Fifty years after attack on Pearl Harbor, survivors like Gerald Glaubitz recall pain 'A VERY EMOTIONAL TIME'

November 06, 1991|By Tim Warren | Tim Warren,Sun staff correspondent

Morningside, Md. -- As a survivor of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Gerald A. Glaubitz has found that returning to the ++ site hasn't been that difficult. That is, until he reaches the Arizona Memorial, which honors the 1,117 sailors and Marines who died when the battleship USS Arizona went down after being struck by a Japanese armor-piercing shell on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.

"I've been back several times and Pearl Harbor itself is not too bad to take," says Mr. Glaubitz, 70, who is mayor of Morningside, in Prince George's County. "But when you go aboard the Arizona Memorial, and you think about all the people down there and what happened to them, it's tough -- a very emotional time."

Mr. Glaubitz expects next month to be another emotional time. That's when, as national president of the 15,000-member Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Inc., he will take part in ceremonies observing the 50th anniversary of the attack, in which 2,403 Americans were killed and 21 ships destroyed or heavily damaged. The four-day observances, beginning Dec. 4, will include a speech by President Bush Dec. 7 at 7:55 a.m. -- the exact time the first of 183 Japanese airplanes began to bomb the large American naval base.

For Mr. Glaubitz, a third-class fire controlman stationed on the USS San Francisco at the time of the attack, these four days are necessary not only for the members of his association -- which has held commemorative observances every five years since 1961 -- but for the country as well.

"I've always said that we Americans will always remember the Maine, remember Pearl Harbor and remember the Alamo," said Mr. Glaubitz, a tall, genial, gravely voiced man who joined the association in 1971 and was made national president last year. "We cannot forget the men who died there, nor that we as a country must always be ready." (The motto of the association, in fact, is "Remember Pearl Harbor -- Keep America Alert.")

Mr. Glaubitz says that as the 50th anniversary observance draws nearer, his work with the association "takes up quite a bit of my time. The phone rings night and day." Among the logistical problems is simply finding rooms and transportation for the 5,000 visitors he says his association will bring to Hawaii -- about 4,000 survivors, plus family members and widows of servicemen killed at Pearl Harbor or later in the South Pacific.

"The main problem has been getting enough rooms and flights to the island at a price that people can afford," said Mr. Glaubitz, who was discharged from the Navy in 1945 and retired as a civilian engineer at the Naval Research Lab in 1974. "Right now, the survivors are like I am -- retired, and on Social Security or retirement. Some of them don't have the money, but have been saving their nickels and dimes knowing the 50th was coming up."

Fifty years have not dulled his memory of the attack. He was in Honolulu, about six miles away, that Sunday morning in December when the Japanese bombs started to fall.

"My recollections of Pearl Harbor probably are different from most people's, because when it started I was over in Honolulu with another guy on leave," Mr. Glaubitz said. "They woke us up and said, 'Pearl Harbor's under attack -- all servicemen report back to your stations.' We said, 'Ah, it's just a drill.'

"But at that time there were some explosions in downtown Honolulu. We thought they were bombs but they were shells the Navy was shooting at the airplanes. We were in a hurry, so we got into my car."

Once back at Pearl Harbor, "we got to a parking lot near the ship. About that time a Japanese plane decided it was going to conduct a strafing run, and we made tracks back to the ship in a hurry."

But when they got aboard ship, there were other problems. "Because we were in for major overhauls, there was no ammunition on board, no fuel on board, and our instruments were in the instrument shop," Mr. Glaubitz said. "We had no way of firing back, so most of our crew went next door to the USS New Orleans and helped man their guns."

The next week, the USS San Francisco was on its way to Wake XTC Island. The ship saw heavy duty in the South Pacific, including one memorable night in November 1942 near Savo Island.

"We got into a night battle with two Japanese battleships, one on each side of us, at 2,000-yard range," Mr. Glaubitz recalled. "We lost about a third of our crew and another third was wounded. . . The ship was devastated -- we had over 200 hits on us."

Mr. Glaubitz said his association was adamant that no Japanese government representatives be present at the 50th anniversary observances, as some people had suggested as a way to heal the emotional wounds caused by the attack. "That first came up a year ago," he said. "I wasn't in favor of it, but I said I'd talk it over with my people. They were overwhelmingly against it. I talked to one lady whose husband died at Pearl Harbor and she said, "Do you mean you're going to invite the people who killed my husband?' I said, 'Not me, lady.'

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