Remembering Pearl Harbor
From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 25
By Kirt Ramirez
As many Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day ceremonies took place across the country last Saturday, December 7, the Long Beach area had one of its own – in a special location.
Pearl Harbor Survivor Howard Bender
Roughly 100 people congregated on the deck of the Battleship Iowa in San Pedro – not far from the Vincent Thomas Bridge – to honor the U.S. military personnel who were unexpectedly attacked by the Japanese on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, 72 years ago.
Cold weather and rain did not appear to dampen the spirits of the attendees, which included a group of visitors from the state of Iowa, Cub Scouts and others. Canopies sheltered guests from the elements.
Two Pearl Harbor survivors were in attendance as well.
Following Post Colors, National Anthem and prayer, a memorial wreath was set adrift from a Los Angeles Fire Department fireboat in the waters below. Visitors stood at Iowa’s railing to watch Jerry Johnston toss the wreath, who is a Vietnam veteran and son of late Pearl Harbor survivor George Johnston, USN. The son gave a hand salute to the floating wreath.
Aolani Kaeka sung “Aloha Oe” while playing the ukulele.
Later Johnston, who is a tour lead for the Battleship Iowa and had Pearl Harbor memorabilia from his father on display in the ship, said he was glad he did not hear Aloha Oe being sung, as it would have choked him up. “That song always makes me cry,” he said.
After the Retiring of the Colors, the National Ensign going to half-mast, a moment of silence, benediction and a bugler playing Taps, the LAFD fireboat sprayed water from all ends – high into the sky – and circled in tribute.
Refreshments were served downstairs inside the battleship, where questions could be asked of the two survivor attendees.
Asked what was going through his mind during the attacks and if he knew the Japanese were responsible, Jack Hammett, USN, said that yes, he knew it was the Japanese.
“Well the noise woke me up. I looked out the window and saw all the bombing going on. My wife turned on the radio. Of course they were screaming on the radio that all military personnel return to your ship type-of-thing, which I did. My duty station was the navy hospital. I just got my uniform on and went to work,” Hammett said, who will turn 94 in March.
“Cabs were running us in for free and they were strafing the cabs with machine guns but I didn’t get hit. A friend of mine was killed,” he said.
“Then I got to the hospital and worked there 72 hours – four hours bodies, four hours triage, four hours bodies, triage type of thing.” Hammett said at one point in a two-hour afternoon period, a patient was admitted every two-and-one-quarter minutes.
Howard Bender, USN, the other Pearl Harbor survivor present, was asked the same question. He also knew the Japanese were behind the attacks.
“Oh yeah, absolutely. We could see the guys waving and smiling,” he said. “They caught us. They caught us completely by surprise.”
Bender, 91, who at the time was only 19, said various ships capsized and that by putting a glass to his ear, he could hear tapping sounds coming from the Oklahoma and West Virginia battleships. It was a frequent tapping Bender likened to “dot dot dot dot dot dot.” He said 32 men were extracted.
“They must have had a couple of hundred guys inside that were trapped in some of the compartments,” he said.
But then after about the fourth day, Bender described the “dot, dot, dot” as being less frequent, with great pauses and eventually stopping.
Altogether 2,403 Americans lost their lives from the attack, according to Military.com. The Navy had the most casualties with 2,008. The Army lost 218, the Marines, 109, and 68 civilians.
Hammett and Bender belong to the Freedom Committee of Orange County, a group of servicemen who tell their stories to schools. The website is fc-oc.org.
By the time of the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, Nazi Germany had already taken over much of Europe but the U.S. had stayed out of WWII, which had begun in 1939. However, when Japanese airplanes and ships started attacking the American Pacific Fleet in Hawaii – causing much destruction and casualties – the U.S. declared war on Japan and entered WWII.
Because of U.S. involvement, the battered Allied nations – which included the United Kingdom and Soviet Union – could finally defeat the enemy Axis nations, headed by Germany and Japan. WWII came to an end in 1945.
Today, the USS Iowa (BB-61) is open for self-guided tours. It is the only battleship docked on the continental west coast. It was not in the Pearl Harbor attacks, as construction began in 1940 and the ship was launched in 1942. It served in WWII, Korea and other duties.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his staff met in the Captain’s Wardroom as the Iowa took them across the Atlantic for nine days in November 1943 to Mers-el-Kebir, French North Africa.
A bathtub was installed just for Roosevelt, as he was in a wheelchair. The room is part of the tour.
The USS Iowa is located at 250 South Harbor Blvd., San Pedro.
Adult tour tickets cost $18, children $10 and senior citizens $15. The ship will be closed December 25 in observance of Christmas.