Pearl Har­bor sur­vivor, Navy vet­eran re­calls 1941 at­tack

The Oklahoman - - NATION - BY CALEB JONES

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 De­cem­ber 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, Cal­i­for­nia on Fri­day.

He shared some of his mem­o­ries with The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Decades 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 Honolu­lubased 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 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 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, Cal­i­for­nia.

On Fri­day morn­ing at about 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 li­cense plate notes he is a Pearl Har­bor sur­vivor.

[AP PHOTO]

Re­tired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Don Long, at his home Fri­day in Napa, Calif., holds up a replica of the mil­i­tary sea­plane he was stand­ing watch on when Ja­panese war­planes at­tacked Hawaii 77 years ago.

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