I tell this story to you as it was told to me by my Grand-dad.
Decembers in Hawaii are much like spring days in Florida. Warm ocean breezes. Swaying palm trees. Tourists roasting in the hot sun. Lazy, easy going times.
This December, Sunday started off the same as every other Sunday in the Island state. In Pearl Harbor was moored the American Pacific Fleet.
Life aboard every ship there was beginning the same as it had every Sunday before. Sailors and Marines alike were waking up - some headed toward the mess deck, some toward a Church service, others moaned and groaned about the pain in their throbbing heads after drinking all night before. A few Sailors and Marines are headed to their appointed duties. Some are sweeping the deck, some are standing watch on the quarterdeck. Others assume duties that keep the ship ready to leave or get underway at a moment's notice.
Every day, every ship performs "Colors." It is the raising of our nation's flag with honor. On board the bigger ships, the beginnings of every day in port started with "Colors" and a small orchestral accompaniment playing our nation's Anthem ( I hope you know what our nation's Anthem is).
Now, all the men on all the ships looked toward one ship, which was appointed as the leader in "Colors." Each man waited and watched for the Color Guard on the appointed ship to begin the ceremony so that all the ships began and ended at the same time... Such is the life aboard Navy ships in America.
The Color Guard aboard the appointed ship looked to the Naval base and its Color Guard to begin its ceremony. Now, when all this is done correctly, it's a beautiful thing to behold, especially for those who believe in freedom and love the country that provides that freedom and believes God protects that country.
At the time the "Officer Of the Day" blows his whistle and the the flag is ran up its pole, the Anthem is played and every person stops and turns toward the nearest flag being raised. They place the right hand over the heart and stand at attention. If you are wearing a hat, it is removed from the head and held over the heart by the right hand. If you can't see a flag around you, then you just stand at attention until the ceremony is complete. This is done rain or shine, snow or hurricane. As I stated before, it's a thing of beauty when done right... When it ain't, it's a train wreck and leaves one in a bad mood. Well, that is if you care for Honor and Patriotism. If you don't give a damn about such things, you just continue your miserable existence, pissed at the world for your own miserable life.
I can't say that this is still being done around Navy Bases anymore... I haven't been on a Military base in many years now... I can only hope and pray that our Military honors this Honor and they instruct its volunteers on the meaning and importance for it all.
OK... On with the show.
According to my Grand-dad, "Colors" aboard his ship was about over. He heard the low rumbling of hundreds of airplane engines growing ever closer. He thought, "What in the hell is the Army up to?" (For those of you who don't know, there was no Air Force until after WW2. It was the "Army Aircorp" until then.) He heard the a few planes roar in just overhead - still, he didn't give it any more thought until there were so many planes buzzing by he couldn't hear when "Colors" ended. So he looked up expecting to see Army Aircorp emblems on the planes overhead, but there were none.
Instead, the red circle of Japan's rising sun adorned these planes. Still, it wasn't connecting for anyone what was about to unfold. They all stood there dumbfounded at this strange sight and the audacity of foreign aircraft flying in American airspace.
My Grand-dad and the men aboard his ship watched as the planes began to circle the harbor, and a few dropped down close to the water flying in at about 30 feet and approaching from the entrance of the harbor. Something fell off the first plane into the water, then the others that followed. At that time they heard the screaming of dive bombers and their deadly payload being unleashed. It was like everyone was frozen in place. The first explosion tore a hole in its target and those who were frozen became thawed in a moment of terror. Then the torpedoes hit their intended.
Hell now placed a bid on paradise.
"General Quarters" began ringing out across Pearl. Men and women dropped what they were doing an took up tasks they were trained to do. Yes...they were all scared. None knew how long this would last. No one knew if the next bomb or bullet would stop them. They did what was above and beyond the call. They sacrificed to save.
Aboard my Grand-dad's ship, small arms were being handed out and 50 cal machine guns were put in place. Ammo loaded and instructions to fire at will given. The mooring lines holding the ship in place where cut and the ship eased away from her pier and headed into the fray.
Minutes became like hours.
The Captain of my Grand-dad's ship fully intended to risk life and ship to help those of the main fleet under attack in Pearl. Each man knew he would want that done for him should he be trapped or injured and under fire.
Fire hoses were manned and the ship headed for a battleship that was blazing in the morning sun, bellowing black clouds and fire into tropical air. As the little ship made way toward the bigger, the bow of the bigger ship was raised out of the water 20 feet and cleft in two as she took a bomb into her powder magazine. The rain of water from the explosion was like a monsoon. The heat from the explosion warped iron. The concussion knocked men from their feet and some went overboard into oil slick water. The "USS Arizona" is now all but a memory.
My Grand-dad didn't know how many planes they shot down if any at all. He didn't know how many shots were fired. He didn't know how many thousands of tons water his ship pumped to put out fires. I don't believe he knew how many lives were lost. All he knew was his ship and its crew did what needed to be done even through fear of injury and loss of life.
I asked my Grand-dad (I called him PAWPAW) - Did he receive a medal?
"Nope..." he said, as if almost offended that I should ask such a question - then he laughed and placed his huge hand on my nappy little head.
"PawPaws ...well... PawPaws don't ask for medals."
Now my Grandchildren call me "PawPaw."