The focus of this film is on the military and civilian survivors of Pearl Harbor, all of whom had totally different experiences onDecember 7, 1941.
Woven into their stories is the perspective of Daniel Martinez, Chief Historian of the Valor in the Pacific Monument at Pearl Harbor and author of the acclaimed book December 1941, Craig Shirley.
This is not a film about strategy of the attack and why it happened or assigning blame 75 years later, but rather the personal stories of those who were there and witnessed history being made. It is an impartial documentary chronicling December 7, 1941 in the words of those who actually were there and took part.
The Documentary Film Will Utilize:
*Interviews with Pearl Harbor survivors conducted by the World War II Foundation, including 4 survivors of the USS Arizona (just 6 are still alive)
*Interview with Historian Daniel Martinez
*Interview with civilian witness Barbara Kotinek
*Rare interview with Japanese pilot Mitsuo Fuchida, flight leader of the attack on Pearl Harbor
*Filming on location at Pearl Harbor
*Interview with author Craig Shirley who wrote the epic story of Pearl Harbor titled December 1941.
*Interviews with other veterans and their recollections of where they were when they heard about the attack on December 7, 1941
*Rare video of Fuchida’s return to Pearl Harbor to attend ceremonies at the USS Arizona Memorial
Click Here for Pearl Harbor Interview with Historian Daniel Martinez
Documentary Interviews Include:
Donald Stratton still can’t shake the memory of it all – the deafening explosions, searing heat, machine gun blasts and heart-wrenching screams of his friends – from his head.
“Never a day goes by for all these many years when I haven’t thought about it,” Stratton, one of nine still-living Pearl Harbor survivors, tells PEOPLE magazine. “I don’t talk about it too much, but when December rolls around I do. It’s important the American people don’t forget.”
Now 92, Stratton managed to survive the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, an event that destroyed much of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and catapulted the nation into World War II. This past week, Stratton gathered at the naval station near Honolulu with his few remaining comrades to remember and pay homage to the more than 2,500 soldiers who died that day.
“Every time I think back on it,” he says, “I just thank the good Lord that I survived and I say a little prayer for the sailors and Marines who didn’t make it.”
On the morning it happened, Stratton had just left the “chow hall” on the battleship Arizona when he heard a commotion up on the deck. It was a few minutes after 8 a.m. A group of fellow sailors were shouting, pointing out over the water at a cluster of planes.
“I watched one of them bank and saw the rising sun symbol under the wings and thought, ‘Boy, that’s the Japanese, and they’re bombing us,’ ” he says.
Within seconds, the 19-year-old Nebraskan scrambled 60 feet up a series of ladders and joined a group of other sailors manning a five-inch, 25-caliber anti-aircraft gun.
“We were just firing away at all those planes,” he recalls. “They were coming in so close I could see the pilots when they went by. Some were waving and some were grinning.”
Their Ship Is Hit
In the harbor around him, ships were ablaze and black smoke blanketed the sky as Japanese bombers circled high overhead. Suddenly, the ship was rocked by a bomb blast so powerful it lifted the 32,000-ton battleship six feet out of the water.
“A 600-foot fireball just engulfed us, burning all of us real bad,” says Stratton, whose flesh literally slid off his arms. “After that it was all about self-preservation, buddy. We weren’t thinking about anything but getting the hell off of there.”
Fire raged all around him as a sailor from another ship managed to toss a rope to the trapped men that they secured and stretched between the two vessels. One after another, Stratton and five other men muscled their way, hand over hand, across 100 feet of rope as the fuel-coated water beneath them burned.
“My hands were burned so badly I don’t have any fingerprints,” Stratton says, “so it was pretty painful.”
By the end of the day, 1,177 of his crew mates were dead. He spent the next 10 months in a series of military hospitals, recovering from the burns that covered almost 70 percent of his body. A year after his medical discharge from the Navy, Stratton, who was still recuperating at home, marched back into a military recruiting office to announce that he wanted back in the war.
“People were saying, ‘What the hell did you do that for? Didn’t you get enough?’ ” Stratton says. “But I wanted to go back out to sea. Besides, there wasn’t much to do in Nebraska.”
William Keith, USS West Virginia, Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941
Bill Keith left high school and joined the Navy in August, 1941. Four months later, on Dec. 7, 1941, he was 19, aboard the battleship USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor when Japanese planes attacked. His ship sank; he escaped with hundreds of other crewmen when sailors managed to open a hatch. Many shipmates died.
The West Virginia was rebuilt and returned to service, taking part in the battles of Leyte Gulf, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
After the attack, Keith was assigned to the heavy cruiser USS Chester, which came under attack in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942. He later took training as a hospital corpsman, was discharged from the service in March 1945 and was married three months later.
The 19-year-old hospital corpsman was getting ready for a leisurely day with his Navy buddies. Within minutes he was among hundreds trapped and struggling to escape the sinking vessel, after at least seven aerial torpedoes blew open the midships and forward portions of the hull.
Of the West Virginia’s crew of 1,441, 106 were killed. Keith, now 88, remembers them and other Pearl Harbor casualties every year on Dec. 7.
But he’s not sure if most Americans pay much attention to the day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt said would “live in infamy.”
“Sometimes it bothers me,” Keith said.
Lawrence Parry, an Army motor mechanic stationed on the island Oahu, was playing football when the bombs and torpedoes fell.
“I looked up in the air and there were hundreds and hundreds of planes,” says Parry.
It was more planes than he had ever seen and moments later, he learned where they came from.
“Pretty soon the first sergeant came out and he says Pearl Harbor is getting bombed. We’re being attacked by the Japanese,” says Parry.
Parry’s commanding officer ordered him to deliver ammunition to the troops, but he took a short detour.
“I just had to come up and see Pearl Harbor. If I ever get out of this I’m looking at a piece of history,” says Parry.
What he saw immediately brought him to tears. The surprise military strike had destroyed all of the eight US Navy battleships.
“Every one of them. That was our line of defense. I don’t think people ever realized that. With them gone we had nothing,” says Parry.
He was sent to Pearl Harbor after the bombings and he said the devastation was heart-breaking.
“What a mess,” Parry recalled. “That beautiful fleet … I looked down and I could see this one big battleship … It was the (USS) Arizona. I just sat there and cried,” he said.
Vernon Carter still remembers seeing the smiling face of a Japanese pilot as the attack on Pearl Harbor unfolded the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.
Carter, who was stationed at Hickam Field in Hawaii with the U.S. 7th Army Air Corps, awoke at 8 a.m. that day to a war zone outside his barracks.
“‘I jumped up and looked out towards Pearl Harbor and saw the dive bombers diving at the big oil storage tanks. Several of them went up in flames and smoke,’” Carter said, reading from a letter he wrote to his parents, J.Z. and Nora Carter, soon after the attack.
“We had two raids, about a half an hour apart, the first was Pearl Harbor, (and) the second was Hickam Field.”
As he hurriedly tried to get to his office, Carter, who was 21 at the time, said a Japanese plane flew toward him,
buzzing the barracks.
“I backed up under the eave of the barracks, and of course he wasn’t trying to shoot me, but as he went by, just barely over the top of the barracks, he looked down and grinned at me,” Carter said.
Today marks the 68th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor — the day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt said “will live in infamy,” and the event that propelled the U.S. into World War II.
Carter, 90, said there are only an estimated 100 Pearl Harbor survivors still alive today in Georgia. And, as far as Carter knows, he is the only living survivor in Jackson County.
Japan’s aerial assault, now well-documented in an untold number of history books, began shortly before 8 a.m. and ended less than two hours later.
In that time, 2,403 Americans lost their lives, including 68 civilians, while another 1,178 were injured, according to U.S. Department of Defense records.
Twenty-one of the U.S. Pacific fleet’s ships were either sunk or damaged in the attack, and 188 aircraft were destroyed and 159 damaged, according to records.
The memory of that morning — the unmistakable hum of aircrafts overhead, bombs falling, engulfing Pearl Harbor in a fiery deluge, and the sight of his comrades dying — remains with Carter.
As reminders, a Pearl Harbor survivor license plate and war medals adorn a wall in Carter’s home near downtown Jefferson.
He joined Jefferson’s American Legion Albert Gordon Post No. 56 in 1946 and also joined a local Pearl Harbor survivors club, where he marched in parades in Atlanta and Gainesville, bearing a banner that read “Pearl Harbor Survivors.”
A letter Carter wrote home to his parents, dated Dec. 7, 1941, is perhaps the most telling account of his experience in Hawaii.
The letter, penned in cursive writing, describes the horror that Carter and others endured that day on Hickam Field.
Last week, at the urging of his wife, Ruth, Carter reread the letter he sent home so many years ago.
“‘The dead was piled all around. Some of the boys in the barracks were blown to pieces, they couldn’t identify them,’” he read from the letter to his parents. “‘It was so quick, we didn’t know what happened.’”
Carter’s letter also notes that a shell crashed through his room, just 3 feet from his bed, and the closest bomb fell 500 yards from him. Hickam Field, he wrote, was “pretty well wrecked.”
“We had our planes lined up side by side and we thought that maybe that’d protect them from sabotage, but of course the Japanese planes came in just barely over the top of the runway there and they destroyed our planes and started bombing the hangars and barracks,” he said.
The attack happened not long after Carter arrived in Hawaii. Knowing he was going to be drafted, Carter voluntarily joined the U.S. Army Air Corps to avoid the infantry.
The lifelong Jefferson resident was sent to Hawaii in June 1941 and remained in the Hickam Field Ordnance, stationed at the Army Air Corps’ Hickam Field, for four years.
Immediately following the attack, Carter said U.S. forces remained on edge, anticipating another assault.
“It was several days before we realized that maybe they weren’t coming back,” he said.
And while he can no longer attend reunions with other Pearl Harbor survivors, there is a good chance that today his thoughts may drift back to that morning.
“Anybody that was over there, I’m sure they will never forget that day and what they saw,” he said. “It don’t leave, it just don’t leave you.”
Glenn Sorensen was wiping down his car that December morning on Oahu, a 1937 Buick that, to this day, was the best he’d ever driven. That black sedan even took a bullet for him. Three, in fact. He’s holding one of them now, squeezing it between the fingers of his left hand, and he’ll tell you he’s the luckiest man he knows.
Sorensen, of Sacramento, is 100 years old, born on the day Germany invaded Belgium in the War to End All Wars. Twenty-seven years later, he looked to a sky filled with warplanes above Hickam Field and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and watched as the world changed again.
Ceremonies Sunday will honor those lost on Dec. 7, 1941, the day the Japanese navy launched the massive surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that thrust the United States into war.
“Everything you’ve heard about Pearl Harbor is what I saw,” he said.
Three U.S. battleships are hit from the air during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Japan’s bombing of U.S. military bases at Pearl Harbor brings the U.S. into World War II. From left are: USS West Virginia, severely damaged; USS Tennessee, damaged; and USS Arizona, sunk.
On a recent Friday at the airy Sacramento home he designed 35 years ago with his late wife, Vernice, Sorensen apologizes that he doesn’t hear as well as he once did, the likely toll of dozens of bombing missions and nearly 60 years in the cockpit (“Nobody knows the western U.S. by air better than me,” he boasts). Sorensen was 80 when he reluctantly gave up flying 20 years ago.
His voice was quiet but strong, his tone gracious but circumspect about that morning so long ago, when he was a young Army Air Corps lieutenant at Hickam Field, a B-17 pilot just months out of flight school.
“I look up in the sky and it’s full of Japanese airplanes,” he said from his recliner tucked in a corner of his living room. After the first attack, Sorensen climbed into his Buick, speeding for the flight line and awaiting aircraft. A dozen brand-new Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses were arriving that day. He was too late.
“All of our planes and hangars were destroyed. I was strafed during the second attack,” Sorensen continued. “They were also dropping bombs and strafing the field.”
Three of those rounds struck Sorensen’s sedan, but somehow missed him. From his recliner 73 years later, Sorensen reached for a small manila pouch. Typed in tiny print on its face, the pouch reads in part: “This bullet was lodged in Lt. Glenn Sorensen’s 1937 Buick.”
“It was the greatest car I ever owned,” he said. And it likely saved his life.
Many others were not as fortunate. By the end of the day, more than 2,400 service members were dead, another 1,400 or more wounded, much of the United States’ Pacific fleet in flames or sunk. The next day, Dec. 8, America was at war.
He would go on to fly 84 bombing missions in the South Pacific as a member of the Army Air Corps’ 42nd Bombardment Squadron. They included sorties during 1942’s pivotal Battle of Midway, during which Sorensen was awarded the Silver Star – the nation’s third-highest military honor for valor.
On this Friday, he mentioned the honor almost in passing, then sent his son Glenn Jr. to fetch an aged glass case from a hallway wall.
Inside the case was the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal.
The younger Sorensen returned to the living room and quietly shook his head.
“It’s the whole Tom Brokaw thing – the Greatest Generation,” said Sorensen Jr. “It’s a title that still works.”
The elder Sorensen endured the jungles of Guadalcanal, a “terrible six to seven months of my life” where his squadron battled the enemy and the elements.
Dengue fever finally sent Sorensen stateside in 1943. Many others in the 42nd didn’t come home.
“More than half of my squadron was shot down,” Sorensen said quietly. “We lost a lot of people.”
After the war, Sorensen returned to California, first to Los Angeles, then to San Francisco, and finally Sacramento.
He met Vernice DeVoe, the girl of his dreams, over a plate of waffles in 1943. She became his wife just months later. He started a family, founded, then grew a business. By the time Sorensen retired in 1978, his company, California Liquid Gas Corp., had 500 retail dealers in 11 Western states – plenty of territory over which to fly his beloved Beechcraft TravelAir. He and his wife celebrated 68 years of marriage before she died in 2011.
“I’ve had more luck in this life than anybody I know,” Sorensen said. “I don’t know of anybody who has had more good luck than me.”
But Sorensen’s son recalled that his father, like many of his generation, spoke little of his time in World War II.
“Growing up, he was someone who was always looking ahead instead of looking backward,” the younger Sorensen said. “Everybody who was in that situation was tested. He wouldn’t want to be a part of history, but he is. He didn’t choose to be a part of history, but he is.”
As chief historian at the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu, Daniel Martinez oversees the interpretation of the attack by the Japanese that ignited United States involvement in World War II. As such, the Los Angeles native often has an opportunity to uncover layers of lost history and personal testimony that complete the story.
USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor
“One of the great myths about Pearl Harbor is that it was solely an attack on [the base],” says Martinez. “Rather, it was a comprehensive strike on all military installations, primarily the airfields throughout the island. In order for the Japanese attack to be successful, they had to take out our airfields so that we couldn’t respond.”
Martinez says that another seldom recognized aspect of the story is the number of dead and wounded in the areas surrounding the attack, beyond the military facilities.
“The civilian population was affected in Honolulu; 49 were killed,” he says. “Many were affected by friendly fire. And of course, you had airmen and pilots killed at the airfield. That adds to the 2,390 that made up the casualties for that day.”
In addition to several events leading up to the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks on Dec. 7, Martinez is organizing a 70th Anniversary Pearl Harbor Attack Symposium on Dec. 2-5 at the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument located at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. The already sold-out event will include a premier of the History Channel’s documentary, “Pearl Harbor: 24 Hours After,” and tours of the attack sites and historic boats. Subsequent commemorative events will be held on Dec. 7-8 at the Monument and related sites.
In addition to renowned historians and authors from Japan and the United States, Martinez has invited a number of military and civilians survivors of the attacks to share their experiences at the Symposium. The value he attaches to such personal histories stems from his experience as an undergraduate at CSU Dominguez Hills when he interviewed his maternal grandfather about the events of Dec. 7, 1941 for a course on oral histories taught by Judson Grenier, emeritus professor of history.
“My grandfather, Harlan Gray, was a miner and a Navy federal worker,” says Martinez. “He was a foreman for the famous Red Hill project, which were underground storage tanks for fuel that are still used today. That morning, he was just getting off work at Pearl Harbor.
“It was normal for the foreman to meet the foreman coming on the next shift to talk about what had transpired the day before. It was during those discussions that the planes flew over my grandfather’s head at 100 feet. Those were the torpedo planes headed for Battleship Row. At first, they thought it was a drill. Then when the explosion occurred and the insignia of Japan was noted on the aircraft, my grandfather said something to the effect that ‘It’s war!’ yelling to his workers as they began to take cover.”
Martinez recalls that his grandfather interrupted the interview several times, as overcome with emotion, he had to step away for a few minutes.
“My grandfather survived but witnessed this horrifying thing, the explosion of the USS Arizona,” says Martinez. “The workers were kept on duty. When the raid, which lasted two hours, was over, they had the unenviable job to go out on boats to retrieve the dead out of the water. Those bodies were laid out on a narrow pier called Aiea Landing to be identified. He said… that he never got over how young the faces were.
“During that interview, my grandfather got up and walked away from the recording four times, and I couldn’t understand why that was happening,” says Martinez. “Later when I became a historian for the National Park Service at the USS Arizona Memorial, that also occurred with other [interviewees]. The experience of recording [these experiences] showed what pain was in their hearts and how difficult it was to recall these memories. I found out that my grandfather had never been asked in detail what happened. And, that was true of the [survivors] that I would interview. I soon learned that these oral histories were very private moments and generally not disclosed to family members. I recall the emotions of grown men and women who were in their 60s, weeping.”
Martinez’s family history in the midst of WWII also extends to his father’s side. He says that his parents met in Lone Pine, Calif., where Gray had sent his family in order to protect them from the dangers of the war in Hawaii; he joined them after the Red Hill project was completed in 1944.
Martinez began his career with the National Park Service while still attending CSU Dominguez Hills, as a seasonal park ranger at the Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument in Crow Agency, Mont. When a position opened up at the USS Arizona Memorial in 1985, he jumped at the opportunity. He started out as a law enforcement ranger/interpreter.
“The only way I was going to get into the National Park Service [permanently] was to be versatile,” says Martinez. “I started at the Memorial as a law enforcement ranger/interpreter for four years. Then I became the interpretive specialist and in 1989, I became the first historian. The position was created then, two years prior to the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.”
-California State University
Barbara Kotinek was six years old and living with her family on the base at Pearl Harbor. Her dad worked on the ships there. On December 7th she awoke to the sounds of Japanese planes strafing the harbor. Even at the age of 6 her memories of that day were very vivid and remain with her today. She has some incredible stories to tell of the opening moments of the attack and the immediate days following.
On 7 Dec 1941, in command of all attacking aircraft over Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, United States, Mitsuo Fuchida flew a Type 97 Model 3 torpedo bomber with the first attack wave as an air observer. He flew down the eastern coast of the island of Oahu, then turned west into the harbor. At 0740 hours, seeing the Americans were not responding, he slid open his canopy and fired a green flare to signal to all pilots that the attack was to begin as planned. At 0753 hours, Fuchida had his pilot Lieutenant Mitsuo Matsuzaki send the radio signal “Tora! Tora! Tora!” to flagship Akagi, indicating that the attack was to commence with complete surprise to the enemy; Tora was the acronym for totsugeki raigeki, “torpedo attack”. Matsuzaki would go on to assist in the attack that would sink battleship USS Arizona with Fuchida on board. The aircraft remained over Pearl Harbor through the end of the second attack in order to observe the degree of damage. Upon his return, he noted that his aircraft had been hit by 21 times by anti-aircraft fire. The success at Pearl Harbor earned him a personal audience with Emperor Showa. A rare post-war interview of Fuchida on the Merv Griffin show and video of Fuchida’s return to Pearl Harbor to visit the USS Arizona memorial is also part of this documentary.
Haerry ran away from home to join the Navy. He grew up in New Jersey and after high school, enrolled at MIT in Boston. He was smart enough to excel, but started cutting classes not long after the start of his first semester.
He and a buddy would sneak off campus and hop freight trains to see how far they could get. He missed enough of his classes that he was finally asked to leave. As soon as he turned 18, he enlisted in the Navy.
On the Arizona, he worked on the deck crew. He cleaned and painted day after day, but he also operated the motor boats used to ferry crew members to shore, a job that let him leave the ship periodically.
Haerry had made two runs to shore on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. It was Sunday and some of the crewmen with liberty wanted an early start. He was eating breakfast when he heard the first pops of the attack planes strafing Battleship Row.
“Something had happened that no one could comprehend.”
He ran to the anti-aircraft battery, his battle station, but there was no ammunition ready. He could see the planes were flying too low for his guns anyway, but before his crew could figure out their next move, an armor-piercing bomb detonated near the powder magazine beneath the No. 2 gun turret.
Haerry felt the entire ship life out of the water. As it fell, he was thrown from the ship into the harbor. He half-swam, half-walked the 70 yards to Ford Island and manned a mounted machine gun. He spent the rest of the day retrieving bodies from the harbor.
Lou Conter was on the quarter deck finishing a change of watch when the USS Arizona was attacked by Japanese forces at Pearl Harbor. After the attack he went on to become a naval pilot and spent the remainder of the war in the South Pacific conducting night air raids on Japanese ships.
Conter was 20 when he escaped the burning wreckage of the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor. He tried to save as many injured crewmen as he could, but when the sun set on Dec. 7, 1941, he was one of just 335 sailors who did not perish.
After WWII, on his way to a posting in Korea he stopped back at Pearl Harbor. A platform marked the wreckage of the USS Arizona. Conter and others in his group boarded a boat to go out to the platform and see his old ship.
“We got halfway there and I told them to turn around,” Conter said. “I wasn’t going out there. I couldn’t.”
But he has been back since, to see it with other survivors.
He endured what he did, he said, because that was his job. And that’s what he told every soldier and airman who took his courses: Whatever happens, find a way to survive.
He knows what he did meant something. His former co-pilot in the New Guinea days was asked once whether he’d had survival training for the war. “He said, ‘I had survival training in the ocean. We had survival training on the job. And my co-pilot, Lou Conter, saved my life.'”
No one asked Navy Lt. James Downing to hurriedly memorize the names on the dog tags of the dead and injured during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
But Downing, then 28, did it because he could not bear the thought of families not knowing the fate of their loved ones. He wrote to as many families as he could.
The Colorado Springs resident, who celebrated his 102nd birthday in August, is the second-oldest known survivor of the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese sneak attack that killed more than 2,400 Americans .
Downing fought to save lives that day, all the while wondering whether it was the day his own life would end.
Downing was a gunner’s mate 1st class and postmaster, assigned to the USS West Virginia. The battleship had just returned to base after more than a week on patrol.
His wife of five months, Morena, was cooking Sunday morning breakfast for a few servicemen in the couple’s home near the harbor when they heard explosions in the distance, Downing said.
“Then an anti-aircraft shell landed right outside and blew a crater about 25 feet across,” Downing said, illustrating with outstretched arms.
There was no time to think, he said — time only to react and rely on training. As he told his new bride goodbye, she handed him a verse of Scripture from Deuteronomy 33:27: “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
Downing and the other servicemen jumped in a truck and sped to the war zone.
The worst damage occurred during the first 11 minutes of the attack. The drive to the harbor took about 20 minutes, so when Downing arrived, he witnessed a scene of fiery destruction.
Downing ran to his ship, which was sinking after being stuck by nine torpedoes, he said.
“The first emotion was surprise, and the next thing was fear,” he said. “When I saw our ships — so many of them — sunk there, I wondered, ‘What else are they going to do to us here?’ ”
Accepting his own mortality, Downing said he did everything he could to help those who were injured and fight the fires on his ship.
“The first Japanese I encountered was flying low and slow, so low you could almost see his eyes,” Downing said.
Bullets from the plane whizzed near the top of his head, but Downing was not hit.
Covered in oil and running from one chaotic scene to the next, Downing said he was overcome by a new emotion.
“Pride came in because our people responded so magnificently with what they had,” he said. “Innovation, risk — there were a lot of heroes there that morning.”
Downing gathered as many names as he could of the dead on his ship and, later, of burn victims in the medical unit, he said.
“They just told me to tell their parents, ‘I’m doing fine, I’ll be all right,’ ” Downing said. “Most of them died that night.”
Families wrote Downing back, thanking him for his kindness and thoughtfulness in delivering the devastating news.
The gesture, he said, wasn’t grand. “It was just something you do,” he said.
Downing and his wife were reunited the next day.
“I hadn’t shaved and was covered in oil, but she said it was a nice sight to see me alive,” he said with a chuckle.
Every Dec. 7, Downing attends a Pearl Harbor remembrance, he said. He will attend Saturday’s ceremony in Colorado Springs.
“Remember Pearl Harbor,” he said. “Keep America strong.”
Downing, who joined the Navy after high school for financial reasons, had a career that spanned more than 24 years, including service as captain of the tanker USS Patapsco during the Korean War, he said.
Downing and his wife had seven children. Morena died in 2010. They had been married 69 years.
Downing has been a member of The Navigators, an interdenominational Christian ministry headquartered in Colorado Springs, since the 1930s.
Having lived a little more than 100 years, and surviving the attack on Pearl Harbor unscathed, Downing said he knows the meaning of existence.
“Life is a meaningful relationship with God, family and friends,” he said. “I’m satisfied as long as I can have those three things.” Courtesy: Denver Post
John Anderson was aboard the USS Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed the battleship at Pearl Harbor, a pivotal moment in history, but one that struck Anderson to his core. There, he lost his twin brother.
“It was a bloody catastrophe, a bloody mess,” he says. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget what I saw that day.”
Anderson always talks about his brother, Delbert “Jake” Anderson, when he tells the story of his own escape from the burning ship.
Not long after he returned to Pearl Harbor near the end of the war, Anderson searched out some of the battle reports from Dec. 7, 1941. He knew his brother hadn’t made it off the Arizona alive, but he didn’t know much else.
He found a report by a gunner’s mate. The report said most of the guys in the anti-aircraft batteries, where Jake fought, were shot down early in the assault. When the fourth bomb detonated in the powder magazine, anyone left was blown over the side.
Anderson has returned to the Arizona memorial often and has taken his family there. He has met many of his old friends and shipmates. Many have since died.
Courtesy: Arizona Republic.
Ray Chavez, who at 104 years old is the oldest living survivor of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Chavez was serving aboard the minesweeper USS Condor early on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when sailors spotted a periscope from a midget submarine.
“We were going to make a turn to the north and we almost ran into the submarine that was trying to get into the harbor,” said Chavez.
The sub was attacked and blown up by the destroyer USS Ward.
Chavez said he finally went home at 6AM, he said he just put his head on the pillow when his wife came in.
“It seemed like I only slept for about 5 minutes when she came in and told me ‘we’re being attacked’,” said Chavez.
He said he didn’t believe her at first.
“She finally talked me into getting up and going to look,” said Chavez.
By the time Japanese aircraft began the attack that launched the U.S. into World War II, Chavez was home in Ewa Beach, according to the newspaper, which profiled him in March for using an exercise program to restore his health after a fall. He served on transports during the war. Courtesy: FOX 5, San Diego.
Seven decades later, Chester H. Urban has a clear memory of what his sergeant shouted shortly before 8 the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.
“Get your ass in gear! We’re at war!” were the words that roused the 19-year-old U.S. Army private from Ware from his bunk in the barracks at Fort Schofield on Oahu, Hawaii.
Japanese dive bombers and fighter planes were flying overhead, striking the American airbase at adjacent Wheeler Field as part of the surprise attack on the U.S. naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, and strafing the barracks on the way.
“You could see the smoke coming out of Pearl Harbor” about eight miles away, Mr. Urban recalled. From the battleship USS Arizona the smoke could be seen “going hundreds of feet in the air.”
The Pearl Harbor attack, which killed or wounded more than 3,500 Americans on what President Franklin D. Roosevelt described as a “date which will live in infamy,” propelled the United States into World War II. Mr. Urban, who had enlisted in the Army at age 18 in 1940, wouldn’t come home again till 1945.
Serving in the 25th Infantry, the “Tropic Lightning” Division, he saw action in some of the worst fighting of the Pacific Theater at Guadalcanal and Vella Lavella in the Solomon Islands and at Luzon in the Philippines. Courtesy: Worcester Telegram
On the morning of December 7, 1941, Francis Riley, now ninety three, was a signalman aboard the repair ship USS Vestal, which was tied up to the USS Arizona, getting ready to put in radar on the battleship.
Riley joined the Navy in 1941.
On the morning of Dec. 7, he was on the bow of the Vestal when the Japanese bombed the Arizona.
“They flew over the bow and one of many (Japanese pilots) smiled and waved.
Riley remembers a tremendously loud noise as he watched the Arizona explode.
“It blew the captain (of the Vestal) and those onboard into the water,” Riley said.
“Somebody had yelled, “Abandon ship”.
Two tugboats got there to assist. The primary was blown up, however the second, which Riley had signaled, made it to the Vestal.
Cassin Young, the Vestal’s Captain was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions, however he later died at Guadalcanal.
“I liked him, he was an incredible man,” Riley stated of Younger. “He saved our ship.”