Local survivors remember Pearl Harbor

A dozen mark 70th anniversary of attack

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter



Did you know?

• The national Pearl Harbor Survivors Association will disband at the end of the year. The Pacific Northwest Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors will continue Vancouver’s annual Dec. 7 commemorations.


Members of the Vancouver chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association (not all attended Wednesday’s event), plus three Portland-area survivors who attended the commemoration:

• Larry Lydon, USS San Francisco.

• Joseph Bailey, USS Whitney.

• George Bennett, Ford Island.

• John Bruening, Schofield Barracks.

• Bernard DeGrave, USS Montgomery.

• Gebhard Galle, USS Nevada.

• Paul Johnson, USS Castor.

• Marvin Kaufmann, USS Whitney.

• Harold Lacy, USS Tennessee.

• John Leach, USS California.

• Don Raymond, USS Sunnadin.

• Ralph Laedtke, USS Solace.

• G.R. Hatton, USS Worden.

• Ed Cogan, Hickham Field.

• Gene Cole, Bellows Field.

• Albert Montague, submarine base.

Some of them realized our nation was at war when machine gun bullets started buzzing around them.

A few sailors knew something was wrong when their ships shuddered; in one case, the jolt was strong enough to knock breakfast off the table.

Wednesday marked the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on America’s Pacific stronghold, which plunged the nation into World War II.

When a dozen local Pearl Harbor survivors gathered to mark the anniversary, it was a chance to share some of those stories — and to honor more than 2,300 military personnel who were killed on Dec. 7, 1941.

Don Raymond said he was among those who survived machine gun fire when the quiet Sunday morning skies over the harbor suddenly erupted with Japanese warplanes.

“I still have a machine gun bullet at home,” Raymond said.

Larry Lydon was eating breakfast aboard the USS San Francisco when his ship was hit.

“My breakfast jumped off the table, and onto the deck,” Lydon said.

The event also provided a chance for some veterans to learn a little more about events they were in no position to see.

“I wish I could tell you about it, but I was four decks below,” said Gebhart Galle, who was aboard the battleship USS Nevada. “We took five six bomb hits, and a torpedo in the bow and started to sink.”

The crew had to find alternate quarters, Galle said. “They didn’t have enough bunks. They put us in a ballpark, and that’s where we slept for three or four nights.”

“I can’t give you a story” about the start of the attack, said Gene Cole, president of the Portland survivors’ chapter. “I was on the other side of the island.”

Cole was a crew chief with an Army Air Corps unit based at Bellows Field; their initial notification came while listening to the radio as they ate breakfast.

Cole said he left half his breakfast on the table and ran to the flight line just as Japanese warplanes arrived to machine-gun the field.

“They missed me a little bit,” Cole said during the observance in the Centennial Center, Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at The Quay.

The commemoration was capped when Ralph Laedtke, master of ceremonies, cast a floral tribute into the Columbia River in remembrance of those who died.

Not that Laedtke or other survivors who dealt with the aftermath of the attack have forgotten.

Laedtke, a pharmacist’s mate on the USS Solace, wound up working in the hospital ship’s morgue later that day. He wrote up one death certificate noting that 26 men were unidentifiable. They were burned beyond recognition.

Paul Johnson said he and his USS Castor shipmates pulled 20 oil-covered casualties from the water.

“Not a one of them lived,” Johnson said.

Many of the survivors were expecting a similar fate, said Harold Lacy, a crewman on the battleship USS Tennessee.

“Nobody expected on Dec. 7 that we’d live through the war,” Lacy said. “We were going through battleships pretty fast. Our odds of surviving were pretty slim.”