“A Date Which Will Live In Infamy”

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My dad never spoke of his service to our country. In her gravest tone of voice, my mother taught us at an early age to never, ever ask him about the Navy, or World War II, or Pearl Harbor. And so we did not. The only clue I had growing up was when my dad heard the song Maryland, My Maryland, which I seem to recall would occasionally be played at half time during some college football game, he would get tears in his eyes, and leave the room until he had composed himself. I did not know then what caused the strange reaction in him to half time music at a football game; I would make the connection much later in my life.

My dad, a nineteen year old student at Modesto Junior College in Modesto, California, an honor student, a rising star in track and field who had set records in pole vault, enlisted in the Navy in January, 1941. The brief story I heard as a child was he and his closest friend, a boy named Juddie, wanted to serve their country, so they dropped out of college, and went together to Fresno, California and enlisted.

His first year in the Navy was cataclysmic. He enlisted in January, completed initial training, and boarded the USS Maryland in San Diego, California in April. Eight months later, on December 7, 1941, my dad’s ship was on Battleship Row at the United States Naval Base, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The Maryland was moored inboard of the USS Oklahoma when, at 7:48 AM on a peaceful Sunday morning, the Imperial Japanese Navy conducted a surprise air attack; over 350 planes assaulting the unsuspecting US Pacific Fleet. In the first wave, the Oklahoma was hit, turned turtle and sank, which accounted for the lighter damage to my dad’s ship, the Maryland.

Today, few people remain who remember, and seemingly fewer have taken the opportunity to learn in depth, and grasp the magnitude of that morning’s events. Three hundred fifty-three Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo planes attacked the base, including Navy air bases at Ford Island and Kaneohe Bay, the Marine airfield at Ewa and the Army Air Corps fields at Bellows, Wheeler and Hickam, in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers. All eight US Navy battleships were damaged, four of which were sunk. They also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer. One hundred eighty-eight US aircraft also were destroyed. Two thousand four hundred two Americans were killed, and one thousand two hundred eighty-two were wounded. All in a mere ninety minutes time.

For more perspective, battleship damage and loss incurred in those ninety minutes:

Arizona, hit by an armor-piercing bomb, exploded, 1,177 dead
Oklahoma, hit by five torpedoes, capsized, 429 dead
West Virginia, hit by two bombs, seven torpedoes, sunk, 106 dead
California, hit by two bombs, two torpedoes, sunk, 100 dead
Nevada, hit by six bombs, one torpedo, beached, 60 dead
Tennessee, hit by two bombs, 5 dead
Maryland, hit by two bombs, 4 dead
Pennsylvania, in drydock, hit by one bomb, 9 dead
 

USS Maryland and USS Oklahoma

Is it a wonder my dad did not wish to discuss Pearl Harbor? Not really. Even if he had been inclined to talk about it, how could he adequately have described the carnage of that December morning in paradise? I do not know what role he played that day. I have pictures of the Maryland during and after the attack, and I know I am looking at him in the crowd of sailors on deck, or possibly trying fervently to save compatriots on the other ships; I just do not know which one of the men he is.

I do know this; after he had died, a Pearl Harbor Commemorative Medal was issued, and if the veteran was no longer alive, it could be issued to the next of kin. I was that person, so I ordered the medal, and waited with much anticipation for its arrival. Within a few weeks it was delivered. And more. Completely unexpected, and to my utter shock, another envelope arrived along with the Pearl Harbor medal. In it were several medals and ribbons that were due my dad, and according to the accompanying letter, he never obtained, took, or received them. I have no idea how he missed getting them, but so many years later, I had in my hands profoundly stirring recognition of his service. It was staggering to hold his medals, and realize that, in the serving his country, my dad had done some amazingly brave things.

The number of Pearl Harbor survivors is rapidly dwindling, leaving us to remember their sacrifices and losses. Even so, we also realize if the attack on Pearl Harbor, and subsequent entrance into World War II, did not take their lives, it took their youth. My dad never complained, and with the exception of the occasional private tear, he never let on what he carried in his heart until the day he died. I love that he loved his country, and once more, I want to say, “Thank you Dad, and I promise I will never forget.”

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About Valleygrail

Native Californian by birth, Pacific Northwesterner by choice. Jack of all trades, master of none; always wishing I could stick with just one thing long enough to become expert. But then what about all those things left unattended? See? Not possible. I love life, my family, friends, a good book, Irish music, rain, fog, and a pint of Guinness. It's a good journey, and sharing with companions makes it even better. Thanks for being with me as I embrace it and you!
This entry was posted in 1940's, American History, Anniversaries, Baby Boomers, Courage, Family, Hawaii, Heroism, Life Journey, Memories, Pearl Harbor, Post WW II, Uncategorized, USA, World War II and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to “A Date Which Will Live In Infamy”

  1. gpcox says:

    You’ve done a wonderful job in helping us remember!!

  2. I was teaching 8th grade history in 1975 and discovered that my assistant principal was at Pearl when it got hit. I invited him to relate the day to my class. He advised that he was just 16 years old(had lied about his age to get into service) and the only thing he did when the bombs hit was dive under his bed and wet his pants. Naturally that was one war story he chose to keep just between us.

  3. nrhatch says:

    Well told tale, VG. I’m glad that you received such a poignant reminder of your dad’s bravery.

  4. lauramacky says:

    A very poignant story. I don’t personally know anyone who has served so thank you for sharing this with us.

  5. Mike says:

    Words cannot express the admiration I have for your father and the heroes, one and all, who experienced hell as they saved our world. Thank you for this post and know that your father’s deeds are honored forever.

  6. btg5885 says:

    VG, thanks for sharing this. A true survivor’s day.

  7. Ginene Nagel says:

    I hold these men in such awe and I know, that from that generation, I acquired my idea of what a man is. The fact that these young men (still kids, really), came back and went to work and never mentioned it again, elevates them in our hearts. This is the generation that built the wealth of America, held up traditions and gave us the lives we were so lucky to experience. As a Boomer, I wish now that I would have known more about their experiences, not from the recitation of dates, but from the human point of view. I think it would have been good for us. I knew my father’s 18 year-old brother was killed in the Battle of Saipan, I remember my mother telling me that all the young men were suddenly gone, but they didn’t talk about it either. Of course, I remember my grandparents unending grief over the loss of their boy. Thank you for this post, Wish we would have had the words you wrote in history class…they explain in a few short paragraphs, the magnitude of the event.
    Ginene

  8. A beautiful and moving story. Thank you. –Curt

  9. Thank you for the detailed account. You’ve written a moving tribute.

  10. This is such an important story! May none of us forget or let our children forget. Thank you for writing and sharing this. You have described this in such detail, I hope others see this. May I share on facebook with my fb friends? I know for sure my husband would be very interested in reading this. What a sobering story. You must be in awe of your dad for what he did that day, what was acknowledged years later, and for being your dad. You write so sensitively about his relationship to Pearl Harbor. PS I’m sorry I missed Pearl Harbor day earlier this week. It has been so busy, I haven’t even posted in December until today. I’m glad I didn’t miss this today.

  11. What a moving testament to not only your father’s but hundreds and thousands of others’ bravery, commitment, and sacrifices on that fateful day and many others. Thank you for sharing such weighty stuff with us.

  12. You must be so proud of your Dad. This is a great tribute to his deeds and memory.
    My Dad too was in the Army – the Military Police, The British Red Tops who were responsible for high ranking prisoners and transported them somewhere in Europe I believe. That’s all I know for he too did not wish to speak of the war and sadly we also never thought to ask so that memory is lost to all.
    Perhaps those reading your post who still know survivors of the war will be inspired to get their stories.

    • Valleygrail says:

      Thank you so much. So many never spoke of their experiences, which, by now, have been lost to those of us who remain. One thing you might try, which I found very successful, is to write to the record keeping branch of your government, and ask for his records. That’s how I received my dad’s medals.

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