Friday, December 7, 2007

For God and Country

That’s my father on the right with a string on his finger. On the left his younger brother David on leave from the Navy. Together again with their sister on that all so familiar Missouri farm late in November. The “Dust Bowl Days” were past and “Great Depression” over. It had been a wonderful time, that Thanksgiving of 1941. And it was after 2 AM as my father gently triggered the camera shutter. A few hours later, David was gone.

The U.S.S. Oglala, bucking the waves under full power, urgently propelled toward its Pacific destination. It had to arrive at the appointed time. However, fatigue eventually had its toll on the minelayer, a WW1 converted passenger steamer. Silently adrift, it summoned assistance. After a tow cable was attached and the feverish pace resumed, David commented to his superior: “If we go any faster that cable is ‘gona’ snap.” And “snap” it did!

The U.S.S. Oglala entered Pearl Harbor during the early morning hours of December 7, the last to arrive. It moored “side by side” with the U.S.S. Helena, completing the formation of "Battleship Row."

And as the sun rose on “December 7, 1941,” most of the Oglala crew, including her commanding officer, was still “out on the town.” However, the men in the boiler room, the cook, the second in command, and a few others including David were at their stations. When the sound of revving planes and whistling bombs punctuated the morning tranquility, General Quarters was sounded. The second in command screamed, “Man the Guns”! David screamed back: “What guns”! Someone found the keys, unlocked the magazine, and after some fumbling a 3"/50 cal. A.A. gun and three .30 cal. machine guns were manned and returning fire.

Then as several enemy planes strafed the deck, David remembered one flying low and amidships. Then a torpedo and its contrail as it converged on the Oglala. It would soon be over! The Oglala lifted out of the water, but he was still alive! The submerged munition had gone under the Oglala and struck the Helena on the other side.

They continued firing, reporting some “definite hits.” However, the Oglala’s hull had ruptured and was flooding rapidly. For an hour and a half the meager crew was uninterrupted in returning fire as the Oglala continued to list to her port side. 5°, 10°, 15°, 20°. Then as the commanding officer finally returned, the Oglala listed to its side, and those who could swam away.

Back on a farm in Missouri, a family had but one thought: “Was he alive.” The phone was never unattended. A speaker in the kitchen was connected remotely to the wireless in the library. And as hours turned to days, a mother listened and waited. And during the days before Christmas, sleep was haunted by the thought of “tapping” sailors trapped in the hulls of sunken ships….

“In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way” ” (Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as quoted in None Dare Call It Conspiracy, Gary Allen & Larry Abraham, 1971).

“They hit us harder than we expected” (Eleanor Roosevelt, as quoted in Harry Elmer Barnes (editor), Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: A Critical Examination of the Foreign Policy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Its Aftermath, 1953).

"Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy...." (Franklin Delano Roosevelt before Congress seeking a declaration of war against Japan, December 8, 1941)