Memories From Dec. 7, 1941

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 7, 2001

In 89 years, Ironton resident Harold Rogers has seen a lot.

Friday, December 07, 2001

In 89 years, Ironton resident Harold Rogers has seen a lot. He’s watched technology move at a rapid pace; he’s seen the birth of the space age; he’s watched the birth of communism and saw it fall.

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But today’s date holds a special, albeit tragic, memory for Rogers. He watched Japanese warplanes make the first strike against the United States at Pearl Harbor.

Rogers was drafted into the Army in July of 1941 at the age of 27. It was the same year the U.S. passed a law allowing those turning 28 in August a deferment from service and since his 28th birthday wouldn’t roll around until September, he went into active duty.

In September, Rogers found himself on his way to the Army base in Hawaii, just a short trip from the harbor.

Early in the morning on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, Rogers was standing outside the mess hall. He said he had a habit of waking early while most of his buddies "hadn’t eaten breakfast yet."

Then it happened.

"Planes started flying by … you could see the red circle on their wings," Rogers said. "They were flying so low you could have hit ’em with a rock … it didn’t take long to know what was going on."

Rogers said the atmosphere around the base had been tense for a few weeks before the attack. He said soldiers were patrolling the base armed – unusual said Rogers, because during peacetime, he explained, the soldiers kept their guns locked away. He said the alert-status calmed down after a few weeks and then, "come Sunday, we had company."

Rogers said the Japanese bombers didn’t attack the Army base. "All they were after that time was Pearl Harbor and the air field next to the harbor."

Rogers said the general alert sounded for the base and the men scrambled to the supply locker to receive their guns and then to get ammunition.

The soldiers then, Rogers recalled, lined up along a porch that went around the horseshoe-shaped base with their backs to the harbor. As the marauding planes flew back from the harbor, the soldiers opened fire with their rifles which did little, if any, damage to the planes.

One Japanese plane, he said, crashed about a block-and-a-half away from the base in some palm trees. The plane crashed near an Army blockhouse that two soldiers had taken shelter at. The plane crash killed not only the Japanese pilot, but the two soldiers who had unknowingly taken shelter in the crash zone.

After the planes left, the soldiers started to reassemble and prepare for future waves of enemy planes.

"A lieutenant came up and asked for volunteers to go get ammo" from a supply house near the practice field used by the Army men. Rogers said it was normally not a good idea to volunteer for anything – officers asking men to volunteer to drive a truck often found themselves pushing wheelbarrows, Rogers explained.

Rogers, going against tradition, volunteered to go with the officer. "There wasn’t a joke" attached to this request, Rogers explained.

He, another soldier, and the officer made about a mile round trip to get the ammo. He stayed at the base until after dark and then the soldiers moved out to the practice field to set up a radar, search lights and anti-aircraft guns.

"It drizzled the rain all night," Rogers said. "It got scary every time the phone rang."

He said that someone would call, saying "the Japs were coming" and the soldiers would start scanning the night sky.

"It made for a scary night."

Rogers served the rest of the war in Japan, with the exception of three months he served at Christmas Islands, about 1,000 miles away, close to the equator.

In July of 1945, Rogers left Hawaii on a furlough. He would never return.

After his furlough expired, Rogers hitched a train and headed back to Seattle to catch a boat to Hawaii when the news came that Germany surrendered. He stayed in Seattle until he was discharged from the service.

Rogers, and fellow veterans, will be recognized this Sunday at a service at First United Methodist in Ironton. The program starts at 6 p.m.