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Lest we forget

Pearl Harbor survivors share memories to preserve the ‘day that will live in infamy’


As a youngster, Nick Johnston of St. Cloud was present at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese planes bombed military targets there.

Bruce Atwater arrived at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 4 as a member of the US Coast Guard. The attack came just three days after he arrived. Contributed photo.

Johnston had been born at Triplet General Hospital in Honolulu, where his father was assigned to Hickam Army Airfield. After the bombing, the three-month-old boy, his six-year-old sister, and his mother hid in the hills above the harbor, expecting a land attack to follow. He grew up hearing the story of how his father had come home from the Army base after the attack, had given a non-military, 22-caliber semi-automatic pistol and shells to his wife and had told her to take their children into the hills, to “The Punchbowl,” where they would have a clear view of the city of Honolulu and of the harbor. The instructions Nick’s father gave to his wife were to shoot attackers, but to save enough bullets for herself and the children. Fortunately, no Japanese troops invaded.

Johnston recently formed the North Star Chapter of the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors, a non-profit organization that meets several times a year to share their families’ Pearl Harbor bombing history. The organization has had two meetings, both in St. Cloud—the first when officers were elected, and the second to plan future projects.

Several members have shared the stories their family members told them. Garden City resident Julie Paap, whose father, Burnell Harris Reed, was on the USS Argonne, said, “My father was dockside that morning with other men, and he said one of the torpedo bombers was so close they could see the pilot’s face behind the goggles. The men jumped into a boat to get back to their ship, where my father assumed his general quarters and was credited with shooting down one plane.”

This writer’s father, Carl Burhoop, was on the battleship USS Pennsylvania in dry dock. As a member of the ship’s band, he had gathered on deck with the other musicians to play the national anthem for the raising of the flag. Years later, he described the bombing thus: “At first we thought they were our planes; they circled around and came in from the east, from the rising sun, so we couldn’t see them well.”

After the bombing ceased, Burhoop helped move bodies from the deck of the ship, picking up a body by the arm and having the arm come away in his hands, leaving the body on the deck.

Like Johnston, Forest Lake resident Kathleen Koch was born in Hawaii and spent the first few years of her childhood there. She said, “My father was at Wheeler Field, in the Army Air Corp, which preceded the Air Force, and my mother was a sixth-grade teacher at the military school on the Army base. The three of us were having breakfast when we heard planes. We were just three blocks from the hangar, so when we went outside, my mother could see the pilots’ faces. They left the civilians alone—the target was the airfield, the planes in the hangars, and the ships in Pearl Harbor.

“At age three-and-a-half, I remember being outside, my dad holding me,” Koch said. “He left immediately to go to the hangar. The Red Cross came in a vehicle, got women and children, and took us to the mountains. The Red Cross handled it beautifully, and we were well taken care of. I was never afraid, but my mother was terrified. The big fear among adults was that we would be invaded and captured.”

Koch and her mother were among the people evacuated from Hawaii to San Francisco on the convoy ship USS Bliss, as were Johnston, his sister, and his mother.

Paulette Peterson, Plymouth, said her father, Paul F. Hansen, wrote about serving on the USS Blue during the attack. The 1,500-ton destroyer was moored alone off Ford Island. Hansen responded to a call to General Quarters; his station was a five-foot gun magazine, which was locked. He left the station to find someone with a key and, he wrote, “The true meaning of the moment didn’t seem to sink in. I gave a Japanese pilot a wave because he was so low, but the thought of war didn’t register for the moment. The USS Blue is credited with four planes shot dow and one submarine sunk as we left the harbor.”

A group of Pearl Harbor survivors, including Richard Garty, pictured far right in green shirt. Contributed photos.

Richard H. Garty joined the Marines at age 17 and was on a ship to Hawaii by the time he turned 18 on Nov. 9, 1941, according to his daughter, Christine Garty of Minneapolis. At the time of the bombing, he was at Camp Kaplin on a hill above the harbor. The morning of Dec. 7th, he was sitting on the steps of the military kitchen, on KP duty, peeling potatoes. He saw the bombing begin in the harbor and ran back to the barracks to get his rifle. As the planes came up over the hill from the harbor after dropping bombs, he could see the pilots. He shot all five of the bullets he had, but was not sure if he hit anyone. After the attack he was assigned the task of collecting body parts and transporting them to The Punchbowl, where a crew tried to identify bodies.

Bruce Atwater, who served in the U.S. Coast Guard, had been called up for duty on Oct. 21, 1941, arriving in Pearl Harbor on the morning of Dec. 4th. He wrote, “On Dec. 7th, the men were routed out at 6 a.m. for cleaning detail, after the previous evening seeing Honolulu until 2 a.m. We began work cleaning the recreation center at 7:30. I was just getting engaged in sweeping the floor of the patio when I looked up and saw a plane with a huge rising sun painted on the side and yellow spurts of fire coming from its wings. I ran out to the front of the building facing the harbor, Battleship Row in plain view, and watched the disaster unfold.

“All hell was breaking loose down there,” he wrote. “The USS Oklahoma was capsizing, the USS Maryland was sitting at the bottom, and at some point, the USS Arizona blew up.

Smoke and flames were coming from the direction of Hickam Field, small craft were running all over the harbor, pulling sailors from the oily and burning waters. I looked up and saw bombs falling from bombers. At 9 a.m., it seemed safe enough to make it back to the receiving station. I was immediately drafted to go to sick bay to help with the wounded. About 9:30, the receiving station was strafed. At 10 o’clock, the ‘all clear’ was sounded, but there was no end to the wounded coming into the sick bay.”

The next day was spent cleaning rifles and preparing for the land invasion everyone thought was coming. Atwater wrote that orders were given forbidding drinking water as it was probably poisoned because Japanese saboteurs had been caught near the reservoir, so “we drank a lot of free pop for a while,” he said.

Surviving soldiers at Pearl Harbor came together for the 60th anniversary in Hawaii at the Punch Bowl. Pictured left (in green) is Richard Garty, who served in the Marines at Pearl Harbor the day of the attack. Contributed photos

There was no land invasion of Hawaii, but Dec. 7, 1941, continues to be what then-President Franklin Roosevelt described as “a day that will live in infamy.” For the people who experienced the bombing or for their family members, there remains an opportunity to share and discuss the memories.

Current plans include an online presentation on Dec. 7. To view it, contact Randall Dietrich at the Museum at Camp Ripley, 320-616-6050.

For more information about the Sons & Daughters of Pearl Harbor survivors, contact Nick Johnston at or by mail at 1021-6th Ave. No., St. Cloud, MN 56303.


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