Memories of infamous day remain clear
Vancouver event honors those lost in Pearl Harbor attack
Originally published December 7, 2012 at 2:22 p.m., updated December 7, 2012 at 8:57 p.m.
PEARL HARBOR SURVIVORS
Local Pearl Harbor survivors attending this year's Dec. 7 commemoration (and their ships):
• Larry Lydon, USS San Francisco
• Gebhard Galle, USS Nevada
• Paul Johnson, USS Castor
• Harold Lacy, USS Tennessee
• Ralph Laedtke, USS Solace
• Rich Hatton, USS Worden
For one veteran, World War II announced its arrival with a soft tapping.
Others saw the war coming in the form of unexpected airplanes.
Those were some of the perspectives shared Friday by six former sailors who were stationed at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Along with family members, friends and other military veterans, they met 71 years later in Vancouver to honor the 2,390 American lives lost in the Japanese attack.
All the participating Pearl Harbor survivors were serving on Navy ships anchored in America’s Pacific stronghold. The surprise attack occurred on Sunday morning, just before 8 o’clock, when many of the American soldiers, sailors and Marines were eating breakfast or heading for church services.
Ralph Laedtke demonstrated how he became aware of something unusual. Laedtke, the keynote speaker, drummed his fingers on the side of the lectern near the microphone.
“I thought someone on the other side of the bulkhead was tapping his fingers,” said Laedtke, who was on the hospital ship USS Solace. “It was gunfire.”
Gebhard Galle, aboard the battleship USS Nevada, was getting ready to go ashore for church services.
“I heard rat-tat-tat and looked out the porthole,” Galle said.
Galle saw warplanes flying low and fast, and thought: “This is a hell of a time for practice.”
Rich Hatton, on the destroyer USS Worden, had a similar experience on his way to breakfast.
“I looked up and saw five or six aircraft,” Hatton said during the gathering at the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at The Quay.
Larry Lydon was an ensign aboard the cruiser USS San Francisco. Because the ship was scheduled to go into drydock, it didn’t have any ammunition bigger than .30 caliber, he said.
Paul Johnson was a crewman on the USS Castor. The transport ship, loaded with ammunition, had just arrived at Pearl Harbor two days earlier and wasn’t on the attackers’ target list.
Harold Lacy was a radio operator on the USS Tennessee; berthed on “Battleship Row,” it was one of the primary targets of Japanese bombs and torpedoes.
Lacy wound up serving on two other battleships that were damaged at Pearl Harbor, the USS Maryland and the USS West Virginia.
After the initial shock, “We had a job to do,” Laedtke said.
They treated the wounded, fought fires, manned the guns and tried to get their slumbering ships powered up again. And that was how a crewman on the USS Nevada received our nation’s highest military honor, which was displayed at Friday’s event.
Vancouver’s Penny Ross represented her father, Donald Ross, and she brought along the Congressional Medal of Honor her father received for his heroism aboard that battleship.
Donald Ross was chief engineer aboard the USS Nevada. Badly damaged by bombs and torpedoes, the Nevada tried to run out to sea. When smoke and heat made the forward dynamo room unbearable, Ross ordered his men to leave, and he performed all their duties by himself until he lost consciousness. After he was rescued and resuscitated, Ross went back down to his duty station — even though he was temporarily blinded. But Penny Ross said her father could do the job blindfolded, because he’d practiced it that way.
The crew eventually beached the battleship to avoid blocking the harbor entrance.
Ross was the first person to receive the Medal of Honor in World War II. Adm. Chester Nimitz presented the medal to several servicemen at that ceremony, Penny Ross said, but “we saw the video later, and Admiral Nimitz gave it to my dad first.”
The guided missile destroyer USS Ross, launched in 1997, was named in his honor.
Another witness to the attack, Dick Kim, was an 11-year-old boy in 1941.
Kim said he looked up that morning and saw specks in the sky.
“They were planes flying in formation,” said Kim, who would become a U.S. Navy medic during the Korean War.
“We found out they were bombing Pearl Harbor. We were nine miles away, and we saw the smoke. We were really scared. We thought maybe the Japanese would parachute in.”
The event was organized by the Pacific Northwest Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors.