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Claude L. Bryant

"Yesterday, December 7, 1941:a date which will live in infamy:the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."

:Franklin Delano Roosevelt

As the United States was emerging as one of the victors of World War I, Claude L. Bryant was born on August 28, 1918, in a small and ordinary West Virginia community named Canvas. The town of Canvas is situated in Nicholas County, which is in the southeastern part of West Virginia. Claude Bryant's parents were James Aaron Bryant (1882-1958) and Josephine S. Bryant (1898-1977). James Bryant was a carpenter and a farmer according to the Federal Census data of 1920 and 1940. Josephine Bryant was a stay-at-home mother, which was the norm at the time. Claude Bryant had two brothers, including one older brother named Carl Jackson Bryant (1915-1978) and one younger brother named Henry Warren Bryant (1921-1958). Claude Bryant grew up in Nicholas County, a coal mining area. As a child, he attended school up until the eighth grade. After finishing school, Claude Bryant worked as a laborer in his community, according to the 1940 census.

As the United States was rising out of the Great Depression and World War II was escalating in size and severity, Claude Bryant enlisted in the U.S. Army on May 3, 1940. After brief training, he was assigned to the 41st Coast Artillery stationed at Fort Kamehameha, Hawaii. This fort was located in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. The 41st Coast Artillery Unit's purpose was to defend Pearl Harbor, which was a U.S. naval base. Claude Bryant eventually became a corporal in his unit, and he served as a gunman at the fort. On the morning of December 7, 1941, the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, Claude Bryant was on duty at the fort. He was killed in action by the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor. Remarkably, his unit shot down a Japanese fighter that crashed at the fort. For his service, he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, the World War II Victory Medal, and the American Campaign Medal.

Purple Heart
World War II Victory Medal
American Campaign Medal

Fort Kamehameha

Fort Kamehameha 1932 aerial view, NARA Aerial Photographs Collection

Fort Kamehameha, where Claude Bryant was stationed, was named after the first ruler to reign over the Kingdom of Hawaii. The fort was initially constructed to be an Army Coastal Artillery post in the early 20th century, and it was chosen because of its advantageous position as the east entry into Pearl Harbor. The fort constructed numerous coastal batteries that were designed to protect the Pearl Harbor naval base, while also acting as the U.S. Army's nexus for Oahu's coastal defenses. Fort Kamehameha was severely decimated by the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. The fort was deserted by the U.S. military in 1949 because coastal artillery had become antiquated in the Atomic Age, and the U.S. Army pledged to relinquish Fort Kamehameha's historic district by 2009.
Fort Kamehameha

Japanese Type 00 Carrier Fighter ("Zero") that crashed at Fort Kamehameha, near Pearl Harbor, during the attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941. Official U.S. Navy photo # 80-G-13040, now in the collections of the National Archives

The attack on Pearl Harbor left 2,403 Americans killed and 1,178 Americans wounded. The Japanese caused devastating damage to human lives, United States naval ships, and United States military bases. Until this point, the United States had remained true to their policy of isolationism, giving only supplies to their allies, not men. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared that December 7, 1941, was "a date which will live in infamy." The following day after the Japanese assault, the United States declared war on Japan, and a few days later on Germany and Italy. Sadly, many of the soldiers and civilians killed at Pearl Harbor were never able to be brought back to their home.

After the infamous attack, Claude Bryant was brought back from the devastated Pearl Harbor base to the United States and buried at Groves Cemetery in Summersville, West Virginia. He never married and didn't have children, but he was survived by his two brothers, Henry Warren and Carl Jackson, and his parents, James Aaron and Josephine Bryant. Even though Claude Bryant lived only to be 23 years old, his bravery and heroism in fighting for his country shows that he lived a meaningful and significant life.

Article prepared by Adam Pack and Eli Sutton, George Washington High School Advanced Placement U.S. History
April 2018


Claude L. Bryant

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