As ceremonies are held Wednesday at Pearl Harbor to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack, Nick Soley will be among the veterans there.
Formerly of Hammond, Soley will be there in memory of his brother, Mike, who was one of the 88 Marines on the USS Arizona when the attack began. Mike Soley was among the 15 Marines from the ship to survive. A total of 1,177 men died when the ship was sunk.
Nick Soley, who will be 90 next week, and Mike Soley came from a Hammond family of 13 children. Mike Soley was a 1938 Hammond Tech graduate and played on the school basketball team. Nick Soley graduated two years later, but both joined the Marines in 1940. Mike Soley was in Nevada with the Civilian Conservation Corps when he enlisted.
Mike Soley ended up in the Pacific theater while Nick Soley was stationed in Iceland. Three other brothers, Frank, Bill and George, also served during the war. Frank Soley was shot down over Germany and was interned in Sweden until war's end.
Although, like many veterans, Mike Soley didn't talk much about his experiences at Pearl Harbor, he was one of those interviewed for the book "Battleship Arizona's Marines at War: Making the Ultimate Sacrifice, December 7, 1941," by Dick Camp about the Marines' service on the USS Arizona.
Nick Soley learned of the bombing of Pearl Harbor from a British soldier stationed in Iceland. That was the only information the soldier could provide, and, 70 years later, Nick Soley said he thought his brother was asleep in the aft section of the ship at the time of the attack. According to Camp's book, Mike Soley was very much awake.
In fact, Mike Soley was rousted out at 1 a.m. that morning to do watch duty high up the main tripod, where he watched the Nevada's band and color guard signal the start of the day. Then he noticed a diving aircraft with red circles on the wings and fuselage followed by the sound of gunfire as the men on the Nevada scattered. He shouted into his headset, "Jap planes!"
Soley could see all of battleship row, Ford Island, the submarine pens and other major facilities in the harbor as the bombs and torpedoes exploded and the entire harbor area erupted in smoke and flame. He remained there until the order to abandon ship.
One of the men with Soley said in Camp's book the heat from flames all around them was "oven temperature" and "licked close by at times." Their hands were burned on the metal rails as they climbed down from the tower. Soley got separated from the group. When a Navy crewman found him, he was wearing "a pair of khaki shorts and a skivvy shirt," the book states. His hair was "scorched and burnt."
"I guess we should get off this thing," Soley told his companion. A gangway from the ship to the quay was broken and turned on its side, leaving a 2-foot-wide board on which they crossed to safety. As the ship listed and began sinking, its mooring lines began to snap, whipping past the escaping crew.
"We'd better get down off the quay because if those things burst or break, they'll cut you in half," Soley told the other man. They slipped off onto a boat landing and were picked up by a rescue boat.
Mike Soley later served on the USS Tennessee and in Panama and the Philippines. He also did two tours of duty in Korea during his 20-year military career. He received the bronze star, and Nick Soley said his brother should have received other medals as well. He was wounded, but he didn't report it.
Nick Soley eventually did a brief stint in Pearl Harbor during the war, and he now belongs to the USS Arizona Association in honor of his brother, who died in 2000. Now living in South Bend, Nick still attends the Munster church his parents helped found and said he hopes to move back to Lake County in the spring.