Pearl Harbor Reflections by James Diehl, Author of World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware
We welcome James Diehl back with another excellent guest post. James is the author of World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware, which is available for purchase from his website.
I hope James doesn't mind if I pop in with a quick story of my own first. Growing up, we had an elderly couple living in the apartment next door. The husband, Phil, had served during World War II. In the late 80's and early 90's, I worked at a credit union, where Phil's brother and sister-in-law did business. I noticed that his brother's last name was spelled differently and asked him about it one day.
It seems that right after Pearl Harbor, Phil and his two brothers, Stanley and Fritz ran, like many other young men, to sign up for military service. Stanley's last name was incorrectly spelled with an "i" instead of an "a" by whoever registered him for service. Sometime later, Stanley would be interrogated as a possible spy because his last name was slightly different than Phil's and Fritz's.
A bit of useless WWII knowledge that I remember to help me keep those memories of Phil and his brothers alive since they've all passed away.
Now I hope you'll read the touching post that James put together for the anniversary of Pearl Harbor!
"Pearl Harbor Reflections" by James Diehl
Ask someone who was born in the 1970s or beyond what the words “Pearl Harbor” mean and you’ll likely get an answer straight out of the 2001 movie that became a blockbuster at the theaters for Touchstone Pictures.
Ask that same question to someone who was raised in the 1940s and you’ll get an entirely different answer, one filled with realism and sorrow for what happened on Dec. 7, 1941. Now take the next step – ask a veteran of World War II what those two simple words mean to him. It is likely a day he will never forget; most veterans from that era know someone who made the ultimate sacrifice as a direct result of what happened on that early December day nearly 70 years ago.
Listen to John Ross, who was on the deck of the U.S.S. Selfridge in berth X-9 that fateful day, just off the famed Battleship Row. It’s a day that has defined his entire life, and a day he will never, ever forget.
“We were lucky because they weren’t after destroyers [like the Selfridge]; they wanted the big ships. But it just seemed like all hell had broken loose – bombs were raining down on all the battleships,” Ross recounts in my book, World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware. “I saw the [U.S.S.] Arizona take a bomb through the deck and just settle down in the bottom of the harbor with a lot of people still trapped below deck. I was just dumfounded.”
Or the memories of U.S. Army soldier Clayton Cugler, who was stationed at Schofield Barracks, just a few miles from the harbor.
“When we went around the city, we looked out and the oil was all over the water and it was on fire. And those poor boys from the Navy, the ones who were on the ships that had been blown up, they were out there in the water fighting the fires and trying to get to shore. A lot of them died trying. Those Japanese really caught us by surprise. They had us really puzzled and mixed up for awhile.”
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 was a resounding and complete victory for Emperor Hirohito. On the flip side, it was a devastating defeat for the Americans and thrust then into a war they had been hesitant to enter.
The day changed the course of history and eventually led to President Harry S. Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
The Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base lasted for nearly two hours. When it was complete, 2,403 Americans were dead, 1,178 more were wounded, eight battleships were damaged or sunk and 188 aircraft were lost. It was a complete sucker punch to the gut of the United States, possibly the biggest ever, leading to a declaration of war and an intense wave of patriotism all across the county.
For Ross and Cugler and thousands more just like them, it was an event they will never forget. Sadly, our country’s World War II veterans are passing away at record numbers now and with them go their stories, their first-hand accounts of a time unrivaled in the history of the world.
We owe it to all the brave men and women of the World War II era to never forget the sacrifices they made all those years ago so that we may live today in the greatest country in the world. They truly were members of the “greatest generation” as Tom Brokaw so eloquently stated a few years ago. Without them and their service, who knows what the world would be like today.
And it all started in a quiet little harbor in the territory of Hawaii, on a peaceful morning that suddenly became one of the most historic days ever.
We must never forget!
James Diehl is an award-winning journalist who has covered Sussex County, Delaware for various media outlets since 1998. Since 2007, he has owned and operated a freelance writing company based in Seaford, Delaware and is also a partner in a Lewes, Delaware-based public relations and marketing firm. He is the author of two works of non-fiction – Remembering Sussex County, from Zwaanendael to King Chicken, published in 2009 by The History Press, and World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware, published in 2009 by the DNB Group, Inc. James can be found online at www.twitter.com/sussexwriter, at www.facebook.com/sussexwriter, at www.worldwar2heroes.blogspot.com or via www.ww2-heroes.com.