Few remain who recall Pearl Harbor attack 75 years later
WWII brought Pax River to St. Mar y’s County
Today, 75 years after the Japanese attack on the United States, there are precious few remaining who survived the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The last veteran still liv- ing in St. Mary’s County who was there can no longer remember those events, as Clarence Davis, 93, now has Alzheimer’s disease.
“The mention of Pearl Harbor and World War II doesn’t seem to regis- ter with him anymore,” his son, Michael Davis of Leonardtown, said last month.
In 2009, Clarence Davis was head of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Associ- ation Maryland Chapter 1. “I’m the last one,” left in St. Mary’s County, he said then. There were still a dozen Pearl Harbor veterans living in the county just a few years before.
The Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs does not know how many Pearl Harbor survivors are still living in Maryland, but the number is thought to be only a handful. There were 12 survivors still living in
Maryland in 2011, Davis said then.
The general mood of Americans in the late 1930s and early 1940s was isolationism. After sending men into the Great War a generation before, most Americans did not want to be pulled into another European conflict.
But the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor im- mediately reversed those sentiments and put the United States into action. Congress declared war on Japan and in turn Ja- pan’s ally Germany declared war on the United States. It was the last time the United States was ac- tually in a declared state of war.
About 2,400 American service members and ci- vilians were killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, according to the National Park Service, which oversees the sunken USS Arizona memorial in Hawaii. A total of 1,177 servicemen were killed on the Arizona alone, which still lies underwater as a memorial.
“All told, 86 ships of the Pacific fleet were in Pearl Harbor that day. Those escaping injury were four cruisers, 25 destroyers, five submarines and 33 lesser craft. Luckily all of our aircraft carriers were operating at sea or they would have been blast- ed,” The Washington Post wrote in on Dec. 6, 1942. Eight American battleships were sunk or crippled in the attack the year before. The exact extent of the damage wasn’t revealed until almost a year later.
The attack on Pearl Har- bor had immediate effects on St. Mary’s County. The St. Mary’s Beacon of Dec. 12, 1941, ran the headline, “St. Mary’s County Should Be Prepared.”
“We are probably in slight danger here but we must not forget we are between two big cities and the coast. Any attack on these cities might pass over this county. If an airplane raid were driven off from Baltimore and Washington they would unload their bombs somewhere on the way back,” the paper advised.
Several air-raid stations were established in St. Mary’s County on the lookout for enemy planes and citizens practiced blackouts so enemy pilots would not be able to navi- gate at night.
“A Pearl Harbor at once inflames and spurs you, then you cool off sufficiently to plan a comeback; and it is the comeback that counts,” columnist Grif Alexan- der wrote in the Dec. 26, 1941, Beacon.
Among those 429 men killed on the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor was Al- bert Eugene Hayden, a na- tive of St. Mary’s County.
Born in Piney Point, his mother in Mechanicsville was notified of Hayden’s death in March 1942. Hayden, 45, attended Leonard Hall Military Academy and Charlotte Hall Military Academy before enlisting in the Navy in 1917 in the first world war where he served aboard the battleship Tex- as in the North Sea.
Hayden’s remains were in a mass grave of unknowns in Hawaii for more than 70 years. In January, his remains were positively identified through DNA and he was interred at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in May with his family.
Growing up in Texas, Clarence Davis joined the Navy months before the Pearl Harbor bombing in Jan. 24, 1941, when he was 17 years old.
A resident of Charlotte Hall since 1960, Davis was one of 52 Pearl Har- bor survivors still living in Maryland in 2009.
Davis was ordered to the USS Oglala, a mine sweeping ship, but when he arrived at Pearl Harbor, the order was changed to the repair ship USS Medusa. Between the two vessels, “I didn’t know the difference,” Davis said in a 2009 inter view.
But the Oglala was one of 18 ships to sink to the bottom of Pearl Harbor.
Davis was working in the Medusa’s kitchen on the third deck down that Sunday morning.
“All of a sudden, we saw this huge ball of fire go up,” he said, across the water at Ford Island in the center of Pearl Harbor. The USS Utah, which was tied at the spot where the Medusa usual- ly was, had just been hit. Fifty eight of the Utah’s crew were killed.
“That’s twice — didn’t go to the Oglala and didn’t go over to where the Utah was,” Davis said as he recalled his streak of luck at Pearl Harbor.
From his vantage point aboard the USS Medusa, “when I saw that first bomb, we didn’t know what it was.”
Of its three guns, the Medusa had two anti-air- craft guns, which the crew manned to repel fire. A Japanese plane shot up the Medusa, but the ship’s men shot down two enemy planes.
Next to the Medusa in the harbor was the USS Curtis, which was hit by both a Japanese plane that crashed into it and a bomb. The Curtis sunk killing 21.
Davis remained at Pearl Harbor until April 1943 repairing ships. Aboard the USS Garrard, Davis was there at Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945, when the Japanese formally surrendered.
Mike Davis said it took a long time for his father to start talking about Pearl Harbor, but once he did, he did not stop.
“There’s no question that my father’s experience at Pearl Harbor has left an indelible mark on me, but to be sure — it’s a fairly recent mark. It was only 20 years or so ago that he allowed his own buried stories to resur- face. And while he was always humble about his service during the war, you could see that he was also undeniably and justi- fiably proud. So, it’s only by extension that I get to feel the same pride,” Mike Davis said.
“The attack on Pearl Harbor was clearly one of the most important events in modern Amer- ican history. To not only know, but be related to someone with first-hand experience from such an event is a very special honor indeed,” he said.
Durwood Wiley joined the Navy in 1939 in North Carolina.
In 1940, stationed on the battleship USS Ida- ho, Wiley first briefly saw Hawaii. On Dec. 7, 1941, Wiley was in Bermuda. After the Pearl Harbor bombing, Wiley was sent across the continental United States and on to San Diego for the 19-hour flight to Pearl Harbor. Arriving on Dec. 22, “I can’t explain how I felt when I saw it with the boats on the bottom [of the har- bor] and all the destruc- tion everywhere. It was horrible,” Wiley said in an interview in 2005 when he was 83.
Wiley along with many others was assigned to “police the area.”
“What that was, was us going around picking up arms and legs” and other body parts of the sailors and soldiers who had died during the attack. “It was a terrible thing to see,” he said. “You’d pick up someone’s shoe and there was still a foot in it.”
Wiley left the Pacific theater of war in 1944 and retired from the Navy in 1959.
A resident of Ridge, Wi- ley died on Oct. 9, 2005.
Aloysius King, editor of the Beacon wrote on the 15th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1948, “This is a date we should never erase from our minds, not as an anniversary of hatred and revenge for a people, for out of such comes further wars. But we must remember Pearl Harbor with a prayer, that this must never happen to America again. We cannot slumber in the implicit faith and confidence that no nation would dare repeat the performance.”
The United States would be attacked again on Sept. 11, 2001, not by an enemy nation state but a terrorist organization.
As a survivor’s association, “Our primary goal is for people to remember what happened there and what happened in New York. It could happen today,” Clarence Davis said in 2009 of the attack on Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11, 2001.
St. Mary’s, a small, poor, rural county with a population of 14,626 in 1940 sent 1,442 people into World War II. At least 61 of them died.
The economy of St. Mary’s County was transformed instantly when the Navy began construction on a new military base at Cedar Point, condemning more than 6,400 acres in 1942 from large farm owners and summer cottage owners. The local tenant farmers had to find a new place to live without compensation.
The $90 million Patuxent River Naval Air Station, which brought 7,000 new workers to St. Mary’s County, was commissioned on April 1, 1943. Today the installation provides about 22,000 jobs and drives about 80 percent of the local economy.
Clarence Davis, pictured in 2009, said then he was the last Pearl Harbor survivor living in St. Mary’s County.
A young Clarence Davis pictured in 1941.
The USS Oklahoma, right, sank into the mud next to the USS Maryland in the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Albert Eugene Hayden of Mechanicsville was one of 429 killed aboard the Oklahoma. Hayden’s remains were returned to St. Mary’s County for burial in May.