A SOLEMN REMINDER
Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor remains one of the most wrenching events in American history. The human cost was stunning, with 2,402 Americans killed, including 41 from Colorado.
W hen John D. Anderson reached his battle station in the USS Arizona’s No. 4 turret that morning, he realized the gigantic guns could do nothing against the swarms of attacking Japanese airplanes. But his twin brother, Delbert “Jake” Anderson, was manning an anti-aircraft gun out on deck and was in the thick of the action. “He needs help,” John told his turret commander, and he asked whether could join his brother.
Both men were 24. The sons of a judge, they were born in Verona, N.D., in 1917. Both had joined the Navy in 1936. John was a boatswain’s mate second class; Jake, a boatswain’s mate first class. Both wound up on the Arizona, which at that moment on Dec. 7, 1941, was a maelstrom of fire, smoke and explosions. They would never meet up that Sunday morning, and only one would survive the day.
Wednesday, 75 years later, John Anderson’s ashes are to be interred underwater in the remnants of his old turret, rejoining Jake, whose body was never recovered from the ship.
Their reunion, on the anniversary of the attack, brings together one twin who enjoyed a long and varied life and one whose life stopped at Pearl Harbor.
John lived through the rest of the war. He settled in Roswell, N.M., became a local TV personality and died last year at age 98, one of the Arizona’s last survivors. Only five of the original 334 are left.
Jake is eternally 24, still “aboard” the Arizona and one of the first Americans killed in World War II.
John’s family said they believed they should rest together.
“He talked all the time about his brother,” said John’s son, John D. Anderson Jr. “(They) wrote letters back and forth to each other when they were on different ships. And Jake really wanted him to get on the Arizona with him. “They were really close.” During the attack, while searching the inferno for his brother, John was ordered off the battleship by an officer. “I’m not leaving,” he told the officer, according to a 2011 oral history recorded by videographer Don Smith. “My brother’s here someplace. I’ve got to find him.”
“He couldn’t have made it,” he said the officer replied, shoving John into a rescue vessel.
But after they reached shore, John grabbed an empty boat and went back to the Arizona in the midst of the attack, nearly losing his life in the process.
“He just kept saying, ‘I’ve got to find my brother, I’ve got to find my brother,’ ” his son recalled.
The Arizona interment is one of two scheduled for Wednesday that, along with many other commemorations this week, probably will mark the last major anniversary of the attack attended by survivors.
Seventy-five years later, Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor remains one of the most wrenching and intimate events in American history.
As with the 9/11 terrorist attacks or the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, people remembered where they were when they heard the news.
The cost of the attack was stunning: On the Arizona alone, 1,177 sailors and Marines were killed. More than 900 of them were never recovered.
Thirteen hundred more people died on other ships and around the harbor.
Many men were blown apart. One survivor recalled that the sky “rained sailors.” Another remembered dozens of Navy hats floating on the surface of the water.
Eleven hundred men were wounded, many horribly burned.
“Flames from the inferno leapt up the metal steps and barred our escape,” Arizona survivor Donald Stratton, now 94, wrote in “All the Gallant Men.”
“My T-shirt had caught fire, burning my arms and my back,” he wrote. “My legs were burned from my ankles to my thighs. My face was seared. The hair on my head had been singed off, and part of my ear was gone.”
Eighteen U.S. warships were sunk or crippled, along with hundreds of planes destroyed and damaged. The Arizona went down, as did the battleship USS Oklahoma, entombing hundreds of sailors.
The Japanese, gambling that they could cripple U.S. forces as they expanded their Asian empire, launched the daring attack with 31 ships, including six aircraft carriers, and more than 350 airplanes.
Their armada sailed in secret across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii. The effect was electrifying. “Pearl Harbor absolutely shattered Americans’ image of themselves,” said historian Steve Twomey, author of “Countdown to Pearl Harbor.”
The country saw itself as having a fine Army and Navy, and the protection of two oceans. “The wars were always ‘over there,’ ” he said.
But within hours that Sunday, “millions of families knew ... that their sons and their brothers and their fathers were going to go to war ... and many of them were not going to come back,” he said.
The attack would bring 9 million Americans into the war and create the powerhouse United States of the 21st century, said historian Craig Nelson, author of “Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness.”
Many of the sailors, soldiers and Marines at Pearl Harbor were children of the Depression and the Dust Bowl who had joined the service to escape poverty and starvation.
The 1,500-man crew on the Arizona was similar in size to the population of some of the small towns the sailors had come from. Now they had hot meals, a hammock to sleep in and a steady paycheck.
John Anderson had just gone to the mess hall to get some breakfast. Suddenly, he heard a loud explosion.
“I thought, ‘What in the dickens is that?’ ” he said in his video account. He went out on the deck, “looked up and saw this plane dipping ... and it had red balls on its wings,” he said.
“I said a cuss word and said, ‘The Japanese are here,’ ” he remembered.
He hurried to sound the alarm, but before he could, a bomb fell nearby. “I was a gunner,” he said. “I’d like to get out there and get on a gun with my brother,” he said. The turret captain gave him the OK.
Anderson started up a ladder to the anti-aircraft guns. “I got to the top of the ladder and an enormous explosion occurred,” he said. “People were blown all over the place, all kinds of body parts ... and tremendous fires broke out.”
Meanwhile, officers were ordering survivors off the doomed ship, as more bombs struck. Anderson refused to go until he was forced. Reaching Ford Island, in the middle of the harbor, he looked back at the Arizona.
It was still on fire, but his brother and others were out there. He spotted a small boat floating by with nobody in it. He and a buddy swam out, got in and headed back to the ship.
There, he gathered three wounded men into the boat. There was no sign of Jake. “We had to take what we could get,” he said, and they headed for shore. As they did, the boat was hit and blown apart.
Anderson said his buddy and the three wounded sailors were lost. “I was the only one left alive,” he said. He made it to shore and collapsed on the beach.
After the attack ended, he was assigned to another ship, became part of Navy raiding parties and fought his way across the Pacific — “in so many scrapes and fights that I forgot the names of the places.”
At first, he heard nothing of Jake, but he was told later that someone had seen him felled at his post by gunfire.
“That was the last anybody ever had on my brother,” he said.
Wednesday afternoon, about 40 members of his family are scheduled to gather at the USS Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor as they return Anderson to what is left of turret No. 4, and to his shipmates and his brother.
Lauren Bruner, center, one of five remaining survivors of the USS Arizona, is joined in June 2013 by Capt. Jeffrey W. James, right, then-commander of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, and Daniel Martinez, chief historian for the National Park Service. They were looking at the USS Arizona Memorial’s Shrine Wall.
From left, Terry Anderson, Karolyn Anderson, Travis Anderson and John D. Anderson Jr. traveled to Oahu in Hawaii, where John D. Anderson’s ashes are to be interred underwater in the remnants of his old turret aboard the USS Arizona. He will rejoin his twin, Delbert “Jake” Anderson, whose body was never recovered from the ship.