Note: I originally posted this on 12/7/07. Several folks have emailed me to re-post today. Minor updates are included
This is one of several diaries today on Pearl Harbor. If you're looking for a syrupy retrospective, stop reading now.
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 remain where they sank, and the Oklahoma floundered being towed to the West Coast after re-floating. All other ships damaged in the attack were repaired and returned to active service before the end of the war.
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. This target was the Oil Storage facility containing petroleum reserves for the entire US Pacific fleet. 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", without the senselessness or barbarity of recent conflicts. But 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. WeeVee (West Virginia) Marine Bugler Dick Fiske recalls: "When it was quiet you could hear it...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.
It was reported that several MPs had 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 cement 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.
May they Rest In Peace.