Ensign Francis C. Flaherty, USNR (1919-1941) – A Hero in the Pacific

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BY DUANE VACHON – Hero” is one of those buzzwords often mentioned in mainstream media. But contrary to what that medium tells us, a hero is not a sports star who consistently gets the highest scores. A hero does not perform heroic actions in the hope of becoming recognized for heroism. Additionally, a person who performed “heroic” acts under obligation also is not a hero.

A hero is a person who acts in the belief that what he is doing is for the good of others. Often times, a hero is someone who has encountered a significant risk to his own safety or to something that he value. Although this is not always necessary – a hero does not necessarily risk, but necessarily sacrifices. This sacrifice may take the form of taking risks, or just expending effort generously, for the benefit of others.

As an example, Mahatma Gandhi, because of his many contributions for the attainment of peace, is a hero. Gandhi spent a considerable portion of his life striving very hard for his ideals of peace, with much of this undertaking at great cost to himself, and which even brought his own death at the hands of an assassin. This is what heroism essentially is – service to others, without thought of personal reward.

To better understand what a heroic quality is it may be easier to describe what a hero is not. Nearly every day on television people talk of athletes and celebrities as being heroes, but are they? To put it mildly, they are not heroes at all. Possibly role models, but for the most part, not in possession of heroic qualities. When Michael Jordan and Bruce Willis, by risking their lives, save an abandoned child from a typhoon they will possess the qualities to be called heroes in my opinion. Policemen and firemen are at times classified as heroes. Until they prove themselves they are just ordinary people. The title heroic is not given by occupation, rather by achievement.

I have written dozen’s of articles highlighting heroes of the Pacific.  Without a doubt Francis Flaherty does meet the requirements of a hero.

Francis C. Flaherty was born on March 15, 1919 in Charlotte, Michigan. He attended St. Mary’s Catholic Church while living in Charlotte. He enlisted in the Naval Reserve in July 1940 and was commissioned as an Ensign in December of that year.

At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Flaherty was serving on board the USS Oklahoma. The Oklahoma was based at Pearl Harbor for patrols and exercises and was moored in Battleship Row when the attack began. Almost immediately after the first Japanese bombs fell, the ship was hit by three torpedoes and began to capsize. Those who could began to abandon ship as more torpedoes struck home. Flaherty remained in one of the ship’s turrets, providing light so that the turret crew could escape. When the Oklahoma rolled completely over, he was trapped inside the hull along with many others. Thirty-two crewmembers of the Oklahoma were rescued from inside the hull over the next few days, but Flaherty was not among them.

Overall, 429 men were entombed in the Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor, including Flaherty. The ship was raised for salvage in 1943, and the remains inside were eventually interred in mass graves marked “Unknowns” at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. Flaherty’s name is inscribed in the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, and a memorial headstone was placed in Maple Hill Cemetery in his hometown of Charlotte, Michigan.

Flaherty is listed on Wall 3 in the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery Of The Pacific in Honolulu.

Medal of Honor citation of Ensign Francis C. Flaherty, USNR

(As printed in the official publication “Medal of Honor, 1861-1949, The Navy”, page 184):

“For conspicuous devotion to duty and extraordinary courage and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, by Japanese Forces on 7 December 1941. When it was seen that the U.S.S. Oklahoma was going to capsize and the order was given to abandon ship, Ensign Flaherty remained in a turret, holding a flashlight so the remainder of the turret crew could see to escape, thereby sacrificing his own life.”

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