Few re­main who re­call Pearl Har­bor at­tack 75 years later

WWII brought Pax River to St. Mar y’s County

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JA­SON BAB­COCK jbab­cock@somd­news.com

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.

FILE PHOTO

Clarence Davis, pic­tured in 2009, said then he was the last Pearl Har­bor sur­vivor liv­ing in St. Mary’s County.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF MICHAEL DAVIS

A young Clarence Davis pic­tured in 1941.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF THE NAVY HIS­TORY AND HER­ITAGE COM­MAND

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.

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