11/15/05 — Wayne's last surviving Pearl Harbor vet dies

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Wayne's last surviving Pearl Harbor vet dies

By Turner Walston
Published in News on November 15, 2005 1:48 PM

Wayne County has lost its last surviving Pearl Harbor veteran.

Wesley Grey Singleton died of complications from Parkinson's disease Oct. 27, said his daughter Gail Luckett of Pikeville.

Born in Wayne County, Singleton enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1934. Following basic training, he worked on 10 ships and was a record-setting deep-sea diver, Mrs. Luckett said.

Singleton was stationed aboard the USS Phoenix, a Brooklyn-class cruiser, in December 1941. Singleton was manning Damage Control Station No. 1 on the morning of the infamous attack. The Phoenix was moored in Pearl Harbor, just ahead of Battleship Row.

On Sept. 9, 1995, Singleton gave an account of his Pearl Harbor experience in a speech to the Neuse River Patriots chapter of the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution. Singleton wrote in notes prepared for that speech:

"Sunday morning, Dec. 7 1941, we had breakfast and as I had just gone off-duty, I decided to write a letter home and then go ashore for a little sightseeing. The general alarm went off and the word was passed 'All hands man your battle station.' They kept repeating this and added 'On the double.' The announcer sounded very excited. On the way to my battle station, which was Damage Control Station 1, I heard them say 'This is no drill, all gun crews man your guns on the double.' As part of my damage control area was on the main deck forward, I arrived there in time to see the Jap planes make their runs on Battleship Row and the Utah and Raleigh and others."

"He saw them drop the bomb that went down the Arizona's smokestack, that pretty much sunk the Arizona," Mrs. Luckett said.

"I saw the Arizona when it was hit and began burning," Singleton's account continued. "It looked like the ship broke in the middle as it started sinking. As the fire and smoke spread, it blocked the view and you couldn't see what was going on aboard the Battleships."

The Phoenix got underway to leave the harbor through a channel. It was to follow the Nevada, which had been hit and was taking on water, Singleton wrote. The men aboard the Phoenix got word that the captain and part of the crew were not yet on the ship, and were told to wait for them.

"By the time they got aboard, we got another message that the channel was blocked by the Nevada and that the Phoenix would have to circle around Ford Island to get out of the harbor. Doing that we got a full view of all the damaged ships," he described.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Singleton saw action at Cape Gloucester, New Britain; Finchaven, Madang; and New Guinea Island.

Following his retirement from the active duty in 1955, Singleton worked as a shipfitter and shop planner in shipyards at Norfolk, Va. and Washington, D.C.

"He was in ship supply and he would replace things on the different ships including the president's yacht," Mrs. Luckett said. "He brought home a mirror that was on President Kennedy's yacht that they were going to throw away."

In 1974, Singleton received a Sustained Superior Performance Award. He retired in 1978.

Singleton was a quiet man at home, Mrs. Luckett said. He did not reveal much about his time in the Navy to his family.

"I guess he figured we weren't really interested," she said. "The only way I heard the stories was to kind of sit nearby when he was telling a man. Anybody that had been in the service, he was happy to tell them all kinds of stuff."

Singleton and his wife, Doris Phillips Singleton, returned to Wayne County in 1985. He belonged to the Old Dobbs Genealogical Society, served as historian at Salem United Methodist Church, and was a Friend of the Wayne County Public Library.

Singleton was a member of the North Carolina chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association and the Fleet Reserve Association.