Seventy-five years ago, citizens of Frederick listened intently to radios as the following words were spoken by their defiant president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt as he addressed Congress and the nation on Monday, December 8, 1941:
“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
Within an hour of this speech, Congress passed a formal declaration of war against Japan and officially brought the U.S. into World War II. Everyday life would be changed forever. And for many young men of the time, life would be cut drastically short on the seas and islands of the Pacific, battlefields of Europe and deserts of Africa among others.
As we commemorate this, the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, we reflect on those service men and women who put their lives on the line, specifically those connected to the Hawaiian Islands bombings. Over 200 soldiers, sailors and pilots from Frederick lost their lives in World War II. A monument to their memory lies within Mount Olivet Cemetery, originally dedicated on May 30, 1948.
The double-columned monument, made of Indiana limestone, features a central obelisk containing the names of 219 individuals from all parts of Frederick County. Atop this pilaster is a sculpted eternal flame of gold, below which read: “The flame of love shall burn into our hearts the memory of our noble dead.” The remains of 30 veterans, who died in the line of duty, are buried in a semi-circular design around the monument, marked by flat, military issue stone markers. One of these slabs of marble rests over the body of Ray Jacob Stambaugh.
Jacob Stambaugh was serving at the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii Territory on the morning of December 7, 1941. Commencing at 7:48am (Hawaiian time), the base was attacked by 353 Imperial Japanese fighter planes and bombers launched from nearby aircraft carriers. Luckily, Jacob Stambaugh (fireman/1C) survived the assault without injury. He was stationed aboard the USS Tucker (DD-374), a Mahan-class destroyer assigned to the US Battle Fleet in San Diego, California that routinely operated along the West Coast and in the Hawaiian Islands.
Stambaugh's ship had come to Pearl Harbor following a good will tour to New Zealand and was berthed at the East Loch of Pearl Harbor while undergoing overhaul. The ship did not receive much damage, as it was in the position however to shoot down four enemy planes that morning.
Born March 17, 1921, Jacob Stambaugh was a native of Jimtown, near Thurmont. He was a former student and standout baseball player who attended the Buckingham School that once operated south of Buckeystown (today part of Claggett Center). He joined the Navy in 1939.
For the months following the Pearl Harbor disaster, Jacob Stambaugh saw duty in other parts of the Pacific. The USS Tucker escorted convoys between the West Coast and Hawaii. She then did escort work to American Samoa, the Fiji Islands, New Caledonia, and Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides. This latter island, today known as Vanuato, is where Stambaugh would lose his life.
Newspaper accounts of the time reported that Stambaugh’s death was connected to the Battle of Midway which occurred in June of 1942. This wasn’t so. He was actually reported missing in action in early September, 1942. An article in the Frederick News and dated October 3, 1942 confirmed Stambaugh’s death at the age of 21 years of age. He would be the first World War II Naval casualty from Frederick County.
I consulted our Mount Olivet records and found a notation in the file that Stambaugh was aboard the USS Tucker at the time of his death on August 4, 1942, saying he died during the Battle of Midway. I questioned this and went online in search of the USS Tucker. I soon found the following account that documented an event that occurred on August 3, 1942 off the South Pacific island of New Hebrides:
“The Tucker entered the harbor at Espiritu Santo's western entrance, leading the cargo ship SS Nira Luckenbach, unaware they had entered a minefield laid earlier by US Navy minelayers. After striking at least one mine, the destroyer was almost torn in two at the No. 1 stack, killing all three of the crew in the forward fireroom. The rest of the crew survived but Tucker did not. The destroyer slowly settled in the water and sank. An investigation revealed that the USS Tucker had not been given information about the existence of the minefield.”
Jacob Stambaugh was one of the three men killed that fateful night. He was originally buried in the Espiritu Santo American Military Cemetery located on the US naval base located on the island. Six and-a-half years after his death, Ray Jacob Stambaugh would be repatriated and returned home to Frederick County (summer of 1948), just one week after the momentous dedication of Mount Olivet’s World War II monument. He goes down in the history books as the first WWII Naval casualty from Frederick County, and a lasting local connection to that “infamous day” in early December, 1941.
Check out a touching YouTube video featuring vintage film made of a WWII military grave detail at Espiritu Santo Military Cemetery where Ray Jacob Stambaugh was first interred https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EnksOA4sSeM