Luther James “Luke” Isom was born February 24, 1921 in Huntsville, Madison County, Alabama. His parents John Clayborn Isom and Pearl Leona (Butner) Isom were both born in Tennessee. His father worked as a carpenter in a cotton mill and as a laborer for the government. Luke had a younger brother and a younger sister. At the time of the 1940 census, Luke had graduated from West Huntsville High School and was living at home with his parents.
He enlisted in the US Navy on 5 October 1940 and completed basic training at the Naval Training Station, Norfolk, Virginia. He joined the crew of the Battleship USS Arizona (BB-39) as an Apprentice Seaman. Arizona was assigned to the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet, initially based on the US west coast. In April 1940, she and the rest of the Pacific Fleet were transferred from California to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, as a deterrent to Japanese imperialism. When Seaman Isom joined the Arizona on 4 December 1940 she was in the naval shipyard at Bremerton, Washington undergoing maintenance, but soon returned to her home port at Pearl Harbor. Over the course of the next year Luke was promoted to Seaman Second Class and then to Seaman First Class and earned the rating of Gunner's Mate.
Shortly before 0800 hours on the morning of 7 December 1941, S1c Isom and his crewmates were surprised when Japanese aircraft suddenly appeared overhead, dropping bombs and torpedoes on the Arizona and the other ships on Battleship Row. Over a span of less than 10 minutes, Arizona was hit by no less than five Japanese bombs, the last of which penetrated the armored deck near the ammunition magazines located in the forward section of the ship. The magazines detonated in a cataclysmic explosion, effectively tearing the ship in half. The explosion touched off fierce fires that burned for two days; debris showered down on Ford Island in the vicinity. The bombs and subsequent explosion killed 1,177 of the 1,512 crewmen on board Arizona at the time, approximately half of the total American servicemen killed during the surprise attack.
In the following days, Luther’s parents surely clung to the hope that they would hear that their son somehow survived the attack. They were notified by the Navy Department on 23 December 1941 that their son was missing, and the very next day, Christmas Eve 1941, received the dreaded telegram informing them that he was officially declared killed in action. S1C Isom was Madison County’s first casualty of World War II.
Luther James Isom was initially buried in Hawaii and in 1947 was reinterred in Maple Hill Cemetery in Huntsville, Alabama, and is memorialized in the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii and at the Huntsville Madison County Veterans Memorial.
Thank you Seaman Isom for your service and your sacrifice, you will not be forgotten.
This story is part of the Stories Behind the Stars project (see www.storiesbehindthestars.org). This is a national effort of volunteers to write the stories of all 400,000+ of the US WWII fallen here on Fold3. Can you help write these stories? Related to this, there will be a smart phone app that will allow people to visit any war memorial or cemetery, scan the fallen's name and read his/her story.
Sources: 1930 United States Federal Census 1940 United States Federal Census U.S., World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949 The Huntsville Times, 23 Dec 1941 The Huntsville Times, 24 Dec 1941 The Huntsville Times, 30 Oct 1947 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Arizona_(BB-39) https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/34201903/luther-james-isom