Illinois man shares his memories of December 7, 1941 as a serviceman stationed at Pearl Harbor, standing on the deck of the USS Tennessee.
On the morning of December 7, 1941, I was standing on the deck of the battleship USS Tennessee at Pearl Harbor. It seemed to be the beginning of another beautiful day, as were most of the days in the territory of Hawaii. The time was around 7:50 a.m., and I was pondering what I would do that day.
The mighty battleship USS Arizona was tied up just a few yards behind the Tennessee. I saw no one on the Arizona at that early hour, but the complete ship was not visible from my view because the superstructure of the Tennessee obstructed my view.
The battleship USS West Virginia was tied up along my ship and few men were out on the deck at that early hour. The USS Maryland was a few yards directly in front of my ship. The USS Oklahoma, which in a few minutes would be completely over-turned, was tied up next to the Maryland.
I had graduated from high school in 1938. Even though the Great Depression was over, jobs were not too numerous in the small mining-farming community where I lived. My brother joined the Navy around September 1939 and was sent to San Diego Naval Training Center for basic training. It seemed to me to be a wonderful way to see the world, so three months later I joined. To my dismay and disappointment I was sent to the Great Lakes training station, but it was still the farthest I had ever been from home. I never realized I would soon be in the center of the most remembered event of the 20th century.
As I stood on the deck that morning, I thought of my family back in Illinois and of Christmas Day not too far in the future. Suddenly planes began flying alongside battleship row. They were very low and very close to the ships. I could see the pilots very clearly. I stood and stared at them, and they in turn stared at me. One plane after another. One of the Japanese pilots waved to me, and I waved back. I do not recall how many planes there were in the group, but there were several.
I had written to my mother a few months before stating the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor, but when the day came I did not realize that it could be happening. I only wondered: Why so many planes on a Sunday morning?
I could plainly see they were of Asiatic origin, yet still I could not believe they were Japanese and were there to attack. Suddenly I saw smoke, dirt and debris fly hundreds of feet in the air, and I heard a thunderous explosion. It was then I realized they were indeed Japanese and we were at war.
The rest is history. More than 2,400 servicemen gave their lives at a place that many Americans at that time did not know even existed. Hundreds of others, including myself, were injured.
If we are to be strong in the future we must remember the past.
Remember Pearl Harbor - keep America alert.
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.
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