Reflections on a Pearl

By Terry Welshans


This photograph was taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island shortly after the beginning of the Pearl Harbor attack. Unknown – Official U.S. Navy photograph NH 50930.

This view looks about east, with the supply depot, submarine base and fuel tank farm in the right center distance. A torpedo has just hit USS West Virginia on the far side of Ford Island (center). Other battleships moored nearby are (from left): Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee (inboard of West Virginia), Oklahoma (torpedoed and listing) alongside Maryland, and California. On the near side of Ford Island, to the left, are light cruisers Detroit and Raleigh, target and training ship Utah and seaplane tender Tangier. Raleigh and Utah have been torpedoed, and Utah is listing sharply to port. Japanese planes are visible in the right center (over Ford Island) and over the Navy Yard at right. U.S. Navy planes on the seaplane ramp are on fire. Japanese writing in the lower right states that the photograph was reproduced by authorization of the Navy Ministry.

It is a few minutes before eight in the morning as I sit on the veranda of the hotel here on Waikiki Beach, Hawaii. The sky is mostly clear, the wind is nearly calm, and the temperature is pleasant, like it was seventy-five years ago today. The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center is packed, as I knew it would be. We were there yesterday where I met five of the living survivors of that terrible day. One, Lauren F. Bruner was offering his book “Second To The Last To Leave USS Arizona 12.7.1041.” Lauren and five others were in the aft gun director station, near the top of the aft mast when the ship exploded, sending flames from the burning gun powder more than five hundred feet above his head. Surviving the blast was just the first part of his story. He and the others escaped the inferno by climbing down a rope thrown to them from a brave sailor on the USS Vestal, a repair ship tied along side.

Right now the television is set to a station broadcasting the 75th anniversary ceremony live for those of us who could not be there. Each of the survivors present has received several close ups, each with a tear in his eye as he recalls the story being recited by the presenter at the microphone. Admiral Harris, the man in charge of this entire Pacific area, is holding the audience in a trance. He speaks plainly, not like a politician, more like a sailor. His speech is eloquent, with a light sprinkling of salt. Behind him, the monument above USS Arizona gleams in the sunlight. To its left the Might Mo stands guard. The ceremony is ending now, and three trumpeters are playing Taps in a round. I have never heard it played this way before, and it is extremely moving.

Sunday, December 4, I attended the Ford Island Aerological Tower Dedication. Seventy-five years ago this tower was under modification from its original purpose as a water tower into a control tower for the field. It was painted black then making it obscure. Later it was painted a multi-shaded pattern, and today is brightly striped in alternating bands of orange and white. It is externally finished, but only cosmetically. The work on its interior has not yet begun and it will take an infusion of cash before it is undertaken. Below, in an open garage, a fire engine from that day also awaits restoration.

Last evening we were on Ford Island for the USS Utah Memorial Sunset Service. There were three USS Utah survivors present. The service was brief, but moving. It was also very solemn, yet stirring. The granddaughter of one of the survivors, one who passed away three years ago and has since joined his shipmates in this watery grave, performed a very moving song that commemorated his life. Taps played as the sun set.

Tonight we will watch the Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade as it moves down Kalakana Avenue from the second-floor pool deck at our hotel, perhaps the best seats to observe the procession.

Tomorrow I have been invited to attend a presentation of a live broadcast from the University of Hawaii’s unmanned submersible as it dives to the remains of the small two-man submarine sunk by Destroyer USS Ward at Pearl Harbor’s entrance channel about two hours before the aerial attack. Five of these Ko-hyoteki-class submarines were launched by larger submarines just off shore. Two of these submarines failed to enter the harbor. Three did penetrate the anchorage undetected, and waited for the moment of greatest turmoil in order to launch their torpedoes and escape. One fired at USS Oklahoma, later believed the hit that caused the ship too quickly capsize as the warhead was substantially larger than the aerial torpedoes that also struck the ship. One of the submarines fired at the Cruiser USS St. Louis at the entrance channel, missing the ship and impacting the shore. The third submarine was badly damaged when attacked and sank before firing. Nine of the ten Japanese sailors aboard these subs were lost. One was captured, becoming Prisoner of War #1. The five hulls have since been found and are accounted for. Two were in deep water a few miles off-shore, and are the subject of tomorrow’s dive.

Friday we will relax and play the tourist’s role as we visit the Dole Plantation snacking of fresh pineapple. Saturday we will fly to the Big Island for a few days and watch the fresh lava flowing into the sea, then the long overnight flight home.

About Terry Welshans

I grew up in Burbank, California. My dad worked at a company that made sub assemblies for about every airplane made in the 1960-1970 era, so it was only natural that the aviation bug bit me while I was quite young. I hold a commercial pilot certificate and fly as much as I can. I live in Bardstown, Kentucky with my wife, moving here after we retired. I am a Vietnam veteran and a cancer survivor. I like to keep politicians honest, and do so when they open an avenue where I feel they have erred.
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2 Responses to Reflections on a Pearl

  1. If you have the time, I highly recommend a glider flight. You can tack back and forth off the mountains, getting ridge lift from the onshore breeze, thus being able to stay up as long as your bladder can stand it.

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