Thursday, December 05, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Remembering Pearl Harbor

There are fewer and fewer people alive today who personally witnessed the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, but two live locally — James Atkinson, 87, and Charlie Flynt, 91.

Yes, the attack was 72 years ago today, but it is one event in our history that should not be forgotten nor diminished.

The early Sunday morning Japanese attack on our Navy and other military forces on the island of Oahu claimed thousands of lives. Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field, Wheeler Field, Kaneohe Naval Air Station, Bellows Field and Ewa Marine Corps Air Station were all bombed.

Reports put the military toll at 2,402 dead and 1,247 injured, including 1,177 who died when the USS Arizona went down.

But the damage was not restricted to just military sites. The attack also took about 70 civilian lives.

Newspaper reports from that fateful day made it clear that no one was safe anywhere on Oahu that morning.

One shell fell near Washington Place, the residence of Territorial Gov. Joseph Poindexter. An entire family of eight or nine people was reportedly killed “by a bomb” on the streets in Honolulu. A wood frame house was “split in half” at Fort and School streets. Five other people died in an explosion in another Honolulu neighborhood and shrapnel ripped through numerous apartment buildings.

Atkinson was a lively and spry 16-year-old living east of Pearl Harbor. He heard the explosions and saw the planes. “I saw puffs of smoke. Pearl Harbor was a mile and a half away. My Knees were shaking.

Atkinson remembers the Japanese bombing a store where the Navy could get hardware to repair the ships and bakery truck being used to deliver blood supplies and bandages to city hall.

Charlie Flynt, 90, of Cabot was a boatswain’s mate first class on the USS Ramsay.

The morning of the Day of Infamy, Flynt was a 19-year-old cleaning up the mess hall before the noon meal.

“We were sitting across the channel from the Utah, in Pearl City, the northwest part of Pearl Harbor. They came in there and dumped two to three torpedoes and hit the Utah. When I heard them, I thought our ship was hit. It seemed like we jumped 10 feet out of the water — Whoomp! The vibration was great. Something was going on here. I got the cobwebs out of my brain. I glimpsed up and saw a plane with an orange ball. I knew it was the Japanese,” Flynt said.

“The officer on deck rang up on several quarters and we ran for the gun. I got off six to eight rounds really quick,” he told The Leader last year.

He said it was hard to tell if he hit any of the Japanese planes, they were coming in from all sides.

“We got hit by a shell, places were hit all around us, (we were) very fortunate,” Flynt said.

The sudden, violent demise of roughly 60 noncombatant bystanders would have triggered major headlines if they had not been overshadowed by military losses a staggering 40 times higher.

Popular broadcaster Webley Edwards was the first to interrupt normal Sunday radio programming, urgently saying, “Pearl Harbor is under attack. This is no drill!”

Those words need to stay with us as the survivors of the attack succumb to old age, and we get to carry on — only because of their bravery and dedication.

A heartfelt thanks to each of them.