My grandfather's memories of Pearl Harbor

By Roger Douglass

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 7 2011 8:00 p.m. MST

As soon as I got to town I went to the mission home, changed into the clothing that I had in the bag, and called up to ask Roseanne to come on a hike with me. She countered by inviting me to dinner first. By the time we had finished dinner, we decided, instead, to go to a move. The movie theater was not far from her house, so we walked to the movie. We passed the Waikiki Ward and the LDS Mission Home on the way. As we got in front of the Mission Home, she asked me if I were going to church in the morning. I said “Yes,” and I immediately thought of the invitation that Keith Taylor had given me. I asked her to excuse me for a minute. I went into the mission home and phoned Keith. The phone rang several times and I was just about to hang up and he answered. He hesitated when I asked him if I could stay with him, but he finally said, “Okay.” The reason Keith had hesitated having me come was because he had lost his big room and was now in a small room with just one single bed. He also told me that before I phoned, he was on his way to town and had forgotten something. He came back just as the phone was ringing.

Keith and I rose early on December 7, 1941. He taught a Sunday School class at a small branch of the LDS Church, which overlooked a small part of the entrance to Pearl Harbor. His class ended at 8:00 AM. When we came out of the building, we could hear explosions from far away. There were puffs of smoke in the air. Someone asked me what was going on. I replied that it must be army maneuvers of some sort, because the navy didn’t have anything scheduled for today. How dumb could I be? I had been so critical of our captain for not being vigilant, and now I was as bad as he. Army trucks and men were traveling in long lines on the road. An army guard kept our car from the highway until all of the army convoy had passed by. We were in President Jensen’s car and his radio was on, but all that we could hear was static, so he turned the radio off. When we arrived at the mission home, Keith went into the kitchen where the elders were talking and I went to the bedroom and changed into my suit. One of the elders came in where I was changing clothes and said, “Do you know that we are at war?” This elder was quite a gullible fellow who was the recipient of many pranks, and I assumed that Keith was pulling his leg. I said, “Yea.” He said, “Well, what are you going to do?” I said, I’m going to put my suit on and go to church.” I then said that Keith was just kidding him. He then said, “Well Keith may be kidding, but the radio announcers are not.” In the kitchen the elders were huddled around the radio and the announcer kept saying, “The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor. All service men report to your units and all civilians stay off of the streets.” I threw my tie over my head, slipped on my shoes without tying them and ran out into the middle of the street. I commandeered the first car to come my way. It was a taxi and six other servicemen were in it. These town taxis were not allowed on the base, so he dropped us off at the Alexander Young Hotel, without collecting our fares, and proceeded out to find more service men. The next taxi took us to the naval base. The guard didn’t allow the taxi on the base. We had to get out of the taxi, identify ourselves at the gate and walk to our various locations on the Naval Base. It took a long time to get through he gate because our ID’s were checked more closely than they ever had been before. There were thirty or forty officers and men waiting to get into the base. There was a big long sheet of very black smoke out in the bay. As I ran to the officers boat landing I heard one sailor holler to another that the black smoke was coming from the Arizona, and that the Oklahoma was sunk. My heart sank with the ship. I was supposed to be on the ship with the 81 men in my division.

When I arrived at the Officer’s Club Landing, I looked over to where the Okie was berthed, and I saw a mast through the smoke. The Okie isn’t sunk after all! A motor launch came to the landing and the Coxswain announced that he would take all officers to their ships, so I boarded the launch. One of the officers was rip-roaring drunk. He kept saying or rather crying or sobbing, over and over again, “Why the dirty rotten little yellow sons of B’s!” We went to the right and passed the ship of the drunken officer. The ship’s Officer of the Deck refused to allow him to come aboard. He said that they had enough to cope with without having a hopeless drunk on their hands. So we had to endure the endless cries of the drunken officer. In the moments of stress, I had forgotten that the Okie was tied up to the USS Maryland. It was the mast of the Maryland which I had seen through the smoke. We passed by the Okie and indeed it was bottom up. As we passed by, in my mind’s eye, I could see the 81 men in the “C Division,” down in the depths of the sea, struggling for air and floundering in the dead air spaces. I didn’t know until later that there were no dead air spaces. Our super efficient new captain had left all the compartments open so that we would be ready for a possible inspection on Monday, December 8, 1941. Because of the compartments being open, the ship was sunk in 11 minutes.

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