Dressed in his football pads and uniform, Michael “Mickey” Ganitch was ready to play one of the many football games he and other sailors from his ship, the USS Pennsylvania, participated in regularly. They had a winning record, having only lost one game. The date was December 7, 1941, and they were scheduled to leave the ship at 08:00 am to play the 13:00 (1pm) game with the team from the USS Arizona for the Fleet Football Championship. No one could have imagined what happened next.
Mickey Ganitch, Mogadore School Class of 1937, All-County Football team stood out (at only 172 pounds), left Ohio in 1939 after working for the WPA. He went to California looking for work but found scarce work there too. So he did as many other men did; he joined the Navy. It was January 1941. He had no idea what trade he would like to pursue in the Navy; after all, he was a small town boy from Ohio, raised on a farm. So the Navy tested him. He had always been a good student and placed high on the Navy tests. An instructor asked him how he would like to steer a big ship under the Golden Gate Bridge. The largest boat Mickey had ever seen was a ferry boat, so this sounded exciting to him.
The “Pennsylvania” was the flagship of the fleet and was tied up at the main dock in Pearl Harbor. The ship needed repair work on its propellers, so on December 6th the ship went into #1 drydock. It was a large drydock and needed to be. The ship was 608 feet long. Two destroyers, the Cassin and the Downes, were located along both sides of the bow of the ship for repairs. All hatches (or doors) were open on all ships in the harbor for the inspection which would take place on Monday.
Mickey was a small town boy from Ohio, raised on a farm. He had always been a good student and placed high on the Navy tests. A Navy instructor asked him how he would like to steer a big ship under the Golden Gate Bridge.
At 7:55am, the ship shuddered a bit, the telephone rang and Mickey answered it. He was told by one of the men on the bridge that the Japanese were attacking the Naval Air Station on Ford Island. As Mickey was to tell his fellow sailor to “quit kidding”, a general alarm went off. All men were instructed to their battle stations. There was no time for anything else. Mickey’s battle station was a lookout in the forward crow’s nest, so called because in order to get it he had to go up a ladder on a tripod mast and then to get into the small level of the crow’s nest he had to get through a small trap door. To get through it with his football shoulder pads on he had to go one shoulder at a time. His job was to wear sound powered phones and report anything to the ship’s control.
His was post was about 100 feet in the air and he was able to see over the tops of the surrounding buildings. He was able to report the position of enemy planes coming in and they were shot down. He was well protected with his “pads” on but was able to change into proper battle dress before the second attack came down. During the second attack, the Pennsylvania was spotted. Mickey was at his station.
This time the high level bombers were used and the Pennsylvania was hit with a 500 pound bomb. One hit the dry dock alongside the ship, and the destroyer, Cassin, was hit. Shrapnel from the Cassin landed on the ship and the destroyer was in flames, so it got quite hot in the crow’s nest. Japanese planes were flying all around and some looked close enough to hit with a rock – if Mickey HAD a rock to throw. Later, machine gun bullet holes were discovered on the tripod and ladder he had climbed. Whether it was before, after, or during when he was climbing up he doesn’t know, but he was not injured. Twenty-three men were lost from that ship that day and many others were injured.
The football game was never played. Later, Mickey learned when he came home to Ohio on leave in 1942, one of his neighbors (who went to a different school) was on the Arizona and is still on it. If the game had been played, they would have played against each other as they played the same position and had done so in highschool football games.
The Pennsylvania participated in many more battles, but it was only hit one more time. It was August 12, 1945 and the ship was in Okinawa. They were still fighting on the island but the bay where they were in was big and seemed safe. Mickey decided to write a letter, and since poker games were going on in the living compartment, he decided to go up on the bridge to write. At about 8:30pm he was almost knocked off his seat where he was sitting. A lone Japanese plane had come in with its lights on and no one fired a shot as they thought it was a friendly plane.
The enemy dropped a torpedo onto the first ship it saw, the Pennsylvania. The torpedo hit one of the propellers on the battleship Pennsylvania. The torpedo hit one of the propellers on the battleship. Water rushed in and up into the living compartment of the Quartermasters. Mickey was a Quartermaster at that time and lost twenty-six men that night. The next morning the ship was towed to shallow water to avoid sinking. That very same morning the Japanese were suddenly asking for peace.
Mickey was assigned to other ships and stayed in the Navy until October, 1963, retiring as a Senior Chief Quartermaster. He steered the battleship Pennsylvania under the Golden Gate Bridge many times as well as other ships that he was on.
In 1953, Mickey married Betty Brumbaugh (Arehart) class of 1938 from Suffield, and adopted her three girls. Betty passed away in 1961. He was single for two years until marrying Barbara Church, a native of Wisconsin. They have been married for 45 years.
Today Mickey keeps busy with various organizations: Pearl Harbor Survivors, Disabled American Veterans, Fleet Reserve Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Veterans Administration, helping transport veterans (many half his age!) to their medical appointments. For 44 years he has been head usher at his church and he works with the Anti-Hunger program at the church, and the Masonic Lodge.
Mickey spent 23 years with the navy and often dreams of it still.
“I love this country for better or worse (help make it better; don’t just gripe!). It’s the very best. God bless you all and God bless the United States of America.”
Thank you Mickey, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2009 by Kristen Kuhns and Story of My Life®