Ken Beaton: ‘A date which will live in infamy’
What did a recent high school graduate really know during the Great Depression? Having celebrated his 18th birthday in November 1939, Robert Lloyd of Dayton knew he wanted to see New Kensington, Pa., in his rearview mirror.
He told the local Army recruiter, “I really want to join the Navy and be stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii.” Instantly, the Army recruiter countered, “Join the U.S. Army Air Corps, and I’ll get you assigned to Honolulu.”
Bob enlisted on Dec. 11, 1939, and survived boot camp. He was ordered to board an Army transport in Brooklyn, N.Y., cruised through the Panama Canal to San Francisco and finally docked in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
The U.S. Army Air Corps’s Hickam Field was in the middle of paradise. Bob became an aircraft machinist assigned to one of the 21 B-17s which landed at Hickam on May 14, 1941.
On an ordinary Sunday morning, Bob and his fellow machinists were ordered to wait for the arrival of a flight of B-17s due to land after 8 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941. First, Bob heard a couple of distant explosions at 07:55 hours. Within seconds, a number of bombs destroyed Bob’s squadron’s hanger killing 22 of his fellow machinists. After destroying the hanger, two Japanese Zeros banked above the shocked machinists exposing the red “meatballs” on their wings. Instinctively, Bob dove under a low boy trailer to join three fellow machinists. Instantly he went from a 20-year-old boy to a man fighting for his country.
Unfortunately when the flight of B-17s flew over Hickam to land, nervous anti-aircraft gunners assumed any plane in the air was Japanese. They began firing at the B-17s! An officer identified the planes and ordered, “Cease firing!”
As the first wave of Japanese planes began to return to one of the six Japanese carriers 200 miles northwest of Oahu, Bob ran to headquarters for the 22nd Material Squadron, a reinforced concrete building. Immediately, the second wave of Japanese planes began to attack.
By the time the second wave of planes returned to their carriers, Hickam had lost 189 personnel with 303 wounded. Every plane at Hickam was damaged or destroyed.
Most of the 2,500 Americans killed during the attack were enlisted men and officers, a few were civilians who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The wounded were rushed to military or civilian hospitals. Hundreds of survivors rolled up their sleeves to donate blood as the medical staffs triaged the wounded. The doctors, nurses and hospital staff worked tirelessly to save lives.
Bob and his fellow survivors rushed the wounded to hospitals. Then they transported the dead to the nearest morgue to be identified, matched with body parts and receive a proper burial. They cleaned the hanger floors with hoses. Finally, they spent days removing debris before they rebuilt the hangers.
Monday, Dec. 8, 1941, President Roosevelt stood before a joint session of Congress to begin his most important speech: “Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy.” Those words were similar to the words spoken 105 years earlier, “Remember the Alamo!”
Five months after the attack, Bob entered flight school and earned his wings. He flew a dual engine fighter, the P-38. Soon Bob was assigned to fly a twin engine medium bomber, the B-25.
Bob flew with 21 other B-25s from Savannah, Ga., across the Atlantic to Casablanca, Morocco, on the coast of North Africa. After he arrived in Casablanca, he watched the classic film, “Casablanca,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
After flying 22 low-level missions supporting ground troops, he flew 40 mid-level bombing missions, totaling 62. In July 1944, he flew his crew to visit the Holy Land, Jerusalem and Bethlehem for their “rest and relaxation.” In 1960 he retired as a Captain after serving for 21 years. Thank you, Pearl Harbor survivor, for your service.
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.