My great grandfather, Franklin VanValkenburg, captain of the USS Arizona, died on December 7th, 1941, at Pearl Harbor. I never knew him in life and only have my mothers memories to know him in death. Of course, I’ve heard countless tales of heroism, but I wanted to know the man as he was before December 7, 1941.
A Love Story
My favorite story about Grandpa VanValkenburg is of the love he and my great grandmother Marguerite shared. Of course, the story I have been told has been passed down from generation to generation, but as I understand it, they knew one another growing up. Marguerite was adopted by her uncle Fredrick Horn when her parents died. Uncle Fred was stationed in the Philippines and Grandpa Frank and Grandma Marguerite began writing love letters to each other. I’m told that he sent her poetry and wrote to her everyday. They were married in the Philippines, near Manila, by a Spanish priest. Even after many years of marriage, when he was away at sea, he still wrote to her daily.
They shared many years together as husband and wife. Their daughter Jane was my grandmother. They lived in Coronado, California in a house at Star Park in 1941. Marguerite continued to live there after his death at Pearl Harbor. Grandpa VanValkenburg’s class ring from Annapolis was found in the rubble of the Arizona, but his remains were never recovered. The USS VanValkenburg was named in his honor and Marguerite was there for the dedication. Upon her death, she asked to have her ashes scattered at sea to be with him always. I have a painting that she did of the ocean hanging in my living room. When I look at it, I think of her and grandpa together once again in the waters of the Pacific. We all call her Dearest rather than Marguerite. I always wondered if that’s what he called her. It sounds like something he would say being so poetic when it came to her.
Grandpa VanValkenburg had a naval career that spanned over thirty years. He is most remembered as being the captain of the Arizona because of the events that took place at Pearl Harbor. He served in the United States Navy from 1909 until his death in 1941 on many ships including the USS Vermont, the USS Minnesota, and the USS Rhode Island. He also commanded the USS Talbot and served as an instructor at the naval academy.
Upon his death at Pearl Harbor he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for courage and complete disregard of his own life. I’m told that the Arizona exploded when he was on the bridge, bravely refusing to take a more sheltered position. I know that he was brave and went down with his ship, but I wish I had known him as a child through more than stories.
There’s a lot of information about Grandpa VanValkenburg online, and even a book called Grand Papa’s Letter that tells the history of our family, which is really astounding. I’m more interested in the story of his life than the story of his death. Although I know that Pearl Harbor is what he will always be remembered for, I would like to find anyone who knew him that could tell me more about him as a person. I have heard that he was very much a gentleman, hardworking, and loyal to his country and family. I know from his actions that he was brave, selfless, and a fighter. He defended his ship until his life was taken. I never knew him but somehow, I feel like he’s a part of me and the best way to honor his memory is to keep it alive. Every person who died that day will live on in infamy.