Paul Holley, a Pearl Harbor Hero

Written By: nppladmin - Aug• 27•21
Originally published to on August 20, 2021.

Today’s North Platte Friday History Series salutes all those persons who are currently, or have ever served in the military.

Paul Holley was born in 1918 in St Albert, Missouri to John and Everine Holley. John was serving his country during World War I when his son, Paul was born. They moved to North Platte when Paul was 11 months old and the Holley family lived at 415 West B Street. Paul attended school in North Platte and graduated from North Platte High School in 1937. Paul and his brother, Errette, enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1938 after Errette’s graduation from high school. The brothers were both assigned to the USS California and were stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. <See the brother’s NPHS photographs>

At dawn on December 7, 1941, the 23-year-old NPHS graduate was on duty on board the USS California as a gunner. At 7:50 a.m., the first Japanese bombers appeared in the sky. The attack lasted two hours, and hit other military bases and sections of the island. Twenty-one ships were heavily damaged and 323 aircraft were damaged or destroyed.

The California, a flagship of the battle force, was hit fore and aft by two Japanese torpedoes in the early minutes of the raid. The ship was later hit by a bomb; and nearly missed by another, both of which caused massive flooding. A large mass of burning oil drifting down “Battleship Row” threatened to set the wounded ship afire. She was ordered abandoned.

Errette followed the abandon ship order and jumped overboard into the oily burning sea. He and other surviving crewmen were picked up by a PT boat and immediately put to work trying to extinguish and control the fires that threatened to destroy the ships. They took the crewmen back to other ships to fight fires. When the crew returned to the California, they extinguished the fires and counter-flooded the vessel to correct a 16 degree tilt. Errette desperately looked for his brother. Finally, someone told him Paul was dead. Paul died passing ammunition during the battle, likely when one of the torpedoes struck the California.

Despite the crew’s best efforts to keep the ship afloat, the California settled on the bottom of the bay on December 10th, three whole days after the attack. When the ship sank, the bodies were removed from the hull and all the surrounding water. Almost one hundred officers and men from the ship were killed during the attack. Many were never identified. Paul Holley was one of those men.

At that time, the nation didn’t have the man-power or resources to identify all the bodies right away. The Country was at war. Most of the unidentified were buried in two different cemeteries in Hawaii. There were 647 unidentified from Pearl Harbor in graves marked “unknown”.

Holley’s parents received a telegram about their son’s death. Paul’s father, John, didn’t take his death well. He fell ill and passed away in July of 1943. Paul’s mother passed away in 1990. Errette left the Navy, got married and moved to New Columbia, Pennsylvania. Before Errette died in 2001, he told his wife that if they ever found Paul, he wanted the remains to stay in Hawaii.

In June of 2020, researchers believe that Paul Holley’s remains were positively identified. Per his family wish, his remains are still in Hawaii.

Thank you for reading Paul Holley’s North Platte story.

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