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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 8, 2003

Dec. 7, 1941: A day that shaped a generation

By Peter Boylan and Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writers

Ron Oba, left, and Takayuki Sasaki were among the wreath presenters yesterday during ceremonies marking the 62nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Oba and Sasaki represented the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Sixty-two years ago sailor John Murphy, a radioman on the USS Vestal, was sent to hand-deliver a message to his counterpart aboard the USS Arizona, moored a tugboat's length away in Pearl Harbor.

Before he could board the battleship, Murphy saw a group of planes diving and firing on Ford Island. Minutes later, at approximately 8:10 a.m., a 1,760-pound armor-piercing bomb ignited the Arizona's magazine. The explosion sank the ship in nine minutes and took 1,177 of her crew down with her.

Murphy might have made it 1,178 had he gotten there sooner.

Yesterday, the 85-year-old sat amid a gathering of veterans, military dignitaries and community leaders at the USS Arizona Memorial during a morning observance of the 62nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that sent the United States into World War II.

"I still have my R&R pass that I was going to use the coming weekend," said Murphy, pulling the six-decade-old piece of paper from his wallet. "I didn't get a day of leave for awhile after that."

Shafts of sunlight penetrated the cover of gray clouds that hung over the harbor. The solemn observance was marked by military music from the Pacific Fleet Band, the presentation of colors, a missing-man flyover, a moment of silence at 7:55 a.m. (when the 1941 attack began) and prayers for peace.

U.S. Sens. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawai'i, and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, joined Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, Lt. Gov. James Aiona and many others at the memorial service yesterday.

Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said the attack on Pearl Harbor helped shape a generation of Americans. He said the Arizona is at once a memorial to the past and a promise for a bright future.

"No one can leave here (the memorial) without feeling the power and the tenacity of those who protected this harbor," Fargo said.

More than 35 organizations, including all branches of the military, presented wreaths for display at the memorial. Representatives from each group walked toward the front of the memorial, stopping at an open well in the floor to drop plumeria and anthurium into water over the Arizona's hull.

The flowers fanned out under the memorial, tracing multihued lines in the ever-present oil slick that floats up from the sunken ship.

Navy Rear Adm. John N. Costas drops flowers into the water above the USS Arizona, which sank Dec. 7, 1941, after being struck by a 1,760-pound bomb.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Ron Oba, 81, a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, was 17 years old at the time of the attack. Oba said he was having breakfast with his family that morning when he heard what he thought was neighborhood kids playing with fireworks.

He ran from his 'Aiea home down to the harbor's shoreline in time to watch the Arizona explode. He joined the Army a year later.

"I was angry, very angry, that the Japanese would attack my country," Oba said. "I was an American."

The attack lasted two hours and hit other military bases and sections of the island. Twenty-one ships were heavily damaged and 323 aircraft were damaged or destroyed.

In all 2,388 people were killed and 1,178 were wounded.

Woody Derby, 85, another of the dwindling number of survivors in attendance yesterday, said he remembers being waist-deep in water 20 minutes after a Japanese torpedo slammed into the portside forward cabin of his ship, the USS Nevada, forcing it to go aground.

He said, for the most part, the emotions of that day have faded.

"The only thing that I still get emotional about is going into the Arizona (memorial) and seeing all of the names," Derby said.

Later yesterday, at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, more than 100 people, including two dozen Pearl Harbor survivors, gathered to pay tribute to civilians who died in the attack.

This year's ceremony recognized firefighters, shipyard workers, police, ordinary residents and others who died, were injured or risked their lives to save others during the bombings.

A sailor shakes rain off the roof of a shelter where shuttle boats pulled up to ferry people to ceremonies marking the 62nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The weather cleared up during the ceremony.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Forty-nine sailors lined up in the rain for the traditional wreath-laying ceremony, each carrying a rose to honor a civilian who died.

Ray Emory of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association said he had suggested the tribute to the civilians. But his knowledge of their sacrifices did not come firsthand from his experiences on that day.

"I had my own thing to worry about at the moment," the former sailor said.

Emory, stopping his story periodically to sign his autograph for adults and children who circulated among the survivors, asking the veterans to sign programs and books, said he was aboard the USS Honolulu that Sunday morning. It was difficult, he said, to grasp that history and fate had just collided in Pearl Harbor.

"I remember thinking, 'Oh, what a time to be sent to general quarters,' " he said. "We weren't even through breakfast yet."

Once he got to his battle station and saw Japanese planes flying over and torpedoes whizzing by, he understood the immediacy of the situation.

A sailor who came on deck behind him looked at him in disbelief "like he should be sending for those men in the white coats" when Emory told him they were under attack — until the next torpedo dropped.

When an officer came near, Emory said he asked him who had declared war on whom and when.

The officer said, "Well, how the (heck) should I know," Emory said.

Reach Peter Boylan at pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-8110. Reach Karen Blakeman at kblakeman@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2430.