In a letter to a relative, Faith Van Valkenburgh Vilas, Dated November 4, 1941, Captain Van Valkenburgh wrote: "We are training, preparing, maneuvering, doing everything we can do to be ready. The work is intensive, continuous, and carefully planned. We never go to sea without being completely ready to move on to Singapore if need be, without further preparation. Most of our work we are not allowed to talk about off of the ship. I have spent 16 to 20 hours a day on the bridge for a week at a time,then a week of rest, then at it again.
"Our eyes are constantly trained Westward, and we keep the guns ready for instant use against aircraft or submarines whenever we are at sea. We have no intention of being caught napping."
He was killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 while 'fighting his ship'.
The only remains they found of his was his United States Naval Academy class ring.
His Medal of Honor citation reads:
"For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and complete disregard of his own life, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor T.H., by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. As commanding officer of the U.S.S. Arizona, Capt. Van Valkenburgh gallantly fought his ship until the U.S.S. Arizona blew up from magazine explosions and a direct bomb hit on the bridge which resulted in the loss of his life."