Bo Bochansky, a Payson resident for the last 20 years, is one of Pearl Harbor’s survivors. As America remembers the attack on Pearl Harbor, Bochansky shares his recollections of the event.
It was a Sunday morning and Robert “Bo” Bochansky was sleeping in. As one of the ship’s storekeepers, he bunked in the supply office of the USS Rigel.
He woke up to the sound of explosions and cracking noises.
“I thought it was the Fourth of July at first,” Bochansky said.
Next he heard someone yell, “Everybody get below.”
He said he thought one of the rummies on board was fooling around with a gun, so he turned over, and went back to sleep.
But then a fellow storekeeper, Wiggins, rushed in yelling, “Bo get up! The Japs are attacking!”
Bochansky didn’t believe him and, using the colorful language so common among sailors, told him so. Wiggins, using equally colorful language, told Bochansky to get out of bed and see for himself.
Still in his Skivvies, Bochansky went out on the deck and saw a plane fly by and, “I saw the fish (torpedo) drop.”
It was Dec. 7, 1941, and the Rigel was docked at Pearl Harbor for an overhaul.
The fire and rescue alarm sounded and Bochansky went to his station at one of the (wire basket-like) stretchers.
He said only about a quarter of the crew was on board; the balance of the ship’s company had liberty. With so few men aboard, different duties were assigned in the event of an emergency. For fire and rescue duty, he was stationed on the deck below the top deck.
Bombs started dropping on the ships and two dropped between the Rigel and USS New Orleans, which was moored next to it.
Bochansky said the bomb that fell near the rear of the ship exploded, sending about 100 pieces of shrapnel into the hull while the one that fell toward the front was a dud. The damage from the shrapnel raised the Rigel partly out of the water.
“We lost shore power and the ship went dark,” he said. Below deck they were in total darkness, so all they could do was listen to the sounds around them.
Bochansky said Wiggins had no duty assignment that day, and was on the deck watching the attack. When the bomb exploded near the ship, he was injured, one of only five men aboard the Rigel who were hurt.
Since Bochansky’s ship was a repair ship and being overhauled, it wasn’t exactly equipped to defend itself, still one of the chiefs found a machine gun and started firing at the Japanese planes, Bochansky said.
He did not see any panic among his shipmates. Nor did he see much change in them after the attack.
“The married men were worried. Most of them were older,” he said.
As for himself, Bochansky said, “I just told myself, ‘Remember this date. It may be important.’”
It was a memory Bochansky shared with his father, Frank, who was aboard a sea plane repair ship, the USS Tangier, also in Pearl Harbor.
Frank had been in the Navy since 1914 and had served in World War I. He was ready to retire, but stayed in until 1944. Frank Bochansky died in 1985.
After the attack, Bo and another man took a walk around the shipyard to see the damage. “We had the feeling it was like a football game. The one side scored, but we’ll get back at them,” he said.
While making that shipyard tour, he said he heard someone call his name. Turning around he saw a boy he had grown up with in San Diego, Doug Quiner.
Quiner was in the National Guard and they had been activated. He was helping the Army set up machine guns in the shipyard in case of another attack.
Bochansky saw him much later in New Zealand and he was wearing a Marine uniform.
“I asked him what he was doing in the uniform. He said the Guard had discharged him because he was too young. He turned around and joined the Marines. I asked him where he was going and he told me they were headed for Guadalcanal. Later, when I was in San Diego, I went to his house and asked his mother how he was doing. She said he had been killed at Guadalcanal,” Bochansky said, his voice cracking as he finished, remembering a friend he’d last seen almost 60 years ago.
Bochansky said it wasn’t until the night of Dec. 7 that he felt frightened. It was pitch black that night, no lights anywhere.
“Five of our planes were coming in to land at Ford Island from one of the carriers,” he said. “There was no ship-to-ship communication. We were sitting around and heard firing. One ship started firing at the planes and then others started. The pilots put on their wing lights and were flapping them to try to let us know they were ours. The lights only made them better targets. All five of the planes were shot down.”
The night of Dec. 7, 1941 may have been the first time that day Bochansky felt frightened, but it was not the last.
The Rigel was at Pearl Harbor until April, 1942, when it was sent to Auckland, New Zealand to set up an advance base.
Bochansky said the Rigel made the 30-day voyage through the South Pacific at about 5 mph. At the same time, the ship’s radio crackled with news about U.S. ships being sunk in the Battle of the Coral Sea.
“We had one destroyer accompany us. There were no ships to spare,” he said. “Pearl was a surprise. Now we knew what we were in and that was more frightening.”
His father, Frank, left Pearl about a month before he did. Frank was part of the force that was sent to reinforce Wake Island. Before his father left, Bochansky went to see him.
“He took me up to the (acid storage), behind the signal bridge and showed me where he had stowed a cot and a fishing line. In World War I, his ship was hit and he went into the drink. He never wanted to do that again. He said if he went into the drink again, he was going to be prepared. That was one of only two things I was really afraid of, going into the drink. The other was being a prisoner of war,” Bochansky said.
He spent 20 years and three days in the Navy and never went into the water.