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3 Tampa Bay men share vivid memories of Pearl Harbor attack

An aviation machinist sat on his bunk reading a newspaper when he heard the first boom. A sailor poked his head out a porthole and saw a plane fly by with a rising sun on its wing. A 9-year-old boy walked out the front door just as a woman ran down the street screaming "The Japs are bombing us." The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor began shortly before 8 a.m. on a quiet Sunday 68 years ago today. By day's end, 2,388 Americans had died and another 1,178 were injured. Twelve ships sank, including the USS Arizona, which is still submerged today. The destruction of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor pushed the United States into World War II and prompted President Franklin D. Roosevelt to call it "a date which will live in infamy." Three local men witnessed the bombing that day, each with a different view.

George Dilley, 77, Seminole

I was 9 years old. I had a paper route in Pearl Harbor. I used to deliver newspapers to Admiral (Chester W.) Nimitz and Admiral (William) Halsey Jr.

It was a Sunday and my Dad was leaving for work. He was a naval officer, a cryptographer. We lived in officers' quarters on a hill overlooking Pearl Harbor and Battleship Row.

We walked outside and saw planes diving over the field. A woman ran screaming down the street in her nightgown and a plane flew down the street about 100 feet high. I could see the Japanese pilot in the cockpit.

My dad jumped on my bike and told us to stand by in case we needed to evacuate. We went back into the house, but a friend of mine from three houses down came by and we went outside. We had buckets and started picking up shell fragments and shrapnel. It was all over the place.

I drove my mother crazy that day, running around out there with all that stuff going on. We saw a few dogfights.

I was standing on a grassy bank overlooking the harbor when I saw a Japanese plane drop bombs into the USS Arizona's smokestack. I saw the ship buck up and then it went down and sank almost immediately. There were all these burning ships in the harbor. There was this constant roar punctuated by the exploding bombs. Smoke was everywhere.

It was all very exciting at the time. We were too young to really worry about it. But I know my parents were worried and so was everybody else. I had some hearing loss and one of the Navy doctors said I was suffering from shell shock but I don't think I really was.

Tom Collins, 86, Clearwater

I was making a macrame belt for my pants in my quarters aboard the USS Nevada. It was coming along nicely. I thought I'd finish it that day.

I heard machine gun fire and poked my head out a porthole. I saw a low flying plane with a rising sun on its wing.

I wondered if it was really a Japanese plane. Maybe it was just a drill organized by the Navy. But then the pilot dropped a torpedo and it headed for one of the other ships and exploded.

I headed for my battle station, a 14-inch gun turret. I was a gun pointer, responsible for elevating the 12-inch guns.

On my way, I saw Japanese planes dropping torpedoes and firing machine guns at the ships. I saw wood splinter on the deck.

At my station, I was sent to the bucket brigade to help put out fires. I started doing that, but then we were sent to help the chief warrant officer cut the massive mooring lines. We needed to get under way.

I was pulling on the rope after it had been cut when someone pointed in the sky and yelled, "A bomb. A bomb." Someone else yelled: "Take cover." I dove behind a steel bulkhead. The chief warrant officer yelled, "Come back!"

There was an explosion as the bomb tore through the first and second decks. I waited a moment and then ventured back out. I saw a big hole where we'd been standing. The chief warrant officer was nowhere to be found. He had been killed. I saw several badly burned men crying for help, blackened skin falling off their bodies. The smell was sickening.

We continued cutting the mooring lines with axes and the ship finally started to move. As we steamed past the USS Arizona, it took a bomb and started burning and exploding. The Arizona broke in half and covered Pearl Harbor with a thick burning oil.

The Nevada was the only battleship to get under way during the attack that day.

What happened that day at Pearl Harbor made me mad and want to get even. That's how it affected most of us. We couldn't wait to get back to them because they were tearing up our ships. Today, though, it's water under the bridge. I don't feel like I'd like to get ahold of Japs and choke them to death like I did then.

Robert M. Bewley, 88, Ocala

When I heard the first bombs, I was sitting on my bunk reading the newspaper at Ford Island Naval Air Station. That's the little island in the middle of the harbor that all the battleships anchored around.

I was an aviation machinist for the Navy. I put wings on the planes and pulled the wings off.

I thought maybe the Army was pulling a sneak deal on us: We played games back and forth. But I went to the window and this plane flew along the rooftop and it had a rising sun on it.

The hangar that was furthest from the airstrip was on fire from a bomb and they had strafed the seaplanes.

They sent a group of us down there to patch the ramp so they could get the planes into the water. They wanted to get them up in the air.

The second wave of enemy aircraft came about an hour and a half later and we all ducked into a hangar next door. I saw fire and smoke everywhere. The USS Arizona blew up and the USS Nevada was trying to make it out the channel. They bombed it. The Oklahoma and one other ship turned upside down.

Then a Japanese plane dropped a bomb in our hangar. Someone yelled and it blew up. It sounded like a watermelon dropping from up high onto a concrete floor. It was just a dud. It blew powder with a yellowish tint all over the building.

I thought that we were going to be captured because all our ships were either damaged or sinking. But they didn't have the landing party, I guess. So we survived that day.

Times researcher Will Gorham and Times correspondent David Gardner contributed to this report. Times reporter Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at or (727) 893-8640.

Pearl Harbor

• Total Americans killed: 2,388.

• Total Japanese killed: 64.

• Nearly half of the military casualties – 1,177 – were from one ship, the USS Arizona.

• 36 sets of brothers (33 pairs and three sets of three) and one father-son pair were on the USS Arizona; 24 of those sets and the father-son pair died.

• 1.5 million people visit the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor every year.

• The USS Arizona still leaks between 2 and 9 quarts of oil per day.

• Twelve ships sunk or beached; another nine were damaged.

• U.S. aircraft destroyed: 164; U.S. aircraft damaged: 159

• 15 ships were subsequently named after individual sailors to commemorate their actions during the attack.

Sources: U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Navy

3 Tampa Bay men share vivid memories of Pearl Harbor attack 12/06/09 [Last modified: Monday, December 7, 2009 2:27pm]
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