Sunday, December 15, 2013

Witnessing Start & End of War in Pacific

by Bill Doughty

Speaking with Pearl Harbor Survivors is a rare privilege.  They survived Imperial Japan's attack on Oahu in 1941, and most of them fought to defeat Japan in the war across the Pacific.  Today, nearly all are in their 90s.

On Dec. 7, 1941 they were teenagers, young men serving aboard ships or ashore at Pearl Harbor.  Today, these extremely humble men genuinely appreciate the respect and interest younger generations have for them and their shipmates.

Delton Walling was one of several dozen Survivors who came to Pearl Harbor earlier this month for the 72nd anniversary commemoration ceremony.  He said, "In the twilight of our years it's really appreciated."

Events of the Second World War were a lifetime ago.

Gil Meyer. (photo illustration by T. Verceluz)
In his Texas drawl Pearl Harbor Survivor Gil Meyer confided with a grin, "It's been so long since I was in the Navy it seems like I never was."  The former Chief Boilerman started in the Navy as a Watertender, taking care of fires and boilers in the ship's engine room. In today's Navy he would be called a Machinist's Mate.

As it was for Walling, Ray Emory and other World War II veterans, time for reading was devoted mostly to manuals and job-related texts.

"I loved to read," Meyer said, "but during the war it was mainly technical books ... electrical engineering."  He developed a lifelong interest in HAM radio and so enjoyed reading about amateur radio, too.

Well before the war Meyer discovered literature and books about history.

"As a boy my favorite book was 'Don Quijote' (by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra)," Meyer said.  "I liked it because I was learning Spanish and I was interested in history," Meyer said.

The novel about the Man from La Mancha is over 400 years old (published in 1604) and has been translated numerous times.

Meyer dropped out of high school at 17 to join the Navy.

His ship USS Utah (BB 31/AG 16), now USS Utah Memorial, is one of two battleships still in Pearl Harbor.  The other ship still in the harbor on the opposite side of Ford Island is USS Arizona (BB 39), now USS Arizona Memorial.

At the surrender, USS Detroit (CL-8) is in the right distance. (NHHC)
Throughout the war Meyer served on USS Detroit (CL 8).  He was aboard Detroit in Tokyo Bay Sept. 2, 1945 for the official end of the war in the Pacific, when instruments of surrender were signed aboard USS Missouri (BB 63).

"It was, indeed, a wonderful feeling standing on the deck of Detroit, in Tokyo Bay, as we witnessed the formal surrender of Imperial Japan," Meyer wrote in an article in the region/base newspaper, Ho'okele, published last September.

"After suffering through nearly three years and nine months of WWII, by destroying the Imperial Japanese war machine and military industrial complex, at last we finally avenged the horrible deaths inflicted upon many of our shipmates and countrymen. After our visit to firebombed downtown Tokyo and meeting many of the pitiful inhabitants … we suddenly felt a limited sense of compassion for these same hapless wartime victims."

After his service in the Navy, Meyer went back to school  He eventually taught electronics in Key West, Florida and returned to reading books about electronics, amateur radio and history, especially of WWII.

"My favorite was Admiral Layton's 'And I was There,'" Meyer said.  "I'm one of those that feel that [Admiral] Kimmel got a raw deal."

Layton's book is a first-hand background account filled with the tension and turmoil leading up to the attack and recounting events during and after the war.

Elliot Carlson's "Joe Rochefort's War," a newer, tighter recounting of events behind-the-scenes, is built on Layton's foundation and showcases how success was achieved in the Battle of Midway.  Carlson's work was reviewed last year on Navy Reads.

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