Frank Noonan joined the Navy after graduating from high school in 1941. After initial training, he was sent to Hawaii. Noonan turned 18 in a Navy hospital two days after Japanese bombers sank the USS Oklahoma and several other Pacific Fleet ships in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Noonan’s son Chuck, a former Navy officer and Merchant Marine, talked about his father’s survival during the infamous attack and then the rest of his career, which included all of World War II, the Korean War and the War in Vietnam.
Frank Noonan retired from the Navy in 1971. He died earlier this month, shortly after his 89th birthday.
The 30-year, multi-war combat veteran was honored Dec. 19 by the Patriot Guard Riders of Georgia. The PGR escorted his ashes from Statesboro to Naval Base Mayport near Jacksonville. Chuck Noonan said his father’s ashes now are stored in a display case in a memorial room on the Navy base. Soon, he said the Navy will take his father’s ashes on one of its destroyers for one last ocean voyage. Master Chief Petty Officer Frank Noonan will be buried at sea.
Chuck Noonan said his father hailed from Broken Bow, Okla. Despite living near the center of the continental United States, his dad always wanted to be in the Navy, he said. Chuck Noonan’s mother died in 2005, so he and his wife convinced Noonan’s father to move near them in Booklet. Because his dad was one of only a few surviving World War II veterans and one of an even smaller number of Pearl Harbor survivors, he said his dad frequently was sought after to talk about his war experiences.
“Around 2010, a news crew interviewed him for a documentary called ‘Witness to War,’” Chuck Noonan. “I think it was at least two hours long. I also used to catch him when he was just sitting around and hand him a digital, hand-held recorder. I taped hours of him talking about Pearl Harbor, the wars and the rest of his military experiences.”
Noonan said that when his dad first got to Hawaii, he was stationed on the USS Arizona, which lost 1,177 men during the attack. Just a few days before the attack, however, he was transferred to the USS Oklahoma, which lost 427 men. He said the Oklahoma was hit by a torpedo, which caused it to roll over and sink with his father and scores of sailors and Marines trapped inside.
Noonan said his father and a few other men found an air pocket that kept them from drowning, but the air was rapidly running out. After one failed attempt to escape, Chuck said a Marine told the group to follow him. They held their breaths and each others’ hands as they felt their way out of that water-filled room and to the outside the ship.
When they reached the surface and all appeared to be safe, the elder Noonan was hit by shrapnel from another air strike. He said, however, the wounds to his father’s leg were not as lethal as the oil he had swallowed while in the water. He said most of his father’s hospital time was spent trying to get the oil out of his system.
Chuck Noonan praised the Patriot Guard Riders for escorting his father’s ashes to the Naval base. Noonan and his wife, Mary Ann, rode together with the PGR, but they didn’t carry his father’s ashes. He said PGR member Harold Piet carried the ashes. Piet served as ride captain for the first part of the journey from Statesboro down U.S. 301 to Ludowici, then Highway 57 to Townsend.
“We met up with more riders at I-95,” Noonan said. “That was really neat because they were all standing at attention when we came by. Harold carried dad’s ashes because he had a large American flag on the back of his bike. That way, Dad’s ashes were under the American flag all the way there.”
Frank Versele, PGR member and member of the American Legion Post 321, said the mission of the PGR is to provide comfort and representation to grieving family members of deceased veterans. Adding the PGR “stands for those who stood for us,” Versele said the PGR responds to family requests only.
According to its website, www.pgrofga.com, the PGR is a “domestic, non-profit Georgia corporation organized exclusively for charitable and community service.”