This might be one of several things you'll see today on Pearl Harbor.  If you're looking for a syrupy retrospective, stop reading now.

My Dad fought in the Marine Corps during WWII, winning invasion stars in Tarawa and Iwo Jima.  He never talked about it.  When sympathetic retrospectives of Hiroshima/Nagasaki came out in the 70's/80's, his face would harden in a way that was frightening.  At the time I didn't get it, and marked it up to redneck shallowness.  It is difficult for me to appreciate the kill or be killed ruthlessness his generation endured. Oral histories like the following can only hint as to what it was like.

First, the good news.  The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was an unmitigated failure.  Of all the ships damaged during the attack, only three were total losses; The Arizona and Utah remained where they sank, and the Oklahoma floundered being towed to the West Coast after re-floating.  All the other ships damaged in the attack were repaired and returned to active service within a 18 months.

Sinking Ships in the open sea is much more effective (i.e Midway) than in a sheltered port.

Adding irony to the failure is that the Japanese attack flew over an undefended target that, had it been destroyed, would have crippled the US Navy in port - the Pacific Fleet Oil Storage facility.  A half-dozen conventional bombs would have stranded the Navy in port for at least six months.  (Imagine the course of the war without the battle of Coral Sea or Midway.)

Many retrospectives look at WWII as the "Good War", with none of the futile barbarity of recent conflicts.  Most of this is due to the censorship which existed at the time.  In fact, the censorship and PR management of today's war is a pale imitation of Government control exercised over the media during WWII

War has always been a terrible business.  And death in a metal can has a unique horror.  Imagine for a moment how Fox or CNN would have covered the following (from a survivor's oral history):

 When her fires were extinguished late Monday Dec. 8, Guards were posted on the shoreline of Ford Island, next to "Battleship Row".  Jittery over rumors of invasion, Sentries at first didn't hear the noise.  USS West Virginia Marine Bugler Dick Fiske recalls: "When it was quiet you could hear it coming from inside the capsized ships... bang, bang, then stop.  Then bang, bang, pause.  At first I thought it was a loose piece of rigging slapping against the hull".  Then I realized men were making that sound - taking turns making noise.  After that night, no one wanted guard duty, but someone had to do it.  Bang, bang.  It went on for 16 days, slowing in frequency until Christmas Eve.  Then silence."

Several MPs patrolling the area were hospitalized with nervous breakdowns listening to the constant banging of trapped survivors.  The Navy issued earplugs to help them cope.  Continuing:

"The adjacent Oklahoma was upside down, and holes were drilled in her bottom to allow a precious few to escape their coffin.  The pressure of water inside the hull, pushing up on air pockets, meant as soon as the hull was breached little time was left before remaining air escaped.  Shipmates often drowned in front of rescuers eyes before a hole could be made large enough for escape.  Cutting torches ignited trapped gasses (Methane from decomposing bodies) and exploded, killing more. Jack-hammers jammed and men drowned while looking at a small hole of light. Knowledgeable workers quickly learned to 'rip open' hull plates fast to insure victims survival.  A macabre Naval "C-section", with the same purpose."

Heart-wrenching to think that a sizable fraction of casualties from Pearl Harbor didn't die on Dec. 7th, but several days after the attack.

But the worst wasn't seen till months later.

Late Spring 1942 found Navy salvage teams finally getting to work on the West Virginia.  An inventive series of tremic (underwater concrete) patches were fitted to her port side, and enough water pumped out to partially float the once grand ship. BB48 was nudged across the Harbor into dry-dock and the grim task of finding bodies began.

For Commander Paul Dice, compartment A-111 was expected to be like the rest: Put on gas masks, place some goo into a body bag and let the Medical boys worry about identification.  They had seen it all, but this compartment was different.  Dice first noticed the interior was dry and flashlight batteries and empty ration cans littered the floor.  A manhole cover to a fresh water supply was opened.  Then he saw the calendar.  It was 12"x14" and marked with big red Xs that ended December 23.  Hardened salvage workers wept uncontrollably as they realized the fate of these men.  Word quickly spread among salvage crews: Three men had lived for 16 days to suffer the most agonizing deaths among the 2800 victims at Pearl Harbor.

The Navy told their Parents they were killed in the attack on the 7th.

The War Department casualty figures from Pearl Harbor never included civilian deaths.  Read another eyewitness history here.

May they Rest In Peace.

Originally posted to railsplitter on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 04:42 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.


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