Pearl Har­bor vet re­mem­bers the fate­ful day

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - As­so­ci­ated press

A sur­vivor of the at­tack, now 97, re­calls swim­ming through f lames on Dec. 7, 1941, and the decades of an­niver­saries af­ter­ward.

HONOLULU — 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 bombs and bul­lets killed and wounded thou­sands.

The waves of at­tack­ing planes reached his mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tion on Ka­neohe Bay soon af­ter Pearl Har­bor was struck, 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 found him­self swim­ming through fire to safety.

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

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,” Long re­called, “and they carted me over to Ka­neohe from Pearl Har­bor where we had landed.”

It was a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence when he flew to Hawaii for the 75th an­niver­sary in 2016, a trip that was paid for by a sur­vivors group.

“We came in on a first­class United char­tered jet. All the girls with the leis were there with the Hawai­ian mu­sic,” he said. “We ended up not in a bunk in the bar­racks, but in a very nice ocean room” at the Hil­ton Hawai­ian.

He at­tended a din­ner where sur­vivors were seated at ran­dom 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 whether 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. All three have died, but Long was im­pressed the con­sul gen­eral had taken the time to find out.

Long no longer har­bors ill will 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 as 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 planned to visit school­child­ren to talk about Pearl Har­bor, then light a bea­con atop Mt. Di­ablo in Concord, Calif. The bea­con, known as the Eye of Di­ablo, was put out shortly af­ter the at­tack in 1941. In 1964, Fleet Adm. Ch­ester Nimitz, com­man­der of U.S. Pa­cific forces dur­ing World War II, re­lighted the bea­con, begin­ning a yearly tra­di­tion.

On Fri­day morn­ing at about the time of the at­tack, Long spoke with the As­so­ci­ated Press at his home as he pre­pared for the day: “I re­call the day very, very dis­tinctly,” he said. “I don’t usu­ally think of it as this day but as 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.”

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

The 20-year-old sea­man 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 joined about a month ear­lier.

He was as­signed to stand watch aboard a sea­plane in the bay across the is­land from Pearl Har­bor.

He ar­rived early and took a small boat to­ward the wait­ing Catalina fly­ing boat, cruis­ing across the turquoise wa­ters of wind­ward Oahu.

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

He re­lieved a com­rade who had stood watch overnight and be­gan pre­par­ing for a day of sig­nal drills and main­te­nance checks. He set­tled into the pilot’s com­part­ment to wait for con­tact from the beach sig­nal­ing sta­tion to be­gin his drills.

A few min­utes later, he heard the roar of air­planes and then the sound of ex­plo­sions. He as­sumed it was U.S. mil­i­tary mak­ing prac­tice runs but quickly real­ized he was wrong. In the dis­tance, Long saw planes fly­ing over hangars, and build­ings ex­plod­ing. An­other plane that was an­chored nearby was hit, burst­ing into flames.

Sec­onds later, a Ja­panese plane made a run to­ward his moored air­craft. “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 pro­duc­ing foun­tains of seawa­ter in­side the cabin. The fuel tanks in the wings were hit, and he was quickly sur­rounded by flames.

He gave up on the life jacket and made a run for the rear exit. Gaso­line was ablaze on the wa­ter, so he jumped into the bay and swam be­neath the flames to get away from the burn­ing plane. He came to the sur­face and through the flames three times for air.

He soon real­ized his mil­i­tary-is­sue high-top work shoes were bog­ging him down, so he dived 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 at­tack planes left, Long saw flames, smoke and sink­ing air­craft all around the bay. He spot­ted a boat that was search­ing for sur­vivors and flagged them down.

Swim­ming through the flames burned his head, face and arms.

“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.”

Eric Risberg As­so­ci­ated Press

DON LONG was alone on a sea­plane in Ka­neohe Bay when Ja­panese planes hit Pearl Har­bor 77 years ago. He marked the an­niver­sary at his Napa, Calif., home.

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