A sleeping giant awakens
The pearl of the Pacific on a sleepy Sunday morning, cotton clouds were suspended in an azure sky. Reveille would sound in less than six minutes onboard the USS Arizona. Seaman 1st class Weaver leaned over to his bunk mate below Seaman 2nd class Webster in the middle of a yawn.
“Didn’t our band sound great last night?”
“You bet! Say in a couple of hours let’s call those two secretaries, Sue and Linda. I had a great time slow dancing with Sue?”
“Yeah, let’s invite them to go to Waikiki beach this afternoon. I bet Linda looks better in a bathing suit than Betty Grable!”
Before Webster could answer, both heard popping sounds similar to gunfire. “Weaver, sounds like another drill.”
Finally, the two got out of their bunks. Their dungarees were halfway pulled up when a blinding flash of light was followed by an explosion that lifted the USS Arizona, 25 feet out of the water to rest in the sediment; 1,177 dead were entombed in the ship including Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, Captain Franklin Van Valkenburgh and 75 Marines.
Nevada Appeal Editor Adam Trumble printed a request for any Pearl Harbor survivors to contact him. When Ruth responded, he gave me her number. I called and identified myself. She began to tell me her civilian experience as nine years old, the oldest with two younger brothers and two sisters living with their parents in Navy dependent housing.
Ruth’s second story bedroom window looked across Pearl Harbor at the USS Arizona docked at Ford Island. She witnessed a fire ball engulfed the bow lifting the ship out of the water. The shock wave followed immediately.
Suddenly a low flying fighter with a red “meatball” painted on the fuselage and wings flew close enough for her to notice the pilot’s goggles, moustache and a toothy grin. Another Japanese fighter clipped the top of a neighbor’s chimney.
Military and civilian medical staff reported to their hospitals. Casualties were rushed to be triaged outside the hospitals. Several thousand volunteers rolled up their sleeves and donated blood. Of the 2,403 people who died on Dec. 7, the Navy lost 2,008, the Army 218, the Marines 109 and 68 civilians. More than half of the Navy and the Marine Corps’ losses are entombed in the battleship Arizona.
During the attack, a school bus stopped at their house to take the Hennessey family to a safer location. Her family noticed the bus driver looked Japanese! They were reluctant to board the bus. After a heated verbal exchange, they boarded.
One of Ruth’s brothers was traumatized from the explosions. He never recovered. Ruth received her first bicycle on her ninth birthday, Dec. 9, 1941. It was stolen a couple of days later. Food was scarce. Mrs. Hennessey and her five children shared one can of beans at meal time. All military spouses and dependents were evacuated from Hawaii on Dec. 25, 1941. They sailed on military transport “tub” eating stale bread and moldy oranges. With 30-foot waves, eating was not a consideration for seasick passengers.
When they arrived in San Francisco, there was no available housing. After three days living on a beach, a DUKW (pronounced duck) gave them a ride to a YMCA. After a couple of months, the family was able to occupy their house. Slowly, food became available.
Like most of you, I never thought about Hawaii’s civilians suffering during and after Dec. 7. Thanks, Ruth, for sharing your story.
Previously, I wrote about four Pearl Harbor survivors. Everette Furr was 22 when he joined the Navy in September 1941 to become a radio operator on a PBY, a two-engine amphibious patrol bomber. He was stationed at Kaneohe on Oahu’s north coast. Kaneohe was attacked at 07:46 hours, nine minutes before Pearl Harbor.
Robert Lloyd told the local Army recruiter, “I really want to join the Navy and be stationed in Honolulu, Oahu.” The Army recruiter countered, “Join the US Army Air Corps, and I’ll get you assigned to Honolulu.” Bob enlisted on Dec. 11, 1939. After boot camp, he was ordered to board an Army transport in Brooklyn, N.Y. He cruised through the Panama Canal to San Francisco and finally docked in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
The US Army Air Corps’s Hickam Field was Bob’s duty station. He became an aircraft machinist assigned to one of the 21 B-17s which landed at Hickam on May 14, 1941. Dec. 7 at 07:55 hours all hell broke loose as a number of bombs destroyed Bob’s squadron’s hanger killing 22 of his fellow machinists. After destroying the hanger, two Japanese Zeros banked within feet of the shocked machinists exposing the red “meatballs” on their wings. Instinctively, Bob dove under a low boy trailer to join three fellow machinists. Within seconds he went from being a 20-year-old boy to a man fighting for his country.
Five months after the attack Bob entered flight school and earned his wings. He flew a dual engine fighter, the P-38. Soon he was assigned to fly a twin engine medium bomber, the B-25. Bob flew 22 low level missions and 40 high level. In 1960 he retired as a Captain after serving for 21 years.
Roland Peachee said, “I got tired of using a mule’s rear-end as a compass and decided there had to be something better, so I joined the Navy (10/17/34).” As a ship’s cook on the USS Rigel, he had cut the meat for the crew’s noon meal when he heard popping sounds followed by ear shattering explosions. Roland looked up to see a fighter with a red “meatball” on the fuselage and wings. The pilot made eye contact with him and smile. Roland felt totally defenseless as he dove under a canvas cover.
The USS Rigel was a repair ship with a machine shop, above and below water welding equipment with divers. The Rigel’s welders cut an opening on the capsized USS Oklahoma’s to rescue 32 trapped sailors. Roland never forgot a detail of Dec. 7.
Unfortunately Roland died Feb. 7, 2016, three months short of his 100th birthday, May 5. He reminded me of my dad, same height and weight. Dad was 66 days older than Roland. Not only did I enjoy interviewing him, but I would call Roland every two months to talk. Evelyn, Roland’s wife of 33 years, asked me to write his obituary. While writing, I had to use several tissues because my eyes kept “leaking.” As you read this commentary, Evelyn is attending the 75th Pearl Harbor memorial ceremonies.
Although he never lived in Nevada, Charles T. Sehe became Carson City’s oldest adopted son Oct. 14, 2015. November 1940 Charles’ parents gave their permission for him to become a 17-year-old Navy recruit. The Sehe family had one less mouth to feed.
At Great Lakes Training Center there were 110 graduates. Numbers 1 to 55 were assigned to the USS Arizona, BB-39. Numbers 56 to 110 were assigned to the USS Nevada, BB-36. Charles’ number was 56. At 07:55 hours on Dec. 7 Charles’ battle station was at the top of one of the two ship’s masts. He reasoned his ship didn’t need him to observe the horizon. Immediately, he joined his shipmates on deck.
Charles celebrated five birthdays, 18th- 22nd, aboard the USS Nevada while sailing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. He’s proud of his ship and her seven battle stars, Battle Born, Battle Ready and Battle Hardened!
Monday, Dec. 8, 1941, President Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” Please, take a moment to remember 2,403 extinguished lives.