Joseph Kopcho Langdell, the oldest survivor of the USS Arizona, died last week on February 4, 2015 at the age of one hundred years old. He was part of what has come to be called “The Greatest Generation” and only eight more survivors of the attack remain.
Joseph Kopcho Langdell was born on October 12, 1914 to Luther and Annie Kopcho Langdell in Wilton, New Hampshire. In a twist of history, the construction of the USS Arizona had begun a few months before Joseph’s birth. Twenty-seven years later he would be on board the ship on that fateful day of December 7, 1941.
Growing up, Joseph worked on his family’s dairy farm and was an Eagle Scout. He graduated from Boston University in 1938 with a degree in business administration and worked as an accountant. In 1940, with the war in Europe and America inching closer to some type of involvement, Joseph decided to join the V-7 Naval Reserve Program at the age of twenty-six.
After serving for thirty days as a seaman aboard the USS New York, Joseph was appointed as a Midshipmen at the Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School. While attending the school in Chicago at Northwestern University, he met his future wife Elizabeth McGauhy. He received his commission as an Ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve on March 14, 1941 and was assigned to the USS Arizona, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
His math skills earned him a position working with Navy photographers who were studying better ways to gauge the accuracy of a ship’s guns (Fleet Camera Party). His training took place on Ford Island in the harbor and on December 6, 1941 he spent the night on the island in officers’ barracks, located about one hundred yards from the ship.
The following morning he was awakened to the sounds of Japan’s relentless attacks and watched the Arizona sink in just nine minutes. Of the hundreds of sailors and Marines on the ship, 1,177 died while 335 survived. Joseph was able to aid injured sailors, as well as help recover the bodies of his fallen mates.
He remained at Pearl Harbor until June 1942 when he was assigned to the USS Fraizer, then under construction in San Francisco. Before departing to the Pacific theater on the newly commissioned ship, Joseph married Elizabeth on July 19.
By September of 1943 Joseph had been promoted to Lieutenant and began training at the Naval Amphibious Training Command. He was posted at Solomon Island, Maryland and remained on the East Coast until he was ordered to Manila to serve in the Welfare and Recreation Division through the war’s end. In October of 1945 he was commissioned as a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
Following his service, Joseph and Elizabeth moved to northern California where he operated a furniture store in Yuba City for several years. They had two sons, John Mark, now a retired naval commander, and Ted. Joseph was an avid supporter of efforts to remember the soldiers, sailors and marines who fought and gave their lives during World War II. He organized pilgrimages to visit the USS Arizona and appeared in an A&E documentary in the 1990’s entitled USS Arizona: Life and Death of a Lady.
Elizabeth (“Libby”) preceded him in death in 2012. According to Joseph’s obituary, his son Ted was at his side when he died and a favorite piece of music, Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony, was playing during his final moments. His remains will eventually be interred at the site of the USS Arizona near the No. 4 gun turret.
He always liked to wear one of his USS Arizona caps — he considered it the sign of a survivor. Not just a survivor, but a true patriot, sir. Rest in peace, Joseph.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2015.