In Their Own Words: Pearl Harbor

In 2001, our Special Collections Center was privileged to conduct oral history interviews with several area World War II veterans and others who were personally connected to the War, both home and abroad.

On this 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we wanted to share the experiences of three who were there.  Mr. and Mrs. Tucker and Mr. Netwon have passed away since they were interviewed, but their memories have been preserved:

Dick Tucker was a Lieutenant assigned to the U.S.S. San Francisco, which was in dry dock undergoing minor maintenance repairs at the time of the attack:

“We were up in Kaimuki. It’s up in the hills, in back of Pearl Harbor. And we could see the Harbor from our front yard. But we heard this booming noise, walked out, and could see the planes coming overhead were going down there. I thought it was an anti-aircraft practice. Then the lad next door said, no, they’re not our planes. We looked up. These planes were coming overhead I would guess at less than 1,000 feet, because you could see the big red blob on their wings and what not . . .

“So I went down and picked up a ride from fellas off the ship that were going by. One of them was Paul Henderson. He was driving. He was a Marine. And as we were driving across a field, we took shortcuts everywhere we could to get there quick, a plane would come down and strafe us and he’d lean out and he’d say, “You guys are ruining our vacation!”

“But we got to the harbor before the first wave was over with. It’s about a ten minute ride, I guess, the way we were going. Maybe less than that. But I still wasn’t sure what was going on, and we were running down and parked the car in the parking area and we were running towards the ship when there was a loud bang in back of us and a fella up ahead of us fell down. We got up to him and helped him to his feet, and the back of his helmet was dented. And that was the first indication that I had, hey, they’re really getting serious . . .

“We got on board and we had no fuel or ammunition because we were doing a lot of welding on board. So I went down in my room and got my trusty 45-caliber handgun, and I was standing out on the fantail and as the planes went by I was shooting at them. They were about as far away as the building across the … 100 yards at the most . . .

“. . . We put up sandbags on the pier. We assumed that there was going to be an invasion. We had sandbags and what not and everybody was issued rifles and side arms. Then we would look at this mess, I mean it was a mess of these ships burning and capsizing and what not. You just couldn’t believe what you’d seen. We’d go down below to have a cup of coffee or something and somebody would say, the West Virginia, no it couldn’t be. You’d go back up and look. But, we did that two or three times because we couldn’t believe how much was wrought there.”

Jane Tucker was a Navy housewife who had followed her husband from Chicago, where they met, to California, to Hawaii.  Even after the attack, she was determined to stay close:

“All this is basically on Oahu. That’s where we were living when the war started. And actually, prior to that Sunday we had soldiers on all the corners because they were kind of feeling that something was going to happen but they weren’t sure. And the Saturday night before Pearl, all the soldiers were gone. So Sunday morning when [Dick] and I got up, he was about to have leave and we were going to go visit one of the other islands, because, you know, after all.

“And so we were out in the backyard just looking around and Dick said to me, “You know, they’re certainly flying the planes awful early this morning. I wonder what’s up?” And the little lad that lived in the big house in front of ours came by and said, “Mr. Tucker. Those are not our planes.”

“At which we kind of got on our ball and Father quickly got organized and left for Pearl. And I stayed there at the condo, or at the house, the cabin, and I was there for, well, I would say for maybe two or three weeks. Because what basically happened was all of the women that had children that were on Pearl, when this happened they would be called and said, “Be ready to leave. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe…” And they were gone. Especially if they had children. They were gone . . .

“The little house we lived, the folks that lived in the big house in front of us, he was a Commodore in the Navy. So, while we were there and after I moved, and through Mrs. Moore I got a job at Bellows Field in the airfield. Or I couldn’t stay. I had to come back to the states. So I got through Mrs. Moore. And the Commodore-the Commander would sort of quietly let me know where my husband was at that time.”

Wayne Newport graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis in February of 1941, the first class to graduate early because of the war in Europe.  His first assignment of duty was on the U.S.S. Porter in Pearl Harbor:

“. . . and on December 6, 1941 we left Pearl Harbor to escort the U.S.S. Enterprise with a load of planes to go to Midway Island. There were two cruisers, four destroyers, and the Enterprise. We had just gotten out part way when we heard that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and we were ordered to disperse, search out and find the Japanese fleet and sink them . . .

“. . . So on Tuesday following December 7 of 1941 we came back into Pearl Harbor. As we came up the channel toward Pearl Harbor, we saw the U.S.S. Nevada, which was a battleship still aground. It had gotten away from the key where it had been docked and had gotten, it was on fire and it had docked—it had grounded itself. It was still there. We went around it. We went on the west side of Ford Island. We could see the masts of all the battleships and we thought, well, they’re fine. Until we went around Ford Island and came into view and found that all those battleships, all those that were sitting straight up were sitting on the bottom of the bay . . . 

“At that point, the U.S.S. Porter was advised that the command had heard from a freighter that was anchored west of Ford Island that they thought there was a mini-sub tied up on their stern. So they ordered the Porter to go over as far north as they could get in Pearl Harbor on the west side of Ford Island, stand by to drop depth charges. I was in charge of the depth charges. So, knowing that Pearl Harbor was not very deep I set it at the minimum setting of 50 feet hoping we would not blow ourselves up when we passed over the thing.

“Then they told the freighter to start turning its engines over slowly, and he did that. And sure enough, out comes this object. We could pick it up on our sonar. So we had ahead flank speed, fast as we could go. We went over him. I dropped the depth charge. And we saw the parts of him fly out into the air. So we destroyed one of the mini-subs.

“I noticed on the television show that Brokaw had that they were looking for the mini-subs? They were looking for one and they didn’t know where the others went to? I know where one went to!”

Our Special Collections Center has many Oral Histories available—many of them have also been transcribed. 

Please ask the Special Collections Staff if you would like to learn more about the experiences of local veterans in their own words.

___________________________

Sources Used:

“Oral History Interview with Dick Tucker.” (Interviewer:  Babs Treiber), OH45-WAR, 2July2001.

“Oral History Interview with Jane Tucker.” (Interviewer:  Babs Treiber), OH46-WAR, 2July2001.

“Oral History Interview with Wayne Newport.” (Interviewer:  Susan Carlson), OH64-WAR, 21Aug2001.

 (posted by Sarah)

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