Harold S. Fawcett, 82, Navy Photographer



By William H. Honan,, June 8, 1999


Harold S. Fawcett, a Navy photographer who captured memorable scenes of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, died on Saturday, June 5, 1999, at a hospital in Grafton, W. Va. He was 82 and lived in Bridgeport, W. Va.

The cause was cancer, said his wife, Norma Webb Fawcett.

Some of Fawcett's photographs of mighty American warships exploding, burning and rolling belly up were considered too disturbing to be made public soon after the outbreak of World War II. These images began to be published on the first anniversary of the attack in Life magazine and in many American newspapers.

"Officials in Washington at first tried to minimize the damage at Pearl Harbor," said Paul Stillwell, director of the history division of the United States Naval Institute and author of "Air Raid: Pearl Harbor!" (Naval Institute Press, 1981). "A year later they thought the American people could accept setbacks."

After joining the Navy and serving on the USS Utah and the USS Argonne, Fawcett attended the Navy School of Photography in Pensacola, Fla., in 1939.

The next year his aviation squadron was moved to Pearl Harbor. Fawcett was at the Navy yard waiting in line for breakfast when the Japanese planes attacked. "When I realized what was happening," he said, "I grabbed my camera and started shooting pictures."

One of his most widely reproduced photographs showed the wreckage of the destroyers Downes and Cassin in dry dock in front of the battleship Pennsylvania, flagship of the Pacific Fleet, which was burning from a bomb hit.

Fawcett suffered a minor injury to his knee in the attack, which killed more than 2,000 American sailors.

He later became a decorated pilot. Based on Bikini in the South Pacific after the war, he photographed the detonation of two hydrogen bombs.

After 19 years in the Navy he retired as a chief petty officer. He then joined Sears, Roebuck and Co.

In addition to his wife, Fawcett is survived by two daughters, Helen Fawcett of Santee, Calif., and Anne Hoover of Grants Pass, Ore.; a stepson, Gregory Goodwin of Bridgeport; a brother, James, a sister, Anna Boyles, and a stepsister, Rosalie McGee, all of Grafton, and six grandchildren.


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© 1999 by Neil Mishalov