Remembering Pearl Harbor on Memorial Day
Recently, I received a letter from Pearl Harbor survivor Ed Stone. I’d sent him my book, Pearl Harbor’s Final Warning, as a thank you for helping to secure the freedom I enjoy today. I never expected to hear back from him or the others I’ve found. Most are pushing one hundred, after all.
Ed’s letter touched my soul. My grandson read it. My husband read it. I scanned it and sent it to my son and daughter so they could think of him and Pearl Harbor. In my mind’s eye, Ed epitomized the young men at Pearl, where the average age of a serviceman was seventeen.
Ed was eighteen on the day the Japanese attacked our country. He’d arrived two days before aboard USS Pyro (AE-1), an ammunition supply ship—a floating bomb.
He’d enlisted on the East coast likely responding to the poster that read, “Join the Navy and See the World.” He graduated from Submarine School in New London, CT, where he’d learned the ins and outs of living in the belly of a beast. After ten days of sound training on USS R-13—before the days of Sonar—he was assigned to the Command Submarines Pacific at Pearl Harbor. From New London, he went to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to await transportation. He hitched a ride to his new duty station aboard USS Pyro. It was headed to Hawaii via the Panama Canal.
Pyro sailed to Philadelphia, where Ed was ordered to see the Executive Officer (XO) of the Navy Yard, which must have set him back on his heels a bit. Upon reviewing Ed’s Navy jacked and orders, the XO discovered that Ed was an amateur radio operator and radiomen were in short supply. The XO ordered his Chief Radioman to test Ed in Morse code. Ed passed with flying colors, and soon he was a radioman aboard Pyro.
Pyro wove its way through the Caribbean islands, traversed the Panama Canal, and then worked its way up the coast of Mexico to San Diego. She docked on the 4th of July. Fireworks burst over their ammo ship that night, causing more than one sailor to thank their lucky stars that the pyrotechnics were not from their ship. After a few days of R&R in Navy town, they sailed to San Francisco, Bremerton, and Seattle, Washington. Pyro made several trips between the West coast and Pearl Harbor, delivering ammo to the fleet. On 5 December 1941, she pulled into West Loch of Pearl Harbor with another load.
The morning of 7 December 1941, Ed ate breakfast then relieved Ken Hartman, RM3 in the radio room. It was 7:45 AM and Ed had the eight to noon watch. Ken reported that there was little radio traffic on the circuits. He’d only received one ALNAV (an administrative message directed to all navy and marine units) that concerned a change of duty for an officer. Then Ken left to read the comics. When Ed plugged in, Naval Radio Honolulu sent its call letters, NPM. Within minutes, Hartman popped his head into the radio room and said, “There are some funny-looking planes flying around. Look out the door.” It was 7:55 AM, the official time of the Pearl Harbor attack. Ed glanced out the door just as a plane barreled toward Battleship Row, not a hundred feet off the water. It was a Japanese torpedo plane. General Quarters sounded, and Chief Radioman Jim Pohl, relieved Ed so he could go to his battle station on the fantail.
Ed’s gun station was a WWI bag and projectile five-inch fifty caliber surface gun. It wasn’t meant for anti-aircraft fire because it could not elevate more than 30 degrees. Ed was the sight-sitter, one of the twelve needed to man the gun. After the first wave, they were ordered to secure their gun and return to their normal duty stations. Ed hustled to the radio room, opened the door, and a bomb exploded. It hit the dock not twelve feet away and concrete rained down on the ship. No one was injured. The ship remained in one piece but lost power. Ed’s chief ordered him topside to get the emergency radio generator up and running. Ed had practiced the day before during a Captain’s inspection and the generator fired up with one crank. The ship had radio power once again.
That afternoon the ship got word that enemy invaders were landing near Barbers Point, only a couple of miles from their berth. Ed was stationed at the gangway with a 30.06 rifle and ordered to shoot invaders on sight. The First Lieutenant came by and ordered him to get relief. Then he showed him bullet marks on the wooden deck. The Lieutenant had been on the bridge and watched Ed outrun those bullets as he had made his way to the generator. He said the pilot had him in his sights. But it was not Ed’s day to die.
General Quarters sounded again sometime after dark. A flight of planes was trying to land at Ford Island. It was U.S. flight; the same one George Street Jr. had watched when he made his way home from RCA. Unfortunately, some planes were lost to friendly fire.
The servicemen on Pryo, cleaned up, clothed, and housed the sailors from damaged ships, as did the men from the Ammunition Depot. When the ship’s bowels filled up, they slept on the grass near the dock. The next morning Pyro fed them breakfast before they headed out to pick up the pieces of their blown-up world and prepare for the war that kicked them into manhood with a brutal blow. The weight of the world was on their shoulders that morning and they carried it together.
At the age of 99, Ed told me his tale. He’d written it down so it would not be forgotten. Please think of Ed, the eighteen-year-old whose heels beat death as he raced to do his duty. Cherish the men who still live, Dick Higgins, Marvin Emmerson, Ken Potts, Joe Richard, Louis Conter, Herb Elfring, Horace Hamilton, Henry Bodden, Harvey Waldron, Rolland Briar, and Cedric Stout to name a few. They were men who grew up in an instant and had to relive their fears for a lifetime. Remember those who joined the Navy to see the world but instead faced death. Never forget all those who did their duty despite their doubts. Appreciate men like Terry Chapman and Dr. Stuppy for they had tales to tell. Embrace the silent heroes whose names I do not know. We owe them our thanks and we owe them our todays.
Remember those who lived and died at Pearl Harbor