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First Name: Franklin

Last Name: Van Valkenburgh

Birthplace: Minneapolis, MN, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)


Home of Record: Annapolis, MD

Date of Birth: 05 April 1888

Date of Death: 07 December 1941

Rank or Rate: Captain

Years Served: 1909 - 1941
Franklin Van Valkenburgh

Graduate, U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1909

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Franklin Van Valkenburgh

Captain, U.S. Navy

Medal of Honor Recipient

World War II

Captain Franklin Van Valkenburgh (5 April 1888 - 7 December 1941) was a U.S. Navy officer who was the last captain of the USS Arizona (BB-39). He was killed when the Arizona exploded and sank during the attack on Pearl Harbor and was awarded the U.S. military's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for his heroic actions.

Franklin Van Valkenburgh was born on 5 April 1888 in Minneapolis, MN. He was appointed a Midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy on 15 September 1905 and graduated on 4 June 1909. After service in the battleship USS Vermont (BB-20) and in USS South Carolina, Van Valkenburgh was commissioned an Ensign on 5 June 1911. Traveling to the Asiatic Station soon thereafter, he joined the submarine tender USS Rainbow (AS-7) at Olongapo, Philippine Islands, on 11 September. He reported to the gunboat USS Pampanga (PG-39) as Executive Officer on 23 June 1914 for a short tour in the southern Philippines before his detachment on 4 August.

After returning to the U.S., Lieutenant (j.g.) Van Valkenburgh joined USS Connecticut (BB-18) on 11 November. Following postgraduate work in steam engineering at the Naval Academy in September 1915, he took further instruction in that field at Columbia University before reporting to USS Rhode Island (BB-17) on 2 March 1917. The entry of the U.S. into World War I found Van Valkenburgh serving as the battleship's engineering officer. Subsequent temporary duty in the receiving ship at New York preceded his first tour as an instructor at the Naval Academy. On 1 June 1920, Van Valkenburgh reported on board USS Minnesota (BB-22) for duty as engineer officer, and he held that post until the battleship was decommissioned in November 1921.

He again served as an instructor at the Naval Academy-until 15 May 1925-before he joined USS Maryland (BB-46) on 26 June. Promoted to Commander on 2 June 1927 while in Maryland, he soon reported for duty in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations on 21 May 1928 and served there during the administrations of Admirals Charles F. Hughes and William V. Pratt. Detached on 28 June 1931, Van Valkenburgh received command of the destroyer USS Talbot (DD-114) on 10 July, and commanded Destroyer Squadron 5 from 31 March 1932.

After attending the Naval War College at Newport, RI, and completing the senior course in May 1934, Comdr. Van Valkenburgh next served as inspector of naval materiel at the New York Navy Yard before going to sea again as commanding officer of USS Melville (AD-2) from 8 June 1936 to 11 June 1938. Promoted to Captain while commanding Melville-on 23 December 1937-he served as inspector of materiel for the 3d Naval District from 6 August 1938 to 22 January 1941.

On 5 February 1941, Van Valkenburgh relieved Capt. Harold C. Train as commanding officer of USS Arizona (BB-39). Newly refitted at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Arizona served as flagship of Battleship Division 1 for the remainder of the year; based primarily at Pearl Harbor with two trips to the west coast.

In a letter to a relative, Faith Van Valkenburgh Vilas, dated 4 November 1941, Captain Van Valkenburgh wrote: "We are training, preparing, maneuvering, doing everything we can do to be ready. The work is intensive, continuous, and carefully planned. We never go to sea without being completely ready to move on to Singapore if need be, without further preparation. Most of our work we are not allowed to talk about off of the ship. I have spent 16 to 20 hours a day on the bridge for a week at a time, then a week of rest, then at it again. Our eyes are constantly trained Westward, and we keep the guns ready for instant use against aircraft or submarines whenever we are at sea. We have no intention of being caught napping."

On 4 December, the battleship went to sea in company with USS Nevada (BB-36) and USS Oklahoma (BB-37) for night surface practice and, after conducting these gunnery exercises, returned to Pearl Harbor independently on the 6th to moor at berth F-7 alongside Ford Island.

Both Captain Van Valkenburgh and the embarked division commander, Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, spent the next Saturday evening, 6 December, on board. Suddenly, shortly before 08:00 on 7 December, Japanese planes roared overhead, shattering the Sunday peace and punctuating it with the explosion of bombs and the staccato hammering of machine guns. Capt. Van Valkenburgh sped forward from his cabin and arrived on the navigation bridge where he immediately began to direct his ship's defense. A quartermaster in the pilot house asked if the captain wanted to go to the conning tower-a less-exposed position in view of the Japanese strafing-but Van Valkenburgh refused to do so and continued to man a telephone, fighting for his ship's life.

A violent explosion suddenly shook the ship, throwing the three occupants of the bridge-Van Valkenburgh, an ensign, and the quartermaster, to the deck, and shattering the bridge windows. Dazed and shaken, the ensign stumbled through the flames and smoke and escaped, but the others were never seen again. A continuing fire, fed by ammunition and oil, blazed for two days until finally put out on 9 December. A subsequent search recovered only Van Valkenburgh's Annapolis class ring. The captain posthumously received the Medal of Honor.

Medal of Honor

Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Navy.

Citation: For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and complete disregard of his own life, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor T.H., by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. As commanding officer of the U.S.S. Arizona, Capt. Van Valkenburgh gallantly fought his ship until the U.S.S. Arizona blew up from magazine explosions and a direct bomb hit on the bridge which resulted in the loss of his life.


In 1943, the destroyer USS Van Valkenburgh (DD-656) was named in his honor.

Death and Burial

Captain Franklin Van Valkenburgh was killed in action on 7 December 1941. His body is entombed in the USS Arizona. His name is inscribed on the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu, HI.

His name is also engraved on the Tablets of the Missing Honolulu Memorial at Honolulu, HI.

A memorial stone for Captain Franklin Van Valkenburgh is located at Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, WI, in Lot 12, Block 6, Section 25.

Honoree ID: 1684   Created by: MHOH




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