Pearl Harbor survivor awarded Distinguished Veteran Citation

by Eileen Dever

Note: Dear Reader is an old article form Merrick Life (January 10, 2008) about Irving William Halleran a Pearl Harbor Survivor and a former member of our Post. Unfortunately, our friend, Bill Halleran passed away December 9, 2011 and Merrick Life ceased their operations 2013, however, I wanted to show you, the Reader, what type of people belonged to our Post.

When the surprise attack was launched by the Japanese Navy and and Air Forces on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, almost the entire Pacific fleet was moored there at the time. Battleships, cruisers, destroyers, submarines were bombed, strafed, and sunk. Alert sounded: Air raid... This is not a drill!

Sixty-five years have passed in William Halleran's life since that "day that will live in infamy" and yet the memory is still vivid. Bill Halleran and his wife Rose Marie have lived most of those years on Camp Avenue, North Merrick.

The veteran remembers exactly where he was - in the Exec quarters mid-ship on the starboard side of the light cruiser Phoenix when he heard a loud explosion.

I looked out of the port holes that were high and could see the 'red meatballs,' [the rising sun of the Japanese dive bombers] dropping torpedoes on our battleships. Hell, we're at war," I thought.

"I tried to get topside to my battle station. The hatch cover was weighed down - dogged tight."

When he did get to the main deck all was in turmoil.

It was common practice to cover the big guns - 50 caliber - with canvas awnings as sun protectors.

"With the Chief, I used my knife - something I always carried, should I go overboard and meet a shark - to - slash the covering and throw it overboard." With no electricity, the guns were loaded by hand as the second wave of bombers swooped down on the ships.

Yeoman Halleran became an ammunition handler, carrying the shells around his neck up from below deck. The big guns fired back at the enemy.

In the heat of the battle, he remembers seeing the flag on the West Virginia battlewagon glinting in a ray of sun and prayed, "Lord, I hope you are on our side."

To get the crusier underway was a usual two-hour process - yet with the captain finally aboard, the damaged Phoenix sailed out from a "dead cold start." We missed lunch that day but saw history made!"

Bill Halleran had graduated from Sewanhaka High School in the midst of the Depression. Enlisting in the Navy seemed like a good deal: he lived to travel; it gave three "squares," a clean bunk and a fair wage, so he and his older brother and cousin signed up in 1938.

He was assigned to Newport, Rhode Island, and "it was great!" An old seaman told him to put into the oldest and biggest battleship, the Old New York but his orders were to report to the Phoenix, a striker, a light crusier docked in Philadelphia.

I had no idea war was looming."

Yeoman Halleran was discharged form the Navy on November 12, 1946, and hitched his way by ship, plane and train home to Floral Park, where he says, "I began to circulate and met Rose Marie."

The Hallerans built their house on Camp Avenue in 1948. The avenue had only three houses on the street at the time. Their school taxes were $12.50 a month.

They raised their three sons, William, Frank and Scott, and sent them to North Merrick schools. Now they have six grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

Sons William and Frank were also Navy men - "I encouraged them." said dad. William lives in Iowa, and the other sons live locally.

On the 65th anniversary of Pearl Harbor last month, th whole family went to Hawaii, revisiting Pearl Harbor. "I recognized nothing," said Mr. Halleran. In his memory it was clear beach from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel to Diamond Head. Today the beach is filled with hotels.

The veteran is a member of the American Legion Post 1282 in Merrick. On December 17 he was presented the Distinguished Veterans Award by county Legislator Dave Denenberg at the Nassau County Legislature. The self-effacing Navy vet thought it was really too much.

Commander Philip Williams of the Merrick Post said that 17 members of the post attended the award ceremony, showing their endorsement of Mr. Halleran's courage and service.

Are his grandchildren interested in his "war stories?" "They do promote lots of questions..." he says. His wish is that one of this grandchildren will attend Annapolis. "The sea... eternity winking.."

Bill Halleran group pic1 resized

In the above picture: A HERO IN OUR MIDST: County Legislator Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) presented William Halleran of Merrick with the Nassau County Hero Award at a December 17 Legislature session in Mineola. Mr. Halleran served on the USS Phoenix, CL-46 as a second class yeomen and was responsible for the executive officers aboard the ship. The USS Phoenix had a crew of 900 sailors and Marines, and not one of these men lost their lives on December 7, 1941. Mr. Halleran returned to Hawaii for the first time this year to participate in the 65th anniversary of the attacks o Pearl Harbor. He is accompanied for the ceremony by his wife, Rosemary, of 61 years and American Legion Merrick Post 1282 Commander Phil Williams and members. Above are Legislator Denenberg, center, with Bill and Rosemary Halleran, seated and members of the American Legion Merrick Post 1282.

Note: Dever, Eileen, "Pearl Harbor survivor awarded Distinguished Veteran Citation", Merrick Life, 10 January, 2008, pp. 5 & 21

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