My Most Memorable Experience
September 28, 2016
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941 the USS Sacramento was tied up to a dock in Pearl Harbor. I was two decks below reading the Sunday newspaper. Occasionally I would peer through the porthole to watch harbor activity and to admire the battleships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. They were lined up in two rows abreast and, this morning, were preparing for church services. Even though I was little more than a recruit, I was so very proud to be a part of the U.S. Navy, the greatest Navy in the world according to the military experts of the time and to 19-year-old Jack H. Moore, Seaman 2/c.
As I returned to my bunk to finish reading the Sunday paper, I heard the unmistakable sound of “General Quarters.” Automatically, I reached for my helmet and ran up two flights of steps to the main deck. Believing this to be just another routine drill, I felt no apprehension, only irritation for being disturbed on this peaceful Sunday morning. However, when I reached the main deck and looked astern, I saw torpedo planes with large red insignias on their wings and fuselages. They were flying just above water and were in the process of releasing their torpedoes. As I watched the torpedoes speed toward “Battleship Row” and explode against the hulls of those great ships, it was unbelievable but true, we were being attacked by the Japs and this was not a drill, this was war! I immediately ran to my battle station, a .50 cal. machine gun located on the flying bridge. My assignment was to pump water into the water cooled machine gun, but since I was the first man to arrive at my battle station, I pulled off the gun cover with one hand and with the other tried to flip open the lid of the ammunition storage box. To my amazement the storage boxes were locked! Looking down I saw a hammer near the storage boxes which someone had forgotten to put away. With the hammer I smashed the locks open and with all my strength lifted the fully loaded ammunition container onto the gun mount and began firing at the attacking aircraft. They were flying on a flight path that passed over our port bow and near a huge hammerhead crane located on the dock near the ship. Because of the cranes location and its proximity to the ship, strafing aircraft fire ricocheted harmlessly off the crane. Although the entire fleet concentrated their antiaircraft fire on the attacking aircraft, it was too late, all of the proud and “invincible” battleships had been sunk or damaged in the first few minutes of the attack!
During the first attack our gun malfunctioned and while the gunner’s mate was repairing the gun, I had time to observe and absorb the humiliating and horrible sights of the harbor. Hundreds of sailors were clinging to the overturned hull of the USS Oklahoma while others were trying to swim through or under the burning oil to reach rescue boats or the docks. It was a sight that I will never forget. Too, the coolness under fire that our gunner’s mate displayed while repairing our gun had a lasting impression. I decided then I must acquire those same skills for I never wanted to feel that useless or helpless ever again.
My morale got a tremendous boost in the next few minutes as we watched a smoking Jap plane crash near the Navy hospital. However, my confidence soon vanished for as I looked across the harbor I saw a bomb drop down the stack of the Arizona. Almost immediately the ship exploded and began to sink while Marines high up in the crow’s nest continued to fire at the attacking aircraft! An unbelievable hit, but not any more unbelievable than this treacherous and surprise attack. About this time the USS Nevada, although damaged, made a courageous attempt to escape the harbor. She pulled away from her mooring and under full speed proceeded down the channel with all of her AA guns firing. What a sight to behold! This was the power and fighting capability of a battleship being demonstrated to what was left of Battleship Row and other ships of the fleet. Of course the Japanese observed this last remaining battleship trying to leave the harbor and they immediately began their attack. One pilot flew by us so close that I could have hit him with a rock. He opened his cockpit canopy and with a characteristic grin thumbed his nose at us. Enraged, we tried with every gun to shoot him down but unfortunately we were unsuccessful. He managed to drop an armor piercing bomb on the bow of the Nevada, the ship shuddered and shook but continued down the channel. However, she was seriously damaged and to prevent her from sinking in the channel, the captain wisely beached her on the nearest sand bar.
The Japanese began their final attack with high altitude bombing. The Navy crane and our 50 cal. guns which had provided us with a measure of protection in the preceding attacks, were of no value in this attack. With no means of retaliation or protection it was the most gut wrenching time of the attack. As I watched the bombs being dropped directly overhead it appeared that each bomb would be a direct hit! Fortunately, we were not hit and most of the bombs fell harmlessly into the harbor.
Finally the attack was over but rumors were circulating that the Japs were going to land an invasion force. Quickly, a retaliatory force was formed and we were issued rifles and ammunition. We were ready to leave for the beaches when the rumors were proven to be false.
That night the planes from the USS Enterprise flew in to land on Ford Island and we were so trigger happy that we shot down some of our own aircraft.
Several days later we were given a few days of R&R at the nearby beaches. For me it was very difficult to think of anything except the humiliating defeat we had suffered and the loss of so many of our sailors. Most depressing too was the realization that we were mentally unprepared for this attack. How could the Japanese fleet come so close to the Hawaiian Islands without being detected!
This story originally appeared in the book Pearl Harbor Survivors. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.