Pearl Harbor Remembered
Several of the many memoirs in the Marine Corps Oral History
Collection are by Marines who were serving at Pearl Harbor on 7 December
1941, and personally witnessed the Japanese attack. Two such memoirs
one by Lieutenant General Alan Shapley and a second by Brigadier
General Samuel R. Shaw vividly describe the events of that day as
they remembered it. General Shapley, a major in December 1941, had been
relieved as commander of Arizona's Marine detachment on the 6th.
I was just finishing my breakfast, and I was just about ready to go
to my room and get in my baseball uniform to play the Enterprise
for the baseball championship of the United States Fleet, and I heard
this terrible bang and crash. I thought it was a motor sailer that they
dropped on the fantail, and I ran up there to see what it was all about.
When I got up on deck there, the sailors were aligned on the railing
there, looking towards Pearl Harbor, and I heard two or three of them
say, 'This is the best damned drill the Army Air Corps has ever put on.'
Then we saw a destroyer being blown up in the dry dock across the
The first thing I knew was when the fantail, which was wood, was
being splintered when we were being strafed by machine guns. And then
there was a little bit of confusion, and I can remember this because
they passed the word on ship that all unengaged personnel get below the
third deck. you see, in a battleship the third deck is the armored deck,
and so realizing what was going on, this attack and being strafed, the
unengaged personnel were ordered below the third deck.
That started some people going down the ladders. Then right after
that, the Pennsylvania, which was the flagship of the whole
fleet, put up these signals, "Go to general quarters." So that meant
that the people were going the other way too. Lt [Carleton E.] Simensen
did quite a job of turning some of the sailors around, and we went up in
the director. [On the way up the mainmast tripod, Lt Simensen was
killed.] He caught a burst through the heart and almost knocked me off
the tripod because I was behind him on the ladder, and I boosted him up
in the searchlight platform and went in to my director. And of course
when I got up there, there were only seven or eight men there, and I
thought we were all going to get cooked to death because I couldn't see
anything but fire below after a while. I stayed there and watched this
whole attack, because I had a grandstand seat for that, and then it got
pretty hot. Anyway, the wind was blowing from the stern to the stem and
I sent the men down and got those men off. Then I apparently got knocked
off or blown off.
I was pretty close to shore ... There was a dredging pipeline that
ran between the ship and Ford Island. And I guess that I was only about
25 yards from the pipeline and 10 yards from Ford Island, and managed to
get ashore. I wasn't so much covered with oil. I didn't have any clothes
on. [The burning fuel oil] burnt all my clothes off. I walked up to the
airfield which wasn't very bright of me, because this was still being
attacked at first. I wanted to get a machine gun in the administration
building but I couldn't do that. Then I was given a boat cloak from one
of my men. It was quite a sight to see 400 or 500 men walking around all
burnt, just like charred steak. you could just see their eyes and their
mouths. It was terrible. Later I sent over to he island and went to the
Marine barracks and got some clothes.
At the Marine Barracks, Captain Samuel R. Shaw, who commanded one of
the two barracks companies, vividly remembered that Sunday morning as
The boat guards were in place, and the music was out there, and the
old and new officer of the day. And we had a music, and a hell of a fine
sergeant bugler who had been in Shanghai. He would stand beside the
officers of the day, and there came the airplanes, and he looked up and
he said, "Captain, those are Japanese war planes." And one of the two of
them said, "My God, they are, sound the call to arms." So the bugler
started sounding the call to arms before the first bomb hit.
Of course they had already started taking out the machine guns. They
didn't wait for the key in the OD's office, they just broke the door
down and hauled out the machine guns, put them in position. Everybody
that wasn't involved in that drill grabbed their rifles and ran out in
the parade ground, and started firing at the airplanes. They must have
had several hundred men out there with rifles. And every [Japanese]
plane that was recovered there, or pieces of it, had lots of .30-caliber
holes somebody was hitting them, machine guns or rifles.
Then I remembered here we had all these guys on the post who
had not been relieved, and they had been posted at 4 o'clock, and come 9
o'clock, 9:30 they not only had not been relieved but had no chow and no
water. So I got hold of the mess sergeant and told him to organize, to
go around to the posts.
They had a depot. At the beginning it was a supply depot. I told him
to send a party over there and draw a lot of canteens and make
sandwiches, and we'd send water and sandwiches around to he guys on
posts until we found out some way to relieve all these guys, and get
people back. Then he told me that it was fine except that he didn't have
nearly enough messmen, they were all out in the parade ground shooting.
I think the second phase of planes came in at that time and we had a
hell of an uproar.