Pearl Harbor Remembered 75 Years Later

Photo taken at the 70th anniversary ceremony for Pearl Harbor in 2011 

"Let me tell you something I bet you've never heard." The  speaker was a lovely white-haired gentleman wearing the typical casual Hawaiian shirt that you find in the tourist hotels of that tropical paradise. The girls and I were standing in the lobby of the Pink Lady Hotel off Waikiki Beach about 5 years ago, waiting for the rest of our group to join us for dinner.  I don't remember him wearing a Pearl Harbor Survivor hat, but everything about him spoke to it, so of course we had gone up to chat with him for a few minutes. He continued on, "One of the bombs that hit our ship came clear through, but didn't explode. It was a dummy. Of course we all ran over to look at it since it hadn't gone off. As I looked, I saw the words USN 1918 engraved on it. The bomb was American surplus we had sold to the Japanese after the war, and now they were using it against us! Imagine that!"

Five years ago I heard that story, and it's stuck with me ever since - a mixture of horror that our own bombs were being used against us, but also (and only because it turned out to be a dummy), a bit of the ludicrousness of the situation. 

Last Wednesday, the girls and I went up to Dallas to commemorate this momentous day in our history - the 75th Anniversary of this life and world changing event. And it was a beautiful day. Each month a good friend up in the Dallas area organizes a veterans luncheon. Each month it is well attended with around 65 WWII veterans and many veterans of Korea, Vietnam, and even the last two decades' wars. This month was special though because we all gathered with the particular intention of remembering Pearl Harbor: those who survived, those we lost, what it meant for America in 1941, and what it means for America today. 

The cutest little B17 pilot (and a staunch Aggies fan too!).

The building was packed - wall to wall, every chair filled, even a couple of the discarded walkers were borrowed for those who didn't catch a seat sooner. Our host and his fabulous team pulled out all the stops, complete with Honor Guard, local ROTC, and Marine Corps Escort.

Faith and Jubilee with two of our Marine Corps representatives. (Photo Credit: Joe Schneider) 

Our three Pearl Harbor veterans gave their recollections of the day, and we even got to hear from a veteran who was stationed at Clark Field in the Philippines at the time of the bombing (as you probably remember, the Philippines were attacked the next day, on December 8th.)

Our 3 fabulous Pearl Harbor veterans and 1 Philippine veteran. (Photo Credit: Joe Schneider) 

The stories were unlimited, and despite going over time, I think everyone in the room would have been happy to be there for the rest of the day. I mentioned in the previous post that we'd share some of the stories. So below, in no particular order, are a few of them. 

Jubilee with Pearl Harbor survivor Dale "Red" Robinson

In the above photo, Jubilee is with our Pearl Harbor survivor, Dale Robinson. I asked him to sign a special commemorative newspaper of the attack, and he started to write his name, but paused. "I'm putting 'Red' here because that's what they used to call me." "Did you have red hair?" I asked. "Yup," he answered, then lifted his cap and chuckling added, "Not anymore."  

A young and very handsome Dale "Red" Robinson

At the time of Pearl Harbor, Mr. Robinson was serving in the 35th Infantry, 25th Division at Schofield Barracks. "I was up early, walking around the barracks," he recalled. "It wasn't too long, and I heard the sound of an airplane. One airplane came down low over our quadrangle, and I could see the pilot."

It was a startling moment for him to realize that the pilot wasn't one of our own boys, and even more so when he started strafing the airfield.

But for Mr. Robinson, Pearl Harbor was only the beginning. Two and a half years later, he landed on Omaha Beach, D+2, and went on to fight through France, Belgium, and Germany. On May 8th, 1945, he received his discharge papers and went home. "War is horrible," he said, "And you just want to forget about it."

Nevertheless, despite enduring some of the toughest fighting of the war, at 94 he still has the best sense of humor and is always handing out the cutest lines. 

As the girls and I popped around asking the vets, "Where were you when you heard about Pearl Harbor?" these are a few of the things we heard: 

Pearl Harbor veteran Robert Tanner. USAF B-18 Bomber Pilot.

"I was working at Ashburn's Ice Cream," said one veteran. "I was dipping ice cream when I heard that Pearl Harbor was bombed. Taking classes in college... I didn't realize then how much my life would change."

Another veteran from the European theatre, Mr. Wilkie, was 18 years old at the time and playing the trumpet with Ralph Barlow and his orchestra. He told me, "I was 18, and I was in Chicago, Illinois, playing in a band. And I was shocked when I heard it. I was coming down the elevator in the hotel, and when the doors opened, the people in there were saying how terrible it was, and I said, 'What's terrible? What happened?' Then they told me. It was quite a shock. I was drafted in 1942, the next year."

Marvin Rudd, a veteran of both the European and Pacific theatres told us, "I was 17 years old. I was in my dormitory in my room at Texas A&M trying to wake up. 'Well' [they said], 'did you hear they bombed Pearl Harbor?' I says, 'Where is that?!' Nobody knew where Pearl Harbor was. It was just a routine [rest of the] day for everybody at A&M, except all the military officers. They understood and were getting ready, you know, for whatever was going to happen at A&M with our ROTC."   Shortly after, Mr. Rudd finished up college, joined the Army, and was sent to Europe with the 86th Division. 

Our swell crowd of WWII veterans. (Photo Credit: Joe Schneider) 

One of the special guests on the 7th was not a Pearl Harbor survivor, though he had a story to tell that was as heartbreaking as any other we heard that day. On December 7, 1941, Harmon Moody lost his brother at Pearl Harbor. 

90 year-old Harmon Moody

Robert Moody, a young and very handsome Mississippi son, had enlisted in the U.S. Navy in the fall of 1940. By 1941, his ranking was Seaman First Class, and his ship was the U.S.S. Arizona, stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. We all know the story of the Arizona, the tragedy and enormous loss of souls on board. There were a few survivors, but Robert Moody was not one of them. Last year in our Pearl Harbor Day post, I quoted the words that a survivor of another ship told us of what he heard from the Arizona, "We could hear the pounding on the sides of the ship, and the screaming of the boys inside. This lasted for days, but there was nothing we could do.

When 16 year-old Harmon Moody turned on the radio that afternoon and heard the fateful words, "Pearl Harbor has been bombed," he felt a cold chill inside of him. While most Americans had never heard of this place before, he knew only too well. For two weeks, Harmon and his family anxiously awaited news of their beloved brother and son. Two of the longest weeks imaginable. When it did come, it was what they feared most. Robert Moody was one of the 2,403 casualties of the bombing, and one of the 900+ who would forever sleep beneath the waters of Pearl Harbor in their graceful tomb, the U.S.S. Arizona. Today, if you visit the Arizona Memorial and look into the waters, you'll see a strain of oil seeping from the sunken ship, what they call the "Black Tears" or "Tears of the Arizona." It is a beautiful remembrance of the brave, brave, Americans who perished there. 

But the end of the story doesn't come until 1945. Inspired by his brother's death, Harmon enlisted in the Navy as soon as he was able, and served in the Pacific Theatre. Nearly four years later, on September 2, 1945, Harmon's ship was stationed in Tokyo Bay just after the Japanese surrender, performing escort operations for the occupation. An apropos ending to a tragic, yet beautiful story. 

Mr. H, a veteran of the Pacific Theatre, brought these newspapers to the luncheon. His mother had collected and saved these for him while he was away at war, and he only uncovered them last year. The paper on the left is dated March 1942, and the one on the right is VJ Day, 1945 - both historic dates.

A few months ago, I was listening to a series of lectures on Ancient History. The professor was English and had a bit of a stutter, but he absolutely captivated the audience by the way he allowed them to "experience history" with him. Ancient History at that. That is how it feels to talk with these dear WWII veterans. America just commemorated 75 years since Pearl Harbor, yet to me it certainly doesn't feel like it's been 75 years. Of course, I wasn't there 75 years ago, but you talk to enough of the fellows who were there, and it is no longer something that happened in the past, but something we are participating in as we listen. I clearly remember when the the Twin Towers were bombed. I was 5. But I can also vividly see the little boy on the street corner selling papers that said Bataan had fallen. Or the casualty reports coming in on the Battle of the Bulge, and walking down the street afterwards and seeing the blue and gold stars in the windows of the neighbors. Most especially though, I can see the Victory Day parades of 1945. The crowds, the happiness, the tears. I've shed tears myself... even though I wasn't there. 

Maybe my sense of time and proportion is all off, or maybe we can genuinely experience history in this second-hand way. After spending the last week talking with veterans about Pearl Harbor, it certainly feels that way to me.

The Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day Luncheon was brought to a close by Faith singing "Remember Pearl Harbor" and "Sentimental Journey." It it always a joy to hear Faith sing, but today we had an additional treat. After the first few notes came out of her mouth, she was joined by nearly everyone of our WWII, Korean, and Vietnam veterans singing with her. It was a priceless moment and a touching way to close out the day. 

"Where were you on December 7?"

"The Punchbowl Cemetery" (National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific) in Hawaii

Everyone my age knows where they were when the Twin Towers were attacked. Pretty much everyone my parents' age can remember what they were doing when President Reagan was shot. And if you ask anyone over the age of 75, they will no doubt be able to tell you where they were when they heard Pearl Harbor was bombed. This is a favorite question of mine to ask. The answers are as diverse as they are interesting. The last couple of days I have made a few phone calls to veterans around the country to ask them where they were on December 7, 1941.

One Marine told me that at the time his family was living in the Panama Canal zone where his father worked as a civilian contractor on the American base there. Coming out of church Sunday morning, they were disturbed to hear every siren, bell, horn, and whistle in the Canal zone going off. As the Military personnel dashed to their respective places, he spotted a Marine in brilliant dress blues run by. Only age 15 at the time, he determined he would enlist in the Marine Corps and wear that uniform. He never got the uniform, but he did join the Marines and go on to fight at Iwo Jima. 

One Korean War vet told me he was 11 years old when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Like many others, he’d never heard of the place before, so for the rest of the war, he closely followed the fighting in the Pacific and European theatres on a large map of the world.

Another friend didn’t find out until the Monday afterward. He was working in his family’s fields when a neighbor came over to tell them the news. They didn’t have a radio in the house, so they piled into their little car to hear the latest bulletins on the car radio. 

There are countless other stories like these. Of course, the stories from the Pearl Harbor survivors themselves are some of the most interesting. Hearing why they had joined up in the first place to serve in peace time, what they were doing the days prior to the infamous bombing, and what happened to them next. 

Tomorrow, we remember the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. So tonight, the girls and I are driving up to Dallas so we can spend the day hearing many more accounts like these at a Pearl Harbor memorial event. We look forward to sharing some of the stories with you afterward. 

"Pearl Harbor, a place we'd never heard of"

Photo Credit Melissa Findley

Photo Credit Melissa Findley

"We could hear the pounding on the sides of the ship, and the screaming of the boys inside. This lasted for days but there was nothing we could do." These were the words of a Pearl Harbor Survivor on the 70th anniversary commemorations (four years ago) of a day in which the course of American history would be forever changed: the bombing of the American Naval and Air base at Pearl Harbor. The ship he was speaking of was the USS Arizona, and the sounds were the sounds of the 1,199 boys locked inside, begging for help, but never to breathe fresh air again. 

One of those boys was a handsome young sailor named Robert Moody. Fresh with life, and a smile that would make a lady's heart go pitter patter, he lost his life that day. Three years later, inspired by his brother's sacrifice, a young Harmon Moody would join the Navy as well. As an appropriate finale to the story, Harmon's Destroyer was one of those on detail at Tokyo Bay when the war came to an end. Today, Harmon speaks proudly of his brother's sacrifice. 

Maxine Andrews (one of the famous Andrews Sisters), later wrote about this fateful day.  "As we walked farther down the aisle, [where they were to hold their performance that evening] we could see the doorman and the stagehands were gathered in a small cluster on the stage, huddled around a small table model radio. There was only a bare light bulb illuminating that one small spot at centre stage. When we came within hearing distance, a radio announcer told Laverne, Patty, and me what the workers on the stage already knew: Pearl Harbor, a place we'd never heard of, had been attacked. I looked at the doorman and asked the question that millions of other Americans were asking each other that day, "Where's Pearl Harbor?" He said he wasn't sure, but that the voice on the radio was saying we were finally in the war. Suddenly, the empty sidewalks outside the theatre symbolized a stark reality: The world was different now and would be for the rest of our lives. 

It wasn't long before we were singing a song our parents had sung earlier: "Over There." George M Cohan wrote it as an inspirational song for Americans in World War I, and now, twenty three years after what was supposed to be the war to end all wars, we were in another world war and rallying our spirits over again with Cohan's message: "We won't come back till it's over, over there."

As hard as I try and recall, I don't remember the name of the veteran who spoke so vividly of the terrors he witnessed on December 7th, 1944; Yet regardless of that, his words struck a deep cord then, as they do now. How could it not when one has carried such a memory with him for 70 years. What happened on December 7, 1941 was perfidious and treacherous in the extreme. But it did something to America. It united her in a way we had never been united before. From that day on phrases like, "Remember the Alamo!" were echoed by "Remember Pearl Harbor!" "Remember Wake Island!". "Remember Bataan." And America went on to fight a war for which we will never be the same again.