Matthews of Richardson lied about his age to enter the U.S. Navy
in October 1941. He was 15, but his father signed an affidavit saying
he was 17
the minimum age to enter the Navy. "At that time, the Navy was
looking for personnel, and they kind of turned their heads about the
age," Matthews said.
was stationed at Ford Island at Pearl Harbor, where he attended
aviation metalsmith school to learn to repair damaged aircraft.
On Dec. 7, 1941, however, Matthews was on the USS Arizona. He had
spent the night with a friend who was part of the Arizona's crew.
The two woke up around 6 a.m. and had breakfast and were touring
the battleship when the Japanese attack began.
could see a bunch of planes coming in. Then you heard what seemed
liked thunder in the background, which was actually bombs starting
to drop. But none of us thought about bombs, because we didn't even
know what a bomb was," Matthews recalled. "As these planes
got closer, the thunder got closer
Then we saw fire and explosions
where they've hit. We knew that something was wrong, but we thought
maybe it was gunnery practice or something."
later learned he had witnessed the destruction of the USS Shaw,
a destroyer anchored off of Ford Island. General quarters then sounded
on the Arizona, and Matthews' friend left him for his station. Matthews
remained in the back part of the Arizona and was there when the
battleship was hit by a torpedo between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m.
heard a thunderous explosion and fire went up on the starboard side
It shook me up," he recalled. "I think the second bomb
that hit the Arizona was close to the aft deck that I was on. Needless
to say, I was petrified
I was basically just trying to get
myself under cover
I was too young to realize what was going
on and didn't know that this was a war breaking out. I thought maybe
this was just some big mistake."
or third torpedo to the Arizona landed Matthews in the ocean. He
swam 20 to 30 yards away from the ship and clung to a buoy to which
the ship was tied. He was still a mile away from shore.
"There was steel in the air; there was fire; and there was
oil, pieces of timber, pieces of the boat deck, canvas and even
pieces of bodies," he said. "I would have gone on to shore,
except there was just as much havoc going on with bombing at the
Naval Air Station on Ford Island."
buoy, Matthews witnessed the sinking of the Arizona: "It was
a fireworks display. It was ammunition, gun lockers, shells, fragments
and pyrotechnics coming, it seemed to me, from all parts of the
ship. It was a series of explosions." He remembered being showered
by steel pieces, shrapnel and parts of bodies, but was not hurt.
Arizona sank, Matthews swam for shore, covered in black oil and
sludge. He returned to the Naval Air Station and spent the rest
of the day rescuing people and removing damaged aircraft from runways.
He learned later that his friend on the Arizona was one of many
killed on the battleship.
his experience on Dec. 7, Matthews never thought of quitting the
Navy or turning himself in to authorities because he was underage.
"I knew then that even if I had to wait two years, I would
still join up," he said.
Eaton was a buck sergeant stationed with the Army Air Corps
at Hickam Field at Pearl Harbor. After almost a year at the field,
Eaton was expected to leave on Dec. 8, 1941. On Dec. 7, he woke
up at 7:30 a.m. to get ready to play badminton at 8 a.m.
was sitting there trying to decide on what clothing to wear, and
a Navy plane flew over the barracks very low. Now this usually occurred
when the Navy wanted us to know they were flying on a Sunday. So
we're sitting there making smart remarks about the Navy, and a big
explosion occurs over the harbor. We figure something really went
wrong," Eaton recalled.
in his underwear, Eaton went outside to look around.
then a torpedo bomber came from the other direction out of the harbor,
right across our flagpole, right across the tip of the barracks
the guy in the back seat is shooting at me," he
the Japanese insignia on the plane, which was only 50 feet above
thought about it for about half a second and said, 'We are under
attack! The Japanese are going to bomb us!'" he said.
to the base's post office, where he and a corporal watched the activity
over the harbor: "It was pretty obvious that this was a catastrophe.
What we were watching was the development of World War II, as far
as our involvement was concerned. We didn't really think of it that
way, but what we did think of was, 'If those guys can come here
and do that, what are they going to do next?' I mean, today."
few minutes, Eaton managed to run back to his barracks. He put on
his mechanic's suit and went to the airplane hangars. He took charge
of dispensing ammunition and bombs for the airplanes. He also went
into an airplane's rear turret as the gunner and waited for Japanese
planes to arrive: "You looked up over the area toward the western
edge of Oahu, and you could see this huge formation of aircraft
They came right across Hickam and bombed the
day was over, 206 people would die at Hickam Field. Eaton left the
field on Dec. 10, two days later than scheduled.
Vaessen was a seaman second class on the USS Utah. On Dec. 7,
1941, he arrived 15 minutes early for his 8 a.m. watch in the ship's
switchboard room, which controlled the electrical system.
later, at 7:55 a.m., he thought the ship had been rammed when water
started pouring into the room. In reality, the Utah, a battleship
that had been converted to a mobile target vessel used for drills,
had been hit by two torpedoes during the Japanese attack on Pearl
As the ship
started to roll over, Vaessen activated the emergency lighting system.
He then grabbed the flashlight that he had been repairing before
the attack and headed to the hatch. He made his way to the bilge
area, taking with him the wrench that opened it.
was hanging onto everything, the door and anything I could grab.
The deck plates came flying by me, fire extinguishers, everything
loose. I was hit in many places but not by sharp edges," he
said. "With the wrench, I hit the bottom of the ship. I crawled
along and pounded away. I heard voices and then silence. Pretty
soon, some voices came back, with more people. Then after a while
I saw a little red spot
somebody with a cutting torch. The sparks were coming down on me,
but I didn't care. The best shower I've ever had!"
and Minerva Nash lived in base housing at Kaneohe Naval Air
Station where Kenton was head yeoman for PBY Squadron VP-11. They
were married 23 days before the Pearl Harbor attack.
had been sleeping when we heard the roar of planes," Minerva
recalled. "I got up and looked out the window, and I saw this
fire. I said: 'Ken, there's a fire in the hangar.' Ken came out
and said, 'That isn't the hangar! That's the PBY on the bay!' The
(Japanese) planes were flying rather low in the back of our place.
If I had had a baseball, I could have hit a plane from my bedroom
to the hangar as the second assault on the air station began.
main thing they did was to destroy our planes. The minute those
tracer bullets hit gasoline, the planes just exploded. It was pretty
sad to see brand-new planes destroyed so quickly," he said.
later, Kenton was hit by shrapnel.
think the bomb that hit me was dropped by a plane that was a little
off target," he said. "I really think he should have been
aiming at the hangar, and I was a good 150 feet from the hangar.
The bomb hit about 60 feet away and exploded. I actually saw the
windows pop out of my car
the windshield and the back window. The shrapnel hit my arm
and tore out the lower muscle and knocked a bone out of the upper
arm was amputated later that day at a mental hospital in Kaneohe.
He and Minerva were reunited after she and all the other Navy wives
were evacuated to Kaneohe.