This December, we remember the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Veterans profiled below were there on December 7, 1941. We hope by sharing their stories, we pay tribute to their service, and to those who have passed, their memory.
Many of these #PearlHarbor75 profiles were created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/. Find out more about #PearlHarbor75 at http://pearlharbor75thanniversary.com/.
Profiles were authored by Vantage Point contributing writers Natalie Himmel, Amber Dube, Jeesue Lee, Mei-Mei Chun Moy, Lyly Luhachack and Megan Moloney. Graphics were created by Kierra Willis, Carl J. Valentino and Dominique Ramirez.
Raymond Barron Chavez was assigned to the minesweeper, USS Condor, while he was stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1941. In an interview with the Veterans History Project, he shared his memories about the infamous day.
Raymond was serving as a helmsman on the USS Condor and after finishing his shift he headed back to base believing it was just another day. Two hours later his wife woke him up and told him they were under attack. Disbelieving at first, Raymond rushed outside. The sight that greeted him was Pearl Harbor set afire.
Determined to help, he rushed back to his ship, which was stationed next to the USS Honolulu. All around him, he saw destruction. “There I saw the destruction on the ships that were torpedoed and bombed and all the bodies that were scattered around in the oil.”
Raymond, 104 years old, may be the oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor and he is in Hawaii for the 75th anniversary commemorations to honor the lives lost. “I was there in Pearl Harbor when the war started and I was in Okinawa when it ended.”
We thank Raymond for his service.
Doris Miller was a mess attendant, third class and served as the USS West Virginia’s cook. He was working as a room steward on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941 when the alarm sounded.
Under the onslaught of enemy attack, Doris rushed to the bridge to aid the injured Captain Mervyn Bennion. Afterwards, he started firing one of the few undamaged anti-aircraft machine guns left. Doris had never been trained on it. He later said, “It wasn’t hard. I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns.”
While the USS West Virginia was engulfed in flames, Dories also helped transport injured sailors to safety, saving many lives in the process. For his heroics, he was awarded the Navy Cross.
The citation reads:
For distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. While at the side of his Captain on the bridge, Miller, despite enemy strafing and bombing and in the face of a serious fire, assisted in moving his Captain, who had been mortally wounded, to a place of greater safety, and later manned and operated a machine gun directed at enemy Japanese attacking aircraft until ordered to leave the bridge.
Tragically, Doris was killed in action at the Battle of Makin Island in 1943.
We honor his service.
Mervyn Sharp Bennion was a Navy Captain on the USS West Virginia who dedicated his life to defending his country until the moment he died. Mervyn began his military career at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1906 and served until 1941.
The evening before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mervyn felt something was amiss and history proved him right. The moment the air attack was reported he jumped into action. Mervyn organized the entire crew on the West Virginia to ready them, making sure everyone had what they needed. Almost immediately after the gun crews were ready, Japanese planes flew overhead hitting the ship.
After the first round of attacks, Mervyn went to the top deck to survey the destruction and to gather information. He stepped out and was hit by a splinter from a bomb, gravely injuring his stomach, spine, left hip and legs. Despite his mortal injury, Mervyn refused to seek medical attention while there was still work to be done. He instructed his crew to brief him on what was taking place so he could continue to give orders and advice. Mervyn and one other crewmember, a Seaman, were the only two casualties aboard his ship that day. Everyone else made it out alive, thanks in part to Mervyn’s leadership.
In honor of his heroic efforts, Mervyn Bennion was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
We honor his service.
We honor Navy Veteran Hugh M. Weaver.
Born in Kansas, Hugh joined the Navy at a young age in hope of seeing the world. He was 22 during the attack of Pearl Harbor, assigned to the USS San Francisco. After finishing his service, he never shared or spoke of his experiences with his family. He passed away in 1999.
While Hugh’s silence makes his story short, his reaction to his military career is not unusual. After all, the act of serving one’s country is an intimate and unique experience. Many servicemen and women bear witness to or undergo violence and horrors incredible to the day-to-day civilian life. The loss of friends, body, or even being can leave an indelible mark, often too great for words.
Of course, how those memories are processed and internalized are individual. It would be folly to reduce Hugh’s silence only to a symbol of pain and suffering. Perhaps, he simply wanted to leave his service in the past. Or, he may have wished to reflect on it on his own terms. Regardless, Hugh’s silence, like his service, was personal. To press any further would only diminish the nuance of being a Veteran.
Yes, the loss of biography of Hugh’s life in the Navy is a shame. Yet, the aggravation is only reflective of those who want to remember him. Days like Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day are excellent opportunities then to also highlight the many Veterans who don’t want their service shared and salute their silence.
We honor your service, Hugh.
George C. Larsen served in the U.S. Coast Guard from 1939 to 1945 as a radioman.
George was stationed at Diamond Head Light House in Hawaii when, on the morning of Dec. 7 1941, he awoke to what he assumed was an earthquake. He realized it was the sound of airplane engines.
“There were three planes flying below the rim of Diamond Head, about 500 feet above me in ‘V’ formation, low-wing type with big red dots on the underside about 2 feet in diameter,” George recalled. “They flew right over me, as they disappeared towards Pearl Harbor.”
Donald Patrick Finn served in the Navy from 1939 to 1945 and left the service as an Aviation Chief Machinist’s Mate.
On the morning of Dec. 7, he was on Port Island looking out a window when he saw a plane diving and then heard a loud explosion. When the plane pulled out of its dive, Donald saw the insignia of the Japanese Air Force.
As he described in an interview with the Veterans History Project, Donald remembers running down to his battle station where the sea planes were housed and seeing nothing but debris. While torpedoes rained into the channel, Donald spent the remainder of the first wave attempting to clear the debris.
We honor your service, Donald.
Kathryn Mary Doody was enrolled in nursing school by her mother, who wanted her to experience something beyond growing up on a small farm in Maryland. After working as a civilian nurse, she joined the Army Nurses Corps in June 1940 and was transferred to Hawaii in September 1941.
On Dec. 7, 1941, she was one of 82 nurses assigned to Tripler Army Hospital in Honolulu. As the bombardment began, Kathryn recalled in an interview with the Veterans History Project that she went outside to find out what was going on. “The night nurse came off duty and she said to us, ‘Girls, you know what’s happening?’ And we said, ‘No. What’s happening?’ She said, ‘The island of Oahu has been attacked by the enemy, Japan.’”
On call that night, Kathryn quickly received a phone call asking her to come in. When she arrived, “They had as many stretchers as they could get in one room. You know, all the rooms were filled up with wounded men.” Kathryn witnessed her first major limb amputation that night – the first of many more she would see in a long career as an Army nurse.
Kathryn would later serve in the European theater during World War II and with a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) unit during the Korean War, retiring from service as a Major.
Kathryn passed away in October 2010. We honor her service.
Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Donald Stratton is from a small Nebraska town and is one of the few survivors aboard the USS Arizona on that fateful day of Dec. 7, 1941.
Donald Stratton’s first assignment after he enlisted was on the USS Arizona. He recalls the relentless Japanese air strikes coming down on him and his fellow sailors that day: “I got burned over about 60 percent of my body. We were just actually burning alive.” He kept fighting past his pain and managed to pull himself 80 feet by rope to safety on another ship. “I just pulled the skin off my arms and threw it down because it was in the way,” Stratton said.
After a little over a year of excruciating pain and many surgeries Stratton went back and fought in the Pacific for a few more years. He goes back to the Arizona Memorial every now and then, and it’s a very sobering time for him. “It’s very sad. That’s a very sacred place. I lost so many shipmates that day. It’s like going back and losing them all over again.” The 1,167 men that paid the ultimate sacrifice will forever be with Donald Stratton.
We thank Donald for his service.
Glenn W. Sorensen was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel during World War II and served with the 42nd Bomb Squad, 11th Bombardment Group. As a Pearl Harbor survivor, he recounts his memories of that day in an interview for the Veterans History Project.
Glenn was cleaning his Buick at Hickam Field, next to Pearl Harbor, when he first saw the airplanes coming in. He said, “When you saw the red circles, you knew something was happening.” He would see it all, the bombings at Wheeler and Hickham Field, then finally Pearl Harbor. “I saw bombs hit the California, Arizona and the other battleships. Pearl Harbor and Wheeler Field were devastated. The airplanes were on fire and there were a lot of casualties.”
After the first attack, Glenn was strafed as he headed to Fort Shafter. He still has the bullets that were lodged in his car and considered himself lucky to have survived. In the days after, Glenn flew missions searching for the wounded and fallen.
Glenn passed away on September 21, 2015. We honor his service.
Frank A. Erickson served in the Navy and U.S. Coast Guard from 1925 to 1954 and retired as a Captain.
Before December 1941, Frank piloted an “amphibian” aircraft attached to USCGC Taney, stationed at Pearl Harbor. In January 1941, he was assigned to the Coast Guard district office in Honolulu. He was just coming off duty as the watch officer on Ford Island when the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He recalls coming off post and immediately responding to operations:
“I did not waste any time in getting over there as shrapnel was raining down. I didn’t think I could run so fast. Every gun in the fleet had cut loose by this time. My duty station was that of assistant operations officer so I took charge of land plane control tower and the battery of machine guns which were being set up on the roof of the operations building.”
Frank passed away in December 1978. We honor his service.
Robert A. Coates served in the Navy from January 17, 1941, to December 1947 and left the service as a First Class electronic technician.
Stationed in Hawaii with the USS Nevada, Robert was on shore during the first wave of the attack on Pearl Harbor. As he described in an interview with Veterans History Project, Robert remembers being on liberty, heading to a coffee shop on Nanakuli Beach when a nearby woman began yelling about Pearl Harbor. Robert went immediately to the harbor.
When he arrived, most of the damage had already been done, but Japanese planes were still flying overhead, shooting. Robert noticed his ship, the USS Nevada, underway out in the middle of the harbor. When saw it, something instinctive set off inside of him. “That was my home, that was where I [was] going.”
Although he tried, Robert couldn’t get to his ship under the fire from the planes. Instead, he spent the remainder of the day ferrying over crews from the sinking ships back to the dock.
Robert passed away in April 2011. We honor his service.
John Andrew Rauschkolb was a third class signalman assigned to the USS West Virginia. As he shared with the Veterans History Project, “She was my ship and I fell in love with her.”
On of December 7, 1941, John went to the signal bridge, portside, as he normally did every morning. But that morning was anything but normal. At 6 a.m., he spied an aircraft headed their way. As it got closer, he identified it as a Japanese plane and knew immediately they were under attack.
“I felt six torpedoes and two bombs hit the ship. It really was hell.” John and a fellow shipmate worked diligently to extinguish the flames engulfing the ship amidst a rain of bullets and more explosions. He was eventually sent to the USS Arizona to help collect the fallen. He recalls it as the toughest job he ever had. “The thing that bothered me was that they were burned and the stench of human flesh burning is in my nose to this day.”
He later helped organize the Marin County Pearl Harbor Association, whose mantra is “Remember Pearl Harbor.”
John passed away on October 13, 2013. We honor his service.
James Mitsuo Furukawa served as a military intelligence officer.
Prior to his enlistment in 1944, he was living in Hawaii, working in construction. On the morning of Dec. 7, James was heading to the hospital at Hickam Air Base, near Pearl Harbor. He had fallen from the scaffold the day previous, and wanted his stitches checked.
When asked about the day in an interview with the Veterans History Project, James recalls mistaking the air fight as another military exercise. He saw the planes flying overhead, saw smoke, and heard the explosions. After learning of the attack, James decided to visit a local hospital instead. There, the nurse assumed James as another casualty.
For several days after, James remembers that Japanese-Americans were denied access to Hickam Air Base. Even when allowed to return to the base, they were followed by military guards.
Following his time in the military, James went on to use the GI Bill to further his education, received a J.D. and PhD, and was a professor at Towson State University in Maryland.
James passed away in 2015. We honor his service.
Raymond Albert Brittain served as an anti-aircraft director and mess cook aboard the USS Tennessee. In an emotional interview with the Veterans History Project, he graciously shared his experiences in Pearl Harbor.
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Raymond was taking out the garbage from breakfast when he spotted an aircraft. His fellow shipmate said to him, “There are meatballs on that thing.” Realizing that an attack was underway, he rushed to his gun station on the starboard side. A bomb hit the ship, just beneath him. “When it exploded, it blew me out of the director.”
His toughest moments, however, were in the days immediately after. Raymond recalled, “We kept hearing a plopping noise from the water.” He pauses before shakily continuing, “It was bodies from the Arizona. I try to forget things like that but you just can’t. After 60 years, it’s still there.”
While it is evident how distressing the memories were to Raymond, he realized how important it was to tell his story about that day. “It’s hard to talk about it. It bothers me. But I try to.”
Raymond passed away on March 28, 2015. We honor his service.
George Cannon earned the Medal of Honor for his service at Midway Island on Dec. 7, 1941.
Originally from Webster Groves, Missouri, George attended Culver Military Academy in Indiana. While attending the University of Michigan, George joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in June 1938. He commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Engineer Reserve, U.S. Army, but later resigned to accept a commission as second lieutenant in the U.S Maine Corps.
As a Marine, George’s first tour started on the USS Boise. In 1941, he joined Battery H, 2nd Defense Battalion and traveled with the 6th Defense Battalion to Pearl Harbor. He was promoted to First Lieutenant in August 1941.
On the Day of Pearl Harbor, George was stationed on Midway Island and during the bombardment there remained at his command post until all of his men were evacuated. Despite his injuries, he refused medical attention and continued to help his wounded men, only leaving when he was forced to. George later died due to loss of blood.
George Cannon was the first Marine in World War II to receive the Medal of Honor, which was presently posthumously.
We honor his service.
The bombardment of Pearl Harbor had a lasting impact on generations of Americans. Many of those who saw the news of what happened felt called to serve.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, Benjamin Leroy Couillard, driven by an intense patriotism, wanted nothing more than to join the Navy and serve his country. “It just ate on me. I just felt like I had to get in,” Benjamin said in an interview with the Veterans History Project.
However, because he was 14, his mother was against it. For two years afterward, Benjamin tried to get his mother to let him join the Navy, and when he was 16, she finally relented and signed for him. He served from 1943 to 1946 and left the service as a Third Class Aviation Machinist’s Mate.
Benjamin ended up being sent to Pearl Harbor for training before he went on board the Yorktown and served the rest of his three years with the Navy fighting in the Pacific Theatre.
Thank you for your service, Benjamin.