DISCOVERING THE FUTURE BY REVEALING THE PAST
by Jon Sinatra
"Sunday, December 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy." - FDR
On his 17th birthday, John Sinatra enlisted in the U.S. Navy aboard the Submarine S-37 (USS Canopus, tender). By the Summer of 1941, following his service with the Asiatic Fleet, Johnny transferred aboard the ammunition ship USS Pyro AE-1. On December 7, 1941, his ship was attacked by Imperial Japan's military forces during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii. In a time of reflection, he recalled that Sunday morning.
In the early dawn of December 7, 1941, just outside the entrance to Pearl Harbor aboard the Destroyer USS Ward, the Officer of the deck said "Captain come to the bridge". A conning tower with the periscope of an enemy midget submarine was visible and was trailing the USS Antares into Pearl Harbor. The destroyer bore down on the sub and opened fire! A shot struck the conning tower, with the pilot in the tower and the shot exploded! The sub submerged and quickly filled with seawater, the 2nd pilot drowned as his ship sank 1200 feet down to the bottom. The first shots of WW II had been fired, and silently they echoed through the harbor as silently still we slept. And with a flicker, the rising sun lit the dawn over Pearl Harbor and appeared skyward hundreds of steel horses and the name that road upon them was death, and Hell followed with them...
The USS Pyro was moored at the West Lock dock and Johnny was up early for extra duty that morning. Sitting at breakfast, he reached back and stretched for the new day when a message blared over the PA "Now, relieve the watch. The Eight-to-Twelve watch!" It was 0745. The dawn was "Sunday morning serene". A sky born from a new horizon was painted a deep blue and the clouds spun as cotton floated through the quiet over Oahu. Across the fields of sugarcane and palms stood at attention for colors Battleship Row. Johnny and his shipmates, Boots, and Flynt were there chatting about new and the usual fare. A breeze drifted in on barely a sliver when Johnny noticed to his coffee a shake and then a shiver. Boots, and Flynt both noticed too. Their eyes fixed upon it, again like a feint impact tremor the surface of their coffee slightly shook. Moored within the calm blue waters, the three looked to each other for an obvious explanation when the PA mike clicked on "First call to colors!" With that, Johnny looked up at the squawk box unsure, and along with others they half-heartedly asked "Was that the sound of planes in the background?" From across the room, the chief carefully closed and began folding his newspaper as he piped up "Who the hell is flying over the West Loch? They know we're loaded down with ammo!" A silent few seconds ticked by then a rumble, and another, like from rain and thunder in the distance and the PA mike clicked on...then off, then on again with scattered shouting and the definite roar of aircraft in the background when a determined voice shouted into the PA mike, "All hands man your battle stations this is no drill! And the air raid alarm was sounded! The USS Pyro was secured alongside the West Loch dock
at the ammunition depot as two low flying planes appeared heading for the ship! On approaching, the planes zoomed to clear ship and masts as Japanese aircraft markings of a red circle were sighted under the plane's wings. With stores of ammunition (being readied for transfer to the USS Nevada) piled up on the dock, the ship's crew faced dire straights! The captain ordered for the main engines to prepare to get underway and the word was sent down to the boat deck for the ensign to take some men and move the ammunition and powder canisters loaded on the pier. The ensign, waving his .45 hollered "Five brave men, follow me to move ammo stores!" Torpedo-bomber planes from the Japanese carrier Shokaku were zooming overhead towards Battleship Row when Johnny arrived topside. The crew being shorthanded, he lit up a .50 caliber machine gun as the planes zoomed past popping off machine gun rounds, their gunners shaking their fists and yelling "TO HELL WITH BABE RUTH!"
USS Pyro AE-1, Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii
Explosions began rumbling across Oahu from Ford Island and the outlying air bases as the Pyro's gunners fired on any plane within reach as all hell broke loose! The destroyer Helm cruising the West Loch came under strafing attacks and reported torpedos being fired in the sea channel. Enemy dive bombers screamed down around the harbor as high-level bombers swarmed above sighting their targets. Oil fires quickly ignited in Battleship Row as exploding torpedos began tearing into the ships! Three torpedos quickly opened up the hull of the battleship Oklahoma and she instantly began to list. Within minutes, 6 more struck her and she rolled over beneath the waves taking 429 of her crew with her. An armor-piercing bomb released and descended down through the sky. The Mighty ship USS Arizona, shimmering proudly within the fleet at anchor shuddered as the 1,763-pound bomb slammed through her deck and bore deep into the ship's hull. The explosion igniting over a million pounds of black gun powder in her forward magazine vaporized hundreds of crew members and raised the battleship from the water, blowing off the bow and sinking to the bottom with 1,117 officers and crewmen. The eruption cleared the deck of the USS Vestal moored beside her blowing the ship's gunners and commander overboard into the igniting waters. The shock wave shook the deck beneath Johnny's feet as the 1 kiloton explosion roared across the harbor! Torpedo and bombing attacks sent hundreds of men overboard as Japanese Zeros swooped down low and strafed the waters. Fire tornados lighting off from the fuel oil pouring from the ships spun in horror through Battleship Row. The West Virginia and California sunk down below the
waves their hulls blown open from exploding torpedos. And the 1700 pound bombs kept falling and the injured were calling and their rescue efforts quickly began. Aboard the Arizona, six sailors high up in the forward mast hung 40 feet above the flames below, their burnt skin peeled like gloves from their hands as they descended across 70 feet of rope line to the repair ship Vestal beside her. The carnage continued on as torpedos gutted the ship Utah, and she rolled over beneath the waves taking 53 men with her. Ships at the 1010 Dock Navy Yard burned as a torpedo struck the cruiser, USS Helena, instantly killing 20 men. At the outlying air stations, the Pacific Fleets airpower was quickly being decimated as hundreds of planes sat upon their airstrips burning. At Haleiwa Air Field, a few American pilots managed to get their planes airborne and laughing in the face of death, climbed for altitude and began dropping enemy planes out of the sky. At Kaneohe Air Station, Chief John Finn propped a .50 caliber machine gun upon sandbags and opened fire! After sustaining 5 wounds, the chief continued firing on enemy aircraft as a bomber plane
Fire tornado spins over the hull of USS Oklahoma in Battleship Row. USS Maryland at left.
began trailing smoke and crashed. At Ford Island, a sailor stood in a doorway of a hangar watching bombs drop on the stations PBY Aircraft as a zero zoomed past with guns firing, the bullets ricocheting off a concrete wall and dropped spinning on the ground near him. His fingers burned as he retrieved and pocketed the bullets. From the deck of the Pyro, two pilots were seen descending with parachutes, their planes spiraling down in flames and crashing near Barber's Point. Just outside the harbor entrance, the USS Antares came under fire from the over shells being fired at enemy aircraft from within the harbor. Shells crashed through homes around Oahu, setting ablaze parts of Honolulu. Enemy planes strafed neighborhoods and vehicles leaving their occupants slumped dead within.
After fifty minutes, the first enemy attack wave retreated to their carriers leaving much of the U.S. Fleet behind in smoke and flames. During the brief calm, the Pyro's guns held up...And from a new horizon was born a blue sky as quickly it filled with the men who died. And from the violence there was born a long and dark-filled day as a bomber plane from a second wave appeared a few hundred feet above the tree line over the Pyro's port bow. The pilot's features were visible with a leather helmet and red scarf and the ship's guns opened fire and the pilot just smiled as his plane zoomed past and dropped its 500-pound bomb! Hitting port-side, the explosion violently rocked the ship, spraying concrete shrapnel over the deck, blowing out pipelines, and putting the ship out of commission. The ammunition was spared and the gun crews continued firing and scoring hits on the low-flying plane as smoke began to trail. Nobody could say just who hit the plane the crews were just satisfied to have inflicted some damage on their surprise enemy.
At the West Loch entrance, dive bombers sighted the destroyer Blue and dropping a string of bombs they exploded portside of the Pyro and starboard the Blue but missing both ships the depot, and their crew. The destroyer made it out to sea and reported sinking two enemy submarines. Across the harbor entrance channel toward For Kam, zero's began strafing the forts airstrip. In a relentless strafing attack, a zero dipped low and hitting its prop on the concrete runway, was unable to regain altitude as it zoomed through between barracks and ordinance buildings and crashed into the machine shop killing instantly four personnel. Across the channel from the Pyro, at the Dry Dock Navy Yard, the Battleship USS Pennsylvania and destroyer Cassin and Downes, came under serious strafing and bombing attacks when the destroyer USS Shaw's powder magazines just exploded in a massive fireball that engulfed the sky! In Battleship Row, the USS Nevada managed to pull out from behind burning Arizona and was on the move through the channel with fighter and bomber planes swarming above when one of the planes just exploded! Nevada's guns had smoked a few of the planes before the torpedoed and bombed-out battleship beached in the channel, smoke and fire pouring from the ship.
Japanese bomber plane goes down in flames
After two hours and two separate attacks by 353 enemy planes and 5 midget submarines, many of the fleet's ships at anchor were sunk in the shallow harbor and burning. The battleship Tennessee survived the attack but was boxed in against Ford Island by the sunken battleships around her and unable to move. Her propellers churning away from the ship the oil fires still pouring from the bow of Arizona.
And as the black smoke billowed over Pearl Harbor and the
second attack wave retreated for their carriers, over 3,500 people were counted dead or wounded, being shot or blown up, many drowned or were cremated within the oil
fires loating in the harbor. In the days following the attack, the sound of tapping from men trapped within the dark and sunken ship hulls echoed methodically through the harbor as their ship above them burned...and then smoldered...until there was no oxygen left to breath did the tapping stop.
And as the dawn was turned into dusk, through the darkened, smoke-filled sky burned the rising sun over Pearl Harbor and retreated skyward hundreds of steel horses and his name that road upon them was death.
REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR
USS WEST VIRGINIA OUTBOARD OF USS TENNESSEE
KEEP AMERICA ALERT
ATTACK ON USS PYRO BY ENEMY SUBMARINE 14 DECEMBER 1941
December 11, 1941: Orders were received and the USS Pyro proceeded unescorted to San Francisco. Before dawn on 14 December, while on passage to the United States, the ship was attacked when two torpedoes were sighted passing close aboard from astern. A submarine surfaced shortly afterward 600 yards astern and was taken under fire from the ship's aft 5" guns. The submarine quickly dived and no-hit was scored. Patrol Wing Two from the Naval Air Station at Pearl Harbor was dispatched to the site and a report on the incident was written. The report also shows that a tanker was torpedoed and sunk 45 miles off of Kahuku Point, an hour and twenty minutes after the Pyro's encounter with a sub. Also within the report, it is stated that on December 11, just off of the big island of Hawaii, that a large submarine was sighted and that it may be a fuel supply ship for small ones (midget subs) or that it may have even been carrying one (see report below at 1625 hrs.)
The report states (above), that at 4:24 pm, a large submarine was sighted and that it was either a fuel supply ship or it may have been carrying a midget sub. The sighting took place on December 11, 3 miles off Kaiwi Point (about 23 miles SE of the entrance to Pearl Harbor. Japanese military records show that the mother sub I-16 was to remain in the area off of the island of Lanai for their midget sub HA-16. Patrol Wing Two states that a large submarine was seen heading south (toward Lanai) at a high rate of speed from Kaiwi Point and that she may have been carrying a midget sub. Records show that the I-16 mother sub departed Lanai, for Kwajalein on December 12. Military records also reveal that there were full-sized submarines outside of the Pearl Harbor entrance on December 7. Within a Congressional Investigation regarding the Pearl Harbor Attack, Ensign N.F. Asher, the commanding officer of the destroyer USS Blue, credits his ship with sinking 2 enemy submarines just outside of Pearl Harbor during the attack. The U.S. Navy reports there were 20 subs outside of Pearl Harbor. It is unclear exactly how long the submarines all stayed in the area but the USS Pyro was reported to have been attacked by an enemy submarine on December 14. Eleven days later following the attack on the Pyro, on December 25, a Japanese submarine was sighted off of Redondo Beach, California. The Air Corps and Navy responded and dropped several bombs. Following the bombing, newspaper headlines announced "Army Flyer Sinks Coast Raider, Air Filled With Debris As Nippon Submarine Is Destroyed."
USS PYRO AE-1 Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii - 1941
Nicholas Vytlacil, Captain
Today the survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor are few. With the passing of my father, I was fortunate enough to attend many of the Pearl Harbor Survivor Association meetings. Survivors from many of the ships in Battleship Row, the outlying airbases and Army barracks, and from many other stations at Pearl Harbor. From all branches of the service. Those that fought in the battles at Midway, Tarawa, Guadalcanal and New Guinea, to Okinawa. Those that fought in the skies over Europe, and those that survived the Kamikaze attacks in the Pacific to those that watched the surrender of the Japanese Empire from Tokyo Harbor, were members here. During the last years of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, I was handed the keys for the secretary duties for the Colorado Pearl Harbor Survivors and the 4 Colorado chapters. It was an honor to have been elected by the Survivors and I am most grateful for the years that I was able to spend with many of them from both the National and the State Chapters. The National Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Inc. was founded in 1958 and closed its doors on December 31, 2011.
- Jon Sinatra
Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Inc.
THE CAMELOT KIDS
by Jon Sinatra
I was born a Camelot Kid, at Fitzsimons Army Hospital, in Denver, Colorado, during President John F. Kennedy's 1000 days of Camelot. While stationed there at Lowry Air Force Base, my mother grocery shopped at the commissary at Lowry and we used Fitzsimons for medical. What a beautiful base Fitzsimons was and I remember it well. The base opened in 1918, and General John Pershing would visit his troops there during their treatments from chemical weapons in Europe during WWI.
Fitzsimons Army Medical Center #21 Main Hospital building
The main hospital was built in 1941 and cared for many of the casualties from the Pearl Harbor attack later that same year. In addition to American soldiers, Fitzsimons also cared for German and Japanese prisoners of war, and soon it became the largest military hospital in the world. Although many of the outbuildings have since been razed the main hospital building still exists today, as well as the 8th-floor suite where President Eisenhower stayed for seven weeks in 1955 during his term in office.
Many a-ghost stories swirled around Fitzsimons. I remember a large room on the main floor of the hospital filled with vending machines and I would always find change in the returns. I was once laid up there for a couple of weeks but I don't recall any "ghost" activity as had been reported. Although my father passed away there when I was young; maybe that's why I always found change in the machines. I remember driving through the west entrance gates and getting that "snap" salute from the armed MP to proceed, then winding through beneath the giant hanging shade trees, and how in awe I was when from beneath the cover of the shade that massive stone and granite building would appear it representing such majestic military might. While growing up it seemed that I was always at Fitzsimons for some sports-related injury or another. The timing always seemed to be when the flag was either being raised or lowered with the National Anthem screaming aloud! When that happened everybody stopped and "saluted". The exterior is of white stone with massive polished steel and glass doors. Upon entering there hung a large painting of Lieutenant William Fitzsimons (the first American officer killed in WWI). Two grand marble staircases with polished art deco steel railings lead to the 2nd floor where some of the lieutenant's military belongings were on display. His canteen with fragment holes and his sword along with some other effects. The entire main floor is of cream and khaki shades of marble with massive round marble pillars that hold up seven maple wood floors above. Chrome and glass lighting fixtures dripped from the ceilings and the elevators are of polished chrome and white marble. The waiting rooms all had the old-fashioned wood and steel phone booths and a post office made entirely of polished chrome steel was wrapped with frosted glass lighting. I recall during my stay there sitting high above on the west-wing patio where Pikes Peak Mountain was in full view and towering above
everything else in between. I was lost in thought and I remember thinking this was exactly where I saw my father for the last time. I had pulled a candy bar from his shirt pocket as we sat and chatted and that was it. He was gone a day later. As I shook off the memory, snow flurries began to fall when two orderlies came busting through the doors out onto the patio laughing and horsing around and handing out candy bars! I suppose maybe there is some truth to those ghost stories that swirled around the old Fitzsimons Army Hospital after all.
3 November 1954, Jazz musician, Duke Ellington poses with his piano at Fitzsimon Army Center's Radio Station KFG
National Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Conventions
PHS, California - John Finn, Medal of Honor,
Pearl Harbor, December, 7.
PHS, Washington State - New York - Kansas
PHS, California - Michigan - New York
PHS, Texas - Florida - Nebraska
Survivor, USS Indianapolis
REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR
07 Dec. 1941
Thank you, for your donation. - Jon Sinatra