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RIP Alan Sanford, The Man Who Fired the First US Shots of World War II

(Photo: Madeline Marshall/Wall Street Journal)

Early on the morning of December 7, 1941, Seaman First Class Alan Sanford, 18, was on board the destroyer USS Ward. That ship guarded the entrance to Pearl Harbor. Lookouts spotted a strange, cylindrical object in the water. It was a Japanese mini-submarine.

The captain, woken from sleep, ordered the ship to speed and prepare to ram the sub. Seaman Sanford was among a gun crew getting ready to fire at the object. 

On the opening day of the war, 75 minutes before Japanese warplanes swarmed over the anchored fleet at Pearl Harbor, Seaman Sanford and his colleagues opened fire at the submarine. These were the first American shots of the war. The Wall Street Journal describes the encounter:

Mr. Sanford and the other crewmen on the bow gun fired at a range of about 100 yards. He watched the round leave the barrel and barely miss the conning tower. “I thought if it had another coat of paint on the sub, it might have activated the graze fuze,” which detonates when a shell suddenly slows down, Mr. Sanford said in the park service interview. “That’s how close I think we came.”

A second gun crew on the Ward fired next, punching a four-inch hole in the starboard side of the conning tower as the destroyer steamed past the sub at a range of about 50 yards. The destroyer followed up with four depth charges. Sea water poured in through the shell hole, the submarine rolled to starboard, and sank in 1,200 feet of water, according to the captain’s report and historians.

The captain of the Ward reported the battle to his superiors via radio, but nothing came of it. Researchers found the sunken mini-sub in 2002.

Seaman Sanford served through the end of the war. Then he studied mechanical engineering and later worked on the Apollo space program. He died in January at the age of 91 and was buried on Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery.

-via Jonah Goldberg

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Interesting story.
The pictured gun was not the one Seaman Sanford was assigned to. According to the story, he was at the bow gun which fired the first shot.
The one in the park was the Number three gun which actually hit the sub. It is a 4"/50 gun and was mounted atop the midships deckhouse, starboard side.
The crew members were:
R.H. Knapp - BM2c - Gun Captain
C.W. Fenton - Sea1c - Pointer
R.B. Nolde - Sea1c - Trainer
A.A. Domagall - Sea1c - No. 1 Loader
D.W. Gruening - Sea1c - No. 2 Loader
J.A. Paick - Sea1c - No. 3 Loader
H.P. Flanagan - Sea1c - No. 4 Loader
E.J. Bakret - GM3c - Gunners Mate
K.C.J. Lasch - Cox - Sightsetter
All of the crew were Minnesota Naval Reservists.
There is a plaque naming the crew mounted on the gun which is on display at the capitol grounds in St Paul.
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