On Dec. 7, 1941, forces from Imperial Japanese Navy Air Services attacked U.S. Navy ships stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Up to that point in World War II, the United States had been acting as a supply agent to Allied forces. Pearl Harbor drew the United States into war the following day.
Below are transcribed the memories of locals stationed at Pearl Harbor, as written by Rome News-Tribune staff writer Ernie Rogers in the August 1991 edition of PastTimes.
Region's survivors can't forget surprise, confusion, destruction
Plans are made for Sunday liberty. The men on the ships anchored in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, are anxious to get ashore. Some mill about on the decks while others, not lucky enough to be going ashore, continue their usual duties.
Liberty begins in about an hour, at 8 a.m., Dec. 7, 1941.
Within 200 miles of the harbor are 33 Japanese ships from which some 353 planes have been launched for a daring raid on the United States Navy fleet moored at Pearl Harbor.
At 7:55 a.m., Seaman 2nd Class Charles H. Abrams Sr., 21, of Rome, is on the deck of the destroyer U.S.S. Dale talking with a shipmate. The Dale is tied up with three other destroyers - U.S.S. Monaghan, U.S.S. Faragut and U.S.S. Aylwin - in a grouping known as a nest.
"These planes started coming in and started bombing Ford Island," Abrams remembers. "One of my shipmates said that was Japs that was bombing. I immediately ran to the ward room. We had on officer aboard that morning; I told him we were under attack.
"He started for the bridge, where you take control of the ship, and I was a radioman, so I went to the radio room. I told one of my buddies we were under attack and he said he didn't believe it. He went topside, came back and said he did believe it."
Abrams' ship is in a nest in the East Lock, one of three areas in the harbor, including the Middle Lock and the West Lock, where ships are berthed. Within sight is the battleship U.S.S. Arizona and the target ship U.S.S. Utah.
"From where we were, we could see about all the action in the harbor that morning," Abrams said. "We weren't too far from the Arizona and also the Utah.
"The Monaghan got away from the nest and she sank a little two-man submarine. The (Japanese planes) put two torpedoes under us - they were set for a greater depth for the battleships. Therefore, they didn't do any damage to us.
"We shot two planes down going out of the harbor. Supposedly, we were the first ship out of the harbor that was tied up. We had another ship that had patrol duty; she beat us out of the harbor.
"Some of our ships that were in the nest with us were strafed. But they missed us that morning."
In the Dale's wake as she streams out of Pearl is the beginning of the devastation of the Pacific fleet. When the attack ends about 9 a.m., there are 3,700 casualties, 18 ships sunk or damaged and about 150 U.S. planes destroyed. The Japanese lose 5 midget submarines and 29 aircraft.
Fifty years later, Abrams still wonders if one of the casualties might have been a young nurse he was to have been with on his lost liberty.
"That morning, I had laid my whites out to go on liberty at eight o'clock," Abrams said. "I had met a little nurse on Waikiki Beach the night before. She was supposed to pick me up at the landing.
"I haven't seen that girl to this day. I don't if she was there or what happened to her."
Monday, Abrams' ship comes back into Pearl Harbor and prepares for sea by taking on ammunition and supplies. There's no time to look for the nurse. The Dale then goes on patrol for 58 days.
"All I joined the Navy for was travel, adventure and romance," Abrams said. "I got the travel and adventure but the romance was short lived."
Rome private's unit given 120 bullets for its 12 rifles
Early on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, across the bay from the locks where Abram's ship and the others are moored, U.S. Army Pvt. Jack E. Cissel, of Rome, is expecting a relaxing Sunday.
His 12-man radar unit, E Battery, 64th Coast Artillery, is at its station on the Pearl City Peninsula, just across from the battleship Arizona.
Only one thing is different from other Sundays. And, it is just a nagging difference - something that tells the men their lives might suddenly change, without telling them how or when. Shortly before that Sunday, Cissel's unit had been issued ammunition for its 12 Springfield '03 rifles - 10 rounds each.
So, with the thought in the backs of their minds that maybe somebody, somewhere knows something they don't about an impending attack, they set about their mission of monitoring the skies over and around Pearl Harbor with their sound-locator radar.
"We were experimental," Cissel said of his unit and its mission. "We had huge sound locators. You put on a helmet, like a football helmet, and it had tubes running from the sound locator to your ears. You pointed the sound locator at the sound of an airplane until you felt it was centered."
There is just one little problem.
"Our radars at that time were absolutely useless," Cissel said. "They were only good for about 14,000 yards (just short of 8 miles) to start with. There was no plotting. We had no central control system. No nothing."
"All you could do was say well, I've got an airplane but you could never tell where it was. Radar really was an experiment at that time."
Cissel's crew believes the indications of aerial activity being picked up are Allied planes.
"We were working on the radar at the time," Cissel said. "Our first thought in the morning, when the airplanes came in, was like everybody else's - we thought maneuvers. But then, when we saw bombs hit the ships across the bay in Pearl Harbor, we knew something was up."
A quick, a very quick, check of an aircraft identification manual confirms to Cissel's crew that the planes are Japanese. They already know the Japanese wear khaki uniforms.
"At that time everybody was in khaki," Cissel said of his crew. "The rumor was spread, within an hour or two, that there were Japanese ships offshore and everybody thought they would be landing troops.
"So everybody, right away, got out of their khakis because the Japanese wore khaki uniforms. We got into our blue denims. We didn't want to be mixed up with those guys.
"Everybody was in a state of confusions," Cissel said of the first minutes of the attack. "'What do we do?' What do we fight with?' There were really no plans. You've got a contingency plan nowadays for emergencies, but there was no such thing as a contingency plan then."
The Japanese attack spreads quickly from the anchored ships in the harbor to the surrounding area and the radar installation.
"We operated our radar as long as we could," Cissel said. "And then when the first airplane came in and made a pas too wipe out that radar, all we could do was scatter. I mean, we took off in a hurry. And when the second guy came through, he just blew that thing to smithereens."
The 12 radar men are left without a specific mission and with 12 rifles and 120 rounds of rifle ammunition between them. They decide to do what soldiers do - fight with what they have.
"After that, a lot of us lined up in a ditch along there and concentrated our fire as best we could. The 12 of us tried to concentrate our fire on an airplane. I don't know how many we shot down or if we shot down any, but we felt good about it anyway.
"It was not a heroic thing, let me tell you. If every man had had a machine gun and felt that he could do something for his country, it would have been a good feeling. When we ran out of ammunition, all we could do was watch. It was a pitiful, helpless feeling.
"Once the initial thing was over, all we could was watch it burn. We sat there not too far away from the huge gasoline and fuel tanks; they never hit the first one. If they had bombed those tanks, you couldn't have gotten the fleet out, you couldn't have done anything. They concentrated on the ships and tried to block them in the harbor.
"That lost the war for the Japanese right there. If they had bombed those tanks, we would have been lost."
After the Japanese break off the attack, Cissel and others who are left without specific duty stations are gathered together and assigned the grim task of policing the area.
"We had nothing to do," Cissel said. "So they picked everybody up and took some of us to Ford Island and they took some of us around to pick up the wounded and the body parts and things."
As Cissel faces the horrors of war, he is earning a full $21 a month. "We used to call it $21 a day, once a month," he said.
Cissel's radar unit, now without radar, is disbanded and its colors retired after Dec. 7, 1941. He remains at Pearl Harbor for the duration, four years and four months, in other artillery batteries. "We were the island's defense."
On his return to Rome, Cissel begins a rapid readjustment to civilian life. "I took off my uniform on the porch and walked into the house in my shorts."
It wasn't a mock battle, flour sacks weren't falling
Another Roman, Sgt. Joe E. Scruggs, begins his Dec. 7 morning as usual, with breakfast in the mess hall at Schofield Barracks some 30 miles away from Pearl Harbor. It is a special breakfast available only on Sundays.
"The only time you could get eggs any way you wanted them was on Sunday mornings," Scruggs remembered. "All of a sudden things began to happen. So, we all ran outside and bombs and strafing were going on. At first we thought it was the Navy coming across in a mock battle."
Emblems on the planes and real explosions quickly dispel any thought or hope that the planes are American and that the battle isn't real.
"Then we saw the Rising Sun," Scruggs said. "And we realized it wasn't sacks of flour like they usually bombed us with (in mock battles)."
The battle is on for the 21 year old Scruggs, a two-year veteran of the Army. But unlike Cissel's unit, Scruggs and the other men of the 804th Aviation Engineers have not been issued ammunition for their rifles.
"We had to try to get into the supply room," Scruggs said. "But, we couldn't locate the supply sergeant. We finally broke the hasp on the door and got in and got ammunition.
"By that time, they (the Japanese) had just about left us."
During the attack the bombs hit and destroy barracks near the one where Scruggs is housed, causing heavy casualties. However, none of the members of his unit are hurt.
After the Japanese break off the attack, Scruggs and his fellow engineers set about repairing the damaged runways at the various air fields on the island.
"Hickam Field was still burning," he said.
Scruggs spends the rest of the war building and maintaining airfields throughout the Pacific theater of the war.
Funny papers start day, trembling hands close it
Seaman First Class Frank A. Marchant, 18, is passing the early morning of Sunday, Dec. 7, reading the Honolulu Advertiser - the funny papers - in the carpenter's shop below deck of the destroyer U.S.S. Dobbin, moored in Pearl Harbor.
A friend of Marchant's has put on a dress white uniform and has just left the shop to go ashore for church services.
"He came rushing back in and was physically tearing off his white suit," Marchant recalls. "I asked him what's going on. He said there's a big fire on Ford Island. We were just about 500 feat tot he rear of Ford Island, very close to battleship row.
"My job that particular day was fire and rescue. We had a boat equipped to go to other ships or shore stations to fight fires."
Marchant heads toward the deck of the Dobbin to do his assigned duty - he thinks. He emerges to see fire and explosions all around him. Then finds he is in the line of fire of an attacking Japanese plane.
"I saw an aircraft coming toward me very low, maybe 40 to 50 feet off the water," Marchant said. "And I saw little red or orange dots coming out of the aircraft. Above me on the boat deck I could hear, well, bullets hitting just about my head.
"I thought, 'Man, that's guy's shooting at me!' I felt this was pretty personal. I'd never had an airplane shoot at me before. As he passed overhead, I could see very clearly, I mean I could have thrown a rock and hit him, a red ball on the undersides of his wings and I realized this was a Japanese aircraft and we were under fire."
Marchant abandons his plan to join the fire-and-rescue effort and heads for his battle station to spot aircraft and direct anti-aircraft fire from the bridge of the Dobbin. Just as he reaches the bridge, a huge explosion knocks him about 20 feet across the bridge. It was the U.S.S. Arizona, tacking direct hits and exploding.
"I got back up and tried to spot aircraft," Marchant said. "But there were so many of them it was impossible to direct anti-aircraft fire."
Torpedoes have done their damage to the battleships and now the Japanese begin dive bombing and high-level bombing. Oil from the damaged ships spreads across the water in the harbor.
"There was a tremendous spread of oil that was catching fire," Marchant said. "Lots of smoke. Men burning in the water. It was just utter chaos. The ships that could get to their ready ammunition were firing and they were hitting. I don't know how many we downed but we did get some."
Marchant is ordered to leave his exposed position and begin passing ammunition to a gun crew at the rear of the ship. As they apprach the gun two bombs explode in the water- one on each side of the Dobbin's stern.
"It knocked us on our knees and he dropped the front of the case," Marchant said of his shipmate. "He grabbed his stomach and rushed to the ladder to go down below. I thought he was afraid. He wasn't. He died at 3 a.m. the next morning with shrapnel in his stomach."
Marchant drags the ammo case onto the gun, only to find its three-man crew dead and the gun disabled from the bomb blasts. During what is a blur of activity under fire, Marchant carries ammo to the other guns on the Dobbin during the final hour of the battle.
"The next awareness I had was that evening about 6 o'clock," Marchant said. "We went below to have sandwiches and coffee. Someone handed me a cup of coffee and I started shaking and spilled the whole thing.
"Realization came in, or shock ... I don't know. Someone handed me a cigarette. I had never smoked but I smoked it, and it sort of calmed me down."
Later that day, Marchant and many of his shipmates set up bunks on the deck fo the Dobbin. After seeing the carnage around them, they don't want to be trapped below deck if the Japanese should attack again.
That night, about 8 p.m., more planes are spotted coming in. As they approach, gunfire - from crews on anti-aircraft guns and from individuals with rifles and pistols - begins.
"Everybody on the island had a gun and was shaky," Marchant said. "We shot down two that I know of. I was sky lookout on the bridge. As this plane came over the top of the ship, it burst into flame and I saw the stars underneath the wings.
"I realized it was one of ours. It crashed at Pearl City Tavern and the pilot, of course, burned up."
It is to be the final engagement at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7.
Marchant spends the next few days as part of search-and-rescue units diving to retrieve bodies and looking for possible survivors in the sunken or overturned ships of war.
Soon after, the Dobbin and Carpenter's Mate Marchant head to sea and, for the duration of the war, "play tag with the Japanese" in the Pacific Theater.
Mountain command post wasn't quite finished
Another Roman, Pvt. Raleigh M. Gribble, 21, is sleeping on the one a day a week he has off. His tent is pitched on the side of a mountain, in which he and 10 other members of the U.S. Army 3rd Engineers are converting ammunition storage tunnels into an underground command post inside Red Top Mountain. While converting the tunnels into a fortified office complex, Gribble and the other men believe the brass must know an attack is likely. It is more than likely, as they will find out all too soon.
"When the bombing first started, we thought it was practice from the artillery shooting at targets pulled by planes," Gribble remembers. "They did that all the time time. Some of us made the remark, 'What a day for them to have practice.'"
It is a few minutes after the attack begins and a field telephone hanging on a pole near Gribble's tent jangles to life. An excited voice passes on the urgent news of the attack and orders Gribble and the other men to strike their tents.
"Of course, it didn't take us long to pull our tents down," Gribble said. "We heard planes flying over. We were just standing there looking up. There were some breaks in the clouds and we saw the planes go into a dive and we could hear explosions and see the smoke coming up from Pearl Harbor."
Gribble and the others watch the attack for a few minutes until U.S. anti-aircraft rounds that had missed their marks begin falling around them. The men quickly decide to ride out the attack in the safety of the tunnels. The attack ends within a couple of hours. By that afternoon, officers, enlisted men and even civilians are brought in to concentrate on completing the command post.
No one waits for completion - offices are set up inside the mountain complex that afternoon. Then generators are brought in and set up. Communications lines are established.
By the time the work is done, it has been three days since Gribble and the others ran into the tunnel to escape friendly fire. For the first time, they look down n Pearl Harbor from the mountainside and see the devastation.
Gribble is to see that view many more times. He is assigned to the underground complex for the duration of the war and is responsible for keeping the generators going.
Bullets near bunk wake slumbering sergeant
A 21-year-old sergeant from Rome in the U.S. Army 19th Infantry, Roy L. Allen, also is sleeping the morning of Dec. 7. He's in a barracks that is, although unknown to any of the three, near where Gribble had been staying before going up on the mountain and where Scruggs is staying - Schofield Barracks.
"I was still in my bunk when bullets started hitting the floor around me," Allen recalls. "They missed me by about a foot. I had to clean that bed out."
Allen and his unit are rushed out to their defensive positions at the harbor and on the north shore. The rest of that day is, as are the months after, spent guarding the coast against invasion.
About 10 months later, Allen comes back to the states, where he embarks on a war bond drive into New England. On this trip, after coming through his tour in the Pacific unscathed, he is wounded for the first time.
"We were putting on shows in big stadiums on how the infantry operated," Allen said. "The hand grenades and bullets were just dummies. But, that dummy hand grenade hit me right in the back and that plastic stuff went into my back all the way into my spine."
Allen's back gives him some trouble but he is not hurt seriously enough to take him out of the service. His next stop is Europe, including Holland, Germany, Belgium and France, for about six months before he is given his discharge papers.
"It took it with a snap of your finger, too," Allen says.
Only rising sun emblem was out of the ordinary
Just after Sunday breakfast, Dec. 7, 1941, U.S. Army Cpl. James H. Keel, 28, of Cedartown, steps to the window of his barracks.
"I just happened to look to my left over there and saw a bunch of airplanes coming," Keel said. "We just thought it was the Air Force on maneuvers. They hadn't gotten to our barracks yet.
"I kept on watching them and they came right on by, just maybe 10 feet above some of the other barracks, headed down to Wheeler Field - a fighter strip about a quarter of a mile from our barracks.
"I could see the pilots and everything. I still didn't think anything of it but I happened to see a rising sun on one side of a plane. Then when they got to Wheeler Field, I saw a bomb come out of an airplane and hit the air traffic control tower."
Keel then runs back tot he mess hall and tells soldiers there something is wrong. The planes aren't ours, he tells the men, who are members of his unit, the 90th Field Artillery Battalion, 25th Division.
"That got everybody up and got them excited," Keel said. "But, being in the artillery (155 mm howitzers were their usual weapons), we didn't have many weapons. We did have a few rifles. So, we got out there and got into the supply house."
Smoke is billowing up from the carnage in the harbor and from Wheeler Field. Keel's commander officially informs the men that they are under attack.
"Of course we felt like we were," Keel said. "We got our rifles."
Keel and the others, now armed with their relatively small weapons, wait for the Japanese planes to return from the attack. Somewhat to Keel's surprise, the planes follow the same route out that they took going into Wheeler Field.
"I had one BAR (Browning automatic rifle) and another buddy of mine had one," Keel said. "The rest of them just had the '03s. We shot at the planes, but to no avail.
Keel's part of the battle is over, but concerns that the Japanese may mount an amphibious assault sends the artillery unit into further defensive action.
"We put our artillery pieces (12 howitzers, four guns to the battery, three batteries) in position in case they did try to invade the place. But, they never did."
When it becomes clear further attacks are not coming, Keel joins the thousands of others in the rescue and salvage efforts at Pearl Harbor.
"It was an awful mess down there," he said.
Keel stays at Pearl Harbor a few more months. His next stop, Guadalcanal - the beginning of the Allied offensive in the Pacific.