Diary of Russell Tippits:
Member of the Ships Band, USS West Virginia, December 7th 1941
December 7th ,1941 Diary by Russell Tippits
Up all hammocks at 6:30. Usual shave, wash, etc. Couldn’t find any one to stand by for me playing church, so decided to write a few pages on the twelve-page start I had. Ate chow, same old Sunday morning mess. After chow, took my stationary box (with Keith’s picture in it) out in the band compartment to write. Found “Mountaineer” with some dope about a pay raise in it. Just started reading it when “Fire and Rescue” came over the loud-speaker. Ran down to sick bay (my station for that drill) and resumed reading the “Mountaineer”. “General Quarters” came all of a sudden over the speaker. I thought the call sounded pretty genuine at the time. Ran down to third deck between number one and two barbettes, where my G.Q. station was. Just got down there when the first torpedo hit the bridge. I thought at first it was our own main battery firing because the whole ship shook like a rowboat. Then another torpedo…..terrific explosions……acrid fumes burned my nose and throat. Gear tumbled all over the deck. Men were rushing around. Carlin was trying to get a communication through to Central. The first torpedo had thrown the marine guard out of the bridge and jammed the door shut; they couldn’t force the door open to get the prisoners out. (One prisoner was going to Mare Island for two years, then to be broken from SK-lc to AS, and a D.D. He saved a bad two years. The offense was immoral conduct. A couple of sailors were in for minor offenses-just a few days.) The deck began to tilt, oil and water were all over everything. When the first torpedo struck, oil and salt water had begun pouring all over us. The first aid dressing station gear-stretchers, screen, bandages-was tossed all over the deck.. A pile of lead pipes rolled around in the passageway. I heard Carlin heave out a tight oath. Men cursed, oil came higher on the bulkhead. “Set Zed” (all watertight doors and hatches closed). I watched them pull down the hatch, dog it down-we were sealed down there below the waterline; no way out, nothing to do, just wait. I looked around, saw Hill, Hudgins; they were looking around for something to do, wanting to help; but there was no help. I saw the oil coming higher; no way out. Suddenly the truth struck me like a blow; we were all to be drowned like rats down here. With steel all around us, steel, steel ,steel everywhere, but no way out. I wanted to scream, shout, scramble out of that death trap, rat trap—drowned like rats. I had never thought much about how I would act with death staring at me, closing in on me. I found out. With an effort, I got a hold of myself, looked around to see if anyone had noticed me. No one had. My face hadn’t changed expression. My fight, my big fight, had taken place known only to God and to me.
Another explosion, the ship vibrating, shaking again. Things falling all about me, oil rising higher, no way out. I began to get panicky, looked around. No one else was thinking about getting out; that made me feel ashamed, and I thrust my physical fears aside. I looked down at my right knee. It was shaking like a machine, banging my heel on the deck. Try as I did, I couldn’t stop shaking. Some one asked me what was wrong. I pointed at me knee and both of us laughed.
When the third torpedo hit, the lights went out. Terror--just for a second--then a few flashlights glowed. We suddenly noticed that the ship was listing dangerously –it seemed to be rolling right on over. Again my mind wandered—drowned in oil and water in the middle of an overturned ship. No way out, just wait, wait, until the water rose over our heads and we couldn’t breath. For a few seconds we would be able to hold our breath, then our lungs would ask for air, then shout for air, the plead, our very flesh would begin to breath; to suck in air. Finally we wouldn’t be able to hold out breath any longer; the precious, useless, spent air in our lungs; we would let in out, in bubbles by then, and there would be nothing to take back, nothing except black, thick oil. Give out sweet, pure air-- for what? For a lungfull of water, oil and grease. I wondered how it would be, would I struggle? Would I fight? Yes, of course, everyone did. Would anyone laugh at my grotesque convulsions as I kicked out my life?
“All hands on starboard side”. The words broke through my thoughts. I was still alive—very much so. We all moved over to the starboard side to help offset the looming list of the deck. I stopped counting the torpedoes then (later learned that we sustained six direct hits.) Then slipping, sliding on the shiny, steep deck, grabbing stanchions, coamings, anything to pull themselves over to starboard. Men falling, trying to get up; grease, oil, muck over everything. Mt white hat, white sweatshirt, white shorts were spotted with dirt now. I laughed that such trivial a matter could enter my mind at such a time, when the monstrous head of water was thrusting its ugly, horrible self above all else. “Start counterflooding”. Words pierced the eerie darkness. Men moved, slid down the deck against the wire net. I started to help, saw I was a hinderance and drew back out of the way. A musician. What good would a musician do down there? But we stayed and counterflooded until we had done all we could. The chief (in charge because no officers had made it down there) said abandon ship; oil was coming in too fast, we had to get out. Up the ladder, through the hatch. No one ran, no one shoved. One at time, slowly we all climbed up the ladder to the now un-dogged hatch, stepped over the coaming.
On the second deck a weird black shadow covered the whole port side—oil—it was just about to start pouring down below, where we had been. Thick black oil, stinking oil; the fumes from it were putrid, a stench, they stung our nostrils.
As I started for the ladder leading to the main deck, an officer collapsed on the ladder, fell back on top the of men behind him. Fumes had overcome him. Fumes would get all of us if we didn’t hurry. Hurry! No one was hurrying. No rush. Hurrying meant confusion, disorder. One by one, slowly, we went up the ladder. Men once in white clothes lay everywhere, we had to step over them to get to the ladder. Young, healthy live men a few minutes ago. Now dead, mangled, gassed, lying on the deck. Men who couldn’t quite reach the ladder to get out. Gas got to the them. Dead men or live men. Couldn’t tell one from the other. The men pushed the officer up the ladder through the rounded hatch; got him up to the main deck. He lat there heaving, rasping breath in and out, putrid air forced into agonizing lungs, his uniform splattered with grease, water, oil—and blood.
In the dim light smears of blood showed dully on the clothes and flesh of the men who lay on the deck as if dumped on bunches by a giant hand. Some lay in the oil, some lay in piles of broken dishes and spilled food, some on collapsed tables and benches. Now I stood just out of reach of the ladder and fresh air, momentary safety only a few feet away—so near and yet so far. As I stood there a man clutched a stanchion with one arm, reached for the ladder with the other. His feet seemed to be stuck to the deck, his legs lifeless. His eyes opened wide, staring fixedly at the ladder—he couldn’t lose site of the ladder—not for a second; he had to keep reaching, reaching. His silent struggle for life. (Later I saw him safely ashore). Another man I knew, a shipfitter, I believe, lay on his back on top of a pile of motionless bodies, struggling, trying to get to his feet. He lay there kicking, jerking amid bloody, oil smeared men—a silent protest against war and all that war is, all that war causes.
While noticing these things I stood as id paralyzed. Why doesn’t someone help them? I thought. Why don’t I? I willed my muscles to move; no response. My whole body was paralyzed—with fear? No, I had passed that. With horror? Perhaps. But those fumes. Fumes from explosion, from the fuel pouring out of the voids. The fumes that were overcoming all these men. Would they get to me before I reached fresh air? How many of us would get out?
Still no one pushed or screamed. No jostling, no tailing. Each man waited his turn to climb the ladder and crawl out the escape hatch. As I moved around to the ladder in the line that had formed, trying not to step on the inert forms lying on the deck, I noticed the compartments. Our band compartment that we tried to keep so clean, neat, that we had laboriously chipped and painted for weeks trying to finish as soon as possible so that we could rehearse again. We were almost finished with the chipping—perhaps a week more, or even less, then a few days of painting and we would be through; we would rehearse every day. And when our ship went to Bremerton to go onto drydock the band would get leave instead of chipping and painting the compartment. So many things went with getting the band compartment finished. And now look at it. A black, oil mess. Broken dishes, mess tables, benches, pans, food all scattered around over the deck and bulkhead. (They came just after breakfast, before the dishes were cleaned up.) What a mess now. We would be days cleaning it up—but we wouldn’t have to clean it up—not now.
Now almost everyone was up. Just a couple more to go. I became aware of something in my hand, looked down. My stationary box. All this time I had it clutched in my hand. Now realizing that this was all I had left, all I owned beside the scanty uniform I was wearing, I tore it open, looking from my last letter from Keith. She hadn’t written for six weeks. Couldn’t find the letter—then I happened to remember that her picture (her Christmas present to me_ was in the box. I pulled it out, stuck it in my belt. How I hated to throw those precious letters away, those addresses that I only a few days ago copied on a list, all together. Harbin’s fountain pen. I should save it and return it to him. No time to hesitate. Stick the pen on your skivvy shirt front, throw the rest away, down on the deck with the bodies, dishes, oil, blood. Had to get out before it was too late.
I thrust the box away, turned and started up the ladder, the picture safely tucked under my belt. It had always meant so much to me. But now I thought of my flute, my beautiful silver flute I had spent hundreds of hours learning to play. Learning to flit up and down chords and scales, learning to control my fingers, just beginning to master some of the different fingering and positions, just learning to adjust my embouchre as I played so as to get the high notes in tune (they always go sharp if I don’t remember to lip them down). I was learning to feel the unusual melodic progressions, beginning to hear the odd harmonic undulations of some of my more difficult exercises. My new, crisp, twinkling, silver piccolo. Both instruments lost. No time to go after them new. And my hardly-used accordian. My music, carefully selected, collected for the past eight months, gone. Where would I ever get that music again?
Now the picture was the one remnant of them all. I had looked numberless times at her picture smiling there, her sweet lips (would I ever kiss them again?), her pretty eyes. She had taken her glasses off for the picture. (Would I ever tease her and wear her glasses again? The way I did two years ago—or is it ten?) She’d had a different hair-do, too. A very attractive one. When adverse conditions seemed to overwhelm me I would take her picture out and look at it; find courage, strength to get out of the rut. (Am I in love, really in love with her or do I just wish myself into believing so? This is the question that haunts me. Some day I will know, I’m sure.) So now I would take her picture with me—no matter where that will be.
Up the ladder, through the round escape hatch. Just as I stuck my head out something exploded very close by, knocked my hat off, and thrust me back down the ladder a few steps. I grabbed my hat while it was still in the air, stuck it on, and scrambled out on deck.
Sunlight, bright, yellow; clear blue air—how good it looked and smelled! The bedlam registered on my senses. Guns, bombs, machine guns, planes. All the anti-aircraft guns that could be manned were firing fast. Guns crews had leaped to guns seconds after the Japs arrived. I heard planes swooping, the rat-tat-tat-tat of machine guns, shrapnel flying. A tremendous explosion froze all life, all sound, all light, all motion for a split-second eternity. Everything was enveloped in two opposite mediums, first of sound, then of silence. All was sound, then all was silence, yet there was no change-over from one to the other. It was silly and awesome. Time itself was obliterated—somebody yelled to get under cover. Some men were crouched down trying to look around. The list of the ship shut off vision on both sides; all we could do was huddle there, waiting. For what? We didn’t know. A terrific explosion very near—a bomb? (I later learned that a bomb had struck the Tennessee—we were tied to her port side—and knocked a hole in the middle gun). When I looked around a few seconds later there were two dead men lying there. They had been sitting at the very edge of the turret so they could watch the action. One lay on his face where he had been sitting a moment before. From his shoulder hung a bloody broken arm. Between shoulder and elbow the flesh was torn away, the clean white bone glistening, broken, shattered; blood hadn’t begun to flow yet. He just lay there not moving, silent. The fruits of war. It might have been me or any of the rest of us there. Why hadn’t it been me? Luck? Chance? Fate? Call it anything.
The ship was till listing, but not quite as badly as before. The port side of the foiclse was only three or four feet above the water. We crouched there under the turret. All of the guns of the Tennessee were belching steel and flame. The Maryland was sending round after round of anti-aircraft shells up into the skies. The steady, solid boom, boom, boom, boom—boom, boom, boom, boom of her deadly pom-pom guns stood out in all that bedlam of hell-fire. Their relentless, reassuring salvos—four bombing thuds—a short pause for reloading—then four more –on and on during the raid afforded some satisfaction. The Japs had met no resistance whatsoever as first. It was like shooting wild chickens on the sit. But now it was they who were trying to dodge bullets, they who were fighting for their lives. In a short few moments they were on the defensive too, we were on the offensive. We were giving them a taste of what we could do; more, I wager, than they had expected. The pom-poms sending solid sheets of steel into the sky, all anti-aircraft batteries sending a steady stream of lead, even some broadside batteries, 12-14-16-inch guns, firing at the rising sun-painted on the enemy planes.
Our skipper—there was none finer in the fleet—was in the canning tower directing the action as best he could with his disrupted communications. The ship was listing over so badly that he was coming down to give the order to abandon ship when a jagged piece of shrapnel disemboweled him. He was calm and collected every second of the battle. While he lay bleeding and dying he ordered his men to leave him there on the bridge and save themselves. The could do nothing for him, he said. The only thing he asked for was a hypo—a small request under the circumstances. A day later they brought his body down off the bridge. Captain Bennion of Salt Lake City, a member of the Latter Day Saints church, of my own faith, killed in action in the battle of Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941.
“All hands over the side”, word came through. We crawled out on the forecastle. I walked out on the deck, looked around for the first time. The Oklahoma was tied to the port side of the Maryland, or had been. What was that dull gray hulk that loomed up just off our port bow? It looked like the belly of a huge whale. It was the Oklahoma. She had capsized in the first fifteen minutes of the attack. Torpedoes had smashed through her hull, sunk her. Few who were aboard had time to get out. Who knows how some of them may have died? Untold agonies forever sealed by the hand of death. Men who didn’t even have time to reach their guns.
The Oklahoma had saved the Maryland as the West Virginia had saved the Tennessee from the aerial torpedoes. The black planes had come swooping low over the harbor, their fifteen-inch torpedoes—two to each plane—hanging under their bellies. So low they come that the men who happened to be on top side could see all too clearly the rising sun painted on the black wings. Their machine guns spewed death as they came.
Black smoke came billowing around the casemates from the quarterdeck, flames crackled. ( I later learned that a 2,000-pound bomb had hit out third turret, striking the plane on the catapult that was atop the turret, igniting the gas tank and starting the fire that quickly spread over the deck.)
I walked up to the bow of the ship. The water was alive with men swimming for Ford Island, about fifty or seventy-five yards away. A man just ahead of me tore off his jumper, hat, trousers, shoes and went over the side—now only ten feet above the surface. Two quarters and some smaller coins spilled on deck as he disrobed. I remember looking down at them for a second before I threw my hat off, pulled my skivvy shirt over my head, and started over the side. I didn’t take off my shoes or shorts. (Modesty? The shorts, perhaps, but I didn’t know when another pair of shoes would be available, so I swam shoes and all.) With some odd feeling of regret, of incredibility, I climbed down on the ten-ton starboard anchor. A lifeboat sliding by. If I hurried I could make it; but the beach wasn’t far and I could swim a little; maybe they needed the room for some other fellow who couldn’t swim. So, feet first, I jumped into the oily, dirty water, fought back to the surface and headed for the shore. The launch, just out of reach, slid past, loaded with men. I started swimming furiously, gotta make it before the machine guns get me. But wait—better take it easy, swim more slowly, take longer strokes. I relaxed, pillowed my head on the water and turned on my side. Men all around me swimming—swimming for their life. Fire was spreading on the water; oil-coated water was aflame—how many men were burned to death? No one will ever know. Somebody passed me swimming with a life jacket. He was lucky to get one. Most others weren’t. I wanted to grab the life jacket and swim along with him; I put my arm out and touched it—but I could make it alright…..My shoes began to get heavy; land was so near, yet so far. Swimming for my life—merely one more experience I never imagined would come to me. When you think you have life figured out and sit back to watch your ideas and quotients work out, something happens and there you are trying to make sense out of things al over again. Like learning to operate a new machine. Have to press every button, key, and lever in order to find out how to operate it—have to try out every part—by the old system of trial and error—and then try to benefit by each success or failure. Life is that way. Men do not choose to benefit by others’ experience when a new (to them) problem or adventure is imminent. Man must try to discover a better way, easier way, faster way to accomplish their jobs. In your mind, you have almost decided just how to solve a situation when confronted by it. But when the time comes to act you act just like any ordinary human being. All those ideas, careful deductions, cleaver reasonings, now become as frills—like lace on a petticoat.
So now I swam with the others, hoping the strafing machine guns would miss me while I splashed in the water.
Why was I getting exhausted so soon? The beach hadn’t looked far from the ship. Excitement, nerves—maybe it was farther than I had thought. My legs were dead weights, leaden sticks that had to be moved up-down-up-down. Couldn’t kick them any longer, what now? Of course—turn on my back. I could stay afloat for hours on end that way. What if the strafers came down on us? Let them come.
There. My legs were rested now and shore was just a few feet away. Swim for that cable so you can pull yourself our over the steep crumbling earth bank. Careful—there. Why are all those men still treading water at the bottom of the bank? Why, there isn’t anything for them to get hold of! Lay down flat on your stomach, reach down and help them out. They look so exhausted. Better get that one first—he looks about done on. Reach farther—can’t get a grip on his hand—too slippery. Curl up your fingers, hook your hands together. There, now pull up. Careful, mustn’t tumble back in with in. He’s heavy—pull—pull. There he’s coming, now he’s out. Get the next one. Now they aren’t so hard to pull up. Keep helping them. Don’t let the machine guns get them—they hadn’t done anything. That looks like all of them. Wonder how many jumped over that couldn’t swim? Some went over the port side. The water there was ablaze with oil. It wasn’t nice to picture those men—how they died, or were horribly burned and scarred.
Look out! Here they come! Get behind a tree, anything. Hurry! Look at the men scattering. What easy targets for the spitting machine-guns! Head for that fir truck. Get behind it. No machine gun bullet would go through that steel tank—you hope.
They were gone now. Where was everybody? There, by that other truck. Looked like Shellman. Yes, it was Shellman. How white his face was! See all the white faces. Mine was probably whiter than any. He was in stocking feet. Others were too. They limped a little from stepping on stones, or pieces of shrapnel, or steel slugs from the machine guns. I was glad I had kept my shoes when I jumped over the side.
The oil was burning on top of the water—huge clouds of thick black smoke billowed up, floated across the harbor—orange flames lapped greedily at the black wavelets. The Wee Vee was burning furiously now. She was hidden in the heavy black clouds of smoke. The Arizona was burning. Where was the Nevada?
The guns had ceased firing now. A grim silence hung like a cloud over the harbor. The California was afire.
In the nerve-shattering silence I looked around. Debris was scattered everywhere over the grassy island. Part of a ship’s stack, smoke-blackened, was out on the grass looming in sooty contrast to the fresh green. Pieces of shrapnel had fallen everywhere. Steel machine gun slugs, hard, pointed, lay as if exhausted, now spent and impotent after their deadly mission. Frustrated death. Now so harmless—only a few moments ago so intent on destruction. That black piece of metal—two or three hundred yards away from the ship—blow there by an explosion, a bomb, a shell hit, or perhaps a magazine exploded. Must weigh several tons. If such a piece of metal could be torn loose and hurled so far, what had the same explosion done to the men made of flesh and bone? Not nice to think about it. I knew some of those fellows. Maybe some of them were fellow bandsmen.
Where were the Wee Vee band members? How many got out? I had seen Carlin, the leader, up under the first turret, and Shellman had been crouched there by the truck. Blaine, Hill and Higgins had been down on third deck where I was when the attack had begun. The last I had seen of them was down there. I had no idea as to the whereabouts of any of the others.
Men started to scatter and find cover again. Two more planes. They were headed straight for us, but for some reason they pulled up without firing one shot. Another plane was trying to land on the runway. AS it swung low over the filed a machine gun cut loose from the ground. The motor caught with a roar, and the plane climbed out of range again. Although it appeared to be too dark for one of our own planes, I wasn’t sure whether the machine-gun ground crew had fired on friend or foe.
Men were walking around on the field now, gathering in groups to talk and to listen—to hear someone else’s story of the attack. I could see men in all stages of undress. It was a grotesque picture. Most of them had pulled off their shoes to swim for shore. Others had been in liberty whites, had pulled off their jumpers and undershirt and left the long white trousers on. Some men wore nothing but socks and light skivvy bottoms. They shivered a little and so did I, but not from being cold. I joined one little group that was sitting on the bank of freshly dug earth. No one I knew was there so I just listened…..
A marine with a rifle was yelling at us to get inside a nearby building. From his gesticulation, I thought some more strafers were coming and began to run, but after a few steps I slowed to a walk. He was merely telling us to get inside as a matter of precaution.
When I reached the porch steps, Shellman was there, white-faced and damp. His mustache stood out in dark contrast against his colorless skin. His shorts were greasy, smeared with oil. His dirty wet hair hung in strings and he talked in short sentences, leaving out conjunctions, a thing he normally never did. Usually he spoke in a slow, amusing drawl, using conjunctions instead of periods. That was the first thing I noticed when we met and he began telling me what he had been doing since the attack started. He had been undressed when “Fire and Rescue” went and was just getting into shorts when “All Hands Station General Quarters” went. He hadn’t made it down to his station. The hatches had been dogged before he got down there, so he stayed up in the band compartment closing the ports. When the torpedoes were striking, the mess tables, benches, and the dishes were all thrown about the deck. He had been knocked away from the ports several times by explosions. He had been under the first turret when I was there. He said he had executed a beautiful swan dive off the starboard side of the ship and made it to shore in nothing flat.
Reed came walking out toward us with a bedspread wrapped around him, a cup of coffee in his hand and a cigarette in his mouth. I was mighty glad to see him. He told me to go inside and get some coffee and dry clothes. His peculiar rolling waddle struck me funny, as it always did.
Inside, the clock pointed to 8:50 A.M. Men were milling around in confusion. Some of them I knew by sight. Someone called my name. It was Blaine ad Hill, each with a thin blanket draped around his body. It was mighty good to see them too. I embraced Blaine, something I had never done before and have never done since. We weren’t even on speaking terms. There was coffee somewhere, hot and strong. An emergency first aid station was being hastily set up in the corridor. Men lay on thick mattresses atop mess tables. Burned, bleeding men. One who had half his face scrambles into hamburger was being given emergency first aid. They must have been suffering terrible pain, but there was no sound from them. Some of them lay back with closed tired eyes; others kept looking around trying to find a friend, someone they knew. Just the sight of a familiar face would have given them some comfort.
Women came from some place to do what they could. A laundry office was being used for a clothing distribution desk. The officers’ clothes were being used to clothe needy sailors. The smell of antiseptic and disinfectants was strong in room. There was a little coca cola, rationed out—one bottle to three men. You could have a half glass of water. Men pulled off wet, oily clothes, climbed into others that came from the officers’ laundry. Seamen were wearing officer’s uniforms, officers’ wearing yeomen’s. The girls were trying to make what they had to go around. I went over and asked for some dry skivvy bottoms and tops, a shirt and pants. They could only give me a pair of bottoms and a thin bedspread to wrap around me. My feet were wt, shoes and socks soaked through. Only men who were going out on details were given clothes now. I went back a little later but got only a towel to wrap around my waist instead of the bedspread.
The guns suddenly cut loose again. More Japs. Guns were thundering on all sides, each blast making me flinch. The glass in the windows shook and rattled. An explosion shook the ground—glass tinkled on the floor. An officer yelled for everyone to lie down on the floor, for someone to open the windows so that glass wouldn’t fly about the room. Flying glass in dangerous. Everyone flatted out on the floor. Machine guns clacked away, planes droned in and thundered over or head. We all expected a bomb through the roof. For a brief second I had a mental picture of the havoc an explosion on our midst would cause.
As the din continued, I raised myself to a crouch, trying to see what was happening outside. A plane came at us. Outside a marine knelt, aiming his rifle. The plane swooped away. A chief petty officer stood out in the open, looking around.
I looked up at the sky. Puffs of smoke, some black, some white, filled the air. As far as the eye could see, they kept blossoming out. But the eye couldn’t see the burst of shrapnel that hurtled through space at each puff. The planes soon left in order to escape that barrage of flying steel. One plane was flying low, looking for some easy prey when suddenly a black puff of smoke blossomed up where the plane should have been. The flying ship disintegrated in mid air where the anti-aircraft shell had burst. A plane carrying two torpedoes was hurtling toward a ship. One second it was there, the next second there was nothing there. A machine gunner had shot straight and detonated one of the torpedoes.
Spouts of water shot high in the air where bombs missed their targets. A bomb came so close to a destroyer that the column of water that rose in the air fell back on its deck. The very earth shook from explosions—shells, bombs, torpedoes. Short irregular patches of silence filled the spaces between blasts, the one emphasizing the other. The quiet was a vacuum; the blasts were of solid matter. Men were piled in unbeautiful disorder all around the walls. I knew that our own more powerful machine guns would pierce the stucco, but I didn’t know about the Jap’s. I hunkered down as low as possible again.
The firing let up for a moment. Three enemy bombers throbbed across the harbor, flying low. Guns cut loose once more; bursts of smoke appeared all around the planes, and they hurried out of range.
At last the guns quieted and we crawled to our feet. Such a disarray of clothing I’ve never seen. Some with shoes, some barefoot, while others wore only socks on their feet. Some had trousers, others had nothing but a blanket wrapped around them. Many were covered with a thick coat of oil on arms, head and neck. Everyone wandered around the building, hopefully searching each face. Some of the men who were nearly nude began ransacking rooms for clothes. The building, I learned, was a B.O.Q. (Bachelor Officer’s Quarters) for the aviators on Ford Island. Men were going through the Officer’s closets, wearing their clothes with little regard for a good fit.
Wild rumors began circulating. Out the window we could see the bottom of a ship protruding from the water. It was the old Utah, a training ship used for bombing practice. She had been utterly defenseless, cold turkey. Her guns were covered with layers of planks, as were all her upper decks, to minimize damage done by bombs. She couldn’t fire in her own defense, but lay helpless while the torpedo planes dropped their steel stingers unhampered. It was believed to have capsized within fifteen minutes after the attack started. Men were sealed insider her, but there was no fighting strength lost. A light cruise was sitting very low in the water, her main deck almost awash. There was the Nevada, run aground on one side of the channel, headed out to sea. While under fire, a chief quartermaster had taken her out under full power. It had taken her fifteen minutes to man underway stations, battle stations, clear her mooring, and pull out, a job that usually took two hours. Tugs ordinarily pull the cumbersome battleships out into the channel. How the chief quartermaster got his ship out so fast is a legend around Pearl Harbor now. When the Japs saw her pulling out they concentrated their fire on her. Bombs, torpedoes, and machine-gun fire streaked at her from all sides; all her guns were blazing defiance at the terrific odds. One of her five-inch broadsides fired at an oncoming torpedo plane. The solid steel projectile struck the torpedoes hanging under the “rising sun” painted on the enemy plane’s wings and blew the ship into oblivion. Enemy bombs scored hits on the mighty ship’s decks—she was burning—torpedoes opened her hull to let the sea pour in. I listened to one of her gunners tell of seeing a dive-bomber hurtling at him, then of watching the bomb rocketing straight down at him. He stepped back as far as possible, which was only five or six feet, and stood flattened against the bulkhead, as the bomb smashed through the deck at his feet. He resumed firing. Her navigators, seeing that she was going down, ran her aground on the bank of the channel in order to avoid blocking the narrow dredged path out of Pearl Harbor. She got only a scant two miles from the dock and, sitting on the bottom, continued to give all she had to the battle raging around her. I learned her story from the lips of one of her seamen who lay in the hospital suffering from severe burns.
Now our executive officer had arrived at B.O.Q. He wore no hat, but was clothed in sandals and a white uniform smudged and spotted with grime. Another officer, a Lieutenant (j.g.) was with him. The latter had been swimming in the water around our ship, pushing burning pieces of wood away, keeping the burning oil from the Arizona at a safe distance. His eyebrows and eyelashes were burned off; his face had been burned and now was smeared with a soothing grease. The two of them were trying to get some semblance of organization, so that we could find how many men had been lost off our ship.
I was trying to get back to the ship to help fight fire, and to find some of the fellow, but they wouldn’t give me any clothes, nor would they let me go to the ship. Someone called for a group of Wee Vee sailors to go back. Hill, Blaine and myself went along, dressed as we were. No sooner had we reached the ship when an officer herded us into a truck and hauled us back to B.O.Q. A short while later a truck took us back to the ship and another hauled us right back again. We weren’t allowed to go around in twos and three, and if we went with a group the discouraging shuttle routine kept us traveling in circles. So we stayed put, hoping to meet some of our own bunch.
Men from our ship kept coming in, as well as men from the California, Oklahoma, Oglala, Utah, Arizona and Nevada. The men from each ship drew off in a separate group. Only a few were off other ships than the West Virginia.
All West Virginia men who felt fit were told to fall outside. We were to go across the island to fight a hangar fire. My uniform consisted of shoes, socks, undershorts, a towel and a blue bedspread. On the way over my towel slipped off. Crossing the landing field we walked over pieces of shrapnel and machine-gun slugs. The shrapnel was jagged, ugly, reeking of death even as it lay harmlessly on the ground; it’s innocent resting place emphasizing the evil purpose which had caused it to be there. As we crossed the open flat runway a machine gunner could have made dead pigeons out of us; but none did. Moving on a dog trot, everyone soon got across. Upon finding the hangar fire we were told to return to B.O.Q. The fire had been brought under control and extinguished….. Back we trudged, some in stocking feet and some with bare feet, limping and swearing, stepping on shrapnel, stones and trash. A strong heavily armed guard encircled the field now. A few trucks happened along, picked up the men without shoes. More trucks came, picked up all the men they could and took them back to B.O.Q
Upon our arrival there, the executive officer called for a muster of each division, but so many men were moving in and out that a reasonably accurate roll call was impossible. Some of our men had been taken to the submarine base, some to AIEA. Some had crawled across mooring lines to the Tennessee and were fighting fire on our ship. On one of our trips back to the ship we saw Edmisten wearing a gas mask, fighting fire on the Wee Vee.
In mid-afternoon a truck brought new clothes—shoes, socks, dungarees, underwear, handkerchiefs—and an officer ordered everyone to help himself.
After rooting around for a half hour I came away with a size seventeen dungaree shirt, a size thirty-four pair of trousers, a new pair of woolen socks and four handkerchiefs. My shoes were nearly dry by now, so I kept them. Men stripped on the spot to don clean, dry garments. Modesty was thrust aside and the women could look or turn away as they chose. An officer changed behind a blanket which two men held up in front of him.
Bill Harten came in sometime before noon and began helping to compile a list of men accounted for. He had been in an air raid shelter under an officer’s house during the last of the initial attack, had seen Carlin and Harbin there. Guisti, a bugler from our ship, turned up. Some more buglers we knew come in.
A chow line started. We lined up in a long line for a ration of crackers with jelly, jam, or apple-sauce between them. Later a meal was served to all hands.
With dry clothes and with some food under our belts, things looked a little better to us. Harbin and Snyder came in. We were all very glad to see them alive. They were driving a truck, carrying wounded to hospitals, helping in any way possible. Forty-fives hung on their hips; rifles with plenty of ammunition were handy in the truck. They had been patrolling civilian houses to see that no looting took place. People had left valuables lying about in their hastily abandoned houses. After a few minutes they had to leave, so I went along for a lack of anything else to do. We drove around the island, picking up men, taking them wherever they were going. A half hour later we went to B.O.W again so Harbin and Snyder could muster, and when they left this time I stayed there.
My head was aching, probably from the effect of the fumes, but I was only too happy to settle for a headache where others had lost their lives.
A nice-looking woman was passing out cigarettes; another had gum, and another aspirin. Of the latter Edmisten and I partook, as most the other men did. Commander McDermott, out senior medical officer, (who rumors had cited dead) was supervising the first aid station now. He wore a dirty white uniform, was hatless. Mr. Albin, our division officer, who had been on the beach for the weekend, now reported in civilian clothes.
“All West Virginia men may up to the next deck.” Upstairs we went. Everyone present gave his name for a new muster list and was ordered to sit down and stay put. Men filled the halls and rooms. A pile of magazines appeared from somewhere and, choosing an Esquire, I sat down on the deck. Hudgins had arrived from some place. We musicians bunched together and swapped stories. “All West Virginia men lay down to the main deck.” Back down stairs we went. Men sat or lay on the floor or on chairs; eyes wide open, staring at space. The sir was crowded with their thoughts.
Someone spotted an enemy plane and we watch the puffs of anti-aircraft fire blossom on it. A cheer went up as the rising sun was “set” by a direct hit. Another Jap plane was seen as it plunged into the harbor, shot down by our ground guns.
It was getting twilight now. They told us to get situated the best way possible and prepare to spend the night there. There were many beside myself who had no blanket. The sky was uncertain, the air damp and chilly. The prospect of spending the night in there without a blanket wasn’t comforting. Before dark we wandered over to the Officer’s bar in another wing of the building where the colored waiters gave us a little ice water.
All day I wondered where all the fellows had gone, how many had got out alive, or how badly they might be hurt. A bomb had hit in Times Square, which was Joe Barth’s and Pierce’s G.Q. station. I was haunted with the thought that they might have been killed. All the gruesome deaths kept coming into my mind……burned to a black crisp in the oil fires…..scaled by live steam from broken pipes…..blown to bits by a bomb…..riddled by machine guns bullets…..torn in half, or perhaps an arm, leg, or head ripped off by flying shrapnel…..suffocated below decks……drowned in the oily harbor or trapped below decks…..wafted into unconsciousness by poisonous flames…..crushed by a falling bulkhead or by ammunition stores. So many ways to die in such a holocaust.
About dark we were ordered to fall outside again and then stumbled wearily across the island again to the main barracks. There was some mistake. They said we didn’t belong there, and after awhile the whole body of men went on down to the ferry landing to be taken over to the Recreation Center across the harbor. There was no ferry. With resigned indifference all hands flopped on boxes, on sand bags, or on the ground to wait as a light drizzle of rain began falling…….Forty-five minutes someone said. The night was black. A star shone through crisp air, clouds scuttled along. Every home, every shop, every ship, every car, every flashlight, every cigarette was blacked out. No ray of light anywhere. Black shadows, sinister, as if waiting for the humming enemy planes to come back. Every serviceable gun was fully manned, every ship and plane ready to open up at a second’s notice. The burning Arizona lay where she had sunk in the shallow water, an eerie, cheerless glow in the labyrinth of darkness.
Many stories circulated…..Parachutes had been seen landing on the other side of Oahu but army snipers had picked them off before they touched the ground…..Planes had strafed unsuspected bathers at Camp Andrews beach, and them troops had attempted to land, but army men who were holding maneuvers nearby had cut them down, holding their fire until no shots were wasted…..A destroyer getting underway had rammed a submarine caught sneaking into the harbor, quartered it with depth charges, backed off, and continued on out to sea under full power…..Four ensigns comprised her officers…..A marine had shot down a enemy plane with his rifle as it flew toward the naval hospital…..What agony, confusion and suffering were saved by his straight shooting is not pleasant to imagine……Troops had been reported landing on Oahu….The whole Japanese fleet was supposed to be just off the islands…..The Marine flying field at Ewa had been wiped out……Hickam Field had been attacked, leaving many planes destroyed and hangars burning…..Japanese workmen had shot down army flyers as they ran towards their planes….When a Jap plane had crashed into the third turret on the Tennessee, sailors had seized the pilot and ton him limb from limb…..Marines had caught some saboteurs, had bayoneted them to ribbons on the spot…..Every battleship had been hit, the California, the Oklahoma, the Maryland, the West Virginia, the Tennessee, the Arizona, the Nevada, even the Pennsylvania which was in dry dock….Shelly and six men of the California band had been burned in oil……Three Japanese aircraft carriers had been sunk…..Mighty battles were raging out at sea…..All these rumors flashes around. We could see the California sitting low in the water, her turrets turned around out of their usual position, men with hoses climbing around on her burning decks. That one wasn’t just a rumor, we could see that, but about the others, we didn’t know……..
It may have been forty-five minutes or forty-five hours later that the ferry creaked up the landing. As I gingerly felt my way aboard I became separated from the other bandsmen; every one looked so muck alike in the dark. After a five-minute search I found them along the port rail. The old ferry moved silently through the black water. As we approached the landing there was a commotion—gears clashed, a man shouted, “Stand by for a collision!” We all were tense—didn’t know whether we were hitting into a tin can, a cruiser, or a motorboat. Powerful motors suddenly came to life dead ahead….a shadow loamed……and the little boat shook convulsively as the ferry churned the water with her propeller in full reverse. Collision was avoided, and all hands relaxed a little. We had just missed a mosquito boat that lay quietly in the water. There were several of them in a line, waiting for something to pop. Rumors started about how the little ships had roared out to sea at top speed—sixty miles an hour—under enemy fire, how they had sunk an enemy carrier and cruise…..They had taken a formidable toll of enemy warships……..
The wooden planks of the deck grated and creaked as we came up against the landing. Dully hearing the word of caution from an officer, weary and shivering, we climbed heavily up the incline to the road and headed towards the recreation center. A drizzle of rain fell, little pools of water seemed to leap into our path as we trudged along. Some few had hats, fewer had raincoats. Cars rolled without lights along the shining black strip that was the road.
Sentries challenged us along the way. I was so tired I could hardly stand—mused myself “wish they’d shoot me so I could lie down.”
Vaguely I remember sloshing through the mud to a width of pavement which led to the arena, being stopped by poised rifles and a terse challenge, stumbling inside where someone gave me a soft clean white blanket and told me to go to a certain place where mattresses were being scattered about on the bleachers. The area is built much like a stadium on a small scale. Tiers of backless seats entirely surrounded a space of floor in the center where jitterbug contests, dances, movies, wrestling bouts, boxing bouts and the battle of bands were held. A beer garden was spread out front. Instead of being built above ground, a huge pit had been dug and the whole arena lay below the ground level. Inside it was as black as sin. I knew the lay of the place only slightly, but somehow clambered along the bleachers, up….up….up….until someone with a flashlight ushered me to an empty mattress. Fellows were banging into chairs. Men, cracking shins on hard planks, swore feebly with surprise and pain. I reached the think mattress and dropped, face down, too exhausted to pull the blanket over me. After a few minutes Kalivoda came by with pillow slips. He told us to pull them over our heads for protection against mosquitoes. I stirred, crawled unwillingly to get one. We exchanged greetings. He had been out at Camp Andrews. Missed the action. But he was busy and I was too tired to talk. I pulled off oily shoes, unfolded the blanket and collapsed with a weary sigh. I was completely exhausted, utterly spent, physically and mentally. Everything that had happened that day seemed so far away, so unreal, like a slept-through movie. Something soft and fuzzy, deep, deep, deep, began closing in around me, pushing everything far away. It felt so very good to be stretched out on a mattress. Weeks had flown by in a brief sixteen hours. The desire to sleep shut everything from my mind. I thought dreamily of my folks, of Keith, then of nothing…….
Staccato machine guns jarred me awake, tense and shaking. Anti-aircraft batteries from our ships cut loose. At every shot I winced; the noises pierced my brain like bullets. Sudden quiet…..Sputter of a nearby machine gun nest shattered the quiet; a rash of short bursts from other machine guns broke into the dark night…..Again, sudden quiet…..Quick bursts of firing were again playing havoc with my nerves. At last they stopped. I was crouched in a tight knot under the overhanging seat, trembling hands over my ears, my whole body shaking. Slowly, one taught nerve at a time, my body began to relax, and then soft, deep oblivion again……
Voices…..lights……men walking around. “Twelve men from the West Virginia needed to relieve the fire-fighting party.” Dimly the voice pierced the thick cloak of sleep. I didn’t want to get up—wanted to sleep some more. I had hardly slept at all. The same voice, coming nearer. They were waking each man to ask him if he was off the West Virginia. I pulled the blanket up under my chin, hoped they wouldn’t ask me. The officer said he didn’t blame us for wanting to sleep. He was very sympathetic and made me feel ashamed. With deep regret I sat up, pulled on my shoes, and down the steps, cracking tender shins along the way. Outside in the dark, we counted noses, found eleven, and set off down to the fleet landing. Sentries challenged us every few feet.
An officer’s gig slapped water against the dock. It rails were twisted, sides oil-smeared, its paint burned and smoke-stained. Once spotless, it now looked a wreck, but the motor worked fine and it had no leaks. In a moment someone acted as a coxswain and we shoved off, proceeded cautiously across the harbor toward the West Virginia. Voices from the capsized Oklahoma pierced the darkness. “Boat Ahoy!” Mr. King answered, stated our business, and we kept on. All along our way voices cracked sharply through the black night. If we didn’t answer promptly and satisfactorily, sentries would not hesitate to fire. No one could afford taking chances at night. The silhouettes of the once mighty sea fortresses loamed around us, black and sinister. An enemy lurked in every shadow until we could be positive no one was there.
Dead ahead an orange flickering flame glowed, filtering through the darkness. The water reflected it, magnified it into red, evil stream of flame. The Arizona, blown into two, still burned in the bow, oil from her ruptured tanks feeding the fire. A hail from the Tennessee, then “Come Alongside!” The cox slowed his motor, eased around the Wee Vee’s stern. To my eye, accustomed to the total darkness, it seemed as if we were moving straight into the heart of the flame. Closer and closer we came; all my human instincts screamed at me to jump before I was burned, and then we turned and pulled in on the Tennessee’s port quarterdeck, tied up, and climbed aboard, gazing in stupefied silence at the blackened mess about us.
Streams of water poured into the harbor astern of the two battleships in an effort to keep the blazing oil fire on the stricken Arizona from starting new fires on the West Virginia and the Tennessee. The Tennessee throbbed quietly and steadily as her propeller turned over, causing a current to flow from stem to stern which kept pushing the flaming oil back away from her already blackened hull.
Mr. King gathered the twelve of us together for brief instructions, simply telling us to relieve the men on the hoses and the men fighting fire on the West Virginia. Then the group spilt up, each man finding a station. Turning away, I surveyed the decks of the two worsted dread-naughts. Gear littered the deck around me. Hoses, lines, pieces of wood, cables, lay everywhere. Water slashed about in the rubbish. Once clean as a living room floor, the deck was now in shambles. Men in wire stretchers were being lowered into a boat. They had to be lifted down ten feet to the boat, with no gangway and no ladder. Somebody said they’d have to put two in one stretcher. A voice answers; “That’s all right, they can’t feel it anymore.” In silence then men went ahead with their grim task. I walked forward, stepping over the litter on the deck, walking through water and muck. At the break of the fo’c’sle, a spray of water spouted up from a leaky hose. A rag had been put over it but had been kicked off. I stopped to replace the rag and climbed up the ladder onto the fo’c’sle.
The West Virginia had settled to the bottom. Her fo’c’sle was four or five feet lower than that of the Tennessee on the starboard side, which was the uphill side of her list. From the Tennessee men poured streams of water into the casemates of the Wee Vee; these afforded the only openings into which water could be shot in order to get into the burning lower decks. Three hoses were trained on the smoking ship. Smoke poured out of her port holes in thick spirals, swept back over the fire fighters on both ships. Men moved carefully over the wrecked, ruptured decks of the Wee Vee. They wore hood-like fire-fighter equipment and one of them carried a flashlight. In the billowing smoke and the black suspense-filled night, they were hunch-backed, goggle-eyed hulks; lumpy explorers from some other planet probing about the decks of an emaciated steel monster which roared in mute agony while the fire devils ravaged her very bones, devouring everything they touched, leaving nothing but ashes and scorched steel; ashes and blackened bones of the tiny complicated creatures which were the nerves of the ponderous mass of force. Blackened bones, burned flesh of the scurrying animals who could swing the tons of steel that made the turrets and guns by merely touching a button; who could cause the guns to belch out, roaring, hurtling pellets at their enemies; who could in a few seconds turn the cold lifeless metal into a screaming hell hurling violent death for thousands of yards out over the sea or up into the skies. Now the little men were dead or gone, the mighty guns quiet, the decks torn and twisted from terrific explosions that came dropping from the sky. The hull was split wide open from the “tin fish” dropped by enemy planes into the water. They had then struck and shattered the steel wall, opening gaping holes through which the sea had rushed in to fill the compartments, to weight the ship down until the man-made machine of destruction had her keel buried in mud, on the bottom.
Now the once terrible and powerful ship, lay strength gone, power neutralize, licking her many and deep wounds.
With flashlights the men picked their way back and forth along the deck, looking for places where the fire might be eating through the deck.
As all the men on hoses were fresh reliefs, I took a turn around the Tennessee’s fo’c’sle out of curiosity.
Hoses were strewn all around. Some life rafts had been knocked from the sides of the turrets and lay on the deck. Up in the bow three or four men huddled in raincoats, keeping warm as best they could, listening on their headphones. Around the starboard side there was no lifeline. Something had ripped it down, left it lying on the deck. Men huddled in corners by the guns—on watch—ready for the enemy to come back. Blue battle-lights lent a ghostly background to the men and guns. The pier beside the Tennessee was torn up. Probably a bomb. The middle gun in her No. 2 turret had been hit by a bomb and a large chunk of metal was knocked out of the barrel. Paint was burned off her stern. She had sustained six casualties, twenty wounded. No serious damage besides the No. 2 gun.
Back on the port quarterdeck, I tripped over a pile of five-inch anti-aircraft ammunition. Crates of supplies were piled nearby. A few cases had been broken and scattered on the deck. Men were on the anti-aircraft gun, ready to fire at a few seconds notice. I saw Mr. Albin on the Wee Vee feeling his way around the boat deck. His civilian suit was well smeared now. All his uniforms had been turned to ashes or soaked in oil. All he owned was what he wore.
From the stern of the Tennessee I stared at the burning Arizona. Like a funeral pyre for the men who died defending her. Men I knew were buried somewhere in that shattered hull. Officers in charge of the fire watch were still worried about the fire spreading. A small fire burned on the blackness.
In a few minutes I walked forward, relieved a man on one of the hoses. It was chilly, and a sprinkle of rain was in the air. Smoke was getting thicker now, especially out of the 6A division. Two of us tried to get water in the ports, but we were too high and the stream of water splashed off the ship’s side. A bright moon shone at irregular intervals through low scudding clouds. Smoke from the Arizona fire shifted, enveloping us, blacking out the moon. Breathing was getting difficult. We tried again to get water in the port holes. Flames suddenly licked through them. The hooded men on the Wee Vee became alarmed, tried to give us some instructions. Breathing was getting difficult again. I would wait till the wind shifted for a second to snatch a good breath of half-pure air, hold it while the thick smoke swirled about me, until I couldn’t hold it any longer, and then gasp another quick breath. In a half hour or so the fire seemed to die down somewhat, the smoke thinned gradually, moonlight shone down more regularly, breath came more easily and without that stifling sting.
Someone relieved me for a while, but I soon went back so that I wouldn’t fall asleep. I was dead tired, but couldn’t understand why—hadn’t done any work. Nerves, maybe.
The fire was getting hot again. Great clouds of smoke billowed up from the stricken ship. The smoke became so thick that I couldn’t breath without turning by back to the wind and breathing off my chest. The Tennessee sounded fire quarters on the bugle. Men began coming up on deck, moving around, talking nervously. Someone brought me a gas mask, took the hose while I put it on. It was a new type—without a satchel. The whole thing fitted my head, the cylinder attached behind the head. When it was over my face, I tried to breath through the filter, but the air wouldn’t come through. (I later learned that there was probably a strip of tape over the air holes in the canister but, having never seen one of the masks before, I didn’t know where to look for trouble). By sucking air in the sides of the mask, I could breath a little easier so I wore it for a while, but I soon took it off and gave it to somebody else. Another Tennessee sailor brought me a thick sandwich—the finest tasting sandwich I’d ever eaten. Sometime later another man brought me a denim jacket with a hood that fitted over the head and I zipped it up, leaving just enough space for my eyes and nose.
On and off all night men relieved me, I relived them. The men on the West Virginia asked for reliefs. (They were Hill, Barth, and Calderone, I later found out). A fire broke out in the lumber pile on the West Virginia’s boat deck. Out hoses wouldn’t quite reach, the streams of water fell just short of the flames. One of the men pulled a hose over onto the Wee Vee and the men over there took it up where it would reach the fire. They walked over our spray of water, yelled at us to take our hoses away. We could barely understand what they said because they were yelling through the talking diaphragm on the gas masks. They sounded like they had no roofs in their mouths.
I dozed on the lifeline, holding the hose, started awake, dozed again. Fire spread along the main deck; we poured steady streams of water into the ship for minutes, hours—I don’t remember. Sometime later the sky paled a little. It would soon be dawn. The fire was nearly out now. On the Wee Vee the men were fighting the flames down, moving in on the fire. All the hoses were over there now except one. Only a little smoke drifted out of the port holes. Someone relieved me and I gladly surrendered the hose and my denim jacket to him.
A mess table had been strung between the two ships to serve as a gangway, and I crawled precariously across, expecting every second to slip into the water below. The most I could do over there was to get in the way, so I walked back aft where the boats were coming alongside. I was so tired I could hardly walk. Just as a gig was shoving off, I pulled myself aboard, followed the twisted rail around to the cabin and fell into a seat. I simply sat; trying to relax while the gig went to the officers’ club landing and returned to the West Virginia. As we neared the ship again we could see the Arizona fire spreading again—reaching hungrily for the two nearby ships. It burned nearer and nearer. All the available hoses failed to keep the flames back. Even against the stream caused by turning propellers, the devouring monster crept closer. We hailed s big tugboat on the port side of the West Virginia and they made ready to come around and try to beat back the orange menace. All of a sudden the danger was over—the flame drew back, converged into a small steady glow. I leaned back into a corner shivering, dead tired.
Guns split the night with their rocketing detonations. Machine-guns opened up, all the guns caught it up and in a few seconds were firing full blast. I jerked awake, nerves humming, tense. Machine-gun tracer bullets were red arcs in the sky. I just waited, measuring the distance to the nearest shore, thinking of the swim, dreading to jump into the oily water. In a few minutes a reverberating silence rocked the cold dawn. The enemy had been driven off. Sometime later an officer came aboard and we felt our way back to the fleet landing, hails ringing out along the way.
Very dimly I remember getting off the boat and making my weary way through the mud puddles and past the sentries back to the arena. I wondered why the stared—I didn’t realize that my features were obliterated by a thick coat of soot. People stared at me as I doggedly placed each foot ahead of the other. It was light now, but the sky was overcast with heavy gray clouds. Eventually I found my way back up to my mattress. I didn’t have to lay down; I merely stopped, relaxed—and landed solidly on the bed, too exhausted to move. I had just closed my eyes when people began making noisy reveille. Time to get up for breakfast. Abandoning my hopes for sleep and rest, I arose and folded my bedding in disgust. Even in the navy a man as exhausted as I was should be left alone—reveille or not.
For lack of anything else to do, I followed the crowd over to the receiving station for breakfast without even washing my face and hands. I had no towel or soap.
After bucking a long line of hard-faced men, I was given generous quantities of food. It was hastily cooked, but it tasted delicious. Just bread, butter, spuds and coffee (that’s all I can remember at least). The hot beverage went down very easily, although I am not a habitual coffee drinker. It warmed me up and stimulated my dulled nerves. Blaine and Hudgins were eating on the next table. Reed was beside me, but none of them said a word to me. Though they looked me in the face, there was no word or sign of recognition. Blaine stared at my soot-blackened face several minutes before he said hello with a surprised expression on his face. They told me about my dirty face. I had no hat; my long hair had been saturated with oily salt water, hadn’t been combed since Sunday morning. My size seventeen dungaree shirt was dirty with soot, dropped about my shoulders; the size thirty-four trousers hung precariously on my hip bones. What a sight I must have been! With the extra handkerchiefs from B.O.Q. I wiped and rubbed a little—a very little—of the soot.
Back at the arena all of the Wee Vee band who were there got together. We swapped yarns and experience all day Monday. We told each other what we did after reaching top side. Bill Harten went over the foc’s’le, swam or caught a boat ashore and found an air raid shelter. French, Joe, Barth, Edmisten and Carlin crawled over our life lines onto the Tennessee. Joe, Calderone and Hill fought fire on the West Virginia from Sunday morning until Monday afternoon. Joe and French went on the crew of an ammunition launch, under heavy fire by enemy guns, being strafed all the while—they were only two of the unsung heroes of that battle. One bullet would have blown them to bits. Harbin and Snyder procured forty-fives and rifles and then were put in a truck driving wounded and dead to the hospital. They told of seeing charred bones were legs should have been. For a while they patrolled civilian houses on Fort Island. All day until late Sunday nite when their truck and arms were taken, they helped in any way they could with the truck. French and on other sailor were the only ones who got to their particular general quarters station. They flooded voids, closed watertight doors and hatches, helped carry men out on deck while water poured in on them and violent explosions rocked the ship…….That afternoon Snyder brought me a new pair of size twenty nine dungarees and I discarded the others. I kept my two-sizes-too-big shirt, not wanting to risk going without any short at all.
That evening we all were given towels and soap to clean up. I confiscated some clean underwear and socks somewhere (they were issuing small stores to everyone at the receiving station), took a shower and dried on a clean, fluffy white towel. It felt wonderful to be clean.
Officers had improvised some desks and chairs in the arena and were busily organizing the West Virginia men. Everyone registered again, name and rate. Men were grouped into their respective divisions and bunked as a group. A guard for the navel housing area was organized and heavily armed. Their orders were to stop all persons and vehicles for identification; if they didn’t halt, use best judgment and don’t hesitate to shoot. A 24-hour patrol.
In twos, half-dozens, dozens, twenties, our men were being sent cans, cruisers, mosquito boats, and minesweepers. All rated men were gone by Tuesday afternoon. More men came from the sub-base—Calderone, Barth, Pierce, Hare and French. The band was accounted for excepting Lish, Kroulik, Carlin, Maxfield and Hayes. Word came through that Maxfield was in the hospital under care for shell-shock nerves. He was highstrung anyway. A ship fitter carrying “the fat drummer” out of the West Virginia on a stretcher. Harten had seen Carlin in the air raid shelter. He had wrenched his bad knee and been taken to the hospital. That was all but one accounted for and alive out of the band. No one had seen or heard from Lish since Sunday morning. Then a Wee Vee yeoman told us about trying to get him up the ladder from the third deck. They had been too weak to left him out. Gas was getting to them, too. They had left him in a stretcher, unconscious. Lish hadn’t mustered anywhere.
Security watches for the wrecked West Virginia were organized. Harbin and Reed and I volunteered for this. We were organized into four watches. Four hours on, twelve off. We were to keep any “unauthorized” persons off the ship and stop any looting. At night we would stand watch in one-hour shifts, with out headquarters in the second turret. We were armed with forty-fives and rifles. I carried about a hundred fifty rounds or ammunition. It felt quite satisfying to be with something with which I could kick back, just in case. Nothing happened out of order.
One morning we saw a few of our shipmates going through lockers systematically, taking what they could use, pulling the rest out on the deck. They weren’t scrupulous at all—looting friend’s lockers with the others. Money, blues, peacoats—anything of use. We saw them, but assumed they were finding their own belongings and left them undisturbed. As we later learned they were one of the lowest forms of human beings—looters.
I picked my way along the main deck, mute with the havoc wrought inside the compartments. Oil and charcoal and water covered everything. The hammock nettings were empty or had nothing but ashes in them. Firefighters had forced open some lockers and turned the stream of water inside to quench the burning clothing. Iron frames of mess tables and benches lay strewn about. Linoleum was burned, leaving bare steel decks. Lockers had been knocked over, ladders warped, and paint burned off the overhead and the bulkheads. Once shiny dogs and deck plates now were rusty, burned metal. The laundry was a gray ruin, all the clothes inside had burned. Tremendous explosions had buckled the deck.. Such a ghastly mess—in violent contrast to the conspicuous tidiness and spotless condition of a few hours before. Maybe I’m pretty soft, but my body ached at the hopeless mess. My ship—the cleanest ship in our whole fleet—now look at her. Our government might easier have dumped a hundred million dollars into a bottomless volcano.
In the band compartment mess gear and bedding littered the deck. What were once narrow passageways were now rubbish piles. I tried to find things for the fellows in some of the lockers with which I was familiar. Most of them managed to get there themselves during the week. Wrist watches, glasses, toilet gear, money, pictures, even rings were burned, nullified, destroyed. My new blues were gone from my spare locker; somebody had taken them. In my own locker everything was just as I had left it Sunday morning—nothing was moved—but all the clothes were made useless by oil and fire. The underclothes, towels, socks, uniforms, shoes were scorched, toilet gear and personal items ruined. I took my belt and wallet. A dollar bill and a couple of dollars worth of change remained undamaged. That was all I salvaged. My books and everything else were lost. The band office was a pitiful sight. I dug my flute and piccolo out of the ashes that cases. The keys, sterling silver, were melted together. I flattened the once-rigid tubing between my thumb and fingerlike paper. Harbin’s beautiful brass baritone still hung on its peg, now worthless; valves melted, temper gone, tubing bent, joints melted. The saxes, trombones, trumpets, clarinets lay in neat row in piles of ashes—worthless. My piano accordion that I hardly played was a pile of ashes in the six-inch deep slime on the deck. The ashes of our fine library of classical music were still hot—a neat cabinet of gray flakes; our dance band library and case had completely burned up. Thousands of dollars worth of instruments and music. I turned very slowly, unbelievingly, but there it was. I had seen it with my own eyes. A bomb had exploded over in the next compartment, knocking some of our lockers down. The port half of the deck shipped oil and water. The ladder leading up to the number one casemate was a twisted skeleton. Inside, the deck was covered with debris. The five-inch broadside gun looked all right. It could be cleaned, shined, and oiled up and made serviceable. Some of the range finder and director apparatus was destroyed, but the gun itself wasn’t beyond repair. All the watertight doors were sprung and useless, so I climbed through the gun port onto the main deck. The thick planks of the deck heaved up in blisters all around. Heat or the force of explosions had caused this. All of the port broadside batteries were covered with corrosion. The number three gun lay on its side, the deck torn up around it. On the starboard side too, all of the broadside batteries were rusted from the water that had been poured in on them by the firefighting crews. The marines’ lockers in number ten had been stripped; all the clothes and other personal gear littered the deck, a complete shambles. Pictures of girls, mud-splotched, seemed to be everywhere. Gunners were smearing grease on the guns to stop further corrosion.
Fire had gutted the forward casemates. A bomb had exploded in the galley leaving a shambles of ovens, stoves, pots and pans, killing two or three fellows, maiming others. A ship’s cook told us about it. They had been just taking the last of a batch of pies out of the oven. Up forward by the turrets the deck was buckled; steel rivets stuck out of metal plates where fire had burned away the wood. Life lines were either completely gone or only straggling pieces of them remained. The forward turrets seemed to be al right.
On the boat deck, one motor whaleboat still sat in its davits, almost toppled off by concussion. The boat shop, strangely enough, was hardly touched. Fire hadn’t been in there, no bullets struck there, but the shaking and the list of the ship had thrown loose gear on the deck. A few minutes of tidying up would fix it all right. Our starboard anti-aircraft guns were not badly damaged, while some of the range finding and pointing instruments were smashed. All usable parts were being removed to other ships for spare parts. An A.A. Gunner told me that they had fired all the ammunition that they had at the Japs—twenty-eight rounds. Their ammunition trunks were locked and the key could not be found. There had been no time to break the lock. None could be brought up form below because the hoist had been put out of action.
Fire had destroyed all combustible material; deck timber, lumber stowage, grease on the guns, paint, deck linoleum. The deck was buckled here and there. A bomb had struck the galley on the port side, coming down through the bridge and catwalk, exploding on the galley deck. I could see the hole in the bridge, catwalk and boat deck. The port side had been demolished by torpedoed and bombs. An exploding torpedo had ripped the supporting metal stanchion under the port A.A. guns causing the deck, guns and all to drop down to the galley level. Twisted metal, jagged edges, gaping holes everywhere. Rust was a reddish mantle over everything. The boat deck was of no use at all, totally demolished. There were huge holes in the ship’s side above and below the armor belt; some of them were below the water line so I couldn’t see them, but I knew they were there.
A 1500 or 2000 pound bomb had gone through the top of the third turret, (I talked to a man who had been inside) piercing six inched of solid steel and killing several men. It had knocked starboard gun out of commission. I watched them pick up bomb fragments. When the pieces were fitted together, they looked like a 12-inch shell fitted with crude fins. The shell could have been made in the United States.
The security watch slept in a reserved section in the arena. All of our musicians were transferred to the commissary store except Hare, Harten, Hudgins, Reed, Harbin and myself. Pierce and Hayes were in another part of the navy yard making model planes for identification purposes.
Salvage parties began turning on to our ship. Mr. Westfall, in charge of one of them, cut down into the disbursing office and lifted the safe out. A sum of money was salvaged.
Water and oil flooded the port half of the main deck. Divers reported bodies under water on the second deck. Wonder how many more there were that they didn’t see.
Maxfield turned up. Definite word came through that Kroulik was on the Solace, a hospital ship. During the attack, planes strafed her, but she got underway and moved around in the channel until the attackers were driven off. Carlin was in the hospital. That made everybody but Lish. He was still down on the third deck on a stretcher.
They were taking all of our A.A. and broadside guns off and the catapult was being taken off the quarterdeck.
Something I just remembered. The start and stripes flew back on the quarterdeck from Sunday morning until Tuesday or Wednesday. With all the fire there was, the flag had not burned. Many times the national ensign gave me new encouragement during those first dark days after the attack. The start and stripes, buffeted and blown by explosions, waved steadfastly through the battle. A morning sun, revealing destruction and chaos, shone too on our flag, bathing it in golden sunlight; it seemed to emanate courage and determination.
Rumors that the Indianapolis (at sea when the attack took place) had sunk four cruisers and gone down fighting. Jake is on the Indy. I know the whole band. Heard reliable dope that the Indianapolis had not been sunk. Straight dope is getting out now…
We sank none of their carriers. No naval battles had taken place around islands. No attempts were made to land men on the islands. No parachute troops had landed or even been seen. Nanakule had not been strafed – the fellows out there thought that all of the noise was caused by practice maneuvers. They didn’t even believe any battle had taken place until they came back to their ships and saw.
The damage inflicted upon the attacking planes was not as great as we had hoped. Our batteries and our own planes shot down over twenty planes that were confirmed. Possibilities are good that at least twelve additional enemy planes were destroyed. It is very possible that many others never reached their bases. A Japanese bomber crashed and burned near the naval hospital. No enemy fleet was near the islands. A destroyer rammed a midget “suicide” submarine in the channel and dropped depth charges on it. Another midget sub was captured in the nets. A Japanese flyer had made a forced landing on one of the other islands and held the inhabitants at bay with his machine gun until a Hawaiian couple charged him and crushed his skull with a rock after the man had been hit by three bullets. A submarine had shelled Kauai – no damage.
A P.B.Y. hangar on Ford Island was hit first and burned, but the fire was put out before further damage could be done. Hickam and Schofield were attacked first and the barracks were strafed. The first enemy torpedo plane was shot down, crashed in the channel near a battleship. A large number of our planes were destroyed on the ground; I haven’t been able to learn how many. One of our pilots was shot down. About three thousand men lost their lives as a result of the attack. Most of these were sailors trapped aboard capsized or sunken ships.
Two destroyers in dry dock were destroyed by bombs and fire. The cruiser Honolulu was damaged by a bomb exploding near her side and her second turret was knocked out of line. A destroyer in the floating drydock was hit by bombs which struck her forward magazines, blowing off her bow just forward of the first stack; repairs are underway. The Pennsylvania, in drydock was hit by a bomb and sustained slight damage. The Curtis, seaplane tender, sustained a bomb hit; an enemy plane crashed on one of her cranes – damage slight.
The old battleship Utah was the first ship to be attacked; she capsized within fifteen minutes. The minelayer Oglala was hit by torpedoes and she capsized in the first half-hour of fighting. One man told of walking off the bridge onto the dock as she rolled over. The Oklahoma was hit by aerial torpedoes and capsized within fifteen minutes. Over a thousand men were sealed inside her hull. Two days after the attack, men were still being taken out of her bottom through holes cut in the hull by workers. Holes were drilled through her hull to let in air until large openings could be made. A number of men were rescued out of her; don’t know just how many. Every battleship had been hit. The California had sustained torpedo and bomb hits, was set on the bottom to prevent her capsizing. Severe damage was inflicted. The Maryland had received no torpedo hits, as she and the Oklahoma were tied along side each other. But bombs had hit her, causing slight damage. The Tennessee had received no torpedo hits, as the West Virginia had been alongside her, but a bomb had struck her second turret causing slight damage. Her quarterdeck had been on fire but the fire was brought under control before serious damage resulted. She had lost six men with some twenty wounded. The Nevada, with a chief quartermaster taking command, had cut her moorings, got under way in fifteen minutes while under heavy fire. The enemy, seeing her headed out to sea, concentrated on her with torpedoes, bombs and machine guns. As she was sustaining heavy damage and sinking, her navigator had grounded her on one side of the channel to avoid blocking the narrow passageway. The West Virginia sustained six direct hits by aerial torpedoes, one bomb hit on her boat deck amidships, and a fifteen hundred to two thousand pound bomb hit her third turret, knocking a hole in the top and damaging one of the sixteen inch guns and killing several men. A bomb had struck the gas tank of one of her two scout planes and started a fire on the quarterdeck. Fire burned her weather decks and main deck. The port side of her boat deck was demolished by bombs and torpedoed. She was saved from capsizing only by the counter-flooding of starboard voids. A number of her crew was lost – perhaps two hundred. The Arizona had been sunk, damaged beyond repair. A bomb went down her forward stacks, exploding magazines and breaking her in half amidships. Fire burned on her for days after the battle. All hands aboard were lost I believe. The Solace, though attacked, sustained no damage. One destroyer that got underway had shot down six enemy planes. The Vesper sustained damage, but ran herself aground to save sinking. She had been tied alongside the Arizona but received no damage from the explosion. I don’t know whether the Arizona’s magazine exploded while she was still alongside or not – I believe it did.
No yards, docks, or oil tanks were attacked. The enemy planes had concentrated on our biggest ships and our airfields. Several civilian areas were strafed, and a number of bombs fell in non-military areas, but the damage there was not heavy. A few Japanese civilians had tried to block the only road between Honolulu and Pearl Harbor, but they had failed. Some Japanese civilians had been found in military uniform in their homes; they had been taken out and shot. Elaborate two-way radio sets were found in some of these homes. Accurate information had been sent to the Japanese commanders within a few hours before the attack; maps showing the location of every ship in the harbor were found in shot-down enemy planes and in the captured midget submarines. It was beyond doubt that there was a huge spy net on the island, but nothing could be proven, and there were too many Japanese to place them all under arrest.
There was no attack after about nine a.m. Sunday. Two or three of our planes were shot down that night by our own ground defense guns when they failed to come in according to explicit instructions in a manner that would indicate whether they were friend or enemy. No one was at fault. The pilots just came in wrong – probably got the instructions confused.
The Arizona is beyond repair. The Pennsylvania, Maryland and Tennessee went to sea a few days after the attack. The Nevada is being raised and repaired. The Oklahoma will be righted and repaired. The California will be raised and repaired. The West Virginia may be raised and repaired in time. Oglala – don’t know. The Curtis has gone to sea. The Honolulu is in drydock getting her no. 2 turret re-aligned. She will be repaired as soon as the gun is set.
Defending batteries opened fire scant minutes after the attack began, putting up a terrific battle and driving the attackers off. When enemy planes returned again at nine they were driven off with little or no damage inflicted.
Against the element of surprise, caught completely off guard, not fully manned, our fleet displayed courage, straight, fast thinking and great fortitude. People of the islands and the mainland may well be proud. I am very very proud of this courage that has shown. Army, Navy and Marine flyers, all our armed forces, did well for themselves. We say “Remember Pearl Harbor”. The Japs will remember it as vividly as we do. If any pilots returned to their bases alive, they certainly have some experiences to tell. Let them expound their stories – it helps our side.
Military experts believe the attacking force was a suicide squadron because possible bases were so remote. Aerial torpedoes must have been carried by carrier-based planes. Suicide bombing squadrons may have flown from distant fields not expecting to return, but the nearest possible land based would be so remote as to make this very unlikely.
There was much that was odious about the unbelievable vulnerability of the fleet. Why had the entire force of battleships been concentrated on port at the same time? A military man certainly should know better than that, especially in such a time of tension between Japan and the United States. There could be no excuse, no justification. The fleet was all in port for an admiral’s inspection. That, in my mind, was not an excuse – military pomp does not take precedence over military security.
There was even a more serious charge against the military. Early on the morning of the attack, one of our destroyers had detected and sunk a Japanese submarine. This had been reported to the military commanders at Pearl Harbor. Why were adequate precautions not taken immediately? There was further warning. The radar aircraft detector was turned off about seven o’clock that morning – a serious mistake in itself – but a soldier obtained permission to practice listening to it, and turned it on again. This soldier picked up and reported a large number of unidentified aircraft before the attack started. Again, nothing was done.
The immediate effect of the whole picture on my mind was to have less confidence in my superior officers and to have more faith in the enlisted man. I had seen the results of the gross negligence and carelessness on the part of the former; and I had seen the enlisted men recover and fight back against the heavy odds of complete surprise attack. Of course, the whole story wasn’t known to us; we didn’t know who to blame. We knew only what we saw…
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