Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class George A. Penuel, Jr. (1919–1941)

George A Penuel, Jr. (Courtesy of the Penuel family, enhanced using MyHeritage)
Delaware, MarylandCareer sailor
BranchService Number
U.S. Navy2582230
PacificU.S.S. Shaw (DD-373)
Purple HeartAttack on Pearl Harbor

Author’s note: This article incorporates some text from my article about Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Paul G. Gosnell, another member of U.S.S. Shaw’s crew at Pearl Harbor.

Early Life & Family

George Ames Penuel, Jr. was born in Georgetown, Delaware, on October 26, 1919.  He was the son of George Ames Penuel, Sr. (1878–1954) and Ellen Pepper Penuel (1880–1972).  He had two older half-brothers, three older half-sisters, and a younger sister.

The Penuel family was recorded on the census on January 14, 1920, living on Front Street in Georgetown.  By the time of the next census, on April 11, 1930, Penuel was living with his parents and younger sister on Aireys Road in Bucktown, Dorchester County, Maryland.  Census records indicate that the Penuels moved to Millsboro, Delaware, by April 1, 1935.  Penuel was a Boy Scout.

George A. Penuel as a coxswain in 1941 (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)

Military Career

Penuel aboard ship (Courtesy of the Penuel family)

According to a statement by his mother to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission, Penuel enlisted in the Delaware National Guard on November 18, 1936.  He served in the 261st Coast Artillery Battalion (Harbor Defense) until he was discharged so that he could join the U.S. Navy. 

Penuel enlisted in the U.S. Navy in Baltimore, Maryland, on January 4, 1939.  After training at the U.S. Naval Training Center Norfolk in Virginia, Apprentice Seaman Penuel boarded the destroyer U.S.S. Mugford (DD-389) on April 19, 1939, with orders to transfer to the crew of the Mahan-class destroyer U.S.S. Shaw (DD-373) in San Diego, California.  The Mugford sailed from Norfolk (on May 5, 1939, according to Penuel’s mother’s statement), transiting the Panama Canal en route to California.  Upon joining the crew of the U.S.S. Shaw on May 16, 1939, Penuel was promoted to seaman 2nd class.  He was promoted to seaman 1st class effective December 16, 1939.  Seaman 1st Class Penuel visited his family in Delaware for the last time from November 19–December 4, 1940, before returning to U.S.S. Shaw.

An article printed in the Wilmington Morning News on February 8, 1941, announced that Penuel was engaged to Ruby Hawkins of Georgetown, a worker for the National Youth Administration.  It appears that the couple did not wed; Penuel’s mother stated that her son was single at the time of his death. 

Penuel was promoted to coxswain on February 16, 1941, and to boatswain’s mate 2nd class on November 1, 1941.  That same day, Shaw headed back to Pearl Harbor after several weeks in San Diego.

U.S.S. Shaw (DD-373) near Philadelphia Naval Yard on January 26, 1937 (Official U.S. Navy photograph, U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

The Attack on Pearl Harbor

Tensions in the Pacific had been rising for years, largely due to Japanese aggression in China.  In July 1941, after the Japanese seized French Indochina from the impotent Vichy regime, the U.S. cut off trade with Japan, including oil exports.  Negotiations quickly reached an impasse.  Japanese government leaders never seriously entertained the notion of withdrawing from East and Southeast Asia.  They also expected that seizing resources from British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies would provoke an American military intervention, a dubious conclusion given that isolationist sentiments remained strong in the United States.  It appears unlikely that the United States would have gone to war over Japan invading British or Dutch colonial possessions in Asia when it had not done so when Germany attacked those countries in Europe.

Regardless, if the Japanese were to strike the Americans, it had to be soon.  The Japanese economy (and military) would grind to a halt without oil within two years.  Furthermore, the U.S. Navy was spread thin with operations in two oceans and was still suffering from the effects of limited budgets due to post-World War I isolationism and the Great Depression.  The Japanese would bring six aircraft carriers to attack Pearl Harbor.  By the fall of 1941, the United States had seven aircraft carriers, of which only three were assigned to the Pacific Fleet.  However, in 1940, Congress had passed legislation authorizing the construction of 1,325,000 tons of new warships, including 200,000 tons of aircraft carriers.  Even a fraction of those ships reaching completion would have tipped the balance of power in the Pacific against the Japanese.

Just as the Japanese had overestimated American willingness to go to war to defend the British or Dutch colonies, they underestimated the depth of American fury in response to a surprise attack on U.S. territory.  Pearl Harbor and the string of Allied defeats that followed did not cause the United States to sue for peace.  Instead, it led a previously ambivalent American public to commit to achieving total victory over Japan.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941, Shaw was undergoing repairs in the floating drydock designated YFD-2Shaw was extremely vulnerable to air attack.  In dry dock, there was no possibility to evade any attacks and destroyer’s armament was inadequate for air defense.  The .50 machine guns simply did not have the range or stopping power to shoot down a Japanese aircraft before it could release its ordnance.  The main Japanese objective was to destroy the Pacific Fleet’s capital ships.  During the first wave, Japanese torpedo and level bombers attacked the American battleships, while dive bombers targeted nearby airfields.  Shaw initially remained unscathed. 

A Japanese Type 99 dive bomber photographed during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Note the extended dive brakes. (Official U.S. Navy photo, National Archives via U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

The 78 Japanese dive bombers in the second wave, equipped with 250 kg (551 lb.) ordinary (semi-armor-piercing) bombs, had orders to attack American ships.  Osamu Tagaya wrote that “IJN [Imperial Japanese Navy] doctrine held that the 250 kg payload of the dive bombers was ineffective against battleship armour. Target priorities […] therefore, were aircraft carriers first, then cruisers and, lastly, battleships or other warships of opportunity.” 

Mark E. Stille wrote that due to cloud cover, smoke, and American antiaircraft fire, only about 15 of 78 bombs struck their targets.  He added that “In addition to poor accuracy, the dive-bomber pilots were guilty of poor target selection”—only about 20% attacked the cruisers that were their primary objective, given the absence of American carriers that morning.

Osamu Tagaya wrote that about an hour and a half into the raid, Shaw came under attack by an Aichi D3A1 Type 99 dive bomber (later referred to the Allies as a “Val”):

The leader of Soryu’s second chutai […] hit the starboard side of Pennsylvania’s boat deck, while the No 2 aeroplane of FPO 1/c [Flying Petty Officer, 1st Class] Takashi Yamada (pilot) and FPO 1/c Kazuyoshi Fujita (observer/commander) struck the destroyer USS Shaw (DD-373) in Floating Drydock No. 2.

Then, two more dive bombers, these from the Akagi, attacked the Shaw:

The three Type 99s of the second shotai, led by Lt Shohei Yamada (FPO 1/c Yoshiyake Nozaka as observer), unable to line up properly on [the battleship] Pennsylvania, released their bombs instead on Shaw in Floating Drydock No. 2. They reported uncertain results, their view obscured by smoke, but at least two of their bombs found their mark.

Stille wrote that “As many as eight Akagi dive-bombers attacked [Shaw] at 0912hrs.”  Regardless of which carriers’ aircraft were responsible, a U.S.S. Shaw damage report written the following month described the impacts:

(a) First two penetrated following decks: Machine Gun platform, gun shelter platform, forecastle and main decks, exploding, it is believed in the crew’s mess room.

(b) The third apparently passed through the bridge platform, chart house deck and forecastle deck, exploding in the wardroom pantry.

The explosions started fires so intense that Shaw’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander W. Glenn Jones, wrote in his damage report—incorrectly—that the bombs were “Apparently liquid incendiary – estimated 200–300 lb.”  Jones offered an alternative—and probably accurate—theory in his report: “While it was thought that liquid-filled incendiary bombs were used, it may well be that the explosion ruptured the forward fuel tanks, igniting the oil and throwing blazing oil all through that section of the ship and down into the dock.”

Around 0930 hours, approximately 20 minutes after the bombs struck, the fires detonated Shaw’s forward magazine in a massive explosion, destroying the destroyer’s bow.  The Shaw suffered 24 dead and at least 19 wounded in the attack, as indicated by a report of changes compiled on December 11, 1941.  Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Penuel was among the dead.

This photograph of the explosion of the U.S.S. Shaw‘s forward magazine is one of the best-known images from the attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S.S. Nevada (BB-36) is visible at right. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)
U.S.S. Shaw rests in in the partially sunken YFD-2 after the magazine explosion that destroyed her bow, December 7, 1941 (Official U.S. Navy photo, National Archives via U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)
U.S.S. Shaw after the explosion (Official U.S. Navy photo, National Archives via U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

The floating drydock YFD-2 was severely damaged and partially sunk in the attack.  Once the dock was raised, workers installed a temporary bow to the Shaw, allowing her to sail to Mare Island.  Remarkably, Shaw was fitted with a new bow and ready to return to action in less than nine months.  In the meantime, both Soryu and Akagi were sunk during the Battle of Midway in June 1942.  Shaw served in the Pacific for the rest of World War II, primarily escorting convoys.  The destroyer also performed shore bombardment during amphibious operations at Cape Gloucester, Guam, and in the Philippines.

An article printed in Journal-Every Evening on February 9, 1942, announced that Penuel was the first Delawarean to die in the line of duty during World War II.  He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.  Penuel’s remains were part of a group burial at Jefferson Barracks Cemetery in Missouri on August 27, 1949.

Disabled American Veterans Post No. 7 in Millsboro, which opened in 1976, was named in his honor.  Five years later, an August 13, 1981, article in The Daily Times reported that the chapter “had placed a memorial stone in Cupola Park in Millsboro, which was dedicated to George A. Penuel Jr. for whom the chapter was named.”


The First Delawarean Killed in World War II?

By some definitions, Penuel was the first serviceman from Delaware killed during World War II.  Several men died of non-battle causes after World War II had begun in Europe but before the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Both Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Penuel and Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Paul G. Gosnell died in the attack on the U.S.S. Shaw, and they could be described as the first two Delawareans to die during the war.  Penuel was born in Delaware and lived much of his life there.  Gosnell was born and raised in Maryland.  Though his permanent address was in Delaware (since his wife and son were living there while Gosnell was stationed with the Shaw in Hawaii), there is no evidence that he ever lived in Delaware himself.

Japanese Aircraft Organization

Osamu Tagaya’s book uses Japanese organizational terms chutai (中隊) and shotai (小隊).  Literally medium unit, chutai is often translated as company (when it pertains to an army unit) or squadron (air unit).  Shotai (small unit) typically is translated as platoon (army) or section (air).  The number of aircraft in these units apparently varied based on the unit type and phase of the war.  At the time of Pearl Harbor, the dive bomber units that attacked Pearl Harbor had nine D3As in each chutai and three in each shotai. 

Photo Enhancement

The photo on the top of this page was digitally enhanced using tools on the genealogy website MyHeritage.  This software is useful in instances where the only known photograph is of limited resolution.  I believe this to be an accurate reconstruction, but the software could potentially introduce errors by misinterpreting fuzzy details in the original photograph.  A comparison of the original and enhanced versions of the photos can be viewed below. 

Comparison of the original (left) and the product of MyHeritage’s enhancements (right)


Special thanks to the Penuel family and the Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photos.


“BM2c George Ames Penuel Jr.”  Find a Grave.

“Engagements.”  Wilmington Morning News, February 8, 1941.  Pg. 5.

“First Delaware Youth Declared Lost in Action.”  Journal-Every Evening, February 9, 1942.  Pg. 1.

Penuel, Ellen Pepper.  George Ames Penuel Jr. Individual Military Service Record and correspondence, circa 1945.  Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware.

George A. Penuel, Jr. birth certificate.  Record Group 1500-008-094, Birth certificates.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware.

Interment Control Forms, 1928–1962.  Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985.  National Archives at College Park, Maryland.  

Muster Rolls of U.S. Navy Ships, Stations, and Other Naval Activities, 01/01/1939-01/01/1949.  Record Group Number 24, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel.  National Archives at College Park, Maryland. (April 1939), (May 1939), (December 1939), (February 1941), (November 1941), (December 1941)

“Pepper Family Has 46th Reunion.”  The Daily Times, August 13, 1981.  Pg. 25.

Silverman, Lowell.  “Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Paul G. Gosnell (1911–1941).”

Stille, Mark E.  Tora! Tora! Tora!: Pearl Harbor 1941.  Osprey Publishing, 2011.

Tagaya, Osamu.  Aichi 99 Kanbaku ‘Val’ Units 1937–1942.  Osprey Publishing, 2011.

 “Taylor elected DAV president.”  Delmarva News, July 22, 1976.  Pg. 3A.

United States of America, Bureau of the Census.  Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920.  National Archives at Washington, D.C.    

United States of America, Bureau of the Census.  Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930.  National Archives at Washington, D.C.

United States of America, Bureau of the Census.  Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940.  National Archives at Washington, D.C.    

Last updated on October 26, 2021

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