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Frank Bernard in Pearl Harbor


For many young people growing up in North Dakota during the 1920s and the 1930s, there was little opportunity to find decent jobs. Farms were falling to the mortgage man as drought made it difficult to scrape out even a marginal living from the land. Those who could afford to, went to college to learn a trade and start a career. For some, there were the jobs provided by the Civilian Conservation Corps or the Works Progress Administration. But then there were those who longed for adventure and wished to see the world. They traded their life from a sea of waving grass to the open sea with a stint in the US Navy.

Frank Bernard was a country boy growing up in Grafton. Born in 1915, he watched as the economy soured and shortly after his twentieth birthday he joined the US Navy. After four months at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois, Seaman Frank Bernard was transferred and spent the next five years on the USS Arizona. On June 27, 1941, he was issued an honorable discharge, but fate intervened. He had plans for the future, but the Navy lured him to reenlist with an increase in rank that came with a pay increase of $35.00 more per month. Writing to his brother on November 7th, he gave this reason, “I think I will get hitch (sic) to that little girl up in Washington. She is a honey,” and he continued, “Maybe next time I will have some good news for you.” That was Frank’s last letter home. Shortly after 8:00 AM Honolulu time, December 7, 1941, the USS Arizona erupted in a massive explosion and sank with 1,177 of its crew, when Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor in a surprise attack.

Information about the victims was slow to be released. News trickled back to Walsh County that a John Grabanski had been the first Walsh County casualty of the war. At the annual picnic held for former North Dakota residents in Los Angeles, California in February of 1942, the Polish Council addressing the crowd remarked on Grabanski’s death, when a man seated in the audience asked if he could interrupt. He stated that John Grabanski was found to have survived, and he stated, “The man actually killed was our son.” The man speaking was Henry Bernard. The entire audience rose and stood in silence for a moment to honor both the hero Frank Bernard and the parents who made the sacrifice. Today, on the seventy-fifth anniversary, we must still remember Pearl Harbor.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis

Source: The Walsh County Record, Thursday, February 19, 1942

Letter from Dick Bernard to the State Archives, State Historical Society of North Dakota, November 8, 2016.