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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memories of World War II for Memorial Day

My dad graduated from the Naval Academy, class of 1940. He married my mom in September of 1941 and they both travelled to his duty station at Pearl Harbor. On that fateful morning in December when the Japanese attacked, Daddy was asleep in the forward area of the U.S.S. Detroit, a light cruiser. But I'll let him describe what happened. This is taken from an article in the Baltimore News American, December 6, 1981, Pearl Harbor 40 years ago: They were there :

'I was firing a rifle at the planes'

Ray Schneider, 64, lives in Elkridge now; he has 10 children and 23 grandchildren ("too much shore duty"). He retired from the Navy in 1975 as a rear admiral, his last assignment being commander of all naval electronics systems. He was graduated sixth in the 1940 class at the U.S. Naval Academy, and later earned a masters degree in aeronautical engineering. His wife is a substitute teacher; he is a gunsmith and gun dealer, and travels, reads and writes.

That Sunday morning in 1941, Ensign Ray Schneider's ship was tied up at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. After a nap, Schneider planned to go to Honolulu. There, he would meet his wife, whom he had married that September, and together they would go to mass. "I was supposed to have watch until 8 a.m., but about 6 a.m. I asked a bright, young ensign, who was clean and sober, if he'd finish my watch for me. He accepted and I went to my sack. The next thing I knew I heard this awful explosion, and I jumped up, still in my under wear. There was no time to dress. I ran up on deck and the entire area was being swarmed upon; the boat behind us was burning. I could see the Utah going upside down. The two airfields were full of flame and smoke. You got the impression all was not well.

"I was in my Skivvies, barefoot, and the first thing I had to do was cut down the canvas awnings that were blocking the guns. I sent a sailor down to the butcher shop and we cut the canvas down with cutlery, but that cleared out nine antiaircraft guns. Someone blew the lock off the ammunition storage locker with a .45, the ammo came up, but we couldn't find the fuse setters. Finally, we started the guns and we must have thrown a thousand shells into the air and didn't hit a thing. I was chastised for being a little wasteful. But I'm convinced there never was a bombing of Honolulu, it was our antiaircraft fire.

"The scene was such I was firing a rifle at the planes, still in my skivvies. Hardly a dramatic impression, but that's the way it was. I stepped on a hot shell during the attack and ran to my room for my shoes. After that I went to bed, oh, six months with my shoes on. I didn't want to go into combat again in my bare feet.

"It's very strange, the things that happen. There were two torpedoes fired at us, but they went in the mud. But they were headed for the forward area, where I was sleeping. If they would have hit, I would have been gone. Before we cast off, the gunnery officer told me I wasn't wearing my tin hat. Now here I was, nothing but my underwear and shoes with a rifle, and he's asking about my following regulations. We steamed out and chased Japs for a while. Later, I was on the thin edge of. the battle of Midway, then they sent me to Alaska.

"I'm a member of this Pearl Harbor survivors gang, but I'm going to be in Ohio Monday to take care of some personal business. Of course I'll notice it. I'm an old-fashioned military professional. I didn't like war; what's so glamorous about fighting in your underwear? But that's how I earned my pay. In retrospect, all the young officers of the fleet were absolutely convinced we were going into conflict with Japan. I studied Japan at the academy, and I was of the opinion sitting on my 22-year-old-cruiser at Pearl, the Japanese were superior to us. I wasn't surprised at first when we didn't win so well. Once I got out of the Pacific, we started to win."

All I can say is it's a good thing those torpedoes missed the ship that day. My mom was pregnant with the first child, my oldest brother Ray, and had the torpedo connected, the other nine of us would have been aborted before conception. Thank you, Daddy, for your faithfulness to your country and to your family. On this Memorial Day please pray for my dad who died in 1985 and for my mom who followed him in 2002. They're buried at the Naval Academy. They and all our veterans and their families deserve our sincere thanks, especially those like our Vietnam vets who were so unjustly treated when they returned so physically and emotionally wounded from the horrors of war. God forgive us if we fail to show gratitude to those willing to lay down their lives for others.

1 comment:

TetVet68 said...

Remember Pearl Harbor -- Keep America Alert!

America's oldest living Medal of Honor recipient, living his 100th year is former enlisted Chief Petty Officer, Aviation Chief Ordnanceman (ACOM), later wartime commissioned Lieutenant John W. Finn, U. S. Navy (Ret.). He is also the last surviving Medal of Honor, "The Day of Infamy", Japanese Attack on the Hawaiian Islands, Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, 7 December 1941.

(Now deceased) 'Navy Centenarian Sailor', 103 year old, former enlisted Chief Petty Officer, Aviation Chief Radioman (ACRM, Combat Aircrewman), later wartime commissioned Chief Warrant Officer Julio 'Jay' Ereneta, U. S. Navy (Ret.), is a thirty year career veteran of World War One and World War Two. He first flew aircrewman in August 1922; flew rearseat Radioman/Gunner (1920s/1930s) in the tactical air squadrons of the Navy's first aircraft carriers, USS LANGLEY (CV-1) and USS LEXINGTON (CV-2).

Visit my photo album tribute to these veteran shipmates and other Pearl Harbor Survivors:

San Diego, California