S. mainland. Around midnight, the Neosho docked at Ford Island, nestled securely between the battleships U.S.S. Oklahoma (BB-37) and U.S.S. California (BB-44) in the middle of “Battleship Row”, and began transferring aviation fuel to the large tanks ashore.

The next morning, at 7:55 a.m., the Neosho had almost finished unloading its tanks when waves of Japanese planes suddenly attacked and mercilessly pummeled the U.S. Pacific Fleet, sitting idly at anchor. During a slight lull in the battle, the Neosho, one of the first ships at Pearl Harbor that morning to get under way, headed for safety on the Oahu mainland and dodged bombs and torpedoes while shooting down at least one Japanese plane. The Neosho and her crew barely escaped through the “watery hell of Pearl Harbor”. The Neosho was the only ship berthed on “Battleship Row” that terrible morning which was not damaged.

Albert told me that he was at the 65th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and that they were announcing ship names and asking those that had served on the given ship to please stand. When the U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23) was announced, Albert was the only one that stood. He said that only one other person had signed the guest book as a crew member of the Neosho.

Coral Sea

On the morning of May 7th, 1942, returning from refueling aircraft carriers, the Neosho along with her escort the destroyer U.S.S. Sims (DD-409) were spotted in the Coral Sea by a search plane from the Japanese striking force and mistakenly identified as a carrier and a cruiser. After being reported to Admiral Takagi, an all-out attack was ordered. At 0930, 15 high level bombers attacked the two ships but did no damage. At 1038, 10 more attacked the destroyer, but skillful maneuvering evaded the nine bombs that were dropped. A third attack against the two ships by 36 Val dive bombers was devastating. The U.S.S. Sims was attacked from all directions. The destroyer defended herself as best she could. Three 250 kg (551 lb) bombs hit the destroyer. Two exploded in the engine room, and within minutes, the ship buckled amidships and began to sink, stern first. Albert told me that he had seen the Sims split in two and sink. As the Sims slid beneath the waves, there was a tremendous explosion that raised what was left of the ship almost 15 feet out of the water. Albert told me that this explosion was due to the depth charges stored on board the Sims rolling off into the ocean and detonating. He said the men had no chance.

Neosho was soon a blazing wreck as the result of seven direct hits and one plane that dived into her. Albert was wounded in this attack. He told me that he watched a bomb enter and then disappear below the deck about 12 feet from him and then explode. The blast completely covered him in diesel fuel, rendering him unable to see. When he finally cleared the fuel from his eyes, he saw that the deck was covered with dead, burning and wounded sailors. Burning and immobilized, the Neosho began listing sharply in the choppy seas. Afraid that the Neosho would capsize, Captain John Phillips ordered the crew to “prepare to abandon ship”, but the message got garbled and dozens of men, including Albert, immediately jumped into the water. Many of those drowned while others, including Albert, piled into the three motorized whale boats that slowly circled the ailing ship. Dozens more clambered onto liferafts that slowly drifted away from the Neosho, most of whom were never seen again. The next morning, the men on the whale boats went back aboard the immobilized Neosho, now listing at 30 degrees with the starboard rail underwater, and Captain John Phillips did a head count. Of the 293 men onboard the ship before the attack, 20 men were confirmed dead and 158 men were missing, many of whom were on the rafts that had drifted away from the ship.

Between the U.S.S. Sims and the Neosho only 123 of over 500 men survived and were rescued 4 days later. The men on these two ships could have very well been the first casualties of the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Medals and Honors: The Purple Heart, Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Medal, the Asia-Pacific Campaign Medal with three Battle Stars & the American Area Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation and the WWII Victory Medal.

Special thanks to http://www.delsjourney.com/uss_neosho/neosho_home.htm for information used in this tribute to the U.S.S. Neosho (A0-23) and Albert Paulek.

Albert Paulek & Brooke Spencer

My daughter, Brooke, and I will always remember one of the last things Albert told us – “Life is all about your attitude”. I think he was definitely on to something. 😉

U.S.S. Neosho (A0-23) in Pearl Harbor
December 7th, 1941

U.S.S. Neosho (A0-23) in Pearl Harbor - December 7th, 1941

 Captured photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attacks on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. Japanese Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 torpedo bombers are visible in the right center (over U.S.S. Neosho) and over the Navy Yard at right. A torpedo has just hit U.S.S. West Virginia (BB-48) on the far side of Ford Island (center, just to the left of the U.S.S. Neosho).

U.S.S. Neosho (A0-23) in Pearl Harbor
December 7th, 1941

Pearl Harbor 1941

 This is the same as the previous photo but with notations.

U.S.S. Neosho (A0-23) in Pearl Harbor
December 7th, 1941

Pearl Harbor 1941

 This is yet another aerial view of “Battleship Row” at about 0800 on December 7th, 1941 taken by a Japanese torpedo plane pilot. Ships are, from lower left to right: Nevada (BB-36) with flag raised at stern; Arizona (BB-39) with Vestal (AR-4) outboard (furthest to the left towards the torpedo splash); Tennessee (BB-43) with West Virginia (BB-48) outboard; Maryland (BB-46) with Oklahoma (BB-37) outboard; Neosho (AO-23) and California (BB-44). West Virginia, Oklahoma and California have been torpedoed, as marked by ripples and spreading oil, and the first two are listing to port. Torpedo drop splashes and running tracks are visible at left and center. White smoke in the distance is from Hickam Field. Grey smoke in the center middle distance is from the torpedoed U.S.S. Helena (CL-50) in the Navy Yard’s 1010 dock. Click on the photo to see more details.

U.S.S. Neosho (A0-23) in Pearl Harbor
December 7th, 1941

U.S.S. Neosho (A0-23) in Pearl Harbor - December 7th, 1941

 This photo is from a different perspective, but the U.S.S. Neosho (A0-23) and surrounding ships are in the same position as that in the previous photos. The U.S.S. Neosho (A0-23) (right) at about 8:30 a.m. An awning, erected for Sunday morning services, covers the bow of the U.S.S. California (left), which is listing and straining at its lines. The U.S.S. Oklahoma lies capsized behind the Neosho. Most of the smoke is from the U.S.S. Arizona (BB-39). This was just before Captain John Phillips ordered the Neosho’s lines cut.

U.S.S. Neosho (A0-23) Footage

This footage seems to be of the U.S.S. Neosho (A0-23) in Pearl Harbor before she pulled out to sea.

Note: Right click video and select Loop to repeat.

Source: https://youtu.be/I3iwLoZjTKE?t=42s

U.S.S. Neosho (A0-23) in Pearl Harbor - December 7th, 1941

 This is a screenshot from the previous footage.

U.S.S. Neosho (A0-23) in the Coral Sea
May 7th, 1942

U.S.S. Neosho (A0-23) in the Coral Sea - May 7th, 1942

 This is the last known photo taken of the U.S.S. Neosho (A0-23) (the bow is to the left). It was taken from a Japanese plane about 1 p.m. on May 7, 1942, after the 36 Japanese Val dive bombers attacked the Neosho and its escort, the destroyer U.S.S. Sims. Despite a 30-degree list, the ship would continue to float for four days until the surviving 123 crewmen, including Albert Paulek, were rescued by the destroyer U.S.S. Henley on May 11, 1942.

Albert Victor Paulek
Then and Now (8/3/2014)

Albert Victor Paulek Then and Now (8/3/2014)

 Albert was born in Durango, CO on September 22, 1918. He passed away at the age of 96 on April 22, 2015 – San Diego Union Tribune Obituary.
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