Houston County Courier - Local News
Stories Added - December 2008
Copyright 2008 - Polk County Publishing Company
Survivor of Pearl Harbor Remembers Dec. 7, 1941
Houston County Courier - December 2008
By Sharron Randall
W.J. White of Latexo, 88, remembers well "a date which will live in infamy," Dec. 7, 1941: the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Island of Oahu, Hawaii.
"Bob" White, 21-year old Navy Boatswain Mate serving on board a 441 tanker moored next to a U.S. submarine, was washing up as mess cook when he looked out a port hole and saw a Japanese bomber beginning the first of two waves of attacks.
As he raced through the ship of sleeping crewmen, shouting, "The Japs are bombing us," he saw and heard the first of many explosions that rocked the harbor. When he reached deck, he could actually see the goggled faces of the Japanese pilots as they released their torpedoes aimed at Battleship Row.
White said he and his shipmates had no guns or ammunition because of the dangerous and inflammable cargo. Even their shoes had no nails in the soles that might cause sparks to ignite the fuel they carried.
As ships exploded and as debris and shrapnel fell all around, the officers aboard the submarine USS Narwhale asked the tanker to move away. Once the tanker was clear, the crew abandoned ship but first dismantled the CO2 valves so they wouldn't detonate.
White said there were reports of two waves but he believes there were three. He remembers the USS Arizona exploding and sending flames hundreds of feet into the air.
He said none of his shipmates were injured, but they remained in Hawaii for about seven more months cleaning up the harbor and removing the fuel with "Juicy Lucy," a mechanism that sucked the fuel off the surface of the water, then dumped in storage holds in ships.
Fifty-two years after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, White, who was renamed "Bob" White by his Navy buddies after the Bob White Quail and it's familiar "bob-white" whistle returned to Pearl Harbor with his wife Jean of Latexo for a Pearl Harbor Survivors Reunion.
Now 67 years later, the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association announced its final reunion/conference because most of the survivors are "getting on in years and can't travel," said Ernest Arroyo, a historian who calls himself an honorary member of the association.
White, born Feb. 9, 1920, retired from Armco as a millwright in 1982, has had two knee replacements as well as arthritis. He gets around in his Hoveround Power Chair but is in remarkable health otherwise.
He showed several pieces of furniture and lamps that he built in his woodworking shop and displayed pens, pencils and key chains from exotic woods that he "used" to make using his millwright skills.
According to Mrs. White, his four sons, W. D. of Albuquerque, N. Mex., N. B. White of Navasota, K. K. White of Seattle, Wash., and S. P. White of Alpine are "amazed" at how well he's doing considering his various ailments.
Sitting in his recliner and telling his stories, White remembers those "days of infamy," while looking through his Navy scrapbook.
Japanese aircrews achieved complete surprise when they hit American ships and military installations on Oahu shortly before 8 a.m. on that Sunday morning of Dec. 7, 1941.
When the attack ended shortly before 10 a.m., less than two hours after it began, the American forces had paid a fearful price.
Twenty-one ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were sunk or damaged; the battleships USS Arizona, USS California, USS Maryland, USS Nevada, USS Oklahoma, USS Pennsylvania, USS Tennessee, and USS West Virginia, cruisers USS Helena, USS Honolulu, and USS Raleigh; the destroyers USS Cassin, USS Downes, USS Helm, and USS Shaw; seaplane tender USS Curtiss; target ship (ex-battleship) USS Utah; repair ship USS Vestal; minelayer USS Oglala; tug USS Sotoyomo; and Floating Drydock Number 2.
Aircraft losses were 188 destroyed and 159 damaged, the majority hit before they had a chance to take off. American dead numbered 2,403. That figure included 68 civilians, most of them killed by improperly fused anti-aircraft shells landing in Honolulu.
There were 1,178 military and civilian wounded.