In the 151-year history of the Congressional Medal of Honor, more than 3,740 servicemen have earned the award. Of that number, 80 recipients have been from Connecticut. (That figure includes men who were born and raised here but moved out of Connecticut later.)
One of those Connecticut recipients — Chief Radioman Thomas James Reeves of the United States Navy — was killed during the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Thomas J. Reeves saw active duty in both world wars. Born in 1895 in Thomaston, CT, Reeves was living at 51 Hawkins St. in Waterbury when he joined the Navy on July 20, 1917, at the age of 21. He was trained as a radioman and served in the New York City area until Aug. 10, 1918, when he sailed aboard the USS America until the end of the war — Nov. 11, 1918. He then was aboard the USS Santa Ana as an electrician until his discharge on July 21, 1919.
Reeves spent the next 27 months as a civilian but then re-enlisted in the Navy in October of 1921. During the next 20 years in the Navy, Reeves would rise to the rank of Chief Radioman. In December of 1941, he was serving aboard the USS California in that capacity while it was docked at Pearl Harbor.
Completed shortly after World War I, the California was a Tennessee-class battleship and was the fifth ship named after the "Golden State."
Built at the Mare Island Shipyard in San Francisco Bay, the California was launched on Nov. 20, 1919. It was over 620 feet long, weighed over 30,000 tons, and carried a crew of nearly 1,100 men. It spent its entire career in the Pacific Ocean.
Moored at the southernmost berth on Battleship Row on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the Californiacame under severe attack from Japanese aircraft. It was struck first by two torpedoes, causing severe flooding. Then a bomb passed through the main deck of the ship into the second deck where it exploded an anti-aircraft magazine, killing about 50 men, including Thomas J. Reeves.
During the initial phase of the attack, the equipment used to lift anti-aircraft ammunition automatically to the upper deck failed. Reeves organized the hand delivery of ammunition to anti-aircraft batteries and was killed while doing so.
Machinist Mate 1st Class Robert R. Scott refused to leave his battle station during the attack. Like Reeves, he, too, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic actions. In addition, both men subsequently had destroyers named in their honor — the USS Reeves and the USS Scott. Reeves and Scott were among the 100 men onboard the California who were killed that fateful Sunday morning.
Though sunk, the USS California was salvaged, repaired, and returned to service during the war. She participated in many of the more significant Pacific battles including Saipan, Guam, Tinian, and Okinawa. While participating in the re-invasion of the Phillipines, she was struck by a kamikaze, killing 44 of her crew. Another crewman was killed off the coast of Saipan by an exploding shell, bringing the total number killed aboard the California during the war to 145.
The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor Resulted in the loss of 2,402 American lives; nearly half of those killed were aboard the USS Arizona. Radioman Thomas J. Reeves was one of 17 men from Connecticut to die at Pearl Harbor. Reeves was one of 15 men at Pearl Harbor to receive the Medal of Honor and one of six from Connecticut to receive that honor during World War II.
Here is the exact text of Reeves' CMOH citation:
"For distinguished conduct in the line of his profession, extraordinary courage and disregard of his own safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. After the mechanized ammunition hoists were put out of action in the U.S.S. California, Reeves, on his own initiative, in a burning passageway, assisted in the maintenance of an ammunition supply by hand to the antiaircraft guns until he was overcome by smoke and fire, which resulted in his death."