The ‘Greatest Generation’ remembers Dec. 7, 1941

| December 14, 2012 | 0 Comments
WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD — Thomas Petso, a Pearl Harbor survivor and Greatest Generation Foundation member, takes a long look at the runway, here, where he was playing football the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked WAAF and Pearl Harbor.

WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD — Thomas Petso, a Pearl Harbor survivor and Greatest Generation Foundation member, takes a long look at the runway, here, where he was playing football the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked WAAF and Pearl Harbor.

Story and photos by
Staff Sgt. William Sallette
25th Infantry Division Public Affairs
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS — “It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced, and it is quickly disappearing,” wrote Tom Brokaw in his book “The Greatest Generation.”

The Greatest Generation is the group of people Brokaw refers to who grew up in the United States during the Great Depression, fought in World War II and contributed greatly to the war effort on the homefront.

“These men are the greatest generation, because these men are truly some of the best men I have ever met in my life,” said Thomas Petso, an infantryman assigned to be an intelligence platoon sergeant with the 24th Infantry Division.

Seven Pearl Harbor survivors and members of the Greatest Generation Foundation, an organization dedicated to honoring veterans and the battles they fought in, joined hundreds of other survivors and veterans, Friday, to commemorate the 71st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Vic Miranda (front right), Pearl Harbor survivor and Greatest Generation Foundation member, speaks with Maj. Gabriel Zinni (front left), public affairs officer, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th ID, and other Soldiers from the 25th ID during a lunch at the Warrior Inn, Dec. 5.

Vic Miranda (front right), Pearl Harbor survivor and Greatest Generation Foundation member, speaks with Maj. Gabriel Zinni (front left), public affairs officer, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th ID, and other Soldiers from the 25th ID during a lunch at the Warrior Inn, Dec. 5.

“The date which will live in infamy” is taught in American history books. Students learn about the Japanese planes, the sinking of ships and the numbers of men and women who were killed or wounded, but the men who survived that horrific day recall the experience a bit more vividly.

Remembering Dec. 7 at  Schofield Barracks
“I was just finishing morning chow when all of a sudden the planes flew about 200 feet over our heads,” said Samuel Clower, former first sergeant of Headquarters Company, 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th ID. “We could tell that they were Japanese planes, because of the rising sun emblem on them, but we had no idea why they were here.”

In 1941, there were concerns that the Japanese would attempt to poison the water supply on the island of Oahu, so Clower took his company and set up a solid perimeter around the Schofield reservoir to prevent any type of sabotage.

“We shut it down immediately, but we still had no idea what was going on,” said Clower. “I called the regiment to find out what was happening, and they told me to gather everyone up because they were bombing Pearl Harbor and the barracks. The guy on the phone barely got those words out before they started bombing the airfield.”

Thomas Petso, then a 19 year-old infantryman assigned to be an intelligence platoon sergeant with the 24th Infantry Division, was playing football on Wheeler Army Airfield that morning when the Japanese began their attack.

“We came over from Schofield to play football against the Air Force, like we did every Sunday, and the planes came out of nowhere,” said Petso. “We saw some planes fly over, and then almost immediately they were coming from every direction and began bombing the airfield.”

Surprised and confused, Petso ran for his barracks to grab his weapon.
“We just ran for our lives,” said Petso. “I was an infantryman, and I just wanted to get back to my barracks to get my rifle.”

“It was happening so fast, we didn’t have time to be afraid,” said Clower. “That came later when we saw the devastation.”

Although WAAF and Schofield Barracks were the initial sites of the attack that day, they did not sustain heavy losses. In total, 33 personnel were killed, and 75 more were wounded.

Because most of the planes were lined up at the end of the airfield, Wheeler sustained a crippling loss of aircraft, totaling 76 planes completely destroyed. The situation down the mountain in Pearl Harbor was completely different.

Pearl Harbor recalled
Vic Miranda, then a 20-year-old Navy aviation ordnanceman stationed at Ford Island Naval Base, was on liberty when the attack occurred. He and a nurse were walking to chow when the attack began.

As they passed under a large flag pole, a Japanese fighter fired on them.

“I don’t know that he was trying to hit us; I think he was just shooting at the flag, but it didn’t take us long to realize what was happening.”

Miranda knew he had to get back to his unit, so he jumped into a nearby boat and attempted to cross the bay back to Ford Island, but the Japanese were relentless and began shooting his small boat, rendering it inoperable.

“I reported to the commanding officer at the hospital, and he kept me there for three months working in the burn ward,” said Miranda. “I wasn’t trained as a corpsman, but I knew a little first aid that the Navy had taught me. I can tell you this much, the morphine flowed like water, because there was very little we could do for them.”

Miranda was originally stationed on the USS Oklahoma, a battleship that was attacked by Japanese bombs and torpedoes — taking 429 of her crew with her when she capsized.
“I was stationed on the Oklahoma, but had been reassigned exactly one year and a day before the attack,” said Miranda. “I knew some of those boys, and as scared as I was, I can’t imagine what they experienced.”

At 7:45 a.m., Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked Pearl Harbor with more than 350 bombers and torpedo planes, launched from six aircraft carriers. They sank 12 ships and destroyed 188 aircraft — killing 2,402 American service members and wounding another 1282.

A day that changed lives forever
That day was more than just a horrible tragedy in American history. For many, it was a learning experience. Many service members were in their late teens and early 20s — boys, who were expected to react, understand and even lead like experienced men.
“Many began that day as boys, but quickly became men,” said Clower. “It wasn’t a choice; it wasn’t an option. It was just one of the things we faced and dealt with. We were thrust into manhood, and we all grew up that day.”

Some survivors have difficulty talking about that fateful day. Some are seemingly still numb, and some remember it like it was yesterday. However, with the average age of these survivors in the mid-90s, and since every year fewer are able to make the trip to Pearl Harbor, these stories may soon be lost forever.

“It was just a day of luck,” said Stan Swartz, an infantryman with the 24th ID. “The man standing to my left or right could have died, but I made it. I was lucky. I didn’t lose any friends in the attack or after when we went to fight in Guadalcanal.”

In his speech during the Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade, Air Force Maj. Gen. Kelly McKeague, commander, Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, remarked that he believes these men were truly the greatest generation, but that the young men and women who stood before him in formation were the new greatest generation.

Rear Adm. Fernandez Ponds, commander, Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, echoed these thoughts when he told the survivors and veterans, “You are relieved; we have the watch.”

The Aftermath
-2,402 killed aboard USS Arizona & at Pearl Harbor
-1,282 wounded aboard USS Arizona & at Pearl Harbor
-429 killed aboard USS Oklahoma
-33 killed at Schofield & Wheeler
-75 wounded at Schofield & Wheeler
-12 ships sunk
-188 aircraft destroyed

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Category: Community, Observances

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