“I lost 443 of my shipmates,” said retired Navy Chief Warrant Officer 4 Roy “Swede” Boreen. “It was a day I’ll never forget.”
Sitting on an armchair in his room with his USS Oklahoma BB-37 hat on, Swede took a long pause to gather his thoughts before he continued retelling his story.
He is one of the few living veterans today who are survivors of the Battle of Pearl Harbor. Swede was only 21 years old when the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service launched a surprise attack on the American naval base in Hawaii.
On Dec. 7, 1941, he went down to the pay office of the USS Oklahoma at 7:15 a.m. There, he saw the rising sun symbols on a Japanese “Kate bomber” aircraft when he was running past a porthole.
“It dropped the first torpedo for our ship,” he said.
The attack started at 7:43 a.m. The Japanese brought in 143 aircrafts and the Oklahoma took nine torpedoes.
“These torpedoes were 8-feet-long and packed with 400 pounds of explosives,” he said. “It took my ship less than 15 minutes to capsize to 151.5 degrees.”
Swede’s early years
Born July 30, 1920 in Minneapolis, Swede enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1931.
Swede said his father had desired and hoped one of his five sons would join the navy just like him. That was when he pointed at his chest and said, “that was Swede.”
“My father was in the Swedish navy and he served on four-masted schooners and they were completely armed,” he said.
About seven years into his naval service, Swede was assigned to the USS Oklahoma in 1938 and he was aboard the ship for three years before the attack.
“I knew everybody and everybody knew Swede,” he said.
“When they sounded, ‘General quarters. General quarters. All hands man your battle stations,’ there were five of us in the pay office,” Swede said.
He ran out to the third deck to his battle station and began closing the watertight doors between compartments. Just when he slammed the last dog down on the final door, the Oklahoma took another torpedo.
“It sprung that door and hit a fuel tank and I was completely covered in oil,” he said.
Unable to see from the substance covering his entire surface, he tried to wipe the gunk off his eyes only to realize he was all alone.
“I went to this ladder leading up to the second (deck) and when I got up there, two of my shipmates were standing there and one was clutching his stomach,” he said. “I could see blood running down his leg. I said, ‘Come on, let’s get out of here.’”
Above Swede, he saw two sailors getting ready to shut the main hatch. He yelled to grab their attention and said he and the two mates were coming up. But when he began his ascent, the two sailors told him, “Swede, this ship is only going to go over so far and we’ll be okay.”
So he went up the ladder alone before the door closed behind him. Swede found out later his mates were trapped and did not survive.
But the nightmare wasn’t over. The second attack came shortly after Swede had to climb onto the starboard side of the Oklahoma and thought about his next move. There, he saw one of the aircrafts drop a 1,760-pound bomb on the USS Arizona.
“The Arizona went up and you know they had a complete lost,” he said.
After witnessing the Arizona go down, Swede and most of his shipmates tried to take refuge from the debris by jumping into the water between their sinking ship and the USS Maryland that was moored near them. That was when he spotted a Japanese “Zero” fighter aircraft fly above him.
“I jumped into the water and a lot of my shipmates came up with me,” he said, “It (the Zero) got every one of my shipmates who were in the water and I couldn’t hold back the tears.”
The watch Swede was wearing when he jumped off the USS Oklahoma stopped right when he entered the water — 8:04 a.m. This 21-jewel Bulova timepiece is now a historical artifact on display at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
Fortunately, Swede was able to seek refuge aboard the Maryland where he got clean and changed clothes. He was aboard the Maryland for a few hours before he was able to get back ashore.
“Out of the eight that were assigned to the pay office on the Okie, I was the only survivor,” he said.
Swede’s niece, Terri Brinkmeier, is one of Swede’s last remaining family members. She currently lives in Chicago but travels to Pinehurst to check on him from time to time.
“He doesn’t want people to ever forget the people whom he lost that day (of the attack),” she said. “He reminds everyone by retelling the story of what he went through.”
Swede retired in 1959 after 21 years of active-duty service and had also served in the Korean War.