Mike Von der Porten: Pearl Harbor Remembered

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 (Photo Credit: Amanda Font/KQED)

On the anniversary of the attack that marked the entry of the U.S. into World War II, Michael Von der Porten remembers local sailors who died that day.

Eighty years ago today, December 7, 1941, people in the United States were shocked to hear that Pearl Harbor had been bombed in a surprise attack. Across the nation, families wondered and worried about their “boys” in Hawaii. Communications were delayed. Other needs took priorities.

Here in Sonoma County, three families would learn that their sons had died aboard battleships that morning. Two died in the early explosion of the USS Arizona. They were among the more than 1,000 who died aboard the ship.

Rudolph Theiller Junior was born in Cotati and grew up in Sebastopol. He had graduated from Analy High School just a year earlier.

George Maybee was born in Ukiah and grew up in Santa Rosa. He was the “old man” of the bunch, having graduated from Santa Rosa High School a decade earlier. George worked for his father in the family wood-working business.


About two weeks after the attack, both families were notified that their sons were missing. Christmas was not a celebratory time. In February 1942, the families received notice that their sons were presumed dead. The “boys” are still inside the Arizona.

Neither Theiller nor Maybee are known to most local residents. Their names appear on the war dead monuments. Ball fields in Sebastopol are named for Theiller. A plan to name a park for Maybee went nowhere.

Aboard the battleship California was Andrew Billy Montgomery. He had taken the first name William. Billy was born in Ukiah and graduated from Santa Rosa High in early 1939. The California suffered its major damage somewhat later in the attack. Billy’s body was quickly recovered and his family was notified on December 17. Thus, Billy became “Sonoma County’s first known World War II casualty.” The County named a major road for Billy. A large shopping center and housing development are called “Montgomery Village.” A high school bears his name. After temporary interment in Hawaii, after the war, Billy’s body was brought back to Ukiah.

So, by the whims of fate, the first two likely Sonoma County casualties are virtually unknown. But, even though the “Montgomery” name is well known, few today can associate it with his Pearl Harbor sacrifice.

Let’s pause today to remember all of those who served and “gave all” during World War II.

With a Perspective, I’m Michael Von der Porten.

Mike Von der Porten helps businesses with their one and five-year planning processes.