This article was written by John J. DeNoma, Saint Paul Police Historical Society; with added background provided by Edward J. "Ed" Steenberg and others. It is based on an interview of Hanggi taken in about 1996-97 by John J. DeNoma and his son Michael
Musings on Lieutenant Gerald Anthony Hanggi, Sr.
Part I – Gun Barrels from the USS Arizona and USS Missouri
Launched from the New York Naval Shipyard and commissioned on June 3, 1920, USS Tennessee (BB-43), the lead ship of her class of battleship, was the third ship of the United States Navy named in honor of the 16th US state. During World War II in the Pacific Theater, she was damaged during the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 but was repaired and modernized. She went on to participate in shore bombardments at the Aleutian Islands, Tarawa, the Marshall Islands, the Marianas, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and others. She was also involved in the Battle of Surigao Strait, the final battleship vs. battleship conflict ever. After the end of World War II and active service, the Tennessee was decommissioned on February 14, 1947, and was placed on reserve in the "mothball fleet" for nearly fifteen years before finally being "struck" and sold for scrap on July 10, 1959. During her years of active service the Tennessee won ten battle stars as well as numerous citations, commendations and other commemorative medals.
On the morning of December 7, 1941, the Tennessee was moored starboard side to a pair of masonry "mooring quays" on Battleship Row, the name given to a line of deep water berths located along the southeast side of Ford Island, Pearl Harbor. During the Japanese attack, the crewmen of the Tennessee including Gerald Anthony Hanggi, Sr. manned her antiaircraft guns, and they attempted to defend the harbor and their warship as well as they could. Turing the air raid, the Tennessee was struck by two armor-piercing bombs that detonated incompletely. The first one hit the center gun of turret two, and it made all three guns inoperable. The second bomb went through the roof of turret three, and it damaged her left gun. The Tennessee was showered with debris when the magazine of the Arizona exploded and her stern was engulfed in flames from the Arizona's burning fuel oil.
Gerald Anthony "Gerry" Hanggi, Sr.1 was a US Navy petty officer during the Second World War and served on a "landing ship tank" (LST) in numerous Pacific island landings and conflicts as well as the battleship USS Tennessee. He used to joke about being hungry all of his life while growing up during the Great Depression and of having his first full meal and appetite quenched, after joining the navy.
As a high school student in about 1996-97, my son Michael was required to interview someone who was present at a historically significant event. Gerry Hanggi agreed to this interview regarding the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor, where he served on the USS Tennessee during the attack and after. As he spoke, he transported us back through time to the deck of the battleship as he and other sailors manned the deck guns shooting at their attackers. For a brief period he took us to this place and time. His ship took damage and many were killed or wounded, including the lad next to him on one of the big guns. "I looked away from him, turned back and his head was gone." After the last wave of planes and mini subs departed, everyone in Pearl Harbor knew there would be another attack in hours and they tried to prepare for the next air attack or potential beach landings by the Japanese. "We went ashore to get rifles and/or hand guns to repel the forthcoming land battle on the main island of Oahu. A number of us went to the military armory to arm-up, but were turned down over an issue of authorization." Hanggi was not very fond of the armory staff.
On the damaged battleship sailors made preliminary repairs on the Tennessee, to make it as seaworthy as possible and to prepare it for the imminent threat of further sea battles to take place. They commandeered guns and other parts from ships that were damaged beyond repair and when able, set out to sea. A short time later they headed for the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Bremerton, Washington for refitting, modifications, and permanent repairs. As the land-based repair crews audited the parts of the Tennessee they found that the serial numbers from some of the big guns were from other ships. Several of the Tennessee's guns had been rendered inoperable during the air raid and had been replaced by scavenged units and/or parts. Immediately, the desk commanders started a formal inquiry in preparation for courts martial for those sailors involved in the "theft and unauthorized use of US Navy property." According to Hanggi, this was ridiculous; first the refusal to arm the men at Pearl Harbor, and now to prosecute those same brave souls who did the best they could do, with what little that was available to them.
Gerald Hanggi also said that the US Navy uniform at the time included the wearing of "shorts" in tropical assignments. So many men sustained burns to their legs at Pearl Harbor that after the attack "long pants" were the uniform-of-the-day and never again short pants could be worn. I found that tidbit interesting while considering our police clothing contract specifications over the years.
1 Gerald Anthony Hanggi, Sr. was appointed Patrolman on July 6, 1948; was promoted to Detective on August 10, 1957; was injured in the Line-of Duty on May 24, 1966; was promoted to Lieutenant on January 11, 1973; and retired for pension on February 16, 1990.