Franklin Van Valkenburgh

Franklin Van Valkenburgh bigraphy, stories - United States Navy Medal of Honor recipient

Franklin Van Valkenburgh : biography

April 5, 1888 – December 7, 1941

Franklin Van Valkenburgh (April 5, 1888 – December 7, 1941) was the last captain of the . He was killed when the Arizona exploded and sank during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

USS Arizona

On February 5, 1941, Van Valkenburgh relieved Capt. Harold C. Train as commanding officer of . Newly refitted at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Arizona served as flagship of Battleship Division 1 for the remainder of the year, based primarily at Pearl Harbor with two trips to the west coast.

In a letter to a relative, Faith Van Valkenburgh Vilas, dated November 4, 1941, Captain Van Valkenburgh wrote: "We are training, preparing, maneuvering, doing everything we can do to be ready. The work is intensive, continuous, and carefully planned. We never go to sea without being completely ready to move on to Singapore if need be, without further preparation. Most of our work we are not allowed to talk about off of the ship. I have spent 16 to 20 hours a day on the bridge for a week at a time,then a week of rest, then at it again.

"Our eyes are constantly trained Westward, and we keep the guns ready for instant use against aircraft or submarines whenever we are at sea. We have no intention of being caught napping."

On December 4, the battleship went to sea in company with and for night surface practice and, after conducting these gunnery exercises, returned to Pearl Harbor independently on the 6th to moor at berth F-7 alongside Ford Island.

Both Captain Van Valkenburgh and the embarked division commander, Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, spent the next Saturday evening, December 6, on board. Suddenly, shortly before 08:00 on December 7, Japanese planes roared overhead, shattering the Sunday peace and punctuating it with the explosion of bombs and the staccato hammering of machine guns. Capt. Van Valkenburgh sped forward from his cabin and arrived on the navigation bridge where he immediately began to direct his ship’s defense. A quartermaster in the pilot house asked if the captain wanted to go to the conning tower—a less-exposed position in view of the Japanese strafing—but Van Valkenburgh refused to do so and continued to man a telephone, fighting for his ship’s life.

A violent explosion suddenly shook the ship, throwing the three occupants of the bridge—Van Valkenburgh, an ensign, and the quartermaster, to the deck, and shattering the bridge windows. Dazed and shaken, the ensign stumbled through the flames and smoke and escaped, but the others were never seen again. A continuing fire, fed by ammunition and oil, blazed for two days until finally being put out on December 9. A subsequent search recovered only Van Valkenburgh’s Annapolis class ring.

The captain posthumously received the Medal of Honor—the citation reading in part: "for devotion to duty … extraordinary courage, and the complete disregard of his own life."


In 1943, the destroyer was named in his honor.

Military service

Franklin Van Valkenburgh was appointed a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy on September 15, 1905 and graduated on June 4, 1909. After service in the battleship and in , Van Valkenburgh was commissioned ensign on June 5, 1911. Traveling to the Asiatic Station soon thereafter, he joined the submarine tender at Olongapo, Philippine Islands, on September 11,. He reported to the gunboat as executive officer on June 23, 1914 for a short tour in the southern Philippines before his detachment on August 4,.

After returning to the United States, Lt. (jg.) Van Valkenburgh joined on November 11,. Following postgraduate work in steam engineering at the Naval Academy in September 1915, he took further instruction in that field at Columbia University before reporting to on March 2, 1917. The entry of the United States into World War I found Van Valkenburgh serving as the battleship’s engineering officer. Subsequent temporary duty in the receiving ship at New York preceded his first tour as an instructor at the Naval Academy. On June 1, 1920, Van Valkenburgh reported on board for duty as engineer officer, and he held that post until the battleship was decommissioned in November 1921.

He again served as an instructor at the Naval Academy—until May 15, 1925—before he joined on June 26,. Commissioned commander on June 2, 1927 while in Maryland, he soon reported for duty in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations on May 21, 1928 and served there during the administrations of Admirals Charles F. Hughes and William V. Pratt. Detached on June 28, 1931, Van Valkenburgh received command of the destroyer on July 10, and commanded Destroyer Squadron 5 from March 31, 1932.

After attending the Naval War College, Newport, R.I., and completing the senior course in May 1934, Comdr. Van Valkenburgh next served as inspector of naval materiel at the New York Navy Yard before going to sea again as commanding officer of from June 8, 1936 to June 11, 1938. Promoted to captain while commanding Melville—on December 23, 1937—he served as inspector of materiel for the 3d Naval District from August 6, 1938 to January 22, 1941.

Medal of Honor citation

Citation: For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and complete disregard of his own life, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor T.H., by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. As commanding officer of the U.S.S. Arizona, Capt. Van Valkenburgh gallantly fought his ship until the U.S.S. Arizona blew up from magazine explosions and a direct bomb hit on the bridge which resulted in the loss of his life.