Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Suddenly Hurled into War
They Caught Us Flat-Footed
They're Kicking the Hell OUt of Pearl Harbor
Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Russel Fox
Major Harold C. Roberts
Tai Sing Loo
Special Subjects
Browning Machine Gune Drill on Board Ship
Antiaircraft Gun Fired to a Range of 14,500 Yards
Pearl Harbor Remembered

INFAMOUS DAY: Marines at Pearl Harbor
by Robert J. Cressman and J. Michael Wenger

They Caught Us Flat-Footed

Elsewhere, nursing his painfully wounded finger and leg, Lieutenant Colonel Larkin ordered extra guards posted on the perimeter of the filed and on the various roads leading into the base. Men not engaged in active defense went to work fighting the many fires. Drivers parked what trucks and automobiles had remained intact on the runways to prevent any possible landings by airborne troops. Although hardly transforming Ewa into a fortress, the Marines ensured that they would be ready for any future attack.

At their barracks, near the foundation of a swimming pool under construction, three Marines gingerly seek out good vantage points from which to fire, while two peer skyward, keeping their eyes peeled for attacking Japanese planes. Headgear varies from Hawley helmet to garrison cap to none, but the weapon is the same for all — the Springfield 1903 rifle. Lord Collection, USMC

Undoubtedly, most of the men at Ewa expected — correctly — that the Japanese would return. At about 0835, enemy planes again made their appearance in the sky over Ewa, but this time, Marines stood or crouched ready and waiting for what proved to be Lieutenant Commander Takahashi's dive bombing unit from Shokaku, returning from its attacks on the naval air station at Pearl Harbor and the Army's Hickam Field, roaring in from just above the treetops. Initially, their targets appeared to be the planes, but, seeing that most had already been destroyed, the enemy pilots turned to strafing buildings and people in a "heavy and prolonged" assault.

Sgt William G. Turnage
Sgt William G. Turnage enlisted in the Corps in 1931. Recommended for a letter of commendation for his "efficient action" at Ewa Field on 7 December, he ultimately was awarded a Bronze Star. Marine Corps Historical Collection

Better prepared than they had been when Lieutenant Commander Itaya's Zeroes had opened the battle, Ewa's Marines met Takahashi's Vals with heavy fire from rifles, Thompson submachine guns, .30-caliber machine guns, and even pistols. In retaliation, after completing their strafing runs, the Japanese pilots pulled up in steep wing-overs, allowing their rear seat gunners to take advantage of the favorable deflection angle to spray the defenders with 7.7-millimeter bullets. Marine observers later recounted that Shokaku's planes also dropped light bombs, perhaps of the 60-kilogram variety, as they counted five small craters on the filed after the attack.

In response to the second onslaught, as they had in the first, all available Marines threw themselves into the desperate defense of their base. The additional strafing attacks started numerous fires within the camp area, adding new columns of dense smoke to those still rising from the planes on the parking apron. Unfortunately, the ground fire seemed far more brave than accurate, because all of Shokaku's dive bombers repeatedly zoomed skyward, seemingly unhurt. Even taking into account possible damage sustained during attacks over Ford Island and Hickam, only four of Takahashi's planes sustained any damage over Oahu before they retired. The departure of Shokaku's Vals afforded Lieutenant Colonel Larkin the opportunity to reorganize the camp defenses. There was ammunition to be distributed, wounded men to be succored, and seemingly innumerable fires burning amongst the tents, buildings, and planes, to be extinguished.

TSgt Emil S. Peters
TSgt Emil S. Peters, seen here on 11 October 1938, was a veteran of service in Nicaragua and a little more than three weeks shy of his 48th birthday when Japanese bombers attacked Ewa Field. Naval Historical Center Photo NH 102278

However, around 0930, yet another flight of enemy planes appeared — about 15 Vals from Kaga and Hiryu. Although the pilots of those planes had expended their 250-kilogram bombs on ships at Pearl Harbor, they still apparently retained plenty of 7.7-millimeter ammunition, and seemed determined to expend much of what remained upon Ewa. As in the previous attacks by Shokaku's Vals, the last group came in at very low altitude from just over the tops of the trees surrounding the station. Quite taken by the high maneuverability of the nimble dive bombers, which they were seeing at close hand for the second time that day, the Marines mistook them for fighter aircraft with fixed landing gear.

Around that time, Lieutenant Colonel Larkin saw an American plane and a Japanese one collide in mid-air a short distance away from the field. In all probability, Larkin saw Enterprise's Ensign John H.L. Vogt's Dauntless collide with a Val. Vogt had become separated from his section leader during the Pearl-bound flight in from the carrier, may have circled offshore, and then arrived over Ewa in time to encounter dive bombers from Kaga or Hiryu. Vogt and his passenger, Radioman Third Class Sidney Pierce, bailed out of the SBD, but at too low an altitude, for both died in the trees when their 'chutes failed to deploy fully. Neither of the Japanese crewmen escaped from their Val when it crashed.

Fortunately for the Marines, however, the last raid proved comparatively "light and ineffectual," something Lieutenant Colonel Larkin attributed to the heavy gunfire thrown skyward. The short respite between the second and third strafing attacks had allowed Ewa's defenders t bring all possible weapons to bear against the Japanese. Technical Sergeant Turnage, after having gotten the base's machine guns set up and ready for action, took over one of the mounts himself and fired several bursts into the belly of one Val that began trailing smoke and began to falter soon thereafter.

Turnage, however, was by no means the only Marine using his weapon to good effect. Master Technical Sergeant Peters and Private Turner, from their improvised position in the lamed SBD, had let fly at whatever Vals came within range of their gun. The two Marines shot down what witnesses thought were at least two of the attacking planes and discouraged strafing in that area of the station. However, the Japanese soon tired of the tenacious bravery of the grizzled veteran and the young clerk, neither of whom flinched in the face of repeated strafing. Two particular enemy pilots repeatedly peppered the grounded Dauntless with 7.7-millimeter fire, ultimately scoring hits near the cockpit area and wounding both men. Turner toppled from the wing, mortally wounded.

Sgt Carlo A. Micheletto
Sgt Carlo A. Micheletto had turned 26 years old less than two months before Japanese planes strafed Ewa. He was recommended for a letter of commendation, but was awarded a Bronze Star. Marine Corps Historical Collection

Another Marine who distinguished himself during the third strafing attack was Sergeant Carlo A. Micheletto of Marine Utility Squadron (VMJ) 252. During the first Japanese attack that morning, Micheletto proceeded at once to VMJ-252's parking area and went to work, helping in the attempts to extinguish the fires that had broken out amongst the squadron's parked utility planes. He continued in those labors until the last strafing attack began. Putting aside his fire-fighting equipment and grabbing a rifle, he took cover behind a small pile of lumber, and heedless of the heavy machine-gunning, continued to fire at the attacking planes until a burst of enemy fire struck him in the head and killed him instantly.

Eventually, in an almost predictable way, the Japanese planes formed up and flew off to the west, leaving the once neatly manicured Mooring Mast Field smouldering. The Marines had barely had time to catch their collective breath when, at 1000, almost as a capstone to the complete chaos wreaked by the initial Japanese attack, seven more planes arrived.

Their markings, however, were of a more familiar variety — red-centered blue and white stars. The newcomers proved to be a group of Dauntlesses from Enterprise, For the better part of an hour, Lieutenant Wilmer E. Gallaher, executive officer of Scouting Squadron 6, had circled fitfully over the Pacific swells south of Oahu, waiting for the situation there to settle down. At about 0945, when he had seen that the skies seemed relatively clear of Japanese planes, Gallaher decided rather than face friendly fire over Pearl he would go to Ewa instead. They had barely stopped on the strip, however, when a Marine ran out to Gallaher's plane and yelled, "For God's sake, get into the air or they'll strafe you, too!" Other Enterprise pilots likewise saw ground crews frantically motioning for them to take off immediately. Instructed to "take off and stay in the air until [the] air raid was over," the Enterprise pilots took off and headed for Pearl Harbor. Although all seven SBDs left Ewa, only three (Gallaher's, his wingman, Ensign William P. West's, and Ensign Cleo J. Dobson's) would make it as far as Ford Island. A tremendous volume of antiaircraft fire over the harbor rose to meet what was thought to be yet another attack; seeing the reception accorded Gallaher, West, and Dobson, the other four pilots — Lieutenant (jg) Hart D. Hilton and Ensigns Carlton T. Fogg, Edwin J. Kroeger, and Frederick T. Weber — wheeled around and headed back to Ewa, landing around 1015 to find a far better reception that time around. Within a matter of minutes, the Marines began rearming and refueling Hilton's, Kroeger's and Weber's SBDs. The Marines discovered that Fogg's Dauntless, though, had taken a hit that had holed a fuel tank, and would require repairs.

Although it is unlikely that even one of the Ewa Marines thought so at the time, even as they serviced the Enterprise SBDs which sat on the landing mat, the Japanese raid on Oahu was over. Vice Admiral Nagumo, already feeling that he had pushed his luck far enough, was eager to get as far away from the waters north of Oahu as soon as possible. At least for the time being, the Marines at Ewa had nothing to fear.

Not privy to the musings of Nagumo and his staff, however, Lieutenant Colonel Larkin could only wonder what the Marines would do should the Japanese return. At 1025, he completed a glum assessment of the situation and forwarded it to Admiral Kimmel. While casualties among the Marines had been light — two men had been killed and several wounded — the Japanese had destroyed "all bombing, fighting, and transport planes" on the ground. Ewa had no radio communications, no power, and only one small gas generator in commission. He also informed the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, that he would retain the four Enterprise planes at Ewa until further orders. Larkin also notified Wheeler Field Control of the SBDs being held at his field.

At 1100, Wheeler called and directed all available planes to rendezvous with a flight of B-17s over Hickam. Lieutenant (jg) Hilton and the two ensigns from Bombing Squadron 6, Kroeger and Weber, took off at 1115 and the Marines never heard from them again. Finding no Army planes over Hickam (two flights of B-17s and Douglas A-20s had only just departed) the three Navy pilots landed at Ford Island. Ensign Fogg's SBD represented the sole naval strike capability at Ewa as the day ended.

"They caught us flat-footed," Larkin unabashedly wrote Major General Ross E. Rowell of the events of 7 December. Over the next few months, Ewa would serve as the focal point for Marine aviation activities on Oahu as the service acquired replacement aircraft and began rebuilding to carry out the mission of standing ready to deploy with the fleet wherever it was required.

Previous Page Document Cover Next Page
MARINES The Few. The Proud.
Back to Top
Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division