I will always remember the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. My dad and mom and I had gone to visit my aunt and uncle in the northeast part of East St. Louis. They had the radio on, and the radio program was interrupted for a special message from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He announced the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He said “December 7, 1941 is a date which will live in infamy.”
I turned four years old on December 29 that month, but that statement by President Roosevelt will always be etched in my mind. Now, 77 years later, we will be again remembering what happened on that date. We have fewer and fewer World War II veterans still living, including survivors of Pearl Harbor. I don’t know how many of us are still alive who remember that broadcast by President Roosevelt.
In 2002, I was fortunate to meet and hear Navy Veteran, Harold Eugene “Hap” Emery of Marion, Ill., talk about his Pearl Harbor experience. At the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Hap was stationed on the Battleship California at Pearl Harbor.
Hap’s captain sent him below deck to get something. The attack began while he was below deck. A Japanese bomb hit his ship and he was knocked out. When he regained consciousness, he was the only one still alive below deck. When he got back on deck, his ship was sinking. He jumped into the water and was picked up by a smaller ship. He spent the rest of the time throughout the wave of attacks on board this ship, rescuing Americans from the water where they had jumped when Japanese bombs hit their ships.
The Battleship Arizona was sunk with its crew of 1,177 and is now a memorial at Pearl Harbor.
Since Hap’s ship, the Battleship California, was hit in the first wave of attacks, he observed all of the rest of these attacks on Pearl Harbor and lived to tell about it. Although the attack on Pearl Harbor was one of the largest tragedies in American history, Hap felt that it could have been even worse.
On that peaceful Sunday morning of the attack, nearly the entire American fleet was in port. The Battleship California was moored far ahead of the Maryland, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Arizona battleships, and the repair ship Vestal. The battleships Nevada and Pennsylvania were in dry dock at the Navy Yard near the destroyers Cassin and Downes and the minelayer Oglala. More destroyers and submarines were tied to piers past the Navy Yard. The target ship Utah and cruisers Helena, Honolulu, Detroit, and Raleigh were on the west side of Ford Island. All in all, more than 90 vessels were in Pearl Harbor that morning.
When the attack ended, it left four battleships on the bottom of the ocean and four others heavily damaged along with three cruisers, three destroyers, one mine sweeper and support ships sunk. Aircraft were burning on the runways all across Oahu with 188 destroyed and 159 damaged. Over 2,403 Americans were dead.
Over the next several days, holes were cut into the hull of the capsized Battleship Oklahoma to free 32 trapped sailors. Of the crew of 1,398 officers and sailors on the Oklahoma, 429 died. The area hospitals were choked with the wounded and dying.
In 1962, I got to meet President Harry Truman in person and listen to him tell about his decision to use the atomic bombs to end the war with Japan. He cited the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the estimates that an invasion of Japan would cost at least one-half million American lives (some estimates were as high as one million) as the reasons for his decision. But that is another story.
I would like to hear from any readers of these articles who would like to share information about Pearl Harbor or World War II in general.
I can be contacted at Edward Oliver, P. O. Box 456, Norris City, IL 62869 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.