Vets remember Pearl Harbor on 69th anniversary

“Remember Pearl Harbor. Keep America alert.”

That’s the motto embraced by the 10 remaining members of the local Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Chapter 2, especially today, the 69th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Battleship Row and the U.S. military installations on Oahu, Hawaii.

The chapter’s president, 87-year-old Ed Hall, was 18 at the time. He had lied about his age to join the Army Air Corps in South Carolina. Hall was in the mess hall at Hawaii’s Hickam Airfield when he heard an explosion shortly before 8 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941.

“We all went to the back door … and I saw hangars 7 and 9 blow up,” he recalled Monday while sitting at the dining room table of his Las Vegas home.

“Then I saw, out of the corner of my eye, people running to my left and here comes a plane across the runway the wrong way. And I go, ‘What’s this idiot up to?’ ”

The plane was a Japanese Zero with machine guns blazing.

“I thought, ‘Why in the world are they attacking us?’ ” Hall said.

“Then I see asphalt kicking up coming toward me and this plane is headed straight for me, and he’s firing. But thank goodness he was so low that he had to pull up to miss the building I was in, along with some telephone wires. So he had to quit firing. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” he said.

Hall, then a private, got a truck and began picking up the wounded. He took a pistol from a dead officer because he didn’t have a weapon.

Historians estimate 50 Japanese dive bombers and fighter planes struck the airfield, wounding and killing off-duty soldiers in the field’s 3,200-man barracks.

“When you have to dig through the debris that was caused by these bombings, and you see a leg sticking out … and get the body out — well actually wounded people still alive — and get them over to the hospital, that’s what I did the rest of the day,” Hall said.

When Hall moved to Las Vegas from Chicago in 1994, there were several dozen Pearl Harbor survivors in his chapter. By the 60th anniversary of the attack, membership had dwindled to 41.

“It’s hard to lose a friend,” Hall said. “It’s hard to lose any survivor that you know went through that ordeal. You’re sorry for the family that’s left. That’s a hard thing to express.

“Of course, personally, you wonder how long you’re going to live,” he said. At 87, he’s the youngest in the group. The oldest is 95-year-old Jack Gold.

Between the two is Jack Leaming, 91. He was one day past his 22nd birthday when he and Navy pilot Dale Hilton took off in a Douglas scout/dive bomber from the deck of the USS Enterprise at 6 a.m. before the sneak attack. Leaming was operating a machine gun and the radio while scouting for Japanese boats south of Pearl Harbor.

They flew ahead of the Enterprise for two hours. After the attack, they could smell the smoke spiraling up from the USS Arizona before Oahu came into sight.

Leaming, who doubted he would attend a reunion with the group today at Nellis Air Force Base because he’s not feeling well, recounted his experience in an interview with the Review-Journal on the 60th anniversary of the attack.

Of the 18 scout planes from the Enterprise, Leaming’s was one of nine that managed to land safely. Some were shot down by U.S. forces that mistook friendly aircraft for the enemy.

Amid the confusion, Japanese planes were firing, too. “They missed,” Leaming said. “Hilton put that thing in a diving turn. We leveled off barely over the top of the sugar cane.”

While on the ground at Marine Corps Air Station Ewa, Leaming scrambled to cover the plane’s star insignia with brush so it couldn’t be spotted by the Japanese.

Three months later, Leaming’s dive bomber was hit by anti-aircraft fire and forced to land on the water near Marcus Island. He was captured and held prisoner until his release on Sept. 6, 1945.

Former Navy Seaman 1st Class Andrew Hoover, a past president of the local Pearl Harbor Survivors chapter and current member of the national organization, was at a receiving station near the Pearl Harbor entrance gate waiting to be transferred to Palmyra Island when the attack happened.

“The first thing I heard was loud noises toward the battleships,” Hoover, 88, said Monday. “I stepped out the door and there was a torpedo plane within 100 feet of me and 50 feet off the ground. He was heading toward the battleships and was machine-gunning all the while.”

Hoover saw the Arizona blow up and watched a column of black smoke rise about 400 feet above the water.

He hopped on a flatbed truck with some other sailors and arrived soon after at the USS Pennsylvania, less than a mile from the Arizona, to help load ammunition belts for anti-aircraft crews. He had just left a room to go below deck when an enemy plane dropped a 500-pound bomb where he had been.

“I turned around and a bomb went off in that room,” he said, describing how he barely escaped the blast.

He continued to load ammunition belts for the gunners. When the attack was over, he found he had been listed as missing in action.

“They had to notify my folks that I was OK,” he said. “I’m a pretty lucky guy that I survived that bombing.”

Hoover and Hall both said that today they will be dwelling on what happened that infamous day 69 years ago.

“I’m going to think about all the boys that didn’t make it,” Hall said. “And, I’m going to think about what can this country do to prevent something like that from happening again.”

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.

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