Branch: U. S. Navy
Rank: Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class
Status: Killed in action/Body unrecoverable
Date of Service: WWII
Home Town: Barnesville, MN
Walter Hampton and Barnesville newspaper article
Walter Lewis Hampton was born January 2, 1907 at Barnesville, Minnesota to parents Mary Sophia Bredemeier and Pearley H. Hampton. Pearley was a machinist’s helper on the railroad and Mary cooked in a restaurant. Walter grew up in Barnesville and graduated from high school there. He had three younger sisters – Evelyn, Gladys and Lorraine.
Walter joined the Navy on November 18, 1925 when he was 18 years old. His service record said he had blue eyes, brown hair, and a ruddy face. He met a woman named Jane M. Campbell when he was stationed on the East Coast and married her in 1928 in Wilmington, Delaware. They made their home in Philadelphia.
Walter was a Seaman 1st class aboard the USS Henderson, the Arkansas, and the Wyoming, among others. His last re-enlistment occurred in September of 1939 at the Naval Receiving Station, Philadelphia. Walter received orders to attend four months of torpedo school at the Navy Torpedo Station in Newport, Rhode Island. He completed torpedo school in July of 1940 and was sent back to the USS Hatfield before being transferred to the USS Arizona, a battleship built in the mid-1910s. In April of 1940 the Arizona had been transferred from California to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, as a deterrent to Japanese imperialism. It was sent to the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington from October 1940 to January 1941 to be updated and overhauled. Her anti-aircraft armament was increased, search radar foundation added and a platform for four .50-inch caliber M2 Browning machine guns was installed at the very top of the mainmast.
Walter’s transfer to the Arizona took place December 30, 1940. Around the same time he was granted a change of rating and an increase in rank, from Seaman 1st class to Boatswain’s Mate 2nd class. Boatswain’s Mate is the most versatile member of the Navy operational team and a master of seamanship. They can perform almost any task in connection with deck maintenance, small boat operations, navigation and supervising personnel assigned to a ship’s deck force or shore unit.
In the meantime, Walter’s wife Jane had initiated divorce proceedings on the grounds of years of abandonment. The couple had four small children, three sons and a daughter. Jane married a man named Francis Hogue in October of 1941 and shortly thereafter moved to California.
Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 caught America’s forces by surprise. The ship’s air raid alarm went off about 7:55 a.m. and the ship went to general quarters soon after. Nakajima B5N “Kate” torpedo bombers from the Japanese carriers Kaga and Hiryu bombed the Arizona from stem to stern. The bomb hit near Turret II, penetrating the armored deck near the ammunition magazines in the forward section of the ship. The forward magazines detonated in a cataclysmic explosion which effectively tore the ship in half. The bombs and the subsequent explosion killed 1,177 of the 1,512 crewmen on board at the time, one of them Boatswain’s Mate 2nd class Walter L. Hampton.
The message of Walter’s death was received by his mother Mary, who had moved to Bagley, Minnesota after her son’s re-enlistment. A Barnesville area newspaper ran a full-page article about Pearl Harbor and the death of former Clay County resident Walter Hampton, and many residents of Barnesville remembered Walter. His wife Jane applied for and received $500 compensation as guardian for his minor children from the WWII Veteran’s Compensation Bureau.
Walter’s body was deemed unrecoverable. A memorial was built across the ship’s sunken remains, including a shrine room listing the names of the lost crew members on a marble wall. After his death Walter received a Purple Heart, the American Defense Service Medal with Fleet Clasp, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with Star and the WWII Victory Medal.