Pearl Harbor 40 years ago: They were there
By Joe Naworzki,
News American Staff, News American, Sunday, December 6, 1981 (Baltimore, MD)
The day dawned a subtropical red, then a brilliant gold over the U.S. Pacific fleet nestled in Pearl Harbor in the quiet of that Sunday morning.
It was a perfect time to sleep. Or go to breakfast. Or church.
Dec. 7, 1941.
People everywhere were talking war. Nobody was certain where or when. Juke boxes were playing “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and “I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire.” Christmas lists were being prepared, Dick Tracy was chasing the Mole, eggs were selling at 39 cents a dozen back on the mainland and a Baltimore newspaper editorial contained the soothing words that "Our position in the Pacific has never been stronger than it is now.” The Japanese Task Force, approaching Pearl Harbor from almost due north, kept tuned to a football game being broadcast in Honolulu in those last hours of peace. By the very existence of that broadcast, the Japanese commanders knew they continued to hold the advantage of secrecy, the element of surprise. At the Army Opana radar station on northern Oahu, meanwhile, Pvts. Joseph Lockard and George Elliot were waiting for a truck to pick them up for breakfast when a blob of blips burst upon the screen. They apparently were the first people to notice the blips. They plotted their movement and attempted to get a Fort Shafter information–center spotter on a direct telephone line. But everyone in that office had gone to breakfast.
On the USS Nevada, Ensign Joe Taussig was getting ready to go ashore to play tennis. Ensign Ted Hechler, aboard the USS Phoenix, was sleeping after a night of liberty ashore with the other officers. Ensign Ray Shneider had finished a four-hour watch and was in his bunk on the cruiser USS Detroit.
At approximately 7:52 a.m., the Japanese raiders banked in from the sea and across Oahu Island's purple brown mountains to smash the warship fleet at anchor on this balmy Sunday.
Three veterans remember “a date which will live in infamy”
(PEARL from 1A)
Three thousand U.S. servicemen (see PEARL 16 A) were killed or wounded. Eighteen ships, including eight battleships, were sunk or heavily damaged. The attack was precise and stunning. President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced later to a shocked nation that it was “a date which will live in infamy.” For the United States, World War II had begun.
“I was firing a rifle at the planes”
Ray Schneider, 64, lives in Elkridge now; he has 10 children and 23 grandchildren (“too much shore duty”). He retired from the Navy in 1975 as a rear admiral, his last assignment being commander of all naval electronics systems. He was graduated sixth in the 1940 class at the U.S. Naval Academy, and later earned a masters degree in aeronautical engineering. His wife is a substitute teacher; he is a gunsmith and gun dealer, and travels, reads and writes.
That Sunday morning in 1941, Ensign Ray Schneider's ship was tied up at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. After a nap, Schneider planned to go to Honolulu. There, he would meet his wife, whom he had married that September, and together they would go to mass. “I was supposed to have watch until 8 a.m., but about 6 a.m. I asked a bright, young ensign, who was clean and sober, if he'd finish my watch for me. He accepted and I went to my sack. The next thing I knew I heard this awful explosion, and I jumped up, still in my under wear. There was no time to dress. I ran up on deck and the entire area was being swarmed upon; the boat behind us was burning. I could see the Utah going upside down. The two airfields were full of flame and smoke. You got the impression all was not well.
I was in my Skivvies, barefoot, and the first thing I had to do was cut down the canvas awnings that were blocking the guns. I sent a sailor down to the butcher shop and we cut the canvas down with cutlery, but that cleared out nine antiaircraft guns. Someone blew the lock off the ammunition storage locker with a .45, the ammo came up, but we couldn’t find the fuse setters. Finally, we started the guns and we must have thrown a thousand shells into the air and didn't hit a thing. I was chastised for being a little wasteful. But I’m convinced there never was a bombing of Honolulu, it was our antiaircraft fire.
The scene was such I was firing a rifle at the planes, still in my skivvies. Hardly a dramatic impression, but that’s the way it was. I stepped on a hot shell during the attack and ran to my room for my shoes. After that I went to bed, oh, six months with my shoes on. I didn’t want to go into combat again in my bare feet.
It's very strange, the things that happen. There were two torpedoes fired at us, but they went in the mud. But they were headed for the forward area, where I was sleeping. If they would have hit, I would have been gone. Before we cast off, the gunnery officer told me I wasn’t wearing my tin hat. Now here I was, nothing but my underwear and shoes with a rifle, and he’s asking about my following regulations. We steamed out and chased Japs for a while. Later, I was on the thin edge of. the battle of Midway, then they sent me to Alaska.
I’m a member of this Pearl Harbor survivors gang, but I'm going to be in Ohio Monday to take care of some personal business. Of course I'll notice it. I’m an old-fashioned military professional. I didn't like war; what’s so glamorous about fighting in your underwear? But that's how I earned my pay. In retrospect, all the young officers of the fleet were absolutely convinced we were going into conflict with Japan. I studied Japan at the academy, and I was of the opinion sitting on my 22-year-old-cruiser at Pearl, the Japanese were superior to us. I wasn’t surprised at first when we didn't win so well. Once I got out of the Pacific, we started to win.”;
“Thinking about going to play tennis”
Joe Taussig’s part in the war lasted about six minutes. And for it, he won the Navy Cross for heroism, the nation’s second highest combat decoration, and lost his left leg.
Taussig, now 61 and a deputy assistant secretary of the Navy at the Pentagon, will represent the Defense Department at Pearl Harbor this weekend and Monday for the 40th anniversary commemoration of the attack that officially started the war.
He will attend an anniversary ceremony at a crater in Diamondhead where 20,000 Americans killed while fighting in the Pacific are buried. And at 7:52 a.m. Monday, “Taps” will be blown near the USS Arizona monument. That ceremony will be more intimate than the one at the Diamondhead crater: It is for the survivors of Pearl.
“Subjectively, I look at this remotely today, the whole event, the historical significance.” said Taussig, who lives in Annapolis and has two children. “What will be going through my mind will be the two men I lost. I admired them so much. That’s the keen personal loss I feel today, still today. They were my backbone on the Nevada....
The whole thing is sort of like a dream to me now. I was nearing the end of my watch and was thinking about going to play tennis at Ford Island.”
Taussig was officer of the deck on Dec. 7, 1941. Fourteen bombs hit the Nevada that day; 43 people were killed and 118 wounded.
“I was directing fire at the outset of the attack when I don’t know what hit me, something went completely through my thigh. They ordered a cot for me, and I just continued to control the gun batteries. Some enlisted men brought a stretcher and I stayed up there until the (ship’s) whole structure caught fire. They brought me down through the fire. The Navy said I was decorated because I refused to leave my post.”
Taussig said he prays that there will never be another war. “But my son was in Vietnam, a recon (reconnaissance) Marine officer, and history tells us that one won’t be the last,” he said.
“We — the ones who went — and the parents know the real loss of war. It is the young who get wounded and die. That is the irreplaceable loss, that is the heartache that hits a home.
We still have the gumption. The kids are bigger and stronger than my generation. They are better educated and have more guts., I just hope to God they never have to be tested like we were.”
“Everything was so close, …full of fire and smoke”
Farther out in the mouth of the harbor that day lay the light cruiser USS Phoenix. Ensign Ted Hechler, a range keeper officer, was sleeping soundly, hoping to return to shore for more liberty that afternoon.
“Suddenly, the bosun’s pipe, that shrill, high-pitched sound, came into the officer’s quarters,” said Hechler, 65, who lives in Annapolis with his wife. “I thought it was another drill that was announcing a low-level combat alert. I muttered some words and was prepared to go back to sleep and, maybe 15 seconds later, all hell broke loose. The general alarm was sounded. I was mad because all we had been doing was drill. We knew things were critical, but we still were at peace. Who expected to be disturbed on a Sunday morning?
I jumped out of my bunk, threw on my uniform and .45, and climbed four decks to the foremast. On the way up, I heard our ship’s .50–caliber machine guns opening up. I looked alongside the ship and saw this plane flying just above the water. I thought to myself that they had gone so far in this drill that they painted red balls on the aircraft. Bill Parsons, our communications officer, was on the main deck waving papers and shouting “Come on, it’s war!” By this time, I had gotten the message.
We really didn’t have any targets. The guns that I was in charge of shot long range; they were not effective against close, infighting aircraft. It was like swatting bees in a telephone booth. I was really acting on automatic, this was so sudden.
The first visible thing I saw was the Arizona exploding. It went up in a huge explosion during the first five minutes of the attack. My mind flashed back to my mother and father alone in the Bronx. I had sent them a letter that Friday. It was a week — 10 days, before they found out I was alive. I also thought about the ways I could die. My hair was sticking up on the back of my neck. I thought a dive bomber could fall down my shirt. Everything was so close, so loud and full of fire and smoke. As it turned out, our ship escaped combat damage. We took no casualties.”
Hechler, a Naval Academy graduate who retired from the military in 1965, eventually became a pilot. He later was assigned to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and worked on the Apollo program.
“The Japanese attack 40 years ago,” he said, “was a beautifully executed Military strike. But even the Japanese were aware they were awakening a sleeping giant.
Monday? I have nothing special planned for Monday. My thoughts will drift that day, I guess. I’m not going to the reunion this time. We went in 1971. We all gathered at Pearl at 7:52 a.m. and they blew ‘Taps.’
On the fringe of the group was a Japanese man in a suit. It turned out to be Mitsuo Fuchida, who led one of the first waves of aircraft. He indicated he wanted to join us. The consensus was they didn’t want that. We told him we wouldn’t keep him away. I didn’t meet him personally, but a reporter from a Honolulu newspaper interviewed him and he just said he had his memories, too. And I think about that now. We really had nothing against him; he was following orders. Actually, he was just like us.”