Veteran Remembers, Community Celebrates

Longtime Payson seaman recalls ‘Day of Infamy’

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Three generations of 30-year Payson resident Robert “Bo” Bochansky’s family served in the Navy — their service spanning from World War I to Vietnam.

But the most memorable day for any of them was the day the United States joined World War II.

It was a lazy Sunday morning on Dec. 7, 1941, when Bo, a third class Navy man, slept in late in the supply office of his ship; the USS Rigel docked at Pearl Harbor for repairs.

Across the Navy Yard, his father Frank, a chief after 28 years in the Navy, worked aboard a seaplane repair ship, the USS Tangier.

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Robert Bochansky

Suddenly, they heard the sound of explosions and cracking noises.

“I thought it was the Fourth of July at first,” Bo said of waking up to noises he had only heard when firecrackers went off in the sky.

Of course, what he really heard was the Japanese attacking Pearl Harbor.

Frank had survived World War I. He knew those sounds, said Bo.

Both men had joined the Navy to escape the Depression. Bo said he was born in Chicago and when still a toddler his mother died.

Throughout Bo’s life, his father worked for the Navy, so Bo stayed with relatives and neighbors until he joined the Navy in 1941, following in the footsteps of his father.

Bo’s father had joined the Navy in 1914 and remained despite surviving one of his ships sinking in WWI.

Bo recalled the confusion he had wrapping his head around the bold Japanese attack.

“I thought one of the rummies on board was fooling around with a gun,” he said.

So he turned over and went back to sleep.

Soon, his fellow ship shopkeeper, Wiggins, came in and yelled, “Bo get up! The Japs are attacking!”

Bo could not believe his buddy. The two Navy boys had some choice words and finally Wiggins told Bo to “get out of bed and see for yourself!”

Bo went out on deck clad only in his “skivvies” and saw a plane fly by.

“I saw the fish (torpedo) drop,” he said.

Immediately the fire and rescue alarm sounded and Bo went to his station to cover emergencies.

Fortunately, because of the day of the week, most of the crew had liberty, only a quarter of the crew was on board.

As luck would have it, Bo’s station was below the top deck. Unfortunately for Wiggins, who had no duty and remained topside to watch the action, shrapnel injured him. Wiggins ended up one of five crew members injured.

As Bo waited at his station, more bombs started to drop. Two went between the Rigel and the ship moored next to it, the USS New Orleans.

The bomb to the aft (rear of the ship) exploded sending shrapnel into the hull and raising the Rigel out of the water.

“We lost shore power and the ship went dark,” said Bo.

From then on, Bo and his fellow shipmates below deck could only listen to the sounds of the battle rage on in complete darkness.

Yet he and his buddies did not panic. “I just told myself, ‘Remember this date. It may be important,’” he said.

Bo did not feel fear until darkness fell on Dec. 7.

Bo said it was a pitch-black night until plane lights showed up in the sky.

“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 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 planes were shot down.”

Bo shared his recollections of the day with his father over a beer when things had settled down.

The two did not see each other again until early in 1942 after the Japanese had attacked and taken Wake Island, a fueling point for ships crossing the Pacific.

Bo had gone to the hospital because of stomach pains only to discover he had an ulcer.

His father stopped by to tell him he was shipping out with his seaplane repair ship to try and fortify Wake Island.

Frank asked Bo to come with him to his ship before he left Pearl Harbor. “He took me up to the (acid storage) behind the signal bridge and showed me where he had stowed a cot and fishing line. (He said) in WWI, 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.”

Neither man had to go into the drink or was captured during the course of World War II, but Bo did not see his father again until 1946. His father died in 1985.

In 1944, Bo’s father was discharged from the Navy because his hearing had started to go.

Bo stayed on as a Navy man for many years, and then his son joined the Navy to avoid being drafted into the Army for the Vietnam War.

“He was in the Mekong Delta,” said Bo.

Bo said his son only lasted 18 months in that war. He had to come home due to an injury that blinded him in one eye.

But overall, Bo said the services were good to his family. “The armed service is good for everyone,” he said.

He now lives in Payson on a quiet hillside with a view of the Mogollon Rim with his wife, his memories and very chatty cat.

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