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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Honoring Veterans of Pearl Harbor

Honoring Veterans of Pearl Harbor

December 7, 1941

By Dell Hill

Due to the good Lord’s planning, I can’t pass along personal memories from the events surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor some 70 years ago.  I wasn’t born until 1945.  But, I can make sure that at least one personal memory doesn’t go undocumented.

Here, from The Library of Congress, is a complete and accurate report.

“On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes attacked the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Territory, killing more than 2,300 Americans. The U.S.S. Arizona was completely destroyed and the U.S.S. Oklahoma capsized.  A total of twelve ships sank or were beached in the attack and nine additional vessels were damaged. More than 160 aircraft were destroyed and more than 150 others damaged.”

Read the entire report and avail yourself of the information available at this link.

A Newsreel Report:

All three of my brothers were called to serve in the military during World War II and one of them - the oldest - was on board a troop ship anchored at, or very near, Pearl Harbor on the “day that will live in infamy”.  He, like thousands of other soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, was a part of a massive troop buildup in the South Pacific and Hawaii had become a logical stopping off point for resupply and maintenance.

It took many years for my brother to discuss what happened that day.  I now understand why.  But, on the ONE occasion that he sat me down and told his story, I was totally mesmerized.  He made it abundantly clear that he was “going to tell me this once and only once” and it wouldn’t ever be discussed again.  It was at that point I began to realize just what kind of Hell war really is.

It was early Sunday morning and he was asleep on the ship when the attack began.  When the alarm was sounded he reported for duty but there was little or no duty to perform.  Troop ships were usually converted ocean liners and had few, if any, armaments to man.  When sailing open waters, their protection came from escorting naval vessels that were heavily armed, as well as submarines and aircraft launched from aircraft carriers.  Being anchored left the ship a sitting duck for attack.

“We were hit and the ship was severely damaged.  We knew it was going to sink and the order was given to abandon ship.  Many of us didn’t even have time enough to put life jackets on before it (the ship) started to roll,” he told me.

“Everybody was getting as much of a running start as possible and jumping into the water about 60 feet below.  Just as I jumped, the ship rolled a little further and instead of landing in the water, I landed on part of the hull.  I hit hard and remember the pain in my back and I must have hit my head pretty hard because I slid into the water and don’t remember anything after that until I came to on a beach.

Another soldier was next to me and he was yelling for a corpsman to help me.  That soldier saved my life by swimming with me from the ship to the beach and I never could find out his name so I could thank him”.

I know for a fact - because I helped him search for several years - that my brother owed his life to that mystery soldier.  For several years, he spent money on ads in the various Veteran’s magazines attempting to find that soldier, but never did.

After being hospitalized with serious back injuries, my brother was discharged from the Army and this once strong, athletic “kid” from Barre, Vermont was now resigned to the fact that for the rest of his life he would be restricted to work or physical activity that “didn’t include anything too strenuous”.  He found work locally driving a taxi cab and spent the rest of his days doing so.  To this day, he’s fondly remembered by many of the elderly residents of his hometown, despite the fact that he died many years ago.

My other two brothers also served during the same war.  One sustained severe burns during basic training, when a vat of scalding hot water tipped over and burned the back of both his legs.  The other brother served in Europe, but refused to ever discuss his military experiences with me.

Of the eight children my parents raised, I’m the only one left.  By writing about these events, perhaps our posterity will have a better understanding and appreciation for the sacrifices our Veterans and their families have made.

Today, December 7, 2011, I honor my brother who served his country and was a serious injury victim at Pearl Harbor.  RIP - Duane Orbert “Bud” Hill.

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