Pearl Harbor memories still painful

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 7, 2003

Broadcast into living rooms across the nation, families huddled around radios as the words of the President of the United States echoed loud and clear through the hearts and souls of countless Americans.

"Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan," President Franklin D. Roosevelt said

on his radio address.

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". . . As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us."

Those words and the results of that tragic day still reverberate through


62 years later. What started as a peaceful Hawaiian morning is now etched into history as the start of America's role in World War II.

Within a few hours of the attack, five of the eight battleships at Pearl Harbor were sunk or sinking, with many more damaged. Several other ships and most of the aircraft were knocked out. More than 2,400 Americans were dead.

Ironton resident Harold "Doc" Rogers saw much of the devastation first-hand and still remembers that morning as if it was yesterday.

At the age of 27, Rogers joined the Army in July of 1941 because he knew he was about to be drafted. In September, he finished basic training and was sent to Hawaii.

On that December morning, Rogers, who is now 90, had gotten an early start on the day and was standing outside the mess hall on Fort Kamehameha Army base after breakfast.

A noise overhead startled him.

With engines roaring, planes shook the palm trees as they thundered overhead, Rogers said.

"The planes were down low. You could throw a rock and hit them," he said. "I noticed right quick it wasn't our planes and there were plenty more of them coming in."

At this point, Rogers did not know what was happening but he began to suspect when he heard the crack of large artillery guns and explosions coming from nearby Pearl Harbor.

"I seen smoke going up from the harbor, the planes were flying over my head and I knew something was going on," he said. "A mile is pretty close to home plate when a war is starting."

The Japanese bombers did not attack the Army base and only focused on Pearl Harbor and the air field next to it. Though he never made it to the harbor, Rogers and the rest of the men in his platoon did their part.

"We sat on the porch of the barracks and shot at the planes. Somebody hit this one that fell down," he said. "I don't know who got it but it came down about a half a block from our barracks."

Beneath a steady drizzle that night, Rogers and the rest of his group hit the fields to set up radar, search lights and anti-air guns. Each time the phone rang, Rogers said everyone held their breath.

"It wasn't a very pleasant night," he said. "The next day we went back in to the base but I don't think we slept any."

Rogers stayed in Hawaii during the rest of the war, except for three months he served in the Christmas Islands. In 1945, Rogers was returning to Hawaii from leave when he heard the news - Germany had surrendered.

Each year the anniversary of the attack brings the tragedy to the forefront, but for Rogers it is something that is never far from his mind.

"You think about it a whole lot but it don't bother you as much anymore," he said. "But I think it is good to let people know what was going on and what can happen real quick if you are not on the ball. This was peacetime.

No one ever dreamed this could happen."

The effects from Pearl Harbor hit home in Lawrence County even to those who did not serve in the war.

Ironton resident Robert Payne was a teenager growing up in Aid. He remembers coming home that Sunday afternoon to hear the news and later listening to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's radio address.

But it was more than 50 years later that Payne truly saw the impact with his own eyes. During a visit to Hawaii in 1994,

he and his wife took a tour of the USS Arizona memorial and were touched by what they saw.

"They said that seven minutes after the bomb hit it was on the bottom of the harbor," he said. "You could still see the oil and water bubbling up."

"The water is so clear you can see part of the ship. It gives you an eerie feeling to stand there and look down knowing there are 1,100 some men entombed there."

Those men and everyone else have not been forgotten.

The VFW Post 8850 will host a Pearl Harbor Day ceremony at 3 p.m. today at its Ironton location.