professor of history and director of the Oral History Collection,
has preserved hundreds of Pearl Harbor accounts.
AS A MESS
COOK AT FORD ISLAND Naval Air Station on Oahu, Hawaii, Houston James
was usually cooking breakfast by 5 a.m. After two months of early
mornings, he planned to sleep late on Dec. 7, 1941.
happen. James woke to the sound of bombs as the Japanese attack
on Pearl Harbor began. Within two hours, 2,403 Americans would be
killed and most of the Pacific Fleet destroyed.
After being awakened, James peered through the barracks large
window, which overlooked the harbor and Battleship Row.
was a never-ending stream of airplanes coming down and dropping
torpedoes. It was so fast and furious that all I saw was geysers
of water going up and all of the sudden things were catching on
fire, he remembers.
as a metalsmith to repair airplanes, James ran to his assigned hangar
through enemy fire. A Japanese plane dropped a bomb about 100 feet
from him, but it didnt go off.
thought every one of those airplanes over Ford Island was personally
trying to seek me out. I was trying to time my runs between buildings
to get down to the hangar between airplanes flying over me,
James says. I was scared to death.
have passed since that Sunday morning. But the experiences of more
than 350 people who survived the attack, including James, wont
be forgotten, thanks to the Pearl Harbor survivors project in the
UNT Oral History Collection.
Marcello has maintained contact with Pearl Harbor survivors he’s interviewed. The story of Alex Vraciu, who shot down six planes in one afternoon, is preserved in volume OH1037.
For 30 years,
Ron Marcello, UNT professor of history and director of the collection,
has gathered memories of soldiers and sailors, their wives, nurses
and chaplains. The bound transcripts of the interviews are available
in the UNT Archives.
and Robert LaForte, Professor Emeritus of history, published a book
based on the interviews, Remembering Pearl Harbor: Eyewitness
Accounts by U.S. Military Men and Women. The books second
edition was released this year.
have interviews from those who were on almost every ship, station
and base on Oahu, Marcello says. We always talk about
the Pearl Harbor attack and think of the ships destroyed on Battleship
Row, but the airbases were hit first.
says he hopes the interviews will give future generations
an appreciation of what these people did.
window of opportunity is closing for interviews. Within 10 years,
there will be very few Pearl Harbor survivors still alive, which
makes the project even more important, he says.
77 and president of the North Central Texas chapter of the Pearl
Harbor Survivors Association, agrees.
extremely important for those of us who were there to leave behind
firsthand accounts, he says.
began the Pearl Harbor survivors project in 1971 when he returned
to his small hometown of Wrightsville, Pa., to interview Sam Zangari.
worked at the local post office, and I was his paperboy. I knew
he was a Pearl Harbor survivor, Marcello says. Zangari was
stationed at the Schofield Barracks, Pearl Harbors largest
U.S. Army outpost, on Dec. 7, 1941.
had become director of UNTs Oral History Collection in 1968.
The collection then consisted of interviews with Texas political
figures, and he did not plan to add different types of interviews
As a historian, however, Marcello believes World War II was
the defining event for the United States in the 20th century.
was an opportunity to interview an eyewitness to a significant event
in the war, he says.
with our boots on
didnt interview any other Pearl Harbor survivors until February
1974, when he spoke with Philip Willis (48), an Army Air Corps
pilot. Marcello contacted him after he was featured in the Dallas
squadron was stationed at Bellows Field, a temporary auxiliary base,
on Dec. 7, 1941. He was scheduled to leave the base on Dec. 8 and
was out celebrating his departure the evening of Dec. 6. He returned
to Bellows at 4 a.m. and fell asleep still in his tuxedo. Bombs
and machine gun fire woke him.
said, Us Texans like to die with our boots on,
Willis recalled for the Oral History Collection. I got my
cowboy boots and put them on with the tuxedo pants and shirt and
grabbed my flight jacket and helmet.
He and other
pilots ran to save their planes.
had no ammunition, so we were told to fly up and down over the treetops,
when the Japanese left after destroying Bellows gasoline trucks
and radio shack. But his plane was destroyed when the Japanese returned
for a second attack.
then assigned to a Hawaiian National Guard unit. On Dec. 8, he helped
to capture the first Japanese prisoner of World War II one
of two sailors on a two-man suicide submarine.
had 500 pounds of TNT in it. They were supposed to ram something,
and the TNT would blow up the submarine and them and whatever they
rammed. They didnt set it off. They didnt want to die,
I guess, Willis said.
snagged on a coral reef and its crew hid underwater. When Willis
unit arrived, one of the sailors had drowned. The other eventually
surrendered and was held in California for the rest of the war.
meanwhile, became one of Texas most decorated pilots. After
earning his degree from UNT, he served two terms in the Texas Legislature
before he died in 1995.
to war in a minute
says the rest of his interviews with Pearl Harbor survivors sprang
from his interview with Willis.
belonged to the North Central Texas chapter of the Pearl Harbor
Survivors Association, and he invited me to attend a meeting. I
gave my pitch for more interviews, Marcello says. Since
then, Ive visited virtually every chapter in Texas, and some
in other states, and attended state meetings of the association.
agreed to be interviewed for the Oral History Collection after meeting
Marcello at a North Central Texas chapter meeting. In December 1941,
he was 19 and a combat engineer at the Schofield Barracks. He was
in a mess hall when the attack began.
the second bomb dropped, we went outside and looked, Mason
recalled for the collection. Right up there was a Japanese
plane. (The pilot) was looking down at me, and I was looking up
other soldiers loaded machine guns and set up an anti-aircraft weapon
to defend their base. But many were killed as Japanese machine gunners
fired at the library, a sleeping quarters and men standing outside
in the mess hall breakfast line.
went from peace to war in a minute, Mason remembered. You
were sitting there eating breakfast peaceful, and then the next
minute, you were at war. I think a lot about my buddies who got
killed, and I thank the dear Lord for sparing my life.
to Oahu on the 40th, 45th and 50th anniversaries of the bombing,
but remembered it this year in Texas at the Official Mainland Commemoration
at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg.
Pearl Harbor survivor Carl Mason was in a mess hall eating breakfast when the attack began. Interviewed for the Oral History Collection, he is now one of its financial supporters.
plans to continue finding and interviewing Pearl Harbor survivors
as long as possible.
can be notoriously unreliable, so Im always looking for collaborating
sources, he says.
says recent Hollywood films, including this years Pearl
Harbor, and newscaster Tom Brokaws book The Greatest
Generation have created a renewed interest in Pearl Harbor and
World War II in general.
think we pay more attention to this war than any other of the 20th
century because our national security was more in jeopardy than
during any other war, he says.
became a financial supporter of the Oral History Collection after
being interviewed, calls the collection a wonderful thing.
Pearl Harbor survivors want to keep the memory of Pearl Harbor alive,
and recording memories is the best way, he says. Theres
also a need to keep history alive. A country without history isnt
a very strong country.