Vaessen, John B. (1916- )
Pearl Harbor Survivor
Based on one interview conducted by Paul Stillwell in June 1987. The volume contains 106 pages of interview transcript plus a comprehensive index. The transcript is copyright 2012 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee placed no restrictions on its use.
Mr. Vaessen grew up in California in the 1920s and 1930s. During the Depression he worked steadily at a variety of jobs to support himself and his family. Around 1938 he joined the Naval Reserve. This memoir describes the informal atmosphere of the program in that era. He worked at the Mare Island Navy Yard in 1940-41 as an electrician's helper. When he reported for active duty in 1941, he was stationed at the San Diego Destroyer Base. He opted for duty on board the target ship Utah (AG- 16) a few months later, anticipating a quiet life around San Pedro, California. Instead, in September of that year the Utah deployed to Hawaii and never returned. She was torpedoed during the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Vaessen, who was then serving in the ship's electrical division, was at his post below decks as the ship capsized. He kept the power going as long as he could, an act that enabled shipmates to have light as they sought to abandon ship. Vaessen himself was rescued through the bottom of the overturned hull of the Utah. For his actions during the attack, Vaessen was awarded the Navy Cross by Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet. In late 1942, as a newly advanced electrician's mate, Petty Officer Vaessen was in the commissioning crew of the minesweeper Starling (AM-64).