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Lest We Forget

Lest We Forget

A day that will live in infamy

My dad in 1941 and 1991

On December 7, 1941 around 8am my father was walking aboard the USS Tennessee, While only a private first class, he was assigned corporal of the guard duties. He was calling the colors and getting the men to attention when he saw in the men's faces that they were being distracted. It was the first signs of the attack. His back was to the activity and didn't know what was happening. He alerted the color guard that they were at parade rest and there would be no murmuring in the ranks. Pearl Harbor was already engulfed in flames. The surprise was so complete that many thought it was our own planes trying to extinguish the fire instead of the Japanese dropping bombs.


Battle Ship row. Torpedo wakes heading toward USS West Virginia already starting to list to port after being struck by torpedo.
USS West Virginia (WeeVie) hit by torpedoes, USS Tennessee hit by bombs.
USS Tennessee and USS Arizona
West Virginia (severely damaged), Tennessee (damaged), Arizona (sunk).
capsized Oklahoma
Oklahoma capsized in 8 minutes

This was a brief paraphrase of the article my father wrote for the 50th anniversary of Pearl harbor Attack. My dad did not talk much about the experience or the ordeal. I found a few things out over the years from him and some an interview my nephew did with him on tape for a school project. Below are other recollections from my father about that experience.About 20 feet from him a 500 pound bomb was dropped and it was a dud. (He kept parts of it as a souvenir for many years.) The battleships of those days were WWI vessels and all had wooden decks. The bomb went through the decks and the concussion killed 5 people below deck. The Weevie (West Virginia) was struck by a torpedo and wedged the USS Tennessee between them and these hug cement quays. So the USS Tennessee could not move.

The USS Arizona had already been struck and was on fire. With oil on the water and the fire from the USS Arizona, there was tremendous risk that the USS Tennessee was going to catch on fire too. The captain of the USS Tennessee said to turn the screws on to keep the fire from the Arizona from catching them on fire.
The USS Oklahoma capsized in about 8 minutes, my dad always wondered how that happened so fast and in such shallow water. They tried cutting through the hulls to get the trapped men out, 32 were rescued, 429 were entombed.

My dad said he saw great acts of heroism, for example men carrying 50 caliber machine guns on their backs straight up the side of the ship. These were water cooled and weighed 200 pounds.

The USS Tennessee was dry docked at Bremerton, WA for repairs. While it was being repaired my dad got pneumonia and had to stay in the infirmary. With the repairs complete the USS Tennessee went out to sea again. My dad was still in the hospital. While there a Kamikaze hit one of the gun turrets, killing the entire contingent of Marines. This was the gun turret my dad would have been at had he not been sick. I understood why he did not talk about this, as he wondered why he survived and many of his friends did not.

When the 50th anniversary of the attack was coming close, my sister and I tried to talk him into going back to Pearl Harbor. His response still chills me to this day: "That place holds no fond memories for me."

We lived in Hawaii from 1956 to 1958 and I always thought my dad had put in for transfer to go back to Hawaii under more pleasant circumstances. I did not realize until many years later that that was not the case. He had never put in for transfer, he just got assigned to Kaneohe Marine Air Base. I found out later, that the entire two years we lived there he never once visited Ford Island.

I cherish his inscription on my copy of the Pearl Harbor Survivor's book.

To my son Bob, with all my love. Hope some of the "unhappiness" depicted in this volume keeps us from another. Your dad, Irvine.

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