JOSEPH P. HITTORFF, JR., ENS, USN
Joseph Hittorff, Jr. '40
Date of birth: December 2, 1916
Date of death: December 7, 1941
From the 1940 Lucky Bag:
Joe was lost in USS Oklahoma (BB 37) during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
His father was listed as next of kin.
From Hull Funeral Home:
Ensign Joseph Parker Hittorff, Jr., was born in Kingston, NJ on December 2, 1916. He died 25 years later on the Oklahoma after it was bombed in Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. Joe (or Bud, as his older sister Marion called him) was the son of Joseph Peter Hittorff and Ethel (Van Wagenen) Hittorff.
Joe’s family resided in Springfield, MA for a brief time where his father was a commercial traveler for a coffee company. Marion, Joe, and their parents then moved to 211 Virginia Avenue in Westmont, NJ. When Joe was a junior in high school, his mother died. In 1934, Joe graduated from Collingswood High School. He had managed his high school football team during his senior year and had attained the rank of Eagle Scout. After graduation, he attended Brown Preparatory School for English and math. Joseph had always wanted to go to sea, and so he chose to start a career in the Navy. In June of 1936, he entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis and graduated in 1940. His initial assignment was serving on board the battleship USS Oklahoma, a 583 foot battleship attached to the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii. Joe had completed all of the requirements for being promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade but his commission had not come through at the time of his death.
Joe sent frequent letters home. In one from November 2, 1941, he expressed concern that there were war clouds on the horizon, and he was “expecting the worst -- and hoping for the best.” On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The Oklahoma sank, and Joe was among the casualties along with 395 enlisted men and 19 other officers. Seven days later, a telegram was sent to his parents and sister saying, “The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your son, Ensign Joseph Parker Hittorff, Jr., United States Navy, was lost in action.” Joe’s Naval Academy ring was recovered from the wreckage at a later time. Also returned to the family was a ceremonial sword from Annapolis. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, the Victory Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the American Defense Medal.
On March 7, 2016, seventy-four years and three months later, Joe’s remaining family members were notified that his remains had been identified after being disinterred from the Punch Bowl Cemetery in Hawaii. Sadly, his oldest living relative, Marie Camp of South Kent, CT passed away early this April. Marie, her sister Amy Nissen of Nassau, New York, and cousin Norma Medlicott of Zephyrhills, FL were all first cousins of Joe and Marion.
Return & Remembrances
From Captial Gazette, Annapolis, MD, on June 19, 2016 by Meredith Newman:
Seventy-four years after dying at Pearl Harbor, a Naval Academy graduate came home on Saturday.
Ensign Joseph Parker Hittorff Jr., a 1940 graduate, died aboard the USS Oklahoma when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The battleship sank when it was hit by torpedoes, resulting in the death of 429 sailors and Marines.
His family, who now lives in Conneticut, was scheduled to hold a funeral and burial for his remains.
In May, Albert Eugene Hayden, also a USS Oklahoma serviceman, was reunited with his family. Hayden — one of the first Marylanders to be killed in World War II — was buried in St. Mary's County in a Catholic cemetery beside his mother and father.
Last year, the Defense Department announced it would to make another attempt at identifying the remains of those killed on The Oklahoma.
Hittorff, who was from Westmont, New Jersey, attended the academy because he "always wanted to go to sea," according to his obituary. In the 1940 Naval Academy yearbook, Hittorff was described as a "self-made man." He was an "enthusiastic soccer and lacrosse man" and played a "passable game of touch football."
"Easy to become acquainted with and impossible to forget — Joe is everybody's friend," according to the entry.
After graduation, Hittorff he was assigned to the Oklahoma, a 538-foot battleship attached to the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Hawaii. He had completed the requirements to be promoted to lieutenant junior grade, but had not received his commission at the time of his death.
While stationed in Hawaii, Hittorff frequently sent letters to his family. On Nov. 2, 1941, he wrote that he was "expecting the worst — and hoping for the best," according to his obituary.
In the book "Pearl Harbor Survivors: An Oral History of 24 Servicemen," Ensign Adolph Mortensen, who was also stationed on the Oklahoma, wrote about the sinking of the battleship, which included Hittorff's final moments.
Because of the torpedoes launched by Japanese airplanes, the battleship was listing severely and water was rising quickly below decks. It was difficult to walk because of loose items and furniture "jumbled on the floor." The hatches were difficult to open because the ship was quickly rolling onto its side.
The Oklahoma was moored to the USS Maryland when the bombing occurred. But to avoid getting trapped by its sinking neighbor, the crew aboard the Maryland cut its mooring lines. This made Oklahoma "roll 152 degrees from vertical," Mortensen wrote.
Hittorff, a division officer, told the ensigns assigned to him to abandon ship, Mortensen wrote. He, Hittorff and others went to the port side portholes, just as the ship began to roll over.
"I soon found myself treading water and watching the ship as it rolled slowly above my head. I looked around quickly and could not see Hittorff and Goggins," he wrote. "I assume that in time I averted my eyes and watched the ship they both slipped beneath the surface and drowned. I was told later that neither could swim."
Hittorff's Naval Academy ring was recovered from the wreckage, according to the obituary. The family was also given a ceremonial sword from the academy. Hittorff was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, the Victory Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the American Defense Medal.
Following his death, shipmate Herbert Rommell wrote a letter to Hittorff's sister Marion about her brother's death. In the letter obtained by The Capital, he wrote that when the Oklahoma was hit some of the men abandoned ship. But Hittorff decided to "get the ship underway" and went back to the engineering room.
All of Hittorff's classmates on the Oklahoma died, Rommell said. He described Hittorff as an "officer and gentleman" and said the ensign was "very fond" of his sister. He kept her picture on his desk and planned to give her a "crazy little doll" for Christmas.
"After all, we all must die, and what could be better, but for a fighting man to go in action? What counts is not when we must go, but how we go, and how we have lived," Rommell wrote.
While Hittorff's family declined to be interviewed for this story, relative Dianne Lang wrote in an email that the ensigns return home has been a long time coming.
Several years ago, Lang's mother, Hittorff's first cousin, was contacted by an organization for the families of those who died in Oklahoma. She was told that information had been found indicating that Hittorff's remains could be identified, Lang wrote in an essay provided by the funeral home organizing Hittorff's burial.
At that time, Lang and her family were able to send in a DNA sample of Hittorff's sister, Marion, to help identify the ensign. Marion has since died.
During salvage operations from 1942 to 1944, the remains of the hundreds of service members were classified as "unknowns" and were interred in cemeteries in Hawaii, according to the Department of Defense's website. In 1947, the remains were dug up to be identified. Based on dental comparisons, 27 unknowns from the Oklahoma were "proposed for identification" but were never approved. The remains were then re-buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
In 2003, the Department of Defense laboratory in Hawaii dug up one casket containing remains from the Oklahoma, which contained up to 100 unidentified men. In 2015, the DoD announced that remains of the 388 unknowns would be examined for identification.
Seventy-four years and three months after Pearl Harbor, Lang was notified on March 7 that Hittorff's remains had been identified. He was to be buried Saturday in a family plot. She wrote that Hittorff coming home is bittersweet.
"Sadness comes at other times as I look at this picture of a relative I never knew who gave his life for all of us," she wrote in the essay. "He was young, handsome, and by all accounts, a nice gentleman of good character. I wish he had had the opportunity to experience a full life with all that it might have brought. I wonder if I would have ever met him."