USS Arizona Pearl Harbor veteran passes away
Joe Langdell was working as a junior accountant in Boston when he got the idea that he should join the Navy and go to sea. It was 1940 and America edged closer every day to joining the war that raged in Europe.
After proving his sea legs on the battleship New York, Langdell signed up. His college degree earned him a place in an officers' training program. In March 1941, newly commissioned as an ensign, he reported for his first assignment: The USS Arizona, stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
By the end of the year, the mighty Arizona lay shattered beneath the harbor, sunk by Japanese bombers in the Dec. 7 attack that finally propelled the United States into World War II.
Langdell survived the attack at Pearl Harbor, along with 334 other Arizona crewmen, and devoted much of his later years to preserving the memory of a day that changed history.
"The lesson I've learned from that experience is that the 1,177 men entombed on the ship right now will never know the love of a wife or the joy of grandchildren," he said in 2006, when his son, Ted, interviewed him on video at Pearl Habor. "We all have to remember that they did not die in vain."
Langdell died early Wednesday in a skilled nursing center in Yuba City, Calif. He was 100, the oldest living survivor of the Arizona. With his passing, just eight crewmen from the mighty battleship remain.
Ted Langdell said his father had been ill in recent weeks, but had celebrated the holidays with family members and still enjoyed visiting the nurses and other patients. In November, Langdell dressed in his Navy blues and appeared, as has been his custom over the past few years, in the Marysville Veterans' Day parade.
He had just turned 100 a few weeks before.
Joseph Kopcho Langdell was born Oct. 12, 1914, in Wilton, N.H., the oldest son of Luther Langdell and Annie Kopcho Langdell. Earlier that same year, at a Navy ship yard in Brooklyn, work began on the battleship Arizona.
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Langdell worked on the family dairy farm and was active in 4H. He joined the Boy Scouts, earning his Eagle badge and beginning an association that would continue years later when his own sons joined and he became a scoutmaster.
He graduated from Boston University in 1938 with a degree in business administration and worked as an accountant until he decided to enlist in the Navy. He attended an officers' training program in Chicago, where he met Elizabeth McGauhy, a young woman he would marry several years later.
Langdell's math skills landed him an assignment working with Navy photographers on a way to better measure the accuracy of a ship's guns. He trained for the job on Ford Island, a small patch of land in Pearl Harbor. He spent the night of Dec. 6, 1941, in officers' barracks on the island and was awakened by the Japanese attack.
As bombers strafed the battleships lined up in the harbor, Langdell helped injured sailors and Marines find medical care in a hospital on the island. In the days that followed, he helped recover the bodies of some of his fallen shipmates.
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Langdell continued to serve in the Navy through World War II. Afterward, he returned to Boston for a short time, then moved with his wife, Elizabeth, to northern California, where they remained. They ran a furniture store in Yuba City for many years.
He returned to Pearl Harbor in 1976 to visit his older son John, who had joined the Navy and drawn a posting in Hawaii. Langdell visited the site of the sunken Arizona and, after returning home, he sought out other survivors and became active in the USS Arizona Reunion Association.
He served as the group's president and reunion coordinator for many years, returning often to Pearl Harbor.
His wife, Elizabeth, died Oct. 27, 2012. A few months later, he moved into the nursing facility.
His son, Ted, was at his side early Wednesday. A favorite piece of music, Beethoven's 3rd Symphony, played for Langdell's final moments.
A memorial will be held in Yuba City, but Langdell's remains will eventually be interred beneath the waters of Pearl Harbor, in the sunken wreckage of the USS Arizona. Any crew member assigned to the Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941, can have his remains placed near the No. 4 gun turret; so far, 32 have chosen that honor.
Until the end, Langdell liked to wear one of his USS Arizona caps. He kept both within reach of his bed and wheelchair and held onto one during an August 2014 interview with The Arizona Republic, which told the life stories of the last nine survivors of the attack on the ship.
"Why do you like the hat, dad?" his son, Ted, asked.
"It acknowledges to people that I'm a survivor," Langdell replied. "The hat represents the Arizona."