Pearl Harbor survivors revisit 1941 ‘Day of Infamy’

| December 13, 2013 | 0 Comments
WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD — Pearl Harbor survivors Samuel Clower (left) and Thomas Petso, both former Infantrymen assigned to the 24th Infantry Division and members of The Greatest Generation Foundation, stand over bomb scars, here, as they discuss their own experiences from Dec. 7, 1941, during a tour of military installations and other historical sites on Oahu, recently.

WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD — Pearl Harbor survivors Samuel Clower (left) and Thomas Petso, both former Infantrymen assigned to the 24th Infantry Division and members of The Greatest Generation Foundation, stand over bomb scars, here, as they discuss their own experiences from Dec. 7, 1941, during a tour of military installations and other historical sites on Oahu, recently.

Story and photo by
Staff Sgt. William Sallette
U.S. Army-Pacific Public Affairs

FORT SHAFTER — Within 110 minutes, a total of 2,335 U.S. service men were killed and 1,143 wounded after the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941.

The Japanese attack force, under the command of Adm. Chuichi Nagumo, consisting of six carriers with 423 planes, is about to attack. The Japanese had been planning and practicing this attack for almost 10 months prior to that day, and purposely planned it for Sunday, thinking that the American forces would be more relaxed.

At 6 a.m., the first attack wave consisting of 51 dive bombers, 40 torpedo bombers, 50 high-level bombers and 43 fighters launched from the carriers, located 230 miles north of Oahu, and heads for the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.

“At first, they flew right over, but after a minute or so, a few turned around and began strafing the field and bombing the aircraft. That’s when I saw the rising sun flag and realized they were Japanese,” said Thomas Petso, former infantryman with the 24th Infantry Division and a member of The Greatest Generation Foundation (TGGF).

At 7:53 a.m., the first Japanese assault wave began the attack on the Pacific Fleet anchored in Pearl Harbor.

“I was on the ship’s football team, and we were scheduled to play the USS Arizona for the fleet championship that day, so I had my pads on when the attack began and didn’t exactly have time to change,” said Michael Ganitch, a quartermaster assigned to the USS Pennsylvania and member of TGGF. “I guess I was pretty protected then, but my battle station was in the crows nest, 70 feet up in the air, and I had to pull myself through this little trap door to get to my gun.”

Just minutes after 8 a.m., Pearl Harbor and Ford Island were completely overtaken by attacking planes. Japanese bombers destroyed more than 30 of the 70 planes stationed on Ford Island and the Japanese torpedo planes began attacking the warships in the harbor.

American battleships hit by Japanese planes during their attack on Pearl Harbour, America - 07 Dec 1941.(Photo by Sipa)

American battleships hit by Japanese planes during their attack on Pearl Harbour, America – 07 Dec 1941.(Photo by Sipa)

“I was up in the crows nest, and I was calling out planes and doing my best to shoot them down, but I was so high up, I could barely hit anything,” remarked Ganitch. “Most of the planes that were coming in were torpedo planes, and they were only about 25 feet off the surface.”

The second wave of the attack took off from their carriers 45 minutes earlier and consisted of approximately 50 horizontal bombers, 80 dive bombers and 40 fighter planes.

“I remember there were a few minutes where I didn’t see a plane and thought it was all over, but then suddenly there was a giant explosion from behind me, and I found out later that a bomber had dropped a 500-pound bomb about 45 feet from where I was,” recalled Ganitch.

This wave of attack lasts until 9:45 a.m., and the aftermath included eight battleships damaged, with five sunk, including the USS Arizona; it was hit by a 1,760 pound air bomb that penetrated the forward magazine.

Three light cruisers, three destroyers and three smaller vessels were also lost, along with 188 aircraft.

The Japanese lost 27 planes and five midget submarines that attempted to penetrate the inner harbor and launch torpedoes.

The original IJN plan called for a third wave of planes that were supposed to attack the oil refineries and the repair facilities, but was cancelled by Nagumo.

“I think we were blessed that the Japanese didn’t send the third wave of planes,” remarked Ganitch. “If they had sent that third attack and hit the oil refineries and repair facilities, I’m not sure we would have won the war. The islands of Hawaii would likely still be in Japanese control.”

After the conclusion of the attack, field hospitals and aid stations were set up to treat the more than 1,100 wounded. Evacuations of the wounded began around 10:45 a.m. By 2:30 p.m., all of the wounded were being treated or had been sent back to duty.

“I was on liberty at the time of the attack and attempted to get back to my unit, but the liberty boat had been destroyed,” said Victor Miranda, an aviation ordnance man stationed at Ford Island Naval Base and a member of TGGF. “I went to the nearest command I could find and was immediately made a corpsman at the Aiea Plantation Hospital. There were burned men everywhere, and all we could do for them was try and keep them cool and comfortable.”

The attack on Pearl Harbor became a major turning point in American
history. The very next day, the United States and United Kingdom declared war on Japan.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called Dec. 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy.”

The men and women who bore the brunt of this unprovoked sneak
attack are called the “Greatest Generation,” a term coined by anchor Tom Brokaw to describe the generation that grew up during the Great Depression and went on to fight in World War II.

Today, 72 years later, more than 1,400 of our nation’s World War II
veterans pass away every day.

“I was down in Palm Springs for Armistice Day riding in a parade, and we were sitting in a diner having lunch when we started talking about the war,” said Payton Smith, former quartermaster at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. “Our waitress came over to see how everything was going and a buddy of mine asked her, ‘Do you know about Pearl Harbor?’”

She started looking around and said ‘I don’t know. Does she work here?’”

Along with supporting these veterans around the world, the foundation works with universities and schools around the country to ensure that they are told the stories and actions these men went through during World War II.

 

 

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