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

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. He recalled:

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 way.

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 well:

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.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division