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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Pearl Harbor Remembered

I don't remember Pearl Harbor because I was only in the mind of God when the Japanese attacked on December 7 1941. But I've heard about it from those who were there, my mom and dad. Daddy graduated from the Naval Academy, class of 1940. His was the last full, four year class to graduate before the onset of the war when studies were accelerated to get men into service more quickly. My parents married in September of 1941 and left for Daddy's duty station in Hawaii where he was assigned to the U.S.S. Detroit, a light cruiser berthed at Pearl Harbor.

In the early morning of Sunday, December 7, Daddy was asleep in his bunk having hit the sack after finishing his duty shift. Mom was asleep in their small apartment on the island of Oahu. Even though he was only an ensign, low officer on the totem pole, Daddy was the ranking officer on board since the ship's captain had gone ashore for the weekend. When the attack began, Daddy ran up on deck barefoot and in his skivvies. He ordered the ship out of the harbor, but after stepping on a hot shell casing decided the war would have to wait until he got some clothes on. The Detroit began putting up a lot of fire-power eventually getting credit for shooting down two Japanese planes. Because the Japanese hit the airstrip which was a mass of flames and smoke they pretty much had total control of the skies over Pearl.

The Detroit was one of only two ships to make it out of the harbor. All of the battleships which operated on multiple boilers had most of them inactive. They were also berthed adjacent to each other, where disabled and exploding ships around them blocked them from getting out of their berths. The USS Nevada which was moored separately was the only battleship able to fire up and get underway attempting to leave the harbor, but she was hit by several torpedoes and bombs and the officer in charge beached her rather than risk blocking the channel. Despite some of the battleships getting their anti-aircraft guns going, most were sitting ducks for the Japanese attack. Daddy lost many classmates at Pearl Harbor and never talked much about the war. I learned more about it when the Navy sent an archivist to talk to him toward the end of his life.

Mom shared about how frightening it was to see the smoke and flames lighting up the sky and having no idea whether Daddy was dead or alive. One of the senior officers sent someone over to her apartment to pick her up and bring her back to their house so she wouldn't be alone, but it would be several days before she saw Daddy and knew he was safe. Mom was evacuated from Pearl Harbor with the other civilians and only found out later that the Detroit was one of the ships in the convoy sent to escort them back to the west coast. Poor Mom had a miserable time at sea with morning sickness since she was carrying my oldest brother who was born in June of 1942. When the ship arrived in California Mom and Dad had only a brief chance to see each other before Daddy shipped out again.

My parents went on to have nine more children. Perhaps they had a greater appreciation for life having been so close to death. They passed that respect for life on to all of us. I rejoice in my own family for our five children and eighteen grandchildren. Daddy didn't live to see any of his great grandchildren, but mom did -- almost 40. My parents demonstrated the adage that it takes a village to raise a child, but not Hillary's village -- the village of the family.

May God give all of us the same courage, fortitude, and integrity that marked my parents' lives. Dad and Mom, please pray for us.

2 comments:

Ray Schneider said...

Just to add to Mary's comments about Pearly Harbor. I always say "I'm the youngest member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association", since I was a little one in the womb when the Japanese attacked.

Mom did know that Detroit was escorting them back because one of dad's friends had let her know and they waved to each other. At least that's the way I heard the story and I think somewhere there is a letter that corroborates it, but right now I'm not sure where mom and dad's letters have gotten to. I have some of dad's.

I guess I should explain -- I'm Mary's older brother Ray.

The only other stories I remember is that they had to shoot the lock off the armament locker because the fellow with the key was nowhere around. Also they didn't have fuses for the anti-aircraft guns so they just pumped shells out which exploded at the peak of the trajectory (I gather) instead of being fused. Dad was contributing a little independent fire with a 30-06 rifle, probably not effective but good for the spirit when you're being attacked.

I always think that the John Wayne movie "In Harm's Way" is pretty much based on Detroit. Dad also had the con when Detroit was exploring North of the islands and was attacked by torpedo. He ordered the ship to turn hard and that heeled the ship over some 60 degrees and dumped the Captain's breakfast in his lap. He was angry and came out yelling about the idiot who had turned the ship. Luckily the Admiral embarked (the Detroit was the command ship of a Destroyer squadron) saw the whole thing and defused the situation by yelling down, "Well done son!" At least that's how I heard the story.

Cheers, Ray

Catholic Audio said...

Just FYI, I also graduated the naval Academy ('1999) and was stationed in Pearl Harbor (submarines).

Just thought you'd like the connection.

God Bless,
Ryan