This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for a couple of years now as it was one of the most interesting history lessons I had early on when I started doing my genealogy in 2006.
December 7th marks the anniversary of Pearl Harbor and my great-uncle, Lorenza McNair (1921-2005), was in the military during this time of war. I’d always heard from my mother that after he returned, he told the family that if they had any questions about what happened, they’d better ask then because he was never going to talk about it again. To the best of my mother’ s knowledge, he never did.
Lorenza’ s military records show that he was a crew member on the USS Neosho when it was attacked during the Battle at the Coral Sea on May 7, 1942. This is the last picture taken of it after it was bombed; 80% of the crew were killed during the attack and my uncle was one of 123 people rescued when the ship was found 4 days later; he was wounded in action. This picture comes from a very thorough account of the ship and it’s activities from a man named Del whose uncle was also one of the rescued.
You can read more about the intense action of that day on Del’s website. He also has a video interview of his father and his uncle with his uncle describing some of what happened that day. This was very moving for me to watch as my own uncle was part of it too. There’s been a book written about the USS Enterprise that I should read – The Big “E” by Edward Stafford.
Lorenza’s next military service was then on the USS Enterprise, which he joined in October 1942. The USS Enterprise was the US ship with the most battle stars during WWII. While he was on the USS Enterprise he was also involved in several more battles:
- Battle of Santa Cruz Islands – was attacked October 26, 1942 and bombed twice. 42 crew were killed, 75 wounded.
- Battle of Guadalcanal – November 1942
- Batltle of Rennell Island – January 1943
In November 1943, Lorenza then transferred to the USS Hornet. The Hornet deployed in 1944 and began it’s career with a series of raids against Japanese bases in the Caroline islands; Lorenza’s records show he was on the ship during this time.
According to my grandmother, her brother was the 1st black man from Plymouth to join the Navy. There was a newspaper write-up about him that I have, but it does not have the date on it. One of my future research tasks is to see if I can find out when this was published. However, the article gets the order of his ship service wrong, having him listed as being on the Hornet first and then the Enterprise.
After I learned all of this, I realize it is no wonder Lorenza did not want to talk about his service. This was certainly a traumatic experience. I think our family was truly lucky that he did return home after the war.
I’ve added information about Lorenza to his Footnote Page.