Heroes of the Harbor: Samuel Fuqua
December 18, 2016
When the Japanese arrived at Pearl Harbor and commenced its bombing of the military base and surrounding region, many Americans jumped into action. Thousands of men were thrust into battle and, as the smoke settled, thousands of heroes emerged. Of those men was Samuel G. Fuqua, a member of the United States Navy who, for his actions on December 7th, 1941, was awarded the highest military decoration.
Prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, Fuqua served in the US Army during World War I and after his graduation from the University of Missouri, joined the crews of the USS Arizona, USS Macdonough, and USS Mississippi. From 1939 to 1941, the lieutenant commander served at the Naval Training Station in Illinois before returning to the Arizona as the vessel’s Damage Control officer and First Lieutenant. It was aboard this mighty battleship that Fuqua was thrust into his heroic role during the Japanese attack.
When the Bombs Fell
Arizona was one of the first battleships in Battleship Row to fall victim to the Japanese bombardment, and when the initial wave of explosions rocked the giant vessel, Fuqua was knocked unconscious. When he finally came to and adjusted as best he could to the mayhem surrounding him, he stepped back into his role as Damage Control Officer and directed rescue efforts and fire-fighting teams.
Many men were lost in the initial bombings, especially as Arizona started to sink to the harbor floor. By the time the battleship’s forward magazines exploded, Fuqua was the vessel’s senior surviving officer, putting him in charge of the remaining crew who were scrambling for retaliation and survival. Remaining calm during the onslaught of incoming fighters and the fires that continued to grow through the Arizona, Fuqua was able to lead a rescue effort that saved countless lives. Teams were directed at fighting fires so wounded and burned soldiers could be pulled to safety and the lieutenant’s refusal to leave anyone behind inspired others to follow suit and save their stricken brethren.
While Arizona continued her descent into the harbor, Fuqua ordered everyone to abandon but remained on the quarterdeck until he was sure that all who could be saved were. It’s the kind of story you see in the movies but never expect to be real, but Fuqua’s perseverance was an inspiration to those around him. The brave lieutenant survived the encounter and abandoned Arizona in the final boatload. For his acts of bravery during the attack, Fuqua was awarded the Medal of Honor.
After the Attack
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Fuqua quickly rejoined the war efforts aboard the USS Tuscaloosa. By 1945, he had aided in the planning and execution of amphibious operations in Borneo and the Philippines. In 1953, Fuqua retired from the Navy after serving as Chief of Staff of the Eighth Naval District. At the time of his retirement, his recognitions and awards had earned him the rank of Real Admiral of the United States Navy.
On January 27th, 1987, at the age of 87, Fuqua passed away and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
For more tales of heroics of the men who defended the harbor, visit the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument – Pearl Harbor when you’re on the island of Oahu, Hawaii.