Watch Back In Action
by Greg Hilburn
24 April, 1989
article used with permission
John Savage was sixteen when his brother went down with the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941 in Pearl Harbor.
Walter Savage's body, like more than 1000 others on the Arizona that morning, was never recovered.
But in 1942, almost a year after Walter's death, divers recovered the 19-year-old ensign's open-faced Waltham pocket watch and sent it to the family.
"I've kept the watch at my house since about 1957 when my father died," John, 63, says. "The divers found it in his locker."
But until last month the watch's hands were frozen in the position of the time of the surprise attack.
"From what I could tell, the watch stopped at 8:15," says Dan Benett, the watchmaker at R & A Jewelers in Monroe. The first Japanese bombs were dropped at about 7:55 a. m.
"From what I understand, the Arizona was one of the first to go down," says Bennett, 45. Bennett of Start has been a watchmaker for 25 years, the last 17 spent with R & A. "I don't know if the explosions caused it to stop or if it stopped when the ship sank."
In December, 47 year's after Walter's death, John brought the watch to Sam Rubin, owner of R & A Jewelers.
"I think Mother or Daddy gave him the watch," John says. "They probably bought it here."
"I decided to bring it down here to see what they thought, and Dan fell in love with the idea of seeing if he could fix it."
The watch, after a year of sea water and 46 years without attention, was "not in good condition," Bennett says.
Its 14-karat gold case was tarnished, the crystal was missing, the black Arabic numbers on the light gray face were almost unrecognizable and many of the working parts of the watch were corroded and useless.
"When I looked at the watch and they told me the history of it, I considered it to be a real challenge," Bennett says. "I'd fixed a couple of other pocket watches that go back to the Civil War, but nothing with the difficulty or history of this watch."
Bennett spent the next few months on a scavenger hunt for parts in his spare time.
"They were all used parts because those watches have been out of production since the late 1940's," Bennett says.
Bennett used parts from five watches, finding them in Minnesota, Philadelphia and North Carolina.
"There was a time or two at the beginning that I thought I wasn't going to find all the parts," he says. "But a couple of watchmakers dug into it to help me once they heard the story."
"Three or four of the parts were pretty tough to find, especially some of the wheels, which control the time of the watch. All of the brass parts were in pretty good condition, but the salt water got most of the steel parts."
Rubin says Bennett almost became obsessed with fixing Walter's watch.
"It was an incredible challenge for Dan," Rubin says. "As bad off as the watch was, Dan saw it and said, 'I'm going to fix this watch.' "
"It was really something," Bennett says. "If it had been anything else I wouldn't have fooled with it, but I couldn't ignore the history."
"I've actually been to Pearl Harbor twice and stood on the memorial of the Arizona."
Finally, Bennett located all the parts that he needed, but he still couldn't be sure the watch would work.
"The last wheel I put in is the one that causes the watch to start motion," Bennett says. "When I got the last wheel in, it took off."
"I wasn't really surprised, but I was pleased."
So was John.
"It's pretty special," he says. "Some people say I ought to put it in a glass case or something."
"But I don't know. It keeps perfect time."