Some capsized battleships at Pearl Harbor still had men trapped inside their hulls. Stephen Bower Young wrote a book titled Trapped at Pearl Harbor, detailing the rescue of 32 sailors from the battleship Oklahoma. One survivor, Robert D. West, died aged 82 in 2002.
He had been trapped in utter darkness for more than 30 hours, and the fear of it never wholly left him. His daughters wondered for years why the veteran always slept with a small light on to the end of his days. Later they understood: “They had been trapped in pitch darkness, and I think that never totally left him,” according to West’s daughter, Diane.
West and several sailors scrambled around the steel hull as it flipped over and found themselves in a compartment with a foot of air above their heads. They dove out of that enclosure and made their way upward — toward the bottom of the ship where they waited, banging with wrenches on the bulkhead to signal they were alive.
After hours of repeated pounding, he finally heard an answer.
Rescue workers, who had begun cutting through the ship’s double bottom the morning of the attack, were systematically working their way through the bowels of the capsized vessel searching for survivors.
As water began lapping at the entombed sailors’ feet, the rescuers started cutting a hole just above where West and another sailor sat.
The five weakened, oil-soaked sailors were lifted out and guided through an escape route. At 2 p.m., the day after the attack, they finally saw daylight.
But if 6 decades is too far a span in time to recover the experience, the Pearl Harbor ordeal was re-endured a few months ago by by Harrison Okene, the Nigerian cook on an oil company tugboat that was capsized by a huge wave in the Atlantic ocean. It lay upended on the bottom a hundred feet below the surface, where Okene was trapped in an airpocket, listening to fish eat his dead shipmates, subsisting on Coca-cola.
There he waited in darkness for three days until salvage divers sent to recover the bodies found him. Whereas the World War 2 generation did not have body cameras, today’s divers do. So we have the actual underwater video of his rescue.