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They were there

Dec. 7, 1941, began routinely at Pearl harbor. By day's end, more than 2,400 lives had been lost, and Fort Wayne and the rest of the nation had changed forever.

By Tanya Caylor of The News-Sentinel

Russell McCurdy was feeling lucky on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.

It was a feeling the 24-year-old ex-autoworker had gotten used to since he'd joined the Marines nine months earlier.

Getting accepted to Sea School and then being assigned to the USS Arizona had been thrilling enough. He never dreamed that he would make the battleship's elite rowing team or that he would be assigned to the personal staff of Navy Adm. Isaac C. Kidd.

It was an exciting time to be a seagoing Marine. "We men are getting more serious as to the war situation, especially at night," McCurdy had written to his mother in a letter dated Nov. 29, 1941. But he'd forgotten about the impending war by the time the Arizona pulled into Pearl Harbor on Friday, Dec. 5.

McCurdy, a private, was one of the lucky few whose names had been drawn to share Sunday dinner and a football game with an American family on the island of Oahu.

A home-cooked meal would taste good. He couldn't wait. McCurdy was shaving that Sunday morning, hurrying to catch the first boat ashore, when he felt something bump the ship.

He felt another bump, followed by a series of small explosions.

He ran out into the corridor and saw several crewmen staring out the portholes.

"The Japs are attacking Pearl Harbor!" they yelled.

There was no time to think. McCurdy hurried to his battle station, a glass-enclosed gun director's platform nearly 100 feet up the main mast. His second lieutenant scrambled up the ladder ahead of him.

They were only about a third of the way up when McCurdy saw a bomb glance off the turret below.

He braced himself behind the thick steel leg of the ladder as debris blasted by him. Then he hustled up to the next platform - and saw his lieutenant lying dead, with half his chest blown away.

McCurdy paused for only an instant.

So this, he thought, is what it's like to be at war.


A few miles away in Waikiki, Marcile Anderson woke with a start to the sound of explosions.

She was worried. The atmosphere in this resort city had changed since she'd moved here three years earlier to take a job as head fitter at the Waikiki Liberty House, a clothing store that served Jack Benny and other celebrities who vacationed at the nearby Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

It seemed more troops were arriving on Oahu every day - a development that seemed even more ominous now that she was pregnant.

Her husband, Marion, an ex-Army cook who taught judo at a local health spa, told her not to worry about the explosions she heard that morning.

"It's just the Army and Navy conducting joint maneuvers," he said. Nonetheless, he got up to investigate.

"Gee, they must mean business this morning," he called in from the front porch. "They're using live ammunition!"


Back in the harbor, sailors scrambled to their battle stations.

On the destroyer USS Aylwin, an 18-year-old seaman named Clarence Cook, hearing the fire alarm, leaped from his bunk and raced to the deck with a fire extinguisher. But this was obviously no fire. He threw down the extinguisher and hurried to the 5-inch gun he was assigned to.

Aboard the USS Nevada, 18-year-old seaman Gene Glosson strapped on a life jacket and a steel helmet and began setting fuses for the battleship's anti- aircraft guns.

Aboard the USS Maryland, 25-year-old shipfitter Jesse "J.R." Jackson and his buddy, Wayne Newton, abandoned their acey-deucey board and ran for the hatch as a Japanese pilot aimed his machine guns at them.

Jackson would later find his acey-deucey board floating in the harbor. He would never see Newton again.

On Ford Island, in the middle of the harbor, chief boatswain's mate Ralph B. Haines ducked explosions. He'd been waiting to pick up his commanding officer, but there was obviously no point in doing that now. Finally, someone told him to take a motor launch and pull survivors from the water.

Over at the submarine base, where the sea plane-tender USS Hulbert had been forced to dock the night before, radioman Ed Kell watched incredulously as Japanese planes flew overhead, their pilots grinning down at him.

He'd prepared himself for a moment such as this by imagining himself lying on the deck with his guts hanging out or a leg blown off. But now it didn't seem real. He felt as though he was in a movie.

In the radio-control room, he heard that the Germans had landed in New York. The Japs were bombing Los Angeles. And somebody had blown up the Panama Canal. He didn't know the messages were coming from Japanese planes, from pilots who could speak English as well as he could.


Half a mile away at Hickam Field, 31-year-old Air Force mechanic William Mielke, who had been asleep in his barracks when the attack began, ran for cover in an airplane hangar just as a bomb dropped on the roof.

The explosion blew him out the other side, leaving a gash on his forehead. But it would be several hours before he would realize he was bleeding.

A few hundred yards away, in an officers duplex, 7-year-old Bea Wilson looked up from breakfast as her father rushed into the house to grab his helmet and gun belt.

This had been an exciting morning for her. First her father had taken her mother to the base hospital, where later that afternoon her mother would give birth to Wilson's baby brother.

And now this.

Wilson wasn't sure what was happening. But she listened as her grandmother sang:

"God will take care of you, Through every day, O'er all the way. He will take care of you, God will take care of you."

Across the island at Bellows Field, John B. Foux, a 20-year-old Air Force mechanic, wasn't sure what was happening, either.

But he had a feeling that he probably wasn't going to get to go home anytime soon.


From his perch in the gun director's platform high above the Arizona, McCurdy watched the battle unfold.

He couldn't do anything. The guns he and the nine other gun directors were supposed to handle couldn't be aimed high enough to fire at the attacking planes.

McCurdy could see Japanese torpedo planes fly by, so close he could have shot the pilots with a pistol, if he'd had one.

He watched as the Nevada, tied up behind the Arizona, began to build up enough steam to try to pull away from the dock and escape out to sea. Normally it would take four tugs to accomplish that task. He wondered if the ship would make it.

He watched as the ship next to his, the USS Oklahoma, took four torpedo hits and began to roll over.

Just then, a bomb punctured the Arizona's forward magazine, igniting a million pounds of explosives and "opening the ship up like a blooming flower."

The bow of the ship rose out of the water, and the main mast shook violently, knocking McCurdy and his fellow gun directors off their feet. When McCurdy got up, he was looking down into what he would later describe as "a white-hot furnace."

McCurdy's commanding officer ordered the directors down the ladder. The rungs seared their hands. But the wind kept the flames and smoke away. When McCurdy reached the boat deck, he saw the cook who had always made special breakfasts for his early-rising rowing team. The man's clothes were gone. His skin - or what was left of it - was black.

McCurdy reached out to touch him, and the man's skin came away in his hand. He moved on.

Everywhere he looked were more of these naked, smoldering sailors. Those who still had limbs were running around frantically, obviously out of their minds. Some jumped into the water. He can still hear them sizzle - though he remains uncertain whether he really heard it or merely imagined it.

The dock at Ford Island was only a few feet away, but it was burning.

McCurdy would have to swim nearly 100 yards downshore.

He jumped in, pushing through the thick oil, wincing as a concussion from a nearby explosion seemed to pull the meat from his bones.

He stopped to rest at an oil pipeline. The others swam on. A few minutes later, he decided to try a shortcut that would land him at the rear gate of Navy quarters. He climbed over the fence and tried the back door.

There was nobody there, just an untended pot of oatmeal. He took the pot off the burner and turned off the stove.

Then he wet off in search of somebody who could tell him what to do.


Over on the Nevada, Glosson continued setting fuses, unaware that the Arizona had blown up a few hundred yards away.

It wasn't until his ship pulled out that he got a clear view of what had happened. He looked across at the men seated at the Arizona's anti-aircraft guns, "the guys who were doing the same thing I was doing."

They were charred.

The Nevada moved on. It wouldn't get far. Glosson didn't know it, but they were sinking. The ship finally beached near the channel opening.

Glosson stopped firing.

From his battle station, setting fuses according to the gun directors' commands with his back to the guns themselves, he would never know if he'd hit anything.

The Aylwin, with most of its officers ashore, also made a run for the channel. Cook's battery team continued firing until they reached the ocean. They, too, would never know if they'd hit anything.


Back in Waikiki, the Andersons listened as a radio announcer asked all doctors and nurses to report to Pearl Harbor.

The attack was over. But there was no telling when - or if - the Japanese would return.

McCurdy - now dressed in a makeshift sailor's uniform to replace his burned, oily Marine khakis - began to assemble pistols and rifles.

At Hickam Field, Mielke found a machine gun and stood guard under cover of some bushes. He had never used a machine gun before, but he figured now was a good time to learn.

Meanwhile, Jackson joined a team of rescuers attempting to drill through the foot-thick hull of the Oklahoma.

He wouldn't sleep again for more than 24 hours.

But the tapping sounds from the men trapped inside the overturned ship would continue for several days. Four hundred of them would die.As dusk fell, Haines, patrolling the harbor in a motor launch, saw something suspicious in the water. He had been ordered to ram any Japanese subs that may have sneaked into the harbor. He gunned the engine.

It was only a buoy.


For Anderson, nothing would be the same after Pearl Harbor.

Her husband was ordered back to duty, overseeing munition supplies at Hickam Field. He had to quit his job at the health spa. The spa owner, a popular Japanese man she remembers only as Professor Ogasaki, was taken away for questioning. She's still not sure what happened to him.

Barbed wire was strung up along Waikiki Beach. A bomb shelter was dug in the Andersons' back yard. Soldiers patrolled every block, and citizens were told to be ready to flee to the mountains at a moment's notice.

"I just know I'm going to have that baby up in the mountains under a bush," Anderson told a Portuguese neighbor.

In the smoldering remains of Pearl Harbor, sailors worked to repair the damage while others left to join the war.

Jackson left on the Maryland, one of only three battleships to be saved, nine days after the attack. McCurdy, temporarily reassigned to the USS Tennessee, left shortly afterward.

Bea Wilson left in January, about six weeks after the attack and the birth of her baby brother. She wouldn't see her father again for three years.

But Anderson stayed on. Her son Robert was born in June, during the Battle of Midway.

The military feared that the Japanese were on their way back to Oahu. They already had evacuated the waterfront.

A nurse took Anderson's baby, laid a gas mask and blanket on her bed, and told her that if an air raid occurred, she'd have to make her own way to a bomb shelter.

"I was just going to lie there and die," she would later say. "I'd lost so much blood, I wasn't going anywhere."

It would be another four months before an Army truck finally would come for Anderson and her infant son. They boarded an old Army ship headed for California. They prepared to abandon ship three times during the nine-day trip, fearing a Japanese attack. But they finally made it.

They would return to Hawaii two years later. But it would never be the same. In 1949, the Andersons left for Phoenix. When they couldn't find work there, they came back to Fort Wayne, Marcile Anderson's hometown, and opened a woodworking shop.


Jackson, Mielke and Foux all came home to Fort Wayne after the war.

Jackson went to work at Dana Corp., Mielke at Meek Mack garage and Foux for the U.S. Postal Service.

Kell, a Cincinnati native, came to Fort Wayne to attend Indiana Technical College and went on to work for the Federal Aviation Administration at Baer Field. Cook, a native of Terre Haute, married a Fort Wayne woman and went to work for the Nickel Plate Railroad and later the Norfolk and Western Railroad. Haines, a native of Germany who had lived in Canada and Montana before the war, visited an aunt in Kendallville in 1948 and found work in Fort Wayne before enlisting in the Air Force in 1954. He later retired to Fort Wayne. McCurdy, who grew up in Manistee County, Mich., married a Mount Etna woman in Huntington County and has lived there since retiring from the Marine Corps. Glosson, born in Richmond, Ind., and married in Boston, Ind., moved to Fort Wayne in 1956 to run Hobart Food Machines.

Wilson grew up in Grant County and later moved to Avilla.

Fifty years is a long time. Wilson, being 7 at the time, doesn't remember much about that day. Now that her father is dead, she relies on a 20-year-old newspaper story to refresh her memory of what he did that day.

For some, the approach of the 50th Dec. 7 since the one in 1941 has been a chance to reunite and reflect.

Last month Jackson, McCurdy, Glosson and Mielke drove to Indianapolis to receive commemorative bronze medals and reminisce with fellow survivors. Kell and Haines got to know each other a few years ago through a local get-together of Pearl Harbor survivors. They have watched TV specials and exchanged theories on the military strategies and foul-ups that preceded the attack.

"I want to know why I was there," Kell says.

Cook shares his story with relatives who ask, though he doesn't like to make a big deal out of it.

Anderson can't reminisce with her husband. Two strokes have damaged his memory.

But she will always remember Dec. 7, 1941, and all those lonely, eerie nights that came after it.

"I'm telling you," she says, her 82-year-old eyes widening, "I'll never get over that."

Foux doesn't like to talk about it at all.

"I just remember it to myself," he says, standing in the doorway of his tiny white home with its "no soliciting" sign. "It was something that happened, and I hope it never happens again."