Story Courtesy of Jeff Rankin, Monmouth College Historian Author and Literacy Critic.
In the 20th century, two Monmouth men made their mark on history on a tiny Pacific island 4,000 miles from the Maple City—about two decades apart. The island was Oahu, and each of the men exhibited bravery of a unique sort near its tropical shores.
In 1941, Dr. Russell Jensen, a 1931 Monmouth College graduate Dr. Russell Jensen, was just settling into his new home of Honolulu as a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve, on the staff of the U.S. Naval Hospital at Pearl Harbor. After earning his M.D. degree from Northwestern Medical School in 1934, he had completed a residency at Chicago’s St. Luke’s Hospital before attending the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, where he had graduated with a degree in general surgery in 1940.
Jensen immediately established a general surgery practice in his native Illinois, borrowing $3,500 for equipment while still owing medical school debt. His plans were unexpectedly derailed, however, when in January 1941 a telegram arrived, ordering him to report to San Diego for duty in the Naval Reserve. Shortly after his arrival in San Diego, he and a fellow physician became bored with the routine and asked their commanding officer for permission to create a mobile medical unit. The doctors were rewarded for their enterprise by being ordered the next day to ship out to Pearl Harbor.
Jensen had married Alice McDougall in 1937, and both she and their furniture finally arrived in Hawaii on Dec. 1, 1941. A week later, their lives would be thrown into turmoil.
On the morning of Sunday, Dec. 7, Jensen was the only physician on duty at the Naval Hospital. On a second-floor balcony overlooking Hickam field, he was stitching up the face of a soldier who had been injured in a bar fight. At 7:55 a.m., he heard explosions, then 20 planes flying low at a high speed, skimming the hospital’s roof.
Members of the 250-bed hospital staff were notified to report immediately for duty, and by 9:15 the entire staff of the hospital was assembled. Medical officers and corpsmen from ships which had suffered damage during the attack reported intermittently throughout the morning. A large number of civilian women who had first-aid training volunteered to assist the 29 Navy nurses. The Red Cross also supplied several dozen registered nurses.
To make more room for casualties, ambulatory patients were transferred to two old frame buildings and five hospital tents in the rear of the hospital. Convalescent patients eager for duty were permitted to return as best they could to their commands.
The first casualties arrived at the hospital within 10 minutes after the first attack, and by 9 a.m. they were coming into the hospital in a steady stream, being transported from harbor by ambulance.
None of the admitted patients wore dog tags and many who were unconscious when admitted to the hospital died before they could be identified. Some of the bodies were so badly charred that they could not be identified from physical features.
A total of 546 battle casualties and 313 dead were brought to the hospital that day. Approximately 452 casualties were admitted to the hospital in less than three hours. The census of patients in the hospital by midnight was 960.
Jensen and his fellow officers worked tirelessly for the next 48 hours. Jensen’s ward was soon full with about 25 burned sailors, many of whom were injured while swimming in the harbor, which was afire with burning fuel. He never saw the harbor during the attack, only attending to sailors, disfigured and in great pain. All he could do was give them morphine and cover their burns with tannic acid.
Six months later, Jensen was promoted to lieutenant commander. His wife, Alice, got a job with the Army, but their furniture, which had stood on a dock, was never found. In May 1943, Jensen was transferred to Midway Island, where he would treat hundreds of casualties. He was discharged from the Navy in 1945 and established a medical practice in Monmouth with Dr. James Marshall, where he would treat patients for the next 30 years.
Fifteen years after Jensen was discharged from the Navy, a 20-year-old Monmouth man was making history, finding his sea legs aboard a nuclear submarine, the USS Sargo, which made a treacherous but successful voyage under the ice cap to the North Pole in early 1960. James Smallwood, a motor machinist’s mate, would then return with the crew of the $50 million sub to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
On the afternoon of June 14, Smallwood was the duty auxiliaryman while the sub was taking aboard oxygen from a pier-side truck. Suddenly, a high-pressure leak occurred in the rubber hose connecting the truck to a manifold in the stern. Realizing the danger to the ship and crew, Smallwood woke the only other man in the room and told him to get out. He then sought to contain the leak, when the room erupted in an explosion, instantly killing him.
Flames shot 100 feet into the air. Fire control units battled the blaze for 45 minutes without success, so the Sargo was taken away from the dock and partially submerged by leaving the torpedo room hatch open in the stern.
As a result of the tragedy, the Navy instituted a thorough review of oxygen loading procedures, and its subsequent revisions have prevented any similar accidents over more than a half century.
In 1987, Submarine Base Pearl Harbor opened a new 17-story bachelor enlisted quarters, which was dedicated in memory of Smallwood and the sacrifice of his life while performing in the service of his country. In 2004, Smallwood Hall received a $23 million renovation.
Smallwood, who was posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroic conduct, is buried in Warren County Memorial Park Cemetery in Monmouth.