Les­sons and mem­o­ries of 75 years ago

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

South­ern Mary­land was a very dif­fer­ent place 75 years ago to­day, Dec. 7, 1941. To­bacco was hang­ing and cur­ing in barns all across the county. Many wa­ter­men were tak­ing a day of rest from tong­ing for oys­ters. Peo­ple were re­turn­ing from church ser­vices and set­tling in at home on a quiet Sun­day early af­ter­noon.

Half a world away, though, in the U.S. ter­ri­tory of Hawaii, it was a dif­fer­ent story. It was morn­ing there as Ja­panese planes at­tacked the Amer­i­can naval base at Pearl Har­bor, on the is­land of Oahu. When it was all said and done, 18 ships were sunk and more than 2,400 mil­i­tary per­son­nel and civil­ians were killed. The United States, which had re­treated into a pe­riod of rel­a­tive isolationism fol­low­ing the first huge and aw­ful world war, was pulled into an­other global con­fronta­tion. Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt urged Congress to de­clare war on the em­pire of Ja­pan, and Nazi Ger­many, Ja­pan’s ally, in turn de­clared war on Amer­ica.

At least three South­ern Mary­land men were among the many U.S. ser vice mem­bers with con­nec­tions to Pearl Har­bor on that fate­ful day, that day Roo­sevelt said would “live in in­famy.” A story about them ap­pears in to­day’s edition. One of them was killed in the at­tack 75 years ago. Two oth­ers lived on to work, raise fam­i­lies and grow old. One of those men has since died, and the other can no longer share his mem­o­ries of the at­tack and the ter­ri­ble war which fol­lowed be­cause of his strug­gle with Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

But these three men with ties to our area have sto­ries that are well worth shar­ing, as are the sto­ries of all of our veterans.

Among those 429 men killed on the USS Ok­la­homa at Pearl Har­bor was Al­bert Eu­gene Hay­den, who was born in Piney Point. He had al­ready served a long ca­reer in the Navy, hav­ing been aboard the bat­tle­ship USS Texas in the North Sea. Hay­den had at­tended Leonard Hall and the Charlotte Hall Mil­i­tary Acad­emy as a young man. Af­ter more than seven decades, his re­mains were fi­nally brought home to rest this spring af­ter DNA test­ing pos­i­tively iden­ti­fied them.

Dur­wood Wi­ley of Ridge had joined the Navy about two years be­fore Pearl Har­bor, and was serv­ing aboard the bat­tle­ship USS Idaho off Ber­muda when the Ja­panese at­tack oc­curred. He was dis­patched as part of the re­cov­ery crew later that month. He got to Hawaii three days be­fore Christ­mas, and was as­signed to “po­lice the area,” as he said in a 2005 in­ter­view just months be­fore his death at 83. “I can’t ex­plain how I felt when I saw it with the boats ... and all the de­struc­tion ev­ery­where. It was hor­ri­ble.” Wi­ley was a sta­ple of the Ridge com­mu­nity and its Amer­i­can Le­gion Post 255 for years af­ter his re­tire­ment from the Navy in 1959.

Clarence Davis, 93, who has lived in Charlotte Hall since 1960 be­fore a re­cent move to as­sisted liv­ing, is now be­lieved to be the last St. Mary’s sur­vivor of Pearl Har­bor. He joined the Navy about a year be­fore the at­tack, when he was 17. He was sta­tioned aboard the mine sweeper USS Oglala when it ar­rived in Hawaii that fall, but was soon moved to the USS Me­dusa, a re­pair ship. The Oglala was one of the ships sunk in the Dec. 7 at­tack. And the USS Utah, docked in the Me­dusa’s usual spot, was hit.

The mobilization of Amer­ica af­ter the at­tack re­ver­ber­ated in South­ern Maryalnd, which sent hun­dreds upon hun­dreds of peo­ple to war. And a great deal of them died while ser ving.

Of course, the re­gion’s econ­omy changed im­me­di­ately and for­ever with the plan­ning and build­ing of Patux­ent River Naval Air Sta­tion, which opened in 1943. To­day, the base is St. Mary’s eco­nomic en­gine, em­ploy­ing some 22,000 peo­ple.

It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber the cost of that suc­cess. South­ern Mary­land and the na­tion owe a debt of grat­i­tude to he­roes like Hay­den, Wi­ley and Davis and so many oth­ers for their ser vice.

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