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The voices of history fall silent sometimes because a person witnessed such horror that it would never be talked about again. That happened to be the case with grandfather Dexter J. Anderson. Only knowing him in his final years, he was even more reserved than when my mom was growing up. The subject of Pearl Harbor and Dexter’s experience in war was seldom, if ever brought up. In short, it was off limits for any discussion. So when these voices of our past fall silent, the records we use for historical research and genealogy become the orators of past events.


But can we really blame him for trying to suppress this and maintain some semblance of his once innocent life?


USS California sinking in Pearl Harbor, Official U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-32456. Accessed on Wikimedia Commons.


All in the span of two hours, everything would change for my grandfather, his fellow shipmen who carried on their duty, and all Americans. In what probably felt like minutes or seconds to the men on the ground, 2408 people died, hundreds of planes were lost, and dozens of ships capsized.

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 11.28.22 AM

Dexter James Anderson was born 6 May 1915 in Marblehead, Essex County, Massachusetts to parents were Henry Walfred and Signe Maria (Johansdotter) Anderson.[1] A love for the ocean and maritime life always captivated Dexter; he joined several boating clubs and collected many model ships and nautical instruments. After high school, Dexter enrolled in Bates College for one year, followed by two years at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He enlisted in the United States Naval Reserve and duty called him away from home in 1941.[2]

peliad report of changes

USS Pelias (AS14), Report of Changes, “Officer Passengers”, 8 Nov 1941, page 13: accessed on Fold3.com

Perhaps the one detail that slipped out from Dexter into the ears of my parents was the name of the destroyer he served on during the attack. Muster rolls and personnel records show Dexter served on at least three vessels, but at Pearl Harbor, he Dexter was stationed on the USS Patterson. The USS Patterson (DD-392) was a Bagley-Class Destroyer; the vessel gallantly cruised the seas with a 342-foot long hull and impressive armament.



USS Patterson. Removed Caption, “U.S. Navy Photo 116-17”: Accessed at Wikimedia Commons.

On the morning of the attack, the USS Patterson and 30 other destroyers were docked at Ford’s Island. Ford’s Island was a strategic point on the naval base that lays in the harbor’s center. The first submarines crawled into American waters under the cover of darkness, only to surprise the American base with torpedoes and soon after airstrikes from above. The air horn and call to attack came at 7:55 AM. Immediately, Dexter and his shipmen flew out of their bunks and manned their stations.[3] The destroyer’s action report, written by the commanding officer, provides us with the only known account of this particular destroyer’s experience in the battle.


Pearl Harbor Looking Southwest, October 1941. Official U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-182874: Accessed on Wikimedia Commons.



USS Patterson cruising Pearl Harbor, May 1942. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, removed captain Photo # 80-G-64754. Accessed at Wikimedia Commons.

Commanding Office Frank Robinson Walker, while he was not on deck during the engagement, report that the Patterson’s main and .50 caliber guns took down one enemy plane that was diving on the USS Curtis. The debris fell around the intended ship and was saved from any harm. He commends the crew of the Patterson for their “exemplary work”.[4]

Dexter and his destroyer was one of the lucky ones to come out unscathed physically from Pearl Harbor. In later episodes, imminent danger became all the more a reality. While escorting convoys in the Battle of Guadalcanal, Patterson collided with another destroyer named McCalla. Dexter lost three of his fellow shipmen and ten were injured.[5]

anderson uss patterson

Lieut. Dexter James Anderson was transferred from the Patterson to the Comserfor. Report of Changes, 31 Mar 1943, USS Patterson, accessed on Fold3.com

As records and sources recant the voices of history, I become more reflective in assessing my grandfather’s service in the Navy. I just want to take a moment to thank all the courageous men and women who through respectable conviction, sacrificed for the protection of civil liberties.

I’m glad I set out to learn more about this story, because the man Dexter I knew was based on distant, if little communication. My younger self led to the conclusion he was kind of grouchy and irritable. Dexter died 3 May 2000 in Salem Hospital and his funeral would be the first I ever attended.[6] Fifteen years later, he has becomes a figure in my family history that I see with a lot more empathy and subtle complexities.


History of Pearl Harbor and the Attack:


“Attack on Pearl Harbor,” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attack_on_Pearl_Harbor. Scroll to “External Links” for contemporary sources and documents of the attack.

Further Information on USS Patterson (DD-392):

“Patterson II (DD-392),” Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. http://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/p/patterson-ii.html

“USS Patterson, Report of Pearl Harbor Attack,” http://www.history.navy.mil/research/archives/digitized-collections/action-reports/wwii-pearl-harbor-attack/ships-m-r/uss-patterson-dd-392-action-report.html

“USS Patterson (DD-392),” NavSource Naval History: Photographic History of the United States Navy. http://www.navsource.org/archives/05/392.htm

“USS Patterson,” Destroyer History Foundation. http://destroyerhistory.org/goldplater/usspatterson/index.asp?r=205&pid=39200

“Bagley Class,” Destroyer History Foundation. http://destroyerhistory.org/goldplater/bagleyclass/

U.S. Government Documents about Pearl Harbor:[7]

“Document text”, US Navy Report of Japanese Raid on Pearl Harbor, United States National Archives, Modern Military Branch, 1942, archived from the original on 13 January 2008, retrieved 2007-12-25.

“Document text”, Peace and War, United States Foreign Policy 1931–1941, Washington D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1943, retrieved 2007-12-08.

“Damage to United States Naval Forces and Installations as a Result of the Attack”, Report of the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, Washington D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1946, retrieved 2007-12-08.


[1] Certificate for Dexter J. Anderson, 6 Sep 1915 (recorded 10 Oct 1915), Marblehead, Essex, Massachusetts, registration no. 100, certificate no. 0473113: Copy sent from Town Clerk’s Office

[2] Genealogical Profile of Dexter J. Anderson, held in author’s possession.

[3] “USS Patterson, Report of Pearl Harbor Attack,” http://www.history.navy.mil/research/archives/digitized-collections/action-reports/wwii-pearl-harbor-attack/ships-m-r/uss-patterson-dd-392-action-report.html

[4] “USS Patterson, Report of Pearl Harbor Attack,” http://www.history.navy.mil/research/archives/digitized-collections/action-reports/wwii-pearl-harbor-attack/ships-m-r/uss-patterson-dd-392-action-report.html

[5] “USS Patterson,” Destroyer History Foundation. http://destroyerhistory.org/goldplater/usspatterson/index.asp?r=205&pid=39200

[6] Copy of Record of Death, Dexter James Anderson, 3 May 2000, Salem, Essex, Massachusetts, registration no. 234, certificate no. 0473931. Copy sent from Town Clerk’s Office in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

[7] Copied from “Attack on Pearl Harbor,” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attack_on_Pearl_Harbor. 


Copyright (c) 2015 by Jake Fletcher. All materials protected under the laws of copyright. Do not copy or reproduce without author’s permission.

Jake Fletcher, “Dexter J. Anderson and the Attack on Pearl Harbor,” Travelogues of a Genealogist, posted 7 Dec 2015. https://fletcherfamilytree.wordpress.com/2015/12/07/dexter-j-anderson-and-the-attack-on-pearl-harbor.