FRANKLIN VAN VALKENBURGH *
5 April 1888 – 7 December 1941
Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Navy
Years of service 1905 – 1941
Appointed from: Wisconsin
Commands: USS Talbot (DD-114), Destroyer Squadron Five, USS Melville (AD-2), USS Arizona (BB-39)
Awards: Medal of Honor, Awarded Posthumously
Franklin Van Valkenburgh (5 April 1888 – 7 December 1941), born Minneapolis, Minnesota was the last captain of the USS Arizona. He was killed when the Arizona exploded and sank during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Franklin Van Valkenburgh was appointed a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy on 15 September 1905 and graduated on 4 June 1909. After service in the battleship Vermont (BB-20) and in South Carolina (BB-26), Van Valkenburgh was commissioned ensign on 5 June 1911. Traveling to the Asiatic Station soon thereafter, he joined the submarine tender Rainbow (AS-7) at Olongapo, Philippine Islands, on 11 September. He reported to the gunboat Pampanga (PG-39) as executive officer on 23 June 1914 for a short tour in the southern Philippines before his detachment on 4 August.
After returning to the United States, Lt. (jg.) Van Valkenburgh joined Connecticut (BB-18) on 11 November. 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 Rhode Island (BB-17) on 2 March 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 1 June 1920, Van Valkenburgh reported on board Minnesota (BB-22) 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 15 May 1925 – before he joined Maryland (BB-46) on 26 June. Commissioned commander on 2 June 1927 while in Maryland, he soon reported for duty in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations on 21 May 1928 and served there during the administrations of Admirals Charles F. Hughes and William V. Pratt. Detached on 28 June 1931, Van Valkenburgh received command of the destroyer Talbot (DD-114) on 10 July and commanded Destroyer Squadron 5 from 31 March 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 Melville (AD-2) from 8 June 1936 to 11 June 1938. Promoted to captain while commanding Melville – on 23 December 1937 – he served as inspector of materiel for the 3d Naval District from 6 August 1938 to 22 January 1941.
On 5 February 1941, Van Valkenburgh relieved Capt. Harold C. Train as commanding officer of Arizona (BB-39). 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. On 4 December, the battleship went to sea in company with Nevada (BB-36) and Oklahoma (BB-37) 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 Capt. Van Valkenburgh and the embarked division commander, Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, spent the next Saturday evening, 6 December, on board. Suddenly, shortly before 08:00 on 7 December, 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 put out on 9 December. A subsequent search recovered only Capt. Van Valkenburgh's class ring.
The captain was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in gallantly fighting his ship, he directed its defense in the tragically short time allotted him.
Medal of Honor 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, Captain 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."
In 1943, the destroyer USS Van Valkenburgh (DD-656) was named in his honor.