Robert “Bob” Addobati, a Pearl Harbor survivor who ferried the injured and the dead from the capsized USS Oklahoma after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, died Jan. 15. He was 93.
“Our dad never thought of himself as being brave, rather that he just did what he needed to do without hesitation,” said daughter Terrie Kanotz. “His recollection of what he saw and did on Dec. 7 was as vivid at age 93 as it was all those years ago.”
Addobati, who joined the Navy the day after graduating from high school, was first assigned to the hospital ship USS Solace. The Solace passed through the Panama Canal from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, arriving in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, about a month before the Japanese bombing that led to America’s entry into World War II.
More than 2,400 Americans were killed in the Sunday morning attack as wave after wave of Japanese warplanes hammered U.S. military targets on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
Addobati, a 19-year-old sailor, was performing morning quarterdeck watch Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese pilots started dropping bombs. Two motor launches were sent to pick up the injured and bring them back to the Solace, and Addobati was ordered to one of the motor launches.
He exhibited courage in the face of grave danger by boarding the USS West Virginia to extract the burned and injured, noted the Greatest Generation Foundation:
“The No. 2 motor launch also picked up many survivors from the capsized USS Oklahoma. Bob stayed on the motor launch for two days and nights continuing to bring in the dead and injured from other ships and stations.”
For many years after the war, Addobati didn’t speak to his family about the attack on Pearl Harbor or his other wartime experiences. However, eventually he told and retold his story for decades, beginning with his own children and then in schools in the Sacramento area.
He believed it was his duty to keep alive the gravity of the moment.
“Unlike many servicemen who don’t talk about their experiences, Dad was always eager to share his story,” said daughter Danelle Gonzalez. “He presented to many local schools over the years and gave numerous interviews in his lifetime. He felt it was so important to remember what happened that day and how things can change in an instant.”
He related his story in 2011 to The Sacramento Bee’s Anita Creamer:
“I always thought I saw the first plane,” he said, “but a lot of sailors said that. It came down over the USS California, the last battleship on battleship row, and dropped something. A second later, I saw this huge explosion.”
While under attack he performed his duty in the 40-foot motor launch.
“For two days and nights, we went back and forth from the Solace to the fleet landing, where the dead were stacked up like cordwood. I recovered many wounded, and I recovered the dead and put them on the boat.
“I remember reaching out and pulling them up. You’d grab a sailor’s arm, and the skin would pull off from being burned. The water was covered with oil from the ships, and it was burning. I did that for hours.”
He received a Navy commendation medal for his actions in the face of danger. Addobati spent the rest of the war in the South Pacific, and eventually was part of the landing at Guadalcanal.
He was torpedoed in the Admiralty Islands near New Guinea. The following day, while leading a volunteer mission on a motor launch in rough seas, Addobati was injured.
He was flown back to Pearl Harbor to have a leg amputated. Addobati spent a year recovering at the Mare Island Naval Hospital before going back to sea with the Military Sea Transportation Service for seven years. He later helped evacuate the 1st Marine Division at Hungnam, North Korea.
He and his then-wife moved to Sacramento in 1956 from Canonsburg, Pa.
Addobati worked for the Postal Service for 25 years. He was a founding member of the Sacramento chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association and returned many times to the memorial at Pearl Harbor.
He is survived by his son Rob Addobati; daughters Danelle Gonzalez and Terrie Kanotz; eight grandchildren; and a great-grandson.
A memorial Mass will be held 11 a.m. Friday at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, 1333 58th St., Sacramento. The Mass will be followed by a service with military honors at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, 6700 21st Ave.
Memorial contributions may be made to The Greatest Generations Foundation, 3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 575, Denver, CO 80207.