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Remembering Rear Admiral Samuel G. Fuqua and Pearl Harbor

Monday, December 7, 2020


December 7th is honored each year by Fork Union Military Academy, along with the entire nation, as a day of remembrance. Described by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt as "a date which will live in infamy," we remember the bravery and sacrifice of the men in our armed forces on this 79th anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Today, there stands in the harbor at Pearl Harbor a beautiful memorial structure built atop the sunken USS Arizona to honor the 2,403 killed and 1,143 wounded in that attack. This National Memorial site first opened in May, 1962.

Fork Union Military Academy has a direct connection to the USS Arizona and to the construction of this memorial.

Rear Admiral Samuel G. Fuqua

In December, 1958, the familiar television show, "This Is Your Life," hosted by Ralph Edwards, profiled a man who was at that time an instructor of mathematics at Fork Union Military Academy named Rear Admiral Samuel G. Fuqua. A graduate of the US Naval Academy, Rear Admiral Fuqua had retired from the US Navy in 1953 and returned to college at Stanford University where he earned his Masters Degree in Political Science and Mathematics with Teaching Credentials. He then arrived at Fork Union Military Academy in 1957 where he taught mathematics from 1957 to 1960.

It was in 1941, however, that Fuqua, then a young officer, was assigned to the battleship USS Arizona as a Damage Control Officer. He was aboard the ship having breakfast in the wardroom when the first bombs struck the vessel on that Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. Fuqua's valor on that day would lead to his being awarded the Medal of Honor. The citation reads in part:

Upon the commencement of the attack, Lieut. Comdr. Fuqua rushed to the quarterdeck of the USS Arizona, to which he was attached, where he was stunned and knocked unconscious by the explosion of a large bomb which hit the quarterdeck, penetrated several decks, and started a severe fire. Upon regaining consciousness, he began to direct the fighting of fire and the rescue of wounded and injured personnel. Almost immediately there was a tremendous explosion forward, which made the ship appear to rise out of the water, shudder, and settle down by the bow rapidly. The whole forward part of the ship was enveloped in flames which were spreading rapidly, and the wounded and burned men were pouring out of the ship to the quarterdeck.

Despite these conditions, his harrowing experience and severe enemy strafing at the time, he continued to direct fighting of fires in order to check them while the wounded and burned could be taken from the ship, and supervised the rescue of these men in such an amazing calm and cool manner and with such excellent judgment that it inspired everyone who saw him and undoubtedly resulted in the saving of many lives.

After realizing the ship could not be saved and that he was the senior surviving officer aboard, he directed it to be abandoned, but continued to remain on the quarterdeck and direct the abandoning ship and rescue of personnel until satisfied that all personnel that could be had been saved, after which he left his ship with the last boatload.

The conduct of Lieut. Comdr. Fuqua was not only in keeping with the highest traditions of the Naval Service but characterizes him as an outstanding leader of men.

The "This Is Your Life" television profile in 1958 was intended to not only honor Rear Admiral Fuqua, the individual, but to honor the lives of those lost at Pearl Harbor and to serve as a fundraising springboard for the effort to build a permanent memorial as now stands over the USS Arizona. The show was successful in that effort and a significant portion of the funding for the memorial's construction came as a direct result of that broadcast. The USS Arizona memorial was dedicated on May 30, 1962. 

The story of this very special "This Is Your Life" episode about Rear Admiral Fuqua and the television show's involvement in this special effort was described by the show's producer and host, Ralph Edwards, in this 1997 interview with the Television Academy Foundation. Even almost forty years after that broadcast, Edwards' emotional reaction to the show's involvement with the USS Arizona's memorial construction is evident as he tells the story.

On this Pearl Harbor Day, it is remarkable to watch this December 1958 episode of "This Is Your Life" about the remarkable life and deeds of Rear Admiral Samuel Fuqua and to reflect upon the events of that Sunday morning decades ago that so greatly impacted our nation and our world.

Fork Union Military Academy is honored to count Rear Admiral Samuel G. Fuqua among the men and women who have helped to educate, develop, and inspire the young men in our Corps of Cadets throughout the Academy's long history.



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