Sunday, December 7, 1941 dawned warm and beautiful over the Hawaiian paradise of Oahu. Only scattered clouds marred the otherwise perfect morning at the American naval base known as Pearl Harbor.
Tucked along Ford Island at the harbor’s center were the prized battleships of the United States Pacific Fleet. Eight mighty vessels tied up in a perfect row.
Among the vessels was the USS Arizona, a Pennsylvania-class battleship commissioned in 1916. It would not survive the morning. For as the sailors and marines stirred aboard ship, a formation of aircraft of the Japanese Navy were preparing to descend upon the American military bases scattered across the island of Oahu.
It is likely 19-year-old Seaman First Class Paul Shiley was among those just waking up on board the Arizona. The native of Wiconisco, Pennsylvania had plans to meet up with a former classmate across the harbor at the U.S. Army airbase known as Hickham Field at 10 AM.
His classmate, Henry Heim, was assigned as a machine-gunner with the 31st Bomber Group stationed at Hickham. He was coming back to his barracks from breakfast when he heard fighter aircraft screaming overhead. In an oral history recorded in 2003, Heim described what he saw that fateful morning.
Then I heard a roar like a plane diving, and then an awful explosion rocked the barracks. I ran over and looked out the window. I could see the boats in Pearl Harbor on Battleship Row, and I saw what looked like fire. Then another airplane came down and something dropped out from under it. It hit the boat and the boat exploded. It came up out of the water, went back down, and rolled over. It was the Arizona.
What he witnessed was the moment when an armor-piercing shell dropped from a formation of Japanese high-level bombers exploded deep within the Arizona’s forward powder magazine. The ensuing explosion split the ship in two, blowing men from the decks of neighboring vessels and sparking a massive inferno that engulfed those who survived the blast.
Heim had been aboard the Arizona the preceding Sunday. “We walked around the ship, had a good lunch, and I invited him to come over the next Sunday,” he remembered. “He said ‘okay,’ he would be over about 10 A.M. Well the boat was underwater by 7:00 or 8:00.”
“He’s still in it.”
Heim’s former classmate at Wiconisco High School, Paul Eugene Shiley, was among the 1,177 members of the Arizona crew who perished on December 7, 1941. He was initially declared as missing, before official word passed to his family in Wiconisco in February 1942 that he had been declared “killed in action.” He remains forever entombed inside the USS Arizona.
Shiley was the first resident of Wiconsico, Pennsylvania to die in the Second World War.
Below is the official notice of his death, recorded in the Harrisburg Evening News on February 24, 1942.
Wiconisco, Feb. 24 – Paul Eugene Shiley, 19, of Wiconisco, was killed when the S.S. Arizona was bombed at Pearl Harbor, December 7. Shiley had been reported “missing.”
First Class Seaman Shiley was a son of Mr. and Mrs. Lester Shiley. His death established him as the first fatality in World War II from Wiconisco. He enlisted in the United States Navy [in] October 1940, with John Denkovich, of Wiconisco.
Shiley had completed his training and was ready to receive final papers to promote him from first class seaman to airplane mechanic just before his death.
Surviving besides his parents are two sisters, Dorothy and June; four brothers, Donald, Clyde, Lawrence, and Robert.