“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
Those words began US President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech to Congress as he asked for a Declaration of War against Japan.
81 years ago today, Portsmouth, NH, residents heard a news flash on the radio that the Japanese were attacking our Naval base at Pearl Harbor. That marked the U.S. entrance into World War II.
The story below is reposted again with permission from a good friend and fellow Realtor, Saul Klein, whose father was actually at Pearl Harbor during the attack. The elder Mr. Klein was a young sailor and sat down many years later with his son Saul to memorialize his story.
To set the stage, listen to this actual radio news flash from 1941 interrupting a football game broadcast.
REMEMBERING PEARL HARBOR by Marcus Klein, US Navy Retired, CWO-4
“Today is December 7, 1991. Fifty years ago today, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. I’m going to tell my story, the best that I can remember, of the events that occurred on that day to me.
I was attached to the USS Medusa AR-1, which was a battleship tender. Our duties were to repair battleships. I never was able to get back to my ship. Being married, I lived outside the base and rated overnight liberty. The first thing that happened to me was the woman across the street whose husband was a Chief in the Navy came out and started screaming, “The Japs are attacking Pearl Harbor!” I ran out of our house and looked up at the sky over Pearl. We weren’t too far away. We were next to Hickam Field. I saw the bombs exploding in the air and the planes diving all over, and I just couldn’t believe what was happening.
I thought they were having a mock battle, but I had the radio on, and the announcer said all personnel return to your ships. As I ran down the street, I told Lani, “You run up to the hills and hide if the Japs land. You don’t want to be caught by them.” I got on the highway. We lived right near Dillingham Highway. An officer in his car stopped on his way back and picked me up. We headed towards the base, and before we got there, a plane came straight down the highway, strafing, and we ran off the highway into the cane fields and bounced along until we finally stopped, got out, and ran the rest of the way to the base. As we went through the gate, the Marines fired at the planes with their 45s. The only thing we could do was throw stones at them. That’s how close they were.
We headed toward Fleet Landing, which was just a short distance away. When we got down there, there were lots of sailors coming back. The sailor on duty said, “Report to any place on the base that you can be of help. No boats are running; there’s no possible way to get back to your ship.”
My ship, the Medusa, was tied about as far away as possible from the landing. We were on the other side of Ford Island. The battleship row was on this side. The Medusa was on the opposite side at a place called Middlelock, which was off of Pearl City. Next to the Medusa was the Curtis, a seaplane tender.
Alongside the Medusa, on the other side, were destroyers. I think there were 4 of them, old 4? stack destroyers. In the meantime, near the landing, I ran toward a group of men. We all ran towards the Navy yard, figuring that was the best place to help. We were almost at the Officer’s Club when a Jap plane came diving straight toward us. Several of the men in the group were hit and killed, but we kept on going until we got to the docks.
I saw a whaleboat alongside the dock, and I told one of the other fellows, “Let’s take this thing out and see if we can help the men in the water.” You could see the flames, and all the water was on fire around the battleships, mainly Arizona and California. Nevada was on her way toward the channel. We ran and got into the boat, and I said, “I can run the engine if you can steer it.” So I started it up and got underway.
We started out towards Arizona. That’s where most of the fire was. While heading that way, I looked up and saw we were going toward the channel. I turned around and yelled at the guy with me. He had been shot and was over the side in the water. I found I didn’t know what to do. I turned the engine off and dove into the water. I couldn’t do anything for the guy who was in the water, so I swam over to the Okalala, which was over by the drydock, and I got out of the water.
Pennsylvania was in the drydock, and the Casin and Downs were forward of it. I remember my dad telling me that when there was a fire, you always put water on the building next to it to keep it cool so it doesn’t burn too. So we grabbed a hose. I got another guy to help me. The hose had a suicide nozzle on it, and we started spraying down the bow of Pennsylvania. It was then I could see that this fire was getting out of control. It was really bad on the Casin and Downs, so we started shooting out a stream of water on the Casin and Downs. It wasn’t too long before the fire reached the magazines of one of the ships, and she blew up.”
“The concussion was so great that in the Pipe Shop, which is alongside the dock on the other side of the cranes, the corrugated metal on the walls blew off. I noticed, at this time, that I was bleeding from a head wound. The shrapnel from the Casini or the Downs must have hit me or that of a plane; I have no idea. I don’t know what happened. It didn’t hurt too much. There were too many things going on.
All of this was just hard to believe. Here our fleet, the greatest in the world, was destroyed being destroyed, and no way of doing anything to fight back. This was a terrible feeling. So I kept thinking I better go and get under somebody’s command. After all, the guy said, “go wherever you can to help.” I feel many of the ships’ men had been killed because some hadn’t gotten back to their ships. I reported to the first ship I could. At least I would be under the jurisdiction of a command.
I ran down the docks and saw St. Louis had gotten underway. She had been tied alongside the Honolulu. I figured Honolulu would go next. I’ll get on her. Well, unknown to me, she had been hit by a 250-pound bomb. It went through the dock and exploded under the water ripping the seams of Honolulu’s magazines. Although she’d been casting off her lines, she returned and tied up again. I reported to the officer of the Deck, and I guess It looked pretty messy, bloody, and wet. He said, “You’d better go down to sickbay.” I didn’t know where it was, so they sent a messenger to take me down, and the corpsman put some sutures in my head.
Then I went back to the quarter-deck, and he said, “What ship were you on?” I told him I was a Fireman First on the Medusa as a metalsmith. He said they’d assign me to the metalsmith shop. They needed help because they had several oil tanks that were ruptured. They had splits in the seams from the concussion of the bomb that went off in the magazine. So, I reported to the metal smith’s shop, and I went with a working party down into the magazine. I spent the rest of the day and all night in the magazine, tearing off insulation so we could get to the seams that were torn open. After I got out of there, I became part of the Honolulu crew, so I was never on the Medusa on December 7th. I was on the Honolulu, a light square? stern cruiser.
As I look back, I don’t ‘remember how I got clothes. I had no money and no clothes. I guess some of the sailors in the shop had given me clothes to wear and maybe an old toothbrush. I asked if they could go back to my ship and said that they’d eventually get me back eventually. It was ten days before I got back. There was no way I could send word to Lani about what happened. I asked one of the yard workers who was working in the yard if he would stop by my house and let my wife know I was okay. This one yard worker finally told my wife and the family that I was still alive and aboard Honolulu. After ten days, I was sent back to the Medusa with a letter stating that I came aboard and received a commendation on the work that I did while I was on Honolulu.
The first thing the kids aboard the Medusa wanted to show me was my battle station. It seems the destroyers alongside on the starboard side had destroyed the crow’s nest while firing at the Jap Kamikaze, which dove into the Curtis. The destroyers fired over the Medusa at the plane right through the crow’s nest. If I hadn’t been home, I would have been aboard the ship and would have been killed by my own bullets.
The events were terrible, even after the battle. Remembering December 7th and the things that went on when you look back seems like a lifetime ago. It’s hard to believe that we lived through something like this. I was in three Wars. I was on submarine war patrols. Nothing could compare with the sight of seeing the fleet destroyed.
I worked on and got my request approved for submarine duty. In June or July, I was transferred to the Naval station awaiting transportation back to the mainland. While there, we were sent to working parties, digging bodies out of Arizona and some of the other ships. We were taking them up to Red Hill to be buried.
Looking back today, I hope no one has to go through this again. “This is a sorry day in our history,” as Roosevelt said, “a day of infamy.” Only those who were there can really understand how dreadful, how horrible it all was. I think the wound I got from the ships or from the planes that day is a small thing to happen compared to what could have happened.”
Post Note by Saul Klein: My Dad and Mom are both Pearl Harbor Survivors. My Dad passed away on January 15, 2005. My mom now lives in a “55 or Better” community in Palm Springs. Mom and Dad met in Hilo, Hawaii in January of 1941. My Dad was a sailor, a Jewish kid, 23 years old, from Detroit. My mom was a 17-year-old local girl (Hawaiian, Portuguese, English, and a little Chinese for good measure, some say). Mom and Dad were married on June 28th, 1941, in Honolulu, by a Justice of the Peace, and on December 7, 1941, they lived in Navy Housing Area 3 (NHA 3) on Ninth Street right outside of the Main Gate of Pearl Harbor. My Mother’s parents lived in a little shack on “P Road” in an area known as Damon Tract, which is now where the Honolulu Airport is located.