Sur­vivor re­calls fear, anger on Pearl Har­bor at­tack day

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

PEARL HAR­BOR: Sur­prise, fear, anger and pride over­came Jim Down­ing as Ja­panese planes bombed Pearl Har­bor. Then a newly wed sailor, he re­called a Ja­panese plane fly­ing low and slow in his di­rec­tion as he rushed to his bat­tle­ship from his home af­ter hear­ing ex­plo­sions and learn­ing of the at­tack on the ra­dio. “When he got the right an­gle, he banked over, turned his ma­chine guns lose,” Down­ing, now 103, said in an in­ter­view at a Waikiki ho­tel, “But for­tu­nately he didn’t bank far enough so it went right over my head.”

The next avi­a­tor might have bet­ter aim, Down­ing re­mem­bers think­ing. And with nowhere to hide, “I was afraid,” he said. Down­ing plans to re­turn to Pearl Har­bor Wed­nes­day with a few dozen other sur­vivors to mark the 75th an­niver­sary of the at­tack that plunged the United States into World War II and left more than 2,300 ser­vice peo­ple dead. Those who gather at the cer­e­mony on a pier over­look­ing the har­bor are ex­pected to ob­serve a mo­ment of si­lence at 7:55 am the same mo­ment Ja­panese planes be­gan their as­sault.

Tales of war

Thou­sands of other ser­vice­men and women and mem­bers of the pub­lic are ex­pected to at­tend and watch via a livestream feed. Down­ing said he comes back to Hawaii for the an­niver­sary com­mem­o­ra­tions to be with his ship­mates. “We get to­gether and have a great time and com­pare our sto­ries,” said Down­ing, a res­i­dent of Colorado Springs, Colorado. His ship, the USS West Vir­ginia, was hit by nine tor­pe­does.

“We were sink­ing and ev­ery­thing above the wa­ter line was on fire,” he said. Down­ing said he felt proud while watch­ing sailors bal­ance the cap­siz­ing ship by al­low­ing wa­ter to seep in. The tac­tic let the gi­ant bat­tle­ship slide into mud be­low. “They just in­stinc­tively did the right thing at the right time with­out any thought about their own lives or safety,” he said.

The West Vir­ginia lost 106 men. Down­ing spent two hours fight­ing fires and check­ing the name tags of the dead so he could write their fam­i­lies per­sonal notes about how they died. “I thought that would give them more clo­sure that just a cold note, ‘your son was killed in ac­tion,’” said Down­ing, who also served as the ship’s post­mas­ter. Ray Chavez was out on a minesweeper, the USS Con­dor, in the early hours be­fore the at­tack. He re­mem­bers notic­ing with his ship­mates that a mys­te­ri­ous sub­ma­rine was lurk­ing off the har­bor.

“At 3:45 am on Dec. 7, I look out and spot­ted a sub­ma­rine that wasn’t sup­posed to be in that area,” the 104-yearold Chavez said. The sailors re­ported the sight­ing and Chavez went home to sleep. He told his wife not to wake him be­cause he hadn’t got­ten any rest dur­ing the busy night. “It seemed like I only slept about 10 min­utes when she called me and said ‘we’re be­ing at­tacked.’ And I said ‘who is go­ing to at­tack us?’ She said ‘the Ja­panese are here and they’re at­tack­ing ev­ery­thing,’” Chavez said. These days, many peo­ple treat Chavez and other Pearl Har­bor sur­vivors like celebri­ties, ask­ing them for au­to­graphs and pho­tos. But Chavez said it’s about the peo­ple who were lost. “I’m honor­ing them, not my­self,” he said.

— AP

PEARL HAR­BOR: In this Dec 7, 1941 photo made avail­able by the US Navy, a small boat res­cues a sea­man from the USS West Vir­ginia burn­ing in the fore­ground in Pearl Har­bor, Hawaii, af­ter Ja­panese air­craft at­tacked the mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tion.

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