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San Diego Pearl Harbor Survivors Recount The Attack

Gordon Jones, 93, talks about what he experienced in the attack on Pearl Harbor, Aug. 5, 2015.
Susan Murphy
Gordon Jones, 93, talks about what he experienced in the attack on Pearl Harbor, Aug. 5, 2015.

The Japanese assault on Hawaii occurred 74 years ago, propelling the U.S. into World War II

San Diego Pearl Harbor Survivors Recount The Attack
San Diego Pearl Harbor Survivors Recount The Attack
GUESTS:Judd Krier, commanding officer, USS Pearl Harbor Susan Murphy, reporter, KPBS News

Is America arrow face threats from terrorist, freedom has faced greater challenges in the past and try and. The greatest threat the US and loving memory came on the state 74 years ago. The attack on Pearl Harbor, the event which propelled America into World War II was commemorated today in San Diego. KPBS spoke to the few remaining survivors of that day who shared the memories. It was frightening. Everybody was running around. Pearl Harbor so drivers has spent a lifetime sharing their experiences about what happened on December 7, 841. They are not our place. They are dropping bombs. The Pearl Harbor is on fire. Smoke all over the harbor. You can see the Arizona explode and see about 32 bodies that were flying through the air. 93-year-old golden Jones 103-year-old and 93-year-old student Hedley are a fading group of living history. They are meant to doesn't remaining veterans in San Diego County who live to tell about the attack that launched America into World War II. Nearly 2400 Americans died that morning, 21 vessels were sunk or damaged, at 323 military planes were destroyed. Headley was aboard the battleship West Virginia went torpedoes hit it. Fire was three times as high is this house from the oil that was party. He escaped the ship by jumping into the burning sea and swimming meet the flames. We went's deepest we could and swam underwater. We broke service twice and that is the hottest breath of air we other brave. Jones was stationed at the cannoli Bay Naval base in Hawaii when the Japanese attack. He was wearing his dress whites on that Sunday morning. He was ordered to this disguise and. I did take off my uniform and put it in a coffee urn. I had to die at a different color. He recalls he was a hard target to hit. I was too skinny. They couldn't hit me. I saw a submarine. He is the oldest known Pearl Harbor survivor who had wrapped up an overnight shipped on the minesweeper US Condor just hours before the attack. His crew made the first enemy contact. They spotted the periscope of a Japanese submarine in the harbor and had it blown up. I am proud that I was involved in doing a little bit. He says his pride extends to all who served that day and the battles that followed. The aging veterans share a close bond, more than seven decades strong. Their hats, shirts, badges comments probably display their years of service. Also part of their exclusive go, child survivors including Jodi address. I cannot forget any part of it. She was 12 years old getting ready for church. The sound was getting louder and louder. The house started to vibrate slightly. I went out to the front porch and looked up. She recalls the Japanese fire planes barely brushing by the roof of her house. As one by that time, we did have quite content. She rested to her house to get her father and naval officer. My father was jumping out of bed. The ad -- keypad, the language was not good. Went to war. She and her mother got into the car and headed off base. On Marine standing guard at the date stop them. He pointed to me and he said you watch out and let your brother drive. If a plane comes in the vicinity, you pull over and get undercover. That Marine saved our lives. 74 years later, he has four children, 10 grandchildren and eight grandchildren. She is they had of membership for the San Diego Pearl Harbor survivor Association, a job that does not require a lot of it to the state. Will call once stood at nearly 1000. This is today. It now stands at 22. Adam spends her free time talking to fifth graders about Pearl Harbor. Is the age she was the which Pearl Harbor was attacked. A lot of them have no clue. This is very important. Are authentic history lesson is simple. Criticism, loyalty to your country, respect to those who fight for their freedom. Never forget the sacrifices of those who fought to change the world. To the Murphy, KPBS Susan, thanks for joining us. Thank you for having me. Captain. Cryer, welcome to the show. Good afternoon. Thank you for having us. As you mentioned in your report, Pearl Harbor survivors are quite old. How clear, overall would you say their memories are to this event. They are aging. The youngest who were 17 at the time are now 91. This they had the pleasure of speaking to, were sharp and. They could recount every detail about where they were, what they sell, how they reacted. Each of them has an intriguing story. When you talk to them, you can see adapt of their experience, their wisdom, of all they've been through. I remember speaking with purple -- Pearl Harbor survivors were report that I did several years ago. I was struck with how much emotion the veterans express. Decades later, about their own desperate escapes, the loss of the friends, did you find the same emotions? Yes. One said greatest ISIL things that you were not meant to see. Summary measure, voices breaking, 74 years later, they say you never get over an experience like that, you carry with you. Others told me they were unable to talk about the event until years later. Right-year-old do heavily, said he and his wife was unaware of his involvement in Pearl Harbor until they took a cruise around the Hawaiian coast. We have a clip of him sharing that memory. The moment we came around the bend, I could hear the bombs going off. I can see the ships blowing up. It was all replayed in my wife asked me, what is wrong with you? I said honey. I never told you this before. I was here on December 7, on one of the battleships in battleship Row. That is a big story. Just so that everyone who is listening gets the context of this, back in 1941, the end of 1941, the world was a war. Larry to get over Europe. Japan had invaded China. The US was not a war. The US was, a lot of us wanted to stay out of this European or Asian war. In fact, some of the survivors described their shock at the attacked because we were not at war. They were shocked. There was chaos. They were unprepared. The guns were locked in cases. They talk about frantically running from building to building to find you at the keys. Ships exploded. Their shipment sunk. It was horrific. Airplanes were decimated by the Japanese attack. After speaking with the survivors, did you get insight as to why the memories are so clear and so important to the survivors, almost 3/4 of a century later. It shaped their entire lives. It is embedded into their memories. They have been sharing the stories for years, talking to groups, participating in parades and ceremonies. I have watched as audiences that are absolutely captivated by their every word. Reliving it, repeating it, I'm sure that it's helped. It has shaped their lives. They talk about it often. You command the USS Pearl Harbor, you took part in this morning's Pearl Harbor admiration. What was it like? It was one of the greatest experiences that I have had in my 18 years of naval service. Stew asked me to be the guest speaker that day. It did not take me more than a second to say that I would be happy to do it. Just to be there with this seven that showed up, and the whole crew of the ship, along with the turnout from the local community, everything was fall. We had five or 600 people that day. It was a very overwhelming experience for me to participate and be the guest speaker. Plus a little bit about the US Pearl Harbor. We are an amphibious ship, we carry him reads with this. When we flow, we carry about 600 Marines and we take their gear and their equipment with this. We can go out into a variety of missions that the commanders need us to do, including disaster relief, maritime interdiction, we can stormy beach if we had to. We give the operational commanders flexibility out in the field. Where this hump or? Back we are home ported here in San Diego. I did not know that. When they told me I was going to Pearl Harbor, I thought it was going Pearl Harbor Hawaii, not the USS Pearl Harbor and a clear that up. It must be quite a legacy. It is a tremendous honor when a ship can connect with its namesake. There is a lot of great places and great folks that ships of the named after. But to actually connect with you namesake and to live and to breathe, we do a lot of command options with the Pearl Harbor survivors. They are very active for being 94 years old. I hope I'm not active when I am 94. They will conduct Christmas party on Friday. We go to their picnics. We attend parades with them. It is a tremendous relationship. I value it. Today's speech was about them. There's only six or seven that it plan. There's only 22 locally. Do not know how much longer they will be around. Susan, in your report, we met a woman named Joanna Adams, who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor as a young girl. Was more about her. Goes by Jody. She was 12 years old stationed at the naval base. Her father was a naval officer. She has a fascinating story of survival. She had many close calls during the attack. She talked about her mother. She and her mother escaping the house dashing from tree to tree. She went to an officer's building and it was straight Bible is. Then she her mother got into the car as they were leaving, the car was fired upon. They had to hide in a ditch. One of her fascinating stories, in addition to all that, is a woman who was their housekeeper. This woman was beautiful, in her early 30s. She was a Japanese woman. The Amalie was always suspicious of her because she was in her 30s, single comment beautiful. It was rare not to be married at the time. Any morning, she always went down to the beach and the morning of the attack, she had just disappeared. That morning, she was gone. We figured she is down at the bench but no. She was gone. She knew the attack was occurring and that was her excuse so that we would not be, if we wondered where she was, we would think she was at the beach. It turned out that she was a Japanese by. The woman's brother had been caught trying to poison the Honolulu water system and through him bit down her. That is an amazing story. Jody survived the war. What about her parents? Did they survive? Back they did. In fact, Jody and her mother eventually returned to the base because everyone on base what to war. She volunteered at the commissary. She stayed there for a while. Of course they traveled around. I am interested in another thing you said in your report. She now teaches kids about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Tell us more about that and what she was saying about how so many young kids do not know much about this. She is dedicated to teaching fifth and sixth graders. It is the age she was on the day of the attack. It is important to her. She wants them to remember this day. She wants them to know their history because she says they are not aware. When she says Pearl Harbor, the kids say who is sheet? It is something she is a member of the sons and daughters of Pearl Harbor survivors Association. She is a true survivor, someone in the membership were born after the event, the goal is to carry on the baton. They want to keep the story lie. Some of the younger members on board your ship are not much older than these kids are being taught about Pearl Harbor in the school. All of your crewmembers, do they know the story of what their shipped is named for? Back it is part of our training when sailors come and. They go to an indoctrination period of about two weeks. One of the lessons that we focus on is the history of the ship. Our sailors understand what we're doing here and what our ship was named after. We try to honor the brave men and women with her service to our country. One of the things that must be imprinted upon them after they get this indoctrination, how important it is to be ready, to be ready at a moments number must -- notice. Do take that -- seriously? Back absolutely. It is probably no greater responsibility than to be ready, being a Boy Scout. We bring that into the military. The operational commanders do a great job of making sure that we have the training that we have the people and resources that we need to be ready. They run a story set of rigorous drills and exercises that we repeat on a repeated basis to make sure that we have our skills honed, that we are ready to go, to face anything that comes our way. We can face a warship, and we could be out at sea and having to go attack a different country or something. We have to be ready for a lot. The operational commanders do a great job of giving us what we need to be successful and it is up to us to execute it. Susan, the Pearl Harbor survivors are where that their time is growing short. Debate a you anything about how they want to be recovered? They are a humble group. They are selfless. They want us to remember the hundreds of their shipmates who died the morning. Remember those who gave their lives. They want to be remembered for their loyalty to the country and for their dedication in protecting America. They want Pearl Harbor to be remembered as a symbol for the sacrifice for freedom. And also are freedom must be protected and defended by every generation. I want to thank you back -- both. Thank you both very much. Thank you. Still had, is the season of the Nutcracker. That is KPBS midday edition continues.

San Diego Pearl Harbor Survivors Recount The Attack
On the 74th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, San Diego survivors of the military assault recount their experiences on that horrific day that launched America into World War II.

Pearl Harbor survivors have spent a lifetime sharing their experiences about what happened on Dec. 7, 1941.

“There was a lot of hurrying around and being afraid,” recalled Gordon Jones, 93, who was walking with his brother at the Kaneohe Bay Naval Base on the Hawaiian island of Oahu when the Japanese attacked.

“We could see these planes coming in. And they’re not our planes, and they’re dropping bombs,” Jones said.

“It was frightening. And the rifles were all in cases, and they were locked up inside the hangar,” he said. “After a while, someone banged the glass off.”

Jones said he was wearing his dress whites on that Sunday morning. He was ordered to disguise them.

“I had to take off my white uniform and dip it in the coffee urn to dye it a different color so the Japanese wouldn’t hone in on us,” he said.

Joking, he added, he was a hard target to hit.

“I was too skinny then, and they couldn’t hit me or drop a bomb near me,” Jones chuckled. “And they still owe me a white uniform.”

Ray Chavez, 103, is the oldest known living Pearl Harbor survivor. He had wrapped up an overnight shift on the minesweeper USS Condor just hours before the stealthy attack. His crew made the first enemy contact when they spotted the periscope of a Japanese submarine in the harbor and had it blown up.

Ray Chavez, 103, the oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor, recounts what he experienced during the attack, Aug. 5, 2015.
Susan Murphy
Ray Chavez, 103, the oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor, recounts what he experienced during the attack, Aug. 5, 2015.

When the scene returned to calm and the next hours were uneventful, Chavez went home to sleep. But it wasn’t long before his wife came running into the bedroom.

“‘Get up, get up. We’re being attacked.' And I said, ‘Who’s being attacked?’ I was half asleep. And she said, ‘We are. The Japanese are attacking the harbor.’”

Chavez said he looked out his front door.

“The whole harbor is on fire, and smoke is all over the harbor, too,” he said.

Stu Hedley, 93, was aboard the battleship West Virginia when torpedoes hit it. He had just witnessed the explosion of the USS Arizona and saw 32 bodies fly off the ship.

“Fire was three times as high as this house from the oil that was burning,” Hedley said.

He escaped by jumping into the burning sea and swimming beneath the flames. More than 100 of his crew mates died that morning.

Stu Hedley, a Pearl Harbor survivor, shares his experiences of World War II, Aug. 5, 2015.
Susan Murphy
Stu Hedley, a Pearl Harbor survivor, shares his experiences of World War II, Aug. 5, 2015.

“When we went into the water, we went as deep as we could and we swam under water,” Hedley said. “We broke the surface twice, and that’s the hottest breath of air we ever breathed.”

Hedley has dedicated the past several decades to preserving the memory of that infamous day, talking at schools and churches and to business groups. He said he hasn’t always eagerly recounted the momentous fight. Even his wife was unaware of his involvement in Pearl Harbor until their 25th wedding anniversary, when they toured the Hawaiian coast, he said.

"The moment we came around the bend, I could hear the bombs going off. I could see the ships blowing up. It was all replayed in my mind," Hedley said. "And my wife asked me, 'Butch, what’s wrong with you?' I said, 'Honey, I never told you this before, but I was here on December 7 on one of the battleships along battleship row.'”

The once-young sailors are a fading group of San Diego County veterans who lived to tell about the attack that launched America into World War II.

Nearly 2,400 Americans died that morning, 21 vessels were sunk or damaged, and 323 military planes were destroyed.

“To me, I was real proud that I was involved in doing my little bit,” Chavez said, adding his pride extends to all who served that day and the battles that followed.

Like the others, Chavez served throughout World War II. He retired from the Navy in 1945 because his psychological wounds were too much to bear.

“I got discharged, and it took about three years to get over it,” Chavez said.

Close Bond Stretches Seven Decades

The survivors share a close bond more than seven decades strong. Their hats, shirts and badges proudly display their years of service.

Also part of their exclusive club are child survivors, including Joanne "Joedy" Adams of San Diego, who was 12 and getting ready for church at her home on the Kaneohe Bay Naval Base when she heard a rumbling noise.

Joanne "Joedy" Adams, 86, a child survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor, shares her memory of the horrific day, Dec. 2, 2015.
Nicholas McVicker
Joanne "Joedy" Adams, 86, a child survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor, shares her memory of the horrific day, Dec. 2, 2015.

“The sound was getting louder and louder and the house started to vibrate slightly,” Adams recalled. “So I went out to the front porch and looked up.”

Japanese fighter planes barely brushed by the roof of her house, she said.

“As one went by just at that time and he looked down at me, we did have eye contact,” Adams said.

She rushed into her house to get her father, a Navy officer.

“By that time, my father was jumping out of bed,” Adams said. “The language was not too good,” she laughed.

He went to war. She and her mother scurried to find safety. They eventually stuffed food in pillow cases, got into the car and headed to leave the base. A Marine standing guard at the gate stopped them.

“He pointed to me. He said, ‘You watch out, let your mother drive and if a plane comes, if you see any plane anywhere in the vicinity, you pull over and get under cover.’ So, that Marine saved our life,” Adams said.

Few Survivors Remain

Seventy-four years later, Adams has four children, 10 grandchildren and eight grandchildren. She’s the head of membership for the San Diego Pearl Harbor Survivors Association — a job that does not require a lot of attention these days. Roll call once stood at nearly 1,000.

It now stands at 22, Adams said, as she pulled the thin membership folder out of her file container.

Adams, also a member of the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbors Survivors Association, spends her free time talking to fifth- and sixth-graders about that historic day. It’s the age she was the day of the attack.

“A lot of them have no clue as to our history,” Adams said. “So this, to me, is very important.”

Her authentic history lesson carries a simple message, she said.

“Patriotism, loyalty to their country, respect to those who fight for their freedom,” Adams said.

And, she said, to never forget the sacrifices of those who fought to change the world.

KPBS Evening Edition: San Diego Pearl Harbor Survivors

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