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DISCOVERING THE FUTURE BY REVEALING THE PAST

Honolulu, Hawaii, 1941

REMEMBER PEARL HARBOR

by Jon Sinatra

December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii


By the Summer of 1941, following his service with the Asiatic Fleet aboard the USS Barker DD-213,  John Sinatra transferred aboard the ammunition ship USS Pyro AE-1. On December 7, 1941, while moored at the West Loch at Pearl Harbor, his ship was attacked by Japanese military forces during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In a time of reflection, he recalled that Sunday morning at Pearl Harbor.

In the early dawn of December 7, 1941, just outside the entrance to Pearl Harbor aboard the Destroyer USS Ward, the Officer-of-the-deck said "Captain come to the bridge". A conning tower with the periscope of an enemy submarine was visible. She was apparently headed for Pearl Harbor, trailing the USS Antares. The destroyer Ward bore down on the submarine and opened fire! A shot struck the submarine with a positive hit and the sub submerged sinking to the bottom. World War II had reared its head upon the United States of America. And then with a flicker, the rising sun lit the dawn over Pearl Harbor and appeared skyward hundreds of steel horses and the name that road upon them was death; and Hell followed with them...


The USS Pyro was moored at the ammunition depot and Johnny was up early for duty that morning. Sitting at breakfast with a cup of coffee, he reached back and stretched for the new day when a message blared over the PA " Now, relieve the watch. The Eight-to-Twelve watch!" It was 0745. The morning was "Sunday morning serene". Within the early morning calm, the sky was painted a royal blue as the clouds floated by in the silence when Johnny noticed a quiver to the surface of his coffee. His eyes fixed upon it, again like a feint impact tremor the surface of his coffee slightly shook. In search of 

an obvious explanation he thought "Maybe they're dynamiting at EWA Field?" The PA mike clicked on "First call to colors!" With that, Johnny looked up at the squawk box and in unison with the others in the room thought out loud "Was that the sound of planes in the background?" From across the room the chief carefully closed and began folding his newspaper as he piped up "Who the hell is flying over the West Loch? They know we're loaded down with ammo!" A quiet few seconds ticked by when the PA mike clicked on...then off, then on again with scattered shouting and the definite roar of aircraft in the background and a determined voice shouted into the PA mike, "All hands man your battle stations! This is no drill!

USS Pyro AE-1, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

The USS Pyro was secured alongside the West Loch dock at the ammunition depot as two low flying planes appeared and headed for the ship! On approaching, the planes zoomed to clear ship and masts as Japanese aircraft markings of a red circle were witnessed under the plane's wings. With stores of ammunition (being readied for transfer to the USS Nevada) piled up on the dock, the ship's crew faced dire straights! The captain ordered for the main engines to prepare to get underway and the word was sent down to the boat deck for the ensign to take some men and move the ammunition and powder canisters loaded on the pier. The ensign, waving his .45 hollered "Five brave men, follow me to move ammo stores!" Torpedo planes from the Japanese Carrier Shokaku were zooming over the West Loch heading towards Battleship Row when Johnny arrived topside still carrying a plate of eggs he had been working on at breakfast! The crew being shorthanded, he lit up a .50 caliber machine gun as the torpedo-bomber planes passed overhead, their gunners shaking their fists and yelling "to hell with Babe Ruth!" Explosions began rumbling across Oahu from Ford Island and the outlying air bases as the Pyro's gunners fired on any plane within reach as all hell broke loose! The USS Helm cruising the West Loch came under strafing attacks and sighted torpedos being fired in the channel. Enemy dive bombers screamed down around the harbor and high-level bombers swarmed above sighting their targets. Oil fires lit up in Battleship Row from the explosions tearing into the ships! Three torpedos opened up the hull of the Battleship Oklahoma and she instantly began to list. Within minutes, 6 more struck her and she rolled over beneath the waves with 429 of her crew. An armor-piercing bomb released and descended down through the sky over Battleship Row. The Mighty battleship USS Arizona,

shimmering proudly within the fleet at anchor shuddered as the 1,763-pound bomb slammed through her deck and bore deep into the ship's hull. The explosion igniting over a million pounds of black gun powder in her forward magazines vaporized hundreds of crew members and raised the battleship from the water, blowing off the bow and sinking her to the bottom with 1,117 officers and crewmen. The explosion cleared the USS Vestals deck moored beside blowing their gunners and captain overboard into the burning waters. The shock-wave rumbled the Pyro's deck beneath Johnny's feet as the 1 kiloton explosion roared across the harbor! Torpedo and bombing attacks sent hundreds of men overboard in Battleship Row as Japanese Zeros swooped down low and strafed the waters. Oil and fire

OIL FIRE TORNADO  SPINS OVER THE HULL OF USS OKLAHOMA IN BATTLESHIP ROW. BATTLESHIP USS MARYLAND AT LEFT. 

poured from the sunken Arizona and West Virginia. Fuel oil from the Oklahoma ignited fire tornados that burned with fury as the West Virginia and USS California sunk 40 feet down to the bottom. Rescue efforts in Battleship Row quickly began as six sailors trapped aboard Arizona hung 40 feet above the flames below, their burnt skin peeled like gloves from their hands as they descended across 70 feet of rope line to the repair ship Vestal. The carnage continued on as torpedos gutted the ship Utah and she rolled over beneath the waves taking 53 men with her. Ships at the 1010 Dock Navy Yard burned as a torpedo struck the cruiser, USS Helena, instantly killing 20 men.  At the outlying air stations, the Pacific Fleets airpower was quickly being decimated as hundreds of planes sat upon their airstrips burning. At Haleiwa Air Field, a few American pilots managed to get their planes airborne and while facing insurmountable odds against survival, climbed for altitude and began dropping enemy planes out of the sky. At Kaneohe Air Station, Chief John Finn (Medal of Honor) propped a .50 caliber machine gun upon sandbags and opened fire! After sustaining 5 wounds, the chief continued firing on enemy aircraft as a bomber plane began trailing smoke and crashed. At Ford Island, a sailor stood in a doorway of a hangar watching bombs drop on the stations PBY Aircraft when a zero zoomed past with guns firing, the bullets ricocheting off a concrete wall and dropped spinning on the ground near him. His fingers burned as he retrieved and pocketed the bullets. From the deck of the Pyro, two pilots were seen descending with parachutes, their planes spiraling down in flames and crashing near Barber's Point. Just outside the harbor entrance, the USS Antares came under fire from the over shells being fired at enemy aircraft from within the harbor. Shells crashed through homes around Oahu, setting ablaze parts of Honolulu. Enemy planes strafed neighborhoods and vehicles leaving their occupants slumped dead within.


Fifty minutes later, the first enemy attack wave retreated to their carriers leaving much of the U.S. Fleet behind in smoke and flames. And during the brief calm, the Pyro's guns held up, the sky now painted a dark hue and as the clouds floated by through the violence, a bomber plane from a second wave appeared a few hundred feet above the tree line over the Pyro's port bow. The pilot's features visible with a leather helmet and red scarf and the ship's guns opened fire as the plane zoomed past and released its bomb! Hitting port-side, the explosion violently rocked the ship, spraying concrete shrapnel over the deck, blowing out pipelines, and putting the ship out of commission. The ammunition was spared and the gun crews continued firing scoring hits on the low-flying bomber plane. Nobody could say just who hit the plane the crews were just satisfied to have inflicted some damage on their surprise enemy when a string of explosions lit off 40 yards distant on the Pyro's port side. Bomber planes diving toward the destroyer Blue at the West Loch entrance unloaded their ordinance narrowly missing both ships. Across the harbor entrance channel toward For Kam, zero's began strafing the forts airstrip. In a relentless strafing attack, a zero dipped low and hitting its prop on the concrete runway, was unable to regain altitude as it zoomed through between barracks and ordinance buildings and crashed into the machine shop killing instantly four personnel. Across the channel from the Pyro, at the Dry Dock Navy Yard, the Battleship USS Pennsylvania and destroyer Cassin and Downes, came under serious strafing and bombing attacks when the destroyer USS Shaw's powder magazines just exploded in a massive fireball that engulfed the sky! In Battleship Row, the USS Nevada 

managed to pull out from behind the burning Arizona and was on the move down the channel after sustaining a torpedo and bomb hits, fighter and bomber planes swarmed above her when one of the bomber planes just exploded! Nevada's guns had smoked a few of the planes before the torpedoed and bombed-out battleship beached across the loch from the Pyro, smoke, and fire pouring from the ship.

After two hours and two separate attacks by 353 enemy planes and 5 midget subs, many of the fleet's ships at anchor were sunk in the shallow harbor and burning. The battleship Tennessee survived the attack but was boxed in against Ford Island by the sunken battleships around her and unable to move. Her propellers churning away from the ship the oil fires still pouring from the bow of Arizona.


And as the black smoke billowed over Pearl Harbor and the second attack wave retreated for their carriers, over 3,500 people were counted dead or wounded, being shot or blown up, many drowned or were cremated within the intense oil fires around the harbor. In the days following the attack, the sound of tapping from men trapped within the dark and sunken ship hulls echoed methodically through the harbor as their ship above them burned...and then smoldered...until there was no oxygen left to breath did the tapping stop.


And through the smoke-filled sky burned the rising sun over Pearl Harbor and retreated skyward hundreds of steel horses and his name that road upon them was death.

USS PYRO AE-1   (ammunition ship)

Johnny Sinatra transferred aboard the USS Pyro ammunition ship

USS PYRO AE-1  Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii - 1941

Nicholas Vytlacil, Captain

Today the survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor are few. With the passing of my father, I was fortunate enough to attend many of the Pearl Harbor Survivor Association meetings. Survivors from many of the ships in Battleship Row, the outlying airbases and Army barracks, and from many other stations at Pearl Harbor. From all branches of the service. Those that fought in the battles at Midway Island, Tarawa, Guadalcanal, New Guinea, to Okinawa. Those that fought in the skies over Europe. Those that survived the Kamikaze attacks in the Pacific and others that watched the surrender of the Japanese Empire from Tokyo Harbor were members here. During the last years of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, I was handed the keys for the secretary duties for the Colorado Pearl Harbor Survivors and the 4 Colorado chapters. It was an honor to have been elected by the Survivors and I am most grateful for the years that I was able to spend with many of them from the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. The National Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Inc. was founded in 1958 and closed its doors on December 31, 2011. 

                                                                                                                                       - Jon Sinatra

                                                                                                          Sons & Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors, Inc. 

Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Inc. National Convention Banquet, Hotel Commodore, New York City, Dec. 7, 1970 


National Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Conventions

PHS, Colorado 

PHS, California - John Finn, Medal of Honor, 

Pearl Harbor, December, 7. 

                                                                                 Vargas

PHS, Washington State - New York - Kansas


PHS, California - Michigan - New York

PHS, Texas - Florida - Nebraska

Survivor, USS Indianapolis

PHS, Pennsylvania

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