Pearl Har­bor sur­vivor re­calls 1941 at­tack

U.S. navy vet­eran swam through flames to sur­vive

Winnipeg Free Press - - I WORLD NEWS - CALEB JONES

ONOLULU — Re­tired U.S. navy Cmdr. Don Long was alone on an an­chored mil­i­tary sea­plane in the mid­dle of a bay across the is­land from Pearl Har­bor when Ja­panese war­planes started strik­ing Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, watch­ing from afar as the at­tack that killed and wounded thou­sands un­folded.

The Ja­panese planes reached his base on Ka­neohe Bay soon af­ter Pearl Har­bor was hit, and the young sailor saw build­ings and planes ex­plode all around him.

When the gun­fire fi­nally reached him, set­ting the air­craft ablaze, he jumped into the wa­ter and swam through the flames to safety.

Now 97, Long marked the 77th an­niver­sary from his home in Napa, Calif., on Fri­day.

He shared some of his me­mories with The As­so­ci­ated Press:

HDECADES OF AN­NIVER­SARIES

Long was fresh out of boot camp when he ar­rived in Hawaii in 1941.

“I got off that ship with my sea bag over my shoul­der and we threw it on a truck and they carted me over to Ka­neohe from Pearl Har­bor, where we had landed,” Long re­called.

It was a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence when he was flown to Hawaii for the 75th an­niver­sary in 2016.

“We came in on a first-class United char­tered jet, all the girls with the leis were there with the Hawai­ian mu­sic,” he re­mem­bered. “We ended up not in a bunk in the bar­racks, but in a very nice ocean room.”

He at­tended a din­ner where sur­vivors were seated with dig­ni­taries. At his ta­ble were Ja­pan’s Honolulu-based con­sul gen­eral and his wife.

“He and his wife were there in full re­galia,” Long said. He asked if they might be able to help him iden­tify the pilot who at­tacked his plane.

“They did some search­ing I guess, or told some­body to do it, but within a month or so I got a mes­sage from them and the proof is not pos­i­tive, but they sent the in­for­ma­tion on three Ja­panese pi­lots.

“It was prob­a­bly one of those three,” Long said.

Long no longer har­bours against Ja­pan or its peo­ple.

“I don’t know when that feel­ing left me. But as you are prob­a­bly well aware, we were taught to hate those peo­ple with all our hearts, and when you’re look­ing at one down a gun sight, you can’t re­ally feel much love for any­one — that’s for darn sure,” he said. “That has long since changed.” Long has not al­ways marked the an­niver­sary like he does now.

“For about 50, 60 years or so, it was a day that rang a lit­tle bell to me, but I did not do much,” he said. “In the past 20 or so (years), I take part in some kind of ac­tiv­ity that I’ll say is ap­pro­pri­ate for the day.”

This year, Long was vis­it­ing school chil­dren be­fore at­tend­ing a Pearl Har­bor cer­e­mony atop Mount Di­ablo in Concord, Calif.

On Fri­day morn­ing around the time of the at­tack, Long spoke with the AP at his home as he pre­pared for the day: “I re­call the day very, very dis­tinctly,” he said, re­mem­ber­ing “the day that started the war for our coun­try that caused so, so much havoc. And I do re­call the friends who never came back with, oh, much sad­ness.”

In his of­fice are about 25 pho­tos of old planes on the wall, in­clud­ing one of the type of air­craft he was aboard that day. There is also a photo of a Ja­panese plane sim­i­lar to the one he be­lieves at­tacked him.

He keeps about a half dozen medals, in­clud­ing his Pur­ple Heart. On his dresser is a photo of him­self as a pilot in 1943. He also keeps one of his wife, who died 10 years ago.

His 1999 Volk­swa­gen cam­per van has two mag­netic signs — one with a photo of him and an­other read­ing “Re­mem­ber Pearl Har­bor.” A spe­cial li­cence plate notes he is a Pearl Har­bor sur­vivor.

A ROU­TINE WEEK­END

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Long re­mem­bers that week­end of the at­tack as rou­tine, “or so it started out,” he wrote in a 1992 es­say that he pro­vided to The As­so­ci­ated Press.

The 20-year-old from Min­nesota en­rolled in boot camp in March 1941, a “snotty nose kid, fresh off the farm.” That Sun­day morn­ing was his first day of op­er­a­tional duty with the squadron he had been as­signed to about a month ear­lier.

He took a small boat to­ward the await­ing Catalina fly­ing boat, cruis­ing across the turquoise wa­ters of wind­ward Oahu with Hawaii’s 22 C air splash­ing across his face.

“I re­call it was a beau­ti­ful sunny day in Hawaii that morn­ing,” Long said.

He be­gan pre­par­ing for a soli­tary day of sig­nal drills and reg­u­lar main­te­nance checks. He set­tled into the pilot’s com­part­ment to wait for con­tact from the beach sig­nalling sta­tion to be­gin his drills.

A few min­utes later, he heard the roar of air­planes over­head. In the dis­tance, Long saw planes fly­ing over hangars and build­ings ex­plod­ing. An­other plane that was an­chored nearby was hit and burst into flames.

Sec­onds later, a Ja­panese plane made a run to­ward his po­si­tion. “The se­quence of events dur­ing the next few min­utes is not en­tirely clear,” he re­called.

Long jumped from the pilot’s seat and started look­ing for a life-jacket, but bul­lets were im­me­di­ately pro­duc­ing foun­tains of seawa­ter in­side the cabin. The fuel tanks in the wings were hit, and he was sur­rounded by flames.

He made a run for the rear exit. Gaso­line was ablaze on the wa­ter, so he jumped into the bay and swam be­neath the fire to get away from the sink­ing plane.

He came to the sur­face and through the flames three times for air.

His mil­i­tary-is­sued high-top work shoes were bog­ging him down, so he dove un­der­wa­ter and re­moved them. Still far from shore, Long found a wooden chan­nel marker and swam to it, duck­ing be­neath the waves to hide ev­ery time a Ja­panese plane made a pass.

Once the Ja­panese were gone, Long spot­ted a boat that was search­ing for sur­vivors and flagged them down.

Long burned his head, face and arms mak­ing his es­cape, but he con­sid­ered him­self in good health com­pared to the wounded and dead around him.

“Ship­mates on the shore greeted me with com­ments like ‘we never ex­pected to see you again,’” Long re­called. “I was told I looked pretty bad.”

“The at­tack was over, but much tur­moil re­mained,” he wrote.

“That’s it — the start of the first day of a long war.”

BEN MAR­GOT / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pearl Har­bor sur­vivor Don Long lis­tens dur­ing a me­mo­rial cer­e­mony mark­ing the 77th an­niver­sary of the at­tack on Pearl Har­bor, which he wit­nessed first-hand.

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