Mal Middlesworth: Still Telling His Story
He was only one month shy of graduating when Mal Middlesworth enlisted with the United States Marine Corps, leaving behind his family and his high school sweetheart, JoJean Ciraulo. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, and it turned out to be one that would change his life forever. In April 1941 he enlisted, and on December 7 he was thrust into a war that the United States had tried very hard to avoid.
Mal Middlesworth has spent much of the intervening years sharing his memories of that tragic day. Now 95 years old, Middlesworth can still recall the events of the attack that occurred over 76 years ago as if they happened yesterday. Speaking with the Coloradoan on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the attack, Middlesworth recalls, “I heard an explosion over on Ford Island. It was incredible. It was completely out of place.”
Recalling the Attack
On the morning of the attack, the young Marine stationed aboard USS San Francisco (CA-38) was scheduled to raise the flag at 0800. Five minutes before his scheduled duty, the first signs of the attack tore through the harbor, confusing those who couldn't directly see what was unfolding. Even as Middlesworth could hear the explosions on Ford Island, he assumed that it was a training exercise. It wasn’t until a Japanese torpedo plane flew overhead, pelting San Francisco with bullets, that he realized it wasn’t a drill.
Aboard San Francisco, Middlesworth was directly across from Battleship Row in the Navy Yard, giving him a front-row seat to the devastation wrought on the battleships moored along Ford Island’s southern coast. As he remembers it, none of the ships “had ammunition loaded in any guns. Most of the ammunition was under lock and key.” As he recalls the attack, he pictures the large plumes of smoke, fiery explosions, and the inferno that rapidly spread across the harbor.
Mal Middlesworth and the War in the Pacific
In the days after the attack, Mal Middlesworth was put to work loading ammunition and fuel onto San Francisco, preparing for the inevitable combat that was to come. In the first year of the war, Middlesworth took part in a number of the raids around the Pacific and the landings on Guadalcanal. The following year, San Francisco came under accidental friendly fire from a nearby ship, killing a Marine standing beside him and wounding 30 others. It was all he needed to request a transfer from the combat zone, and he was granted a return to San Diego to take part in training. He first became a gunnery instructor, and later moved on to become a machine gun instructor.
Somewhere amidst the war and the instruction and life in the Marines, Middlesworth reconnected with his high school sweetheart. The two were engaged and before he was shipped back out to the South Pacific, they wed.
Middlesworth has quite a legacy from his presence at the Pearl Harbor attack and his time served in the Pacific. He also served three years as the National President of the now-defunct Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. He led the association until December 7th, 2008, though he remained an active member until it disbanded in 2011.
Well into 2018, Mal Middlesworth is still sharing his story about the attack on Pearl Harbor, ensuring that the memory continues to be passed down from generation to generation.