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War and remembrance // PEARL HARBOR DEC. 7, 1941

The homemade sign over the door of the peaceful house in Seminole says:

"Cookhouse _ Sarge and Lou."

The words refer to former Master Sgt. Harold Cook who, 55 years ago, took what cover he could behind a slender light pole while Japanese planes strafed Pearl Harbor.

The sign also refers to his wife, Lou, who didn't know him at the time, which was just as well for her peace of mind.

Another Pearl Harbor survivor turned up at the Cookhouse: Claude Blondin, a Navy man, with his wife, Ann. They married during the war.

"My mother-in-law said our marriage wouldn't last," Ann notes with a certain satisfaction. "So far, it's lasted 53 years."

Sarge Cook _ when you have been a regular Army master sergeant, no one who has ever been in the Army calls you anything but Sarge _ had just finished breakfast Dec. 7, the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was smoking with friends in front of the mess hall when planes "with red circles" came over.

"I was a buck sergeant then and started ordering people to take cover. But the planes were too high to be effective, and they were more interested in getting over the air fields and the harbor."

Their prey was lined up neatly. Nearly 200 aircraft were destroyed on the ground; nineteen vessels were sunk in the harbor. The attack killed more than 2,400 U.S. military personnel and civilians. To the enemy, the cost was fewer than 100 men.

Cook's orders were to take men from his 27th Infantry (Wolfhounds) Regiment and start laying barbed wire to repel invasion. Driving to the beaches, the smell of burning oil and human flesh nauseated him.

About the same time, Blondin's ship, the USS Oklahoma, was listing badly from the force of bombs falling nearby.

"I was a cook working in the galley when we saw the planes come over," Blondin says. "Somebody yelled, "Man your battle stations,' and I went, like a stupid idiot _ because the galley was higher out of the water than my battle station, a broadside gun battery.

"I opened a hatch to get to the gun, and the wind almost pulled me in. The ship was listing so much you couldn't tell what it would do. I got the hatch closed again and headed for the repair shop.

"There was another hatch. A guy says, "If that one opens up, we're all dead.' "

Blondin crawled under some machinery and found his way to the top deck. The listing was fatal by now. The masts had fallen over the sides.

Blondin could slide down the deck, next to a mast, and go right into the water. "I didn't get no splinters," he recalls whimsically.

When he came up, the water was crowded. "I had to part guys to get through. Some were dead."

He didn't have time to be overcome by the horror of the situation. "I swam like hell," he says, "to the middle of Pearl Harbor."

There were sailors all around him in the water. Few had life preservers. There had been no time to get them.

"Once a Japanese fighter plane crashed into the water. Some of our guys pulled out the pilot and tore him apart. Don't put that in the paper."

After 30 or 40 minutes, Blondin estimates, a captain's gig picked him and others out of the water. He was checked over by doctors, in time to be sent to another ship _ and to go into the water again (at Iron Bottom in the South Pacific) and be picked up unhurt. After the war, he spent 30 years as a police officer in Cleveland before retiring to Florida.

The Sarge earned his second Purple Heart in Korea, spent a couple of years in hospitals while surgeons dug shrapnel from his spine, went back to duty and finally was told to retire on full disability.

He and Lou settled into a house in a former orange grove in Seminole. Though he could not work work full time, he has given 27,000 hours to volunteer work at the VA Medical Center at Bay Pines. He is also an officer in the national and Suncoast chapters of the Pearl Harbor Association.

Today at 12:30 p.m., at the Coast Guard post in St. Petersburg, there will be a memorial service honoring those who died, and those who still live the memory of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

PEARL HARBOR

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

Nov. 26, 1941

Japanese fleet sets sail from Hitokappu Bay

Dec. 4

Refueling point

6 a.m., Dec. 7, 1941

Attack on Pearl Harbor launched from 274 miles north of Oahu

First wave 7:40 a.m.

49 high-level bombers

40 torpedo-bombers

51 dive-bombers

43 fighters

Second wave 8:50 p.m.

35 fighters

78 dive-bombers

54 high-level bombers

U.S. LOSSES

+ Of the 92 U.S. warships in port, 18, including five battleships, were sunk or damaged.

+ 188 planes were destroyed

+ 2,403 military personnel and civilians were killed.

JAPANESE FORCE

Aircraft used in attack

1st wave: 183

2nd wave: 170

Total lost: 29

Sources: Pearl Harbor and the War in the Pacific, Smithmark, 1991; Life magazine

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