Floyd Welch, one of the last survivors of Pearl Harbor, died peacefully at home in East Lyme, Connecticut, his family said. He was 99.
Welch is credited with saving the lives of many sailors trapped within the sinking hull of the USS Oklahoma. Born in February 1921 in Burlington, Connecticut, Welch was serving aboard the battleship USS Maryland on the morning of December 7, 1941.
The Maryland, nicknamed “Old Mary,” was struck twice by torpedoes, but the ship suffered minimal damage, unlike the Oklahoma which was berthed outboard of the battleship and bore the brunt of the Japanese attack.
Welch later remarked that he was coming out of the shower when he heard an alarm go off, followed by a concussive explosion.
In an interview on the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Welch recalled that he and other survivors were rounded up to help rescue as many trapped and wounded men as possible. Pulling sailors out of the water, Welch later made his way to the hull of the Oklahoma where he could make out sailors tapping against the metal hull, “hoping that we’[d] hear ‘em,” he said.
“By using blueprints of the Oklahoma so as not to burn into a fuel void, we began the long and extremely difficult process of cutting holes through the bottom steel plates of the Oklahoma,” Welch wrote in a remembrance of the battle. “When we could see the planes coming, we would try to find cover. We would cut near where we heard the trapped crewmen tapping. In all, I believe 33 men from the Oklahoma were rescued through these holes.”
Welch continued to serve on the Maryland for the duration of the war, with the “Old Mary” taking part in the operations to capture the Gilbert and Marshall islands and seeing combat during the battles of Tarawa, Kwajalein, Saipan, Leyte Gulf, and Okinawa. For his service, Welch was awarded the American Defense Medal, the WWII Victory Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with three stars, the Good Conduct Medal, and the United States Navy Constitution Medal.
After leaving the Navy in January 1946, Welch worked a myriad of jobs: an alarm installer, a farmer, and a milkman before opening a construction company, Welch & Son, which built road infrastructures, foundations, and drainage systems throughout the Northeast, reports the Associated Press.
“Floyd Welch was an American hero, a member of our Greatest Generation, and I am proud to have called him a friend. Over the years, he shared with many of us the horrors of that day of infamy, the sights and sounds that no one should have to experience, in the hopes that future generations would choose peace over war,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) following Welch’s passing.
“I always valued the time I spent with Floyd, his love of country, and dedication to service is an example for all Americans to follow. Today, we mourn his loss, but we are forever indebted to his bravery. I extend my deepest condolences to his family and friends. Fair winds and calm seas my friend.”
Welch is survived by his wife, Marjorie, six children, 13 grandchildren, and 10 great grandchildren.