Anyone who heard the story of Joe George at Pearl Harbor knew at once this was the story of a hero: a young sailor who risked his life in the fiery Japanese ambush to rescue the last six survivors from the sinking USS Arizona.
Joe George should get a medal for what he did, everyone would say.
Strangers who heard the story said it. The men he saved said it.
But for more than seven decades, no one could make it happen.
The Navy commended George for his actions and noted them in his record. For a medal, the Navy wanted an eyewitness account of the incident, corroboration from a senior officer who was aboard the USS Vestal with George on Dec. 7, 1941. Neither could be found.
And there was a hitch in the story: George, a boatswain’s mate second class, disobeyed an order to cut the line between the Vestal, a maintenance ship, and the Arizona. He had spotted the six desperate men on the burning battleship and threw a line to them, ignoring the order to cast off.
The failure to follow orders seemed to stand in the way of George’s medal.