Md. veterans and families remember Pearl Harbor

Ceremonies planned near Annapolis, at Inner Harbor

December 07, 2009|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | jamie.smith.hopkins@baltsun.com

It happened 68 years ago today, but Clarence J.M. Davis can still clearly remember the noise, confusion, frenzied activity and deadliness of the attack that propelled the United States into World War II.

The St. Mary's County resident, now 86, is one of a few dozen known survivors of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor who are still alive and living in Maryland. He plans to mark the day, and remember the dead, at a ceremony scheduled for 12:30 p.m. at Maryland's World War II Memorial, beside Route 450 near Annapolis.

More than 2,400 Americans were killed in the surprise attack.

In the city, the nonprofit Historic Ships in Baltimore is holding a separate remembrance event onboard the USCGC Taney, a Coast Guard cutter that saw action that day. The commemoration will begin at 11:55 a.m. on Pier 5 in the Inner Harbor, with a wreath-drop planned an hour later at the moment - by East Coast time - that the bombing began nearly 70 years ago.

Chris Rowsom, executive director of Historic Ships in Baltimore, said the Taney had been berthed not at the Pearl Harbor naval base but in Honolulu. It fired on enemy planes as they flew by, he said, and it is the only ship fighting that day that is still afloat.

Pearl Harbor events are "very poignant," he said.

"If you were not a patriot before, you certainly are after you witness one of these," Rowsom said.

The Anne Arundel County event was organized by the Maryland chapters of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association and the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors Inc., which happen to be run by Davis and son Mike Davis, respectively.

Mike Davis, who is retired from the Air Force and lives in St. Mary's County near his father, said the survivors' group has only 50 or so members still living. Few are healthy enough to show up for a memorial.

"Most of them are in nursing homes or bedridden," he said.

Eight survivors who lived in Maryland have died since last year's Pearl Harbor Day observance, his father said. A bell service during the ceremony will honor them.

Clarence J.M. Davis, one of the younger survivors, was 18 on Dec. 7, 1941. When he had shipped out to Hawaii, he had expected to be assigned to the USS Oglala, a mine layer. Instead he was sent to the USS Medusa, a repair ship. Thus, he was on the opposite side of the harbor from the targeted battleships on the day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt later declared would "live in infamy."

Davis' ship had a small gun in place on the boat deck, the highest level. He recalled that he ran up to help and provide ammunition, diving for cover at one point to avoid enemy gunfire, and later saw "one near miss of a bomb."

"It didn't do any damage except water," he said. "We got pretty wet."

Only two people on board the Medusa were hurt in the fighting, and both survived, he said. But the Oglala sank. It still strikes him as a miracle that he wasn't on that ship.

His son Mike called Pearl Harbor "a monumental event in American history" and noted that his father's organization works not only to memorialize the dead but to keep Pearl Harbor in younger generations' minds.

"It's been their main interest in all of this to not let this happen again," Mike Davis said.

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