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)


Brooke said...

Wow. Was he hurt?

aberg65906 said...

My grandfather too was on the Oglala. Well he was assigned there, but crazy enough, he got leave for that week and was gone to marry my grandma. Their anniversary is Dec. 3, 1941. Needless to say, he lost a lot of his buddies and all of his possessions. I wonder if he might have known your uncle...

Christian said...

Yes, he survived that day, but with the memory of a buddy and the question: "Why him, not me?" David returned to the soil, married, had children, and as aimless years went by, he was haunted by the question: "Why not me?"

Then one night in a small church, down on his 70 year old knees, he found the answer, the Prince of Peace.

Not long ago, his pastor was at the hospital with his wife and son. "Dad, you are the best father a son could ever have." David, gasping for breath from the apparent decadence of earlier years, with effort and in kind responded "you are the best son a father could ever have." And as final exchanges waned, his pastor ask: "David, do you want the service at the church or the funeral home?" Then David with joy and peace and a smile consistent with his latter years shot back: SURPRISE ME!

"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1).

Christian said...

My uncle's ship moored in Pearl Harbor during the early morning hours of December 7, the last to arrive and perhaps the first to sink. In the months that followed, he labored resurrecting the hulls of sunken ships.

I remember him describing a sailor tossing bones and skulls into a pile, and the spontaneous laugh of one when close to tears, and President Obama's alter ego Roosevelt who he held responsible.