Monday, December 7, 2009

Remebering Pearl Though The Eyes of a Survivor

I realize this is late, so late, in fact, that it's no longer December 7th on the East Coast. My apologies for not doing my part and posting this last night. With the recent passing of my grandfather, the whole family has had occasion to reflect upon his life and his many stories. One of our favorite topics was his service in the United States Navy. You see, 68 years ago today, my grandfather was aboard the USS Lexington, CV-2, on maneuvers south of the islands when the Japanese attacked Pearl. Below, to the best of my ability, I'll recall the thoughts and memories of an American patriot and World War II hero.

My grandfather enlisted in the Navy in June of 1941. Having attended High School in Orange County, the family had to travel north to Los Angeles to get to the recruiting office. Once he signed up, my grandfather was sent to the US Naval Base at San Diego to undergo basic training. After completing basic, he was shipped to Pearl Harbor, the sweetest gig in the Armed Services at the time. It was believed that Pearl Harbor was the furthest one could be from the storm clouds of war that were billowing up on the European horizon. Everyone was willfully ignorant of the aggressive Japanese in the Pacific, believing that negotiations would be reached and that they would never attack the United States.

On December 5th, 1941, the USS Lexington and the other ships which made up Task Force 9, departed Pearl Harbor on a mission to resupply and reinforce the Pacific island of Midway. The trip was expected to be mostly uneventful until they were within range of the Midway. The Japanese were, to this point, only interested in the islands in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. None-the-less, men who worked the early watch on December 7th were uneasy as they'd overheard radio reports of suspicious behavior around the base. Rumors spread throughout the ship that a Japanese submarine had been sunk attempting to enter the harbor. What were the Japanese up to?

A mere 48 hours into their mission, just before 08:00 hours, general quarters was sounded and the entire task force was put on high alert. Word traveled quickly throughout the carrier, Pearl had been attacked by the Japs. The Lexington immediately launched several fighters and bombers to seek out the enemy carriers which had served as the launch platform for the most infamous attack on US soil to date. After hours of searching, in vain, the planes were recovered and the new orders came through. The Gray Lady and her task force were to meet up with the USS Enterprise to continue the search southwest of the main islands. The men aboard knew very well what their orders were, and all were anxious to find the enemy and to exact some revenge, but none could help but feel that they should be back at Pearl and should have been there to help defend her against that horrible attack. The Enterprise and the Lexington would spend nearly a week searching for the Japanese west of the islands as high command believed that the next step in the attack would be an attempt to occupy the islands.

On the morning of December 13th, 1941 the men of the USS Lexington and task force 9 saw for the first time with their own eyes the destruction the Japanese had wrought upon Pearl Harbor. Thick black smoke was visible for miles upon the horizon as the ships sailed ever closer to their home port. However, nothing could prepare them for the sight they were yet to behold. I remember Grandpa telling me as the ships pulled into the harbor, you could smell the burning oil and diesel fuel upon the air. He referred to it as the smell of death. Smoke still rose from the hulls of the Nevada, the Arizona, the Shaw and a few others. Salvage efforts were underway on most of the ships in the harbor, but rescue efforts had been called off days earlier. My Grandfather was an educated man, having received a Masters degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and yet for all his words, he could not find any to describe the utter devastation nor the emotion that he and his crew mates felt on that day. Ultimately the Lexington would deploy in a relief effort to the Wake Islands.

My Grandfather used to say, lamentfully, that he missed the Pearl Harbor attack by 3 days. On October 30, 2009, my Grandfather rejoined so many of his ship mates and the men he so proudly served beside in the United States Navy.

Please take the time to comment!

2 People Have Had Their Say:

Andy on December 8, 2009 at 4:12 AM said...

CL, thanks for sharing your Grandpa's story. Man, I sure miss that generation.

I hope we told 'em enough how we appreciated their sacrifice while they were still with us.

classicaliberal on December 9, 2009 at 10:00 PM said...

Thanks, Andy. It was painful to let him go, but I know he's better off now. We talked about my Grandfather's legacy, which included his sacrifice during WWII. He knew that we appreciated it. He loved to talk about it, and I loved to listen.

Miss that old man.


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