Thuringer was working as a mess cook on the battleship. Valnes was one of four men assigned to the gig, a private boat for the ship's captain.
Shortly before 8 a.m., on a morning 70 years ago today, Valnes was waiting for the California's flag to be raised, after which the men could go about their business. The flag was never raised because the ship was torpedoed.
"There were sailors all over the water,” Valnes said.
Valnes helped pick up those sailors. Only the California's superstructure remained above the surface of the water.
Valnes and Thuringer, who grew up in the Eden area in Marshall County, survived the attack. Thuringer jumped off the ship and swam ashore.
That night, Valnes was assigned duty on a buoy that was about 10 feet tall. Given a lantern, he was supposed to guide a ship out after dark. But that ship never arrived “and I stayed on that buoy all night til 8 o’clock the next morning,” Valnes said. “Yeah, no food, no nothing. It wasn't fun, I'll tell you that.”
Finally, a boat crew brought Valnes ashore so he could change his clothes and get some coffee.
One hundred crew members of the California crew died in the attack.
Three or four days after Pearl Harbor, it was announced on a radio station that Valnes and Thuringer were among the victims.
“And his mother never heard it. Thank goodness for that,” said Valnes' wife, Elaine.
George's wife, Violet, was Lloyd’s sister. Violet and George, who were Waubay residents, both died in 2002, she at 77 and he at 82.
But Lloyd and Elaine Valnes are still going strong. They are longtime residents of Bremerton, Wash. Lloyd is 90, and Elaine will be 89 in May.
Pearl Harbor wasn't the end of the USS California. The ship was raised and towed into the Navy yard in Hawaii, where it was patched up enough to sail back to the Bremerton Navy yard on its own power.
“We were in the Navy yard a little over a year, then back to the war,” Valnes said in a phone interview.
Valnes, Thuringer and the other California crew members got around.
“We were in Tokyo Bay for the peace treaty signing. We watched Douglas MacArthur board the USS Missouri as he signed the peace treaty,” Valnes said.
After that, the ship embarked on a world cruise, visiting Singapore, Sri Lanka and Cape Town, South Africa. The ship then headed to Philadelphia.
“We pulled into Philadelphia at five minutes to 8 exactly four years from the day the ship was sunk,” Valnes said.
Elaine and Violet were in the Philadelphia harbor waiting for them.