By James Clark
Three-quarters of a century after the attack on Pearl Harbor, survivors reflect on another deadly and era-defining day: Sept. 11, 2001.
It was around 8 a.m. in Honolulu on Dec. 7, 1941, and Seaman 1st Class Stuart Hedley was below deck on the USS West Virginia when the alarm sounded. Over the loudspeaker came the words, “Away fire and rescue party.” Hedley raced topside, and as he emerged from below, he saw planes diving from every direction. Pearl Harbor was under attack.
“My commander, Lt. White, was shooting at planes with his .45 mm, and I’m wondering what kind of a war is this?” Hedley told Task & Purpose.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the attack, which claimed the lives of 2,403 Americans, making it one of the deadliest attacks on United States soil, second only to the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
After the West Virginia was hit by a torpedo, Hedley escaped by running along one of the main guns, jumping onto the USS Tennessee nearby, and then into the water, which was engulfed in flames. He came up for air twice, and each time he thought the fire would scorch his lungs, but it didn’t. Eventually, Hedley made it to shore, but as many as 100 of his fellow crewmates died that day.
That same morning, at Kaneohe Naval Base, Japanese warplanes strafed the rows of seaplanes moored or on the ground, recounted Carl Clark, a Navy veteran who at the time served as a steward.
“All of us guys were down on the loading dock, where we couldn’t be hit by the machine gun and the guy looked down at us and he smiled and waved at us as he flew over — the Japanese gunner,” Clark said. “The next time he came over, he knew we were down there, so he decided to have a little fun with us…
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