Remembering lives lost at Pearl Harbor
December 5, 2005
It was just before 8 a.m. Dec. 7, 1941, when 20-year-old Howard Spreeman went to breakfast and ordered his eggs while at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii.
He then heard an explosion, and another, and ran outside to see what was going on.
“I saw the big red meatball,” Spreeman said, describing the fireball from the explosion.
Spreeman, 84, was a Navy radioman at Kaneohe Bay. He was crew on a “PBY,” a seaplane used to scout for enemy ships.
When the Japanese bombed the island of Oahu, 18 planes hit Kaneohe Bay first, minutes before attacking Pearl Harbor.
“We were ducking behind buildings, then ran to the seaplane hangar and tarmac where the planes were. When we got there, many of them were burning.”
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Spreeman and others tried to push the planes apart to save them from being destroyed. Of the 36 planes, only three could make it out to patrol.
“We tried to find something to fight back with,” Spreeman said. “We had nothing. All the guns were on the planes. I found one 50-caliber and one 30-caliber. And that was after crawling through the plane while fuel was leaking and burning.”
Spreeman said the first attack lasted about 40-45 minutes. Then there was a lull.
“Then I heard someone say, ‘Here they come again,’ Spreeman said.
Spreeman noticed the direction he was running and the flight path of the attack planes were the same. So he ran 90 degrees from the flight path and when he heard the bombs drop, would flop on the ground.
“Then I realized I was lying on top of what was an underground fuel tank.”
Spreeman knows he is lucky to be alive today. So does Roland Peachee.
Peachee had six years in the Navy when the attack occurred.
“I didn’t think much about it (the sound of bombs),” Peachee said. “Other branches (of the military) held maneuvers all the time.”
Peachee, 89, was assigned to the USS Rigel and worked as a butcher in a portable meat shop set up on the dock while the ship was in port being upgraded.
“The enemy planes were flying about 50 feet above us,” Peachee recalled. “We could see the pilots grinning as they shot at us.”
Peachee’s biggest fear was the rumor enemy troops would land that night. His ship had no weapons – they had been removed for the upgrade work.
“The enemy was pretty ruthless with women and children,” Peachee said. “We had no way to defend them or ourselves.”
Peachee and Spreeman are members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Inc., Silver State Chapter One in Carson City.
The chapter incorporated in 1973. With about 50 members at its peak, there are fewer than 30 active members today. Many are deceased. Peachee was the chapter’s first president and is currently treasurer. Spreeman is president; Richard Budd is vice president; and Rosalyn Spreeman is secretary and chaplain.
The active members will commemorate Pearl Harbor Day at 9:50 a.m. Wednesday at Grandma Hattie’s Restaurant. They will meet at 9:30 a.m.
“We always meet at 10 a.m. on the seventh of December,” Spreeman said. “Other than that, we have quarterly chapter meetings.”
The group also holds talks at Carson and Eagle Valley middle schools and Damonte Ranch High School.
They offer a $100 savings bond for the best essay entry from their talks. The fund was recently supported with a $1,000 donation from Wal-Mart.
“We tell them (students), ‘Remember Pearl Harbor. Keep America Alert,’ Spreeman said. “We tell kids if they know someone who was in the war to talk to them about it, show some interest. They may not want to talk about it, but it’s important to remember.”
Membership is open to anyone who served in the military within three miles of Pearl Harbor or at any of the military bases in Hawaii.
n Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1223.