Innocence Was Dying All Around Pearl Harbor

December 06, 1991|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Evening Sun Staff

JOSEPH P. CARROLL, A 24-YEAR-OLD MACHINIST, STRODE OUT ON THE QUARTERDECK OF THE REPAIR SHIP VESTAL ABOUT 8 A.M. HE AND FOUR OTHER CATHOLICS ON BOARD WERE GOING TO CHURCH.

"You're going to get a medal, Carroll," joked the boatswain. "You got this Irishman going to church three Sundays in a row."

The reference was to another member of the party, Ray Kerrigan, a tall, good-natured, fun-loving guy from New Jersey. Kerrigan was older than Carroll, maybe 30, and treated him like a younger brother.

It was a grand morning, the start of another warm and sunny day on the lovely island of Oahu in Hawaii.

Suddenly, a plane dropped out of the sky.

"What's going on?" Carroll heard someone say. "Maneuvers or ** what?"

Carroll watched as the gunner behind the pilot slid back the hood of the cockpit, swung a machine gun around and fired at them. Bullets ricocheted off the deck.

"Hey, they even got them painted like Russians," one bemused sailor said of the plane. "And you know what? They're using wooden bullets, too."

Then Kerrigan, who was standing with his back to Carroll, abruptly stood up straight and groaned. He grabbed his stomach.

"Appendicitis?" Carroll asked innocently.

A bullet had ripped into Kerrigan's stomach and out his back. As Carroll watched the blood drain from his dying friend, his own innocence was being blown away by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.

Innocence was dying all over the island.

North of the harbor at the Schofield Army barracks, George Waggoner, an 18-year-old farm boy from West Virginia, had just sat down for breakfast with two fried eggs on his plate.

An explosion shook the barracks. A couple of seconds later another blast shattered the windows and ruptured water pipes, spraying water everywhere.

Somebody yelled: "We're being bombed."

Waggoner's first thought was: "Who would want to bomb me? never did anything to anybody."

Then, for some reason he has never been able to explain, he raised his plate with both hands, tilted back his head and slid both eggs into his mouth. He doesn't remember chewing.

He bounded upstairs to get a rifle, but the rifle rack was locked. He stepped outside onto a porch, but Japanese planes were heading toward him so he ducked back inside.

An old sergeant wandered out of the bathroom in his undershorts, his face covered with shaving cream.

"Hey, Pappy," Waggoner hollered to him. "We're being bombed. You'd better get some clothes on."

Pappy calmly looked outside. "Sure looks like it," he said. Then he walked back into the bathroom to finish shaving.

As waves of planes strafed the barracks, soldiers squeezed into the stairways and sprinted upstairs. When the skies cleared, the soldiers reversed course and ran outside.

If you got caught in this wave of frantic men, you had no choice but to join it. The next time Waggoner saw the old sergeant he was out on the lawn in his underwear.

Waggoner eventually got a rifle and a bandolier of bullets. He ended up with other soldiers on the football field down on one knee -- all 135 pounds of him -- shooting at Japanese planes. He didn't realize the Japanese were shooting back until he reached down for more bullets and saw the grass rippling next to him.

He shot until he ran out of ammunition, and then --ed inside for more. Some men had locked themselves in wall lockers. Some hid in the freezer.

Waggoner's instinct was to join the fray. Born and raised on a farm, he'd shot a lot of squirrels. He knew that if you wanted to go hunting you had to get out with the enemy.

Earl Zengel, a 19-year-old city boy from Orangeville in eastern Baltimore, was getting more of the enemy than he'd ever wanted. Zengel was across the island at Kaneohe Naval Air Station, where the Japanese were in the process of damaging or destroying 33 of the base's 36 PBY patrol planes.

He and a buddy named Weaver had run from the barracks to the hangars, ducking under a dump truck on the way as a plane strafed them. Two armor-piercing bullets ripped through the truck and stabbed the blacktop between them. Zengel picked out the bullets and put them in his pocket as souvenirs.

When he and Weaver reached the hangar, somebody shouted: "They're dropping bombs." Weaver stood still. Zengel darted into the washroom.

A bomb slammed into the hangar and blew the wall in on Zengel. The sink flew past his head. He was buried in plaster.

He dug himself out and walked over to where he'd left Weaver. He'd been blown apart. The blast had torn away his clothes, except for his belt and pant cuffs.

Zengel wound up crouching next to a car in a parking lot and firing a rifle at diving planes. He doesn't think he hit any, but another sailor with a Browning automatic rifle ruptured the gas tank of the Zero fighter piloted by Lt. Fusata Iida.

Iida had told comrades before the attack that if his plane were damaged, he would attempt to crash into a worthy target. He plunged to his death, slamming into the pavement a few feet from the married officers' quarters.

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