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Texas | Features | World War II

Pearl Harbor Survivor - Texan Vic Lively

by Sandy Fiedler
Photos courtesy of Vic Lively

On December 6, 1941, the day before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, U.S. Navy Gunner's Mate First Class Victor H. Lively, stationed on the battleship USS Nevada, went ashore to Honolulu to buy Christmas gifts for his family. The last thing on anyone's mind was war. Those gifts were never to be placed in their hands.

Shore leave lasted from noon to midnight. Procedure was to walk up the gangplank to the main gate, show the pass, and catch a taxi into town. He remembers paying about twenty-five cents to ride in a new DeSoto cab.

Vic Lively in uniform
Vic Lively in uniform
Photo Courtesy of Vic Lively
Vic describes Honolulu as a "quaint town" where the tallest building was three or four stories high. There were nightclubs and dance halls, but Vic spent his time walking around, looking at the shops and eating snacks at one of many sidewalk cafes. "Hawaii was full of Japanese spies at that time," he adds.

The attack came early Sunday, December 7. Vic heard the alert, "Man the battle stations!" His post was in the foremast of the Nevada where he served as director of operations for broadside guns. Broadside guns were designed to shoot horizontally at ships, not vertically at planes, so they were powerless in the attack that raged from above.

"If I'd had a .22, I could have shot planes - that's how close they were," Vic remarks. "The bombs and guns sounded like "h-e-double-l."

The battle had been going for about an hour when, during a lull, he started to climb down from the observation tower. A bomb suddenly hit at the spot below him, killing everyone there. He couldn't help but think that had he started down a few seconds earlier, he would have been killed, but death did not have its way with Vic.
USS Navada sinking
USS Nevada in sinking condition December 7, 1941.
Vic Lively was there.

Photo Courtesy of Vic Lively
Of the 1700 crewmen aboard the Nevada, about 150 died, most of whom were topside. Fire, smoke, and body parts were everywhere. Even the water was on fire. Vic watched men jumping from the mast of the USS Oklahoma into the fiery water. The only injury Vic received was a burn on his hand when he grabbed a hot railing. When he was able to get below decks, he helped tear up sheets for bandages and pump out water.

Of the seven ships on battleship row, only the USS Nevada was able to back out and get underway thanks to the foresight of Lt. Comdr. Donald K. Ross (later Admiral Ross).

This was due to the line-up of ships in port. The Nevada happened to be on the end by itself. The others were tied together by twos and couldn't move. As the Nevada pulled away, it was followed and attacked by fifty Japanese bombers and torpedo planes "thick as flies," Vic says. The ship was so badly damaged that it began to sink. Orders came to pull it onto a sandbar to avoid blocking the harbor.
Vic and buddies on USS Nevada
Vic Lively and buddies on USS Nevada.
Photo Courtesy of Vic Lively

Hearing the reports of the attack, his family agonized for his safety. All they could do was wait and pray. Shortly after the attack, each sailor was given a postcard to send home. However, Vic's postcard was delayed in the mail and took two or three weeks to get back to Texas.

The Nevada was sent to Bremerton, Washington, where crews of two to three thousand worked day and night to complete massive renovations to the ship. When Vic reboarded, he saw that the ship hardly looked the same. "His" broadside guns had been removed!

How did this boy from Slocum, Texas ( Anderson County ) come to join the navy? It was spring of his senior year at Slocum High School when he saw an article in the paper about navy recruiting. He saw the navy as "a good way to get off the farm" with its required hard labor in hot fields. His family had a large garden that yielded produce to sell to city folks in Palestine. Peas (not English peas), watermelons, blackberries, and peaches from a ten-acre orchard, corn, cantaloupe, and cotton. They had three hen houses for 1000 laying hens. Those little ladies produced forty-eight dozen eggs per week. Vic's "Papa" was quite a salesman who developed a route of grocery stores that bought his goods. Milk and butter were also sold. The kids not only worked in the fields, but also packaged the items after school for the next day's delivery.

Vic and buddy on  deck
Vic Lively and buddy clowning around on board USS Nevada.
Photo Courtesy of Vic Lively

Those were the days, my friend, when a man and wife could live off a piece of land in America with the help of six sons, four daughters, and a little hired help without worrying about high taxes and government regulations. Self-sufficiency is a wonderful commodity called freedom.

Vic says, "I wouldn't take anything for what I learned on the farm."

Vic hitched a ride to the naval recruiting station, took a test, passed it - and signed up. There was no war and no hurry. It was Sept 3, 1940, when he began his service. The train ride on a Pullman coach took six days to reach the San Diego Naval Training Station. After training, he shipped out on the aircraft carrier Saratoga to reach his assignment - the USS Nevada in Pearl Harbor.

Manning the 40 mm guns did leave room for recreation. Since Long Beach, California, was the Nevada's homeport, the ship sometimes anchored ten miles off the coast. Visitors like Bob Crosby and his band and trumpeter Ray Anthony would take boats out to entertain the troops. Even Actresses like Lucille Ball paid a call. For more home-grown entertainment, Vic (on guitar) and others formed a seven-string band and got permission to play cowboy and pop songs over the ship's P.A. system.

The guys also had "Saturday Smokers," such as boxing, wrestling, pie eating contests, quiz contests, and movies. "Okinawa Recreation" was comprised of drinking two hot beers, although Vic himself never drank beer.

Vic and wife
Vic and Merle
Courtesy of Vic (and Merle) Lively
On leave, back home, he met a pretty girl named Merle Wolf whose family lived about "five fields away" from Vic's. They married in October 1942. To avoid the censor's black pen, Vic and Merle developed a secret code in their letters. His family tells the story of how he informed them of the ship's next secret stop by telling them that it had the "same name as Papa"; they looked on the map and knew he would soon be at the Marshall Islands.

"You have a visitor," someone told Vic one day. There in front of him was younger brother Everett. Everett was a gunner on a B-29 who flew many missions over Toyko. He was based on an island when the Nevada pulled up offshore with the rest of the fleet. Somehow Everett- found out which ship was the Nevada and arranged to visit.In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Everett had found him.
Vic and Everett
Vic and Everett ( left) Lively in front of B-29
on which Everett was a gunner.

Photo Courtesy of Vic Lively
As the war progressed, the Japanese became desperate and hit the Nevada with Kamikaze raids, killing 15 of the 120 marines who served onboard manning 20 mm anti-aircraft guns. Sailors called them "sea-going bellhops."

Vic was like Forrest Gump - but only in the sense that he happened to show up at practically every major event of his day. He was everywhere because the Nevada went everywhere. A local newspaper headline read, "Victor Lively, Whose Battleship Was Crippled at Pearl Harbor, Rides Her Into Normandy Beachhead On D-Day."

The Nevada was also at Cherbourg, Toulon, Marseille, Algiers, and Corsica. In the Pacific they sailed to Okinawa, Saipan, Guam, Leyte, and Attu. Vic even saw the famous raising of the American flag on Mt. Surabashi on Iwo Jima.

When the A-bombs hit Japan, the Nevada was six hours out of the Philippines. The sailors knew that this signified the war's end. That ship never saw such revelry. Cheering, music, dancing! To heck with regulations!
USS Nevada survivor reunion
Taken in front of replica of the famous statue of
Americans raising the flag at Iwo Jima, Harlingen, Texas, 1992.
Vic is front and center in plaid shirt.

Photo Courtesy of Vic Lively
When time came for discharge, Vic was sent from one situation to another, traveling extensively, even back via the Panama Canal. He was discharged 5 years 11 months and 30 days after joining up. It was September 2, 1946.

Back to civilian life at last, Vic and Merle wanted their own home. Like most other young postwar couples, they could find no housing because no building had been going on during the war. They stayed with relatives while he attended air conditioning trade school in Ft. Worth. Later they moved to Houston where he worked and eventually retired from the VA Medical Center.There he had been overseeing the cooling, heating, and steam generating plants, the grounds, and drivers for patients. They settled in Anderson County and built a house in Palestine. They have one son, a daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. Vic still attends meetings of Pearl Harbor survivors.
vic and wife today
Vic and Merle Lively today
Courtesy of Vic Lively

A soft-spoken, good-humored southern gentleman, Vic tells his story in an almost matter-of-fact manner, painting himself as neither victim nor hero. Sometimes heroes are those who simply do their duty. They don't choose the drama, but they perform their role with skill and fidelity.

May 2001
© Sandy Fiedler

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Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, Inc.
8217 Fox Meadows Place, Citrus Heights, CA 95610-3241

Forum
  • Subject: USS Nevada
    I am President of a local History and Heritage Society in Benton, Arkansas. We received a diary written by Horace Call who served on the Nevada from early 1944 until after WWII. Apparently he went aboard after it was repaired from damages during Pearl Harbor Attack. This diary is a day by day account of all activities. He mentions the hot weather on Litchi, Shelling Iwo Jima, Mog Mog, Mr. Best, Clayton McClintock, getting hit by Japanese “Zeke”, Okinawa, Suicide planes attack, Sipan, etc. - Art Wilson, May 29, 2006
  • My grandfather, James (Bud) I. Page was also on the USS NEVADA, and was also a gunner. He has passed now, but I would like to know if Mr Livley knew him. - Suzie Breedlove Georgia, July 11, 2002

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