67 years ago today (I originally posted this on December 7, 2008) the Japanese unleashed a vicious surprise air assault on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, destroying nine ships and severely damaging 21 others. The torpedo and bomb attacks killed almost 2,400 sailors, Marines and soldiers. In memory of the folks who perished that day I am posting a few excerpts from an article in the Tulsa World newspaper:
Robert Norman (pictured right) knew it would happen, long before it finally did.
In 1937, he was a young sailor aboard the battleship USS Nevada, and he and his crewmates often watched freighters, laden with scrap metal, leave California ports westward across the Pacific.
Much of that metal went to Japan to feed its hungry war machine, "and we all knew those guns would be coming back at us eventually," Norman recalled.
Four years later, they did.
Norman was aboard the Nevada as a boatswain's mate, overseeing a crew of 120 in charge of the rear gun turret and the ship's crane.
He said the Nevada had steamed into Pearl Harbor on Dec. 5. The next day, he and his crew spent the day replacing old gun shells.
It was exhausting work. When they were finished at 11 p.m., all Norman thought about was a good night's rest.
At about 7:55 a.m. the next day, Norman was on his bunk, reading the newspaper, while the ship's band was above on the aft deck, getting ready to play for the morning's flag-raising.
All of a sudden, the band members came screaming down the stairs followed by an urgent voice over the public-address system: "All hands to your battle stations."
Norman had no idea what was going on, even as he dashed up the stairs. Then he saw the Japanese planes swarming in, "the red ball" on their wings.
He doesn't remember his exact feelings. But he recalls everyone jumping to their stations to defend the ship as they had been trained.
The Nevada, which was moored by itself, took a torpedo to the left front of the ship, filling up with water. The Japanese planes continued bombing.
It was the only battleship that day to try to leave the harbor. But Japanese bombers spotted it and tried to sink it to block the harbor entrance. About 17 bombs hit the ship, killing 60 sailors and injuring more than 260.
During the attack, with flames rising, Norman climbed a mast to help Ensign Joseph Taussig Jr. of Newport, R.I., who had been stranded with a severed leg. Norman saved Taussig's life and earned a Silver Star.
Looking back on the Pearl Harbor attack, Norman said the biggest lesson is for the nation to be "eternally vigilant."
He said it's far better to recognize a problem ahead of time and stay ahead of it than to try to catch up.
Norman turns 89 on Monday, Dec. 8.
It was on that date in 1941 when Congress declared war on Japan for its "day of infamy."
Captain Robert James Norman, USN, 94, passed away on August 19, 2013 in Sarasota, Florida.