Just seconds after Japanese bombers roared in, 17-year-old Warren McCutcheon was shot through the heart by an enemy gunner - the first American serviceman to die at Pearl Harbor, researchers say.
On Monday, nearly 55 years after the attack that brought America into World War II, more than 300 people gathered at the cemetery in McCutcheon's hometown to honor the fallen sailor with a 9-foot-high granite monument. "He had no warning - he had no chance," the inscription reads."He was hit right away and died instantly," said Leon Smith, 72, McCutcheon's boyhood friend who was on the nearby USS Honolulu. "They picked him up off the deck and put him on a magazine so nobody would step on him."
Residents of Gridley and the surrounding farm towns raised more than $15,000 to pay for the memorial, which includes a pair of 50-foot flag poles, six 25-foot poles and landscaping. The monument is about 200 feet from McCutcheon's simple grave site.
Research into McCutcheon's death aboard the USS Maryland was performed by Smith and members of other veterans' groups, who felt the memory of the Seaman 2nd Class should be preserved.
"Our research indicates that McCutcheon was killed by strafing fire from the first wave of Japanese torpedo bombers that sunk the battleship Oklahoma moored outboard of his ship, the Maryland. As a machine gunner on the foremast of the Maryland, he responded to General Quarters and was struck down shortly after 7:52 a.m.," said Robert Millington, a blunt-spoken Marine Corps veteran who headed the memorial committee.
Witness reports showed that McCutcheon died "within 30 seconds of the beginning of the attack" on Dec. 7, 1941, Millington said.
The audience included McCutcheon's brother Bill, his sister Jacqueline and about a dozen members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.