Ensign Earns MoH Leading Reload of Ship’s Battery at Pearl Harbor

By Katie Lange
Defense Media Activity

This blog is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we’ll highlight one of the 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor. 

Ensign Herbert C. Jones. Navy photo

Later this week we’ll commemorate the 76th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which catapulted the U.S. into World War II. It was a day when many service members were lost, but many others became heroes. One of those men was Navy Ensign Herbert C. Jones.

Jones grew up in Los Angeles, California, and enlisted in the Naval Reserve in 1935 when he was 18. He was commissioned as an ensign before he joined the battleship USS California in 1940. That’s where he remained until Dec. 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

The California was moored with many other ships along Battleship Row, which was a prime target for the Japanese. In the first few minutes of the raid, the ship was hit by two torpedoes.

Jones had just relieved the junior officer of the deck and begun his duties when the attack started. When he realized a torpedo had damaged the mechanical hoists that load ammunition to the ship’s antiaircraft gun battery, he led a group of men on a mission to manually supply the ammo.

Jones and his men were on the third deck passing ammunition up ladders to the battery when a bomb exploded on the second deck. He was severely injured by the explosion, which plunged the third deck compartment the men were in into smoke-filled darkness.

The ship began to flood from all of the damage. When a large, drifting mass of burning oil from other ravaged ships threatened to set the California on fire, orders to abandon ship were called.

Two men tried to drag Jones out of the fire-filled compartment they were in, but he refused. He reportedly said to them, “Leave me alone! I’m done for. Get out of here before the magazines go off.”

USS California slowly sinking alongside Ford Island as a result of bomb and torpedo damage. USS Shaw and USS Nevada are burning in the distance. Navy photograph courtesy of the National Archives

The California eventually sank to the bottom of Pearl Harbor. It was raised several months later and was eventually repaired.

For his heroism, Jones posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions. He was one of 15 sailors who earned the nation’s highest honor at Pearl Harbor; only five of them survived the day.

Jones’ actions inspired the men around him, including troublemaking Marine Corps Pvt. Howard Haynes, who was awaiting a bad misconduct discharge and had been confined on the ship before attack. A remorseful Haynes later told one of his superiors that he was alive because of what Jones did.

“God, give me a chance to prove I’m worth it,” he said.

Jones was one of nearly 100 men from the USS California who died at Pearl Harbor. He is buried in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.

In 1943, the destroyer escort USS Herbert C. Jones was launched in his honor.

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