It was a “Day of Infamy” at Pearl Harbor when a fresh-faced, 17-year-old, Arles Cole miraculously escaped the USS West Virginia, rescued a shipmate, and hoisted Old Glory as the battle raged on. Arles Cole was born in 1923 in the hills of eastern Oklahoma and grew up on a small farm where he helped his family work the land. His father’s service in the Army during World War I instilled a deep sense of patriotism in him. Cole enlisted in the Navy in December 1940 after having just turned the tender age of seventeen. After boot camp, he completed a signalman/quartermaster¹ school.
As a young farm boy, he suddenly found himself thrust in the middle of the start of World War II. In August of 1941 he served aboard the USS West Virginia (BB-48). Cole was on board during the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. In a telephone interview and in his book, “Showing Our Colors at Pearl Harbor,” Cole provided vivid details leading up to, during and after that fateful day at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
After Pearl Harbor, he served aboard a tugboat, the USS Turkey (AT-143), beginning in March of 1942. It doubled as a minesweeper and a tugboat. They traveled to the South Pacific around the Samoan Islands and the trade routes, where he became proficient in handling a line towing the vanes for mine sweeping and towing a barge with food and supplies for the Marines.
In January of 1944 he began serving aboard the USS Pritchett (DD-561). They traveled to the Marshall Islands, Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima. In the interview, he provided great detail of his travels aboard the Pritchett and their participation in various battles. He was discharged in January of 1946. Cole relied on his faith to maintain his strength and to lead him daily in his purpose in life. Along with his wife, Virginia, Cole lived in Tulsa where he was active in veterans’ programs and events, until his passing in 2020.
For details, see the following links:
- Book, Showing Our Colors at Pearl Harbor, 148 pages
- Interview audio, 175½ minutes (2:55:29)
- Interview transcript, 75 pages
¹The book and interview are not completely clear about his rating, but the obituary says he achieved rank of Quartermaster First Class (QM1). I think the school provided the basics of both signals and navigation, and Arles chose to strike for Quartermaster. In 2004, the Navy retired the Signalman (SM) rating and most of them became Quartermasters (QM).