Survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor remember that day vividly, now 72 years later. So does Mission’s Bob Becker. Three of his brothers were serving on the USS Arizona. Two of them, Wesley and Marvin, lie with the ship still.
The third brother on the Arizona, Harvey, had a shore leave on Dec. 7, 1941. He survived Pearl Harbor and World War II. Bob Becker was a 14-year-old from western Kansas that day. He, too, would enlist in the Navy when he turned 17, much to his mother’s disapproval. As the war ended in August 1945, he was finishing basic training at Great Lakes.
Becker and his brothers had grown up in rural Kansas near Nekoma, south of Hays. By December 1941, his parents had bought a farm near Humboldt in southeastern Kansas, planning to move there in early 1942. His father had taken him out of high school for what would have been his freshman year to help with the farm.
On December 7, he and his father were at the farm when they heard about the attack and immediately headed home. For two days, the family waited for news. That’s when Harvey was able to call and tell them he could not find either of his brothers after searching hospitals and barracks on the island.
“It was a bad time,” Becker says. “It was the first time I had seen my dad cry.” Two weeks later the family received a telegram notifying them Wesley and Marvin were missing in action. Another couple of months and the telegram came saying they were believed dead.
“Mom really wouldn’t concede that they were gone for a long time because they were never recovered.” Becker and his other siblings, two sisters and another brother, have all visited the Arizona memorial at different times.
Being married, it turns out, saved Harvey, who made a career in the Navy and served on a minesweeper after the Arizona was sunk. His wife was a nurse and he stayed in their apartment on Oahu when he had leave from the ship, which is where he was the morning of Dec. 7. He was the only one of the three married.
Wesley was 18 that day, the closest to Becker in age and his “good buddy.” He had just graduated from high school in 1941. Marvin was 22 and had joined right out of high school. Harvey had been in the Navy sine 1937 and was 24 on the day of the attack.
They had all been sent to the Arizona after basic training, requesting to be assigned together. The brothers even roomed together and Marvin followed Harvey as a gunner’s mate and Wesley was still a seaman.
Becker dropped out of high school to enlist as soon as he turned 17, despite his mother’s opposition: “she was very upset,” he recalls. But when the war ended, he was allowed to go back to finish high school where he played football and basketball and ran track.
Married in 1952, he and his wife, Betty, moved to Mission in 1955 where they raised their two children. He took a job with a commercial printer in Kansas City.
The last picture of the three brothers together was taken Thanksgiving Day, 1941.