Skip Navigation
West Virginia Veterans Memorial

West Virginia
Veterans Memorial


Howard Lucas Adkins

"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

:John F. Kennedy

Howard Lucas Adkins was born on December 3, 1921, and raised in Mercer County in a small town called Nemours located near the border between West Virginia and Virginia. His family consisted of seven people:two sisters named Lillian and Katherine Adkins, two brothers named Ernest (who passed away between the ages of 10 and 19) and Frank, along with his father Thomas and mother Beulah. This town was known for its black powder plant that supplied both World War I and World War II with explosive powder. DuPont de Nemours Company was a major part of the town and many people worked in this plant. It also supplied explosive powder to the Pocahontas coalfields where Howard's father worked before becoming a mechanic sometime in the late thirties.

It is unclear where Howard attended school or when he enlisted in the Navy, but the 1940 Federal Census states that he was in his third year of college when it was taken. This would mean that he joined the Navy sometime between 1940 and 1941 depending on whether he dropped out or not.

By the time Howard Adkins reached adulthood, many countries across the globe had gone to war. The Axis Powers, Germany, Italy, and Japan, were fighting the Allied nations, Britain, France, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, China, the Soviet Union, and eventually the United States. This was due to Hitler reaching for new territory and destroying anything in his way. His regime wanted revenge and restoration of Germany's past power because of the harsh treatment and the restrictions that fell on Germany from the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. After the invasion of Poland, Britain and France declared war. The United States wanted to stay out of European conflicts as long as it could, but eventually joined the war effort. This was due to Germany waging unrestricted submarine warfare on the United States, demands from Japan (especially oil sales), the Zimmerman telegram, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Businesses started back up (after the Great Depression) and people were willing to help the war effort. Companies like those in Nemours supplied the U.S. military with needed supplies to help them win the war.

When he joined the Navy, Howard Adkins achieved the rank of fireman first class, and he was assigned to the USS California. Being a fireman was a strenuous job that caused the sailors to constantly work in the engine room to keep the ship running. His was an essential position, but it was one that placed him on a heroic, though unfortunate, battleship. This ship was stationed in Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack that promptly threw the U.S. into World War II. Many ships were sunk, and sadly the USS California was among them. Howard Adkins lost his life on December 7, 1941, four days after his twentieth birthday.

USS California (BB-44). U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command photograph #NH 61483

The USS California that Howard Adkins served on was a trans-Pacific cruiser that sailed to Australia and New Zealand. There were trading routes in the Pacific that the U.S. wanted to protect. While the threat of the war was increasing, the USS California was moved to Hawaii to defend if necessary. On December 7, 1941, the United States Naval Base in Hawaii was attacked by Japanese fighter planes. When the Japanese attacked, the California was hit by torpedoes and bombs that caused it to sink to the ocean floor along with crew members inside. This attack left 20 American ships and over 300 airplanes damaged or destroyed. This military base was attacked to hopefully cripple the U.S. Navy to keep the U.S. out of the war. Because the assault left vital onshore facilities intact, the U.S. Navy was able to quickly rebound from the damage dealt.

Honolulu Memorial

The Honolulu Memorial includes eight Courts of the Missing. Courtesy American Battle Monuments Commission

Because of the sinking of his ship, Howard Adkins' remains were not recovered. He is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial, National Cemetery of the Pacific.

Article prepared by Nathan Hamrick, George Washington High School Advanced Placement U.S. History
March 2018


Howard Lucas Adkins

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

Veterans Memorial Database

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

West Virginia Archives and History

West Virginia Archives and History