Wednesday, April 11, 2007

My Grandfather's Account of the Attack on Pearl Harbor

The following post contains a letter written from my grandfather, Robert Whited, who is no longer living, to my father (Robert's son). It contains his account of the events of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Any text within [brackets] indicates a note I've added to help the letter make sense to a broader audience.

Aug – 1 Sept. 91

Dear Brian,

Thank you for the nice birthday card. Couldn’t find anything that was worth a damn anywhere here – this really is a hick town [Bull Head City, Arizona] for all the talk of progress so I was going to write you one anyway – now there’s another reason – PHSA [Pearl Harbor Survivors Association]. Well, where to start. I was aboard the ANTARES (AKS-3). She was an old 1918 hog islander, originally the S.S. NEDMAC. She displaced 5000 tons, 400’ x 54’ with a mean draft of 11’. Really not much of a ship but not many of our train ships were. Our flank speed was 11.5 knots. We were a general store issue ship home ported in San Pedro. The Antares was a target towing ship just [a] few years before while on the east coast, but [the] designation changed to AKS about 1938 when she joined the Pacific fleet. In 1940 & 41 we carried a lot of misc cargo to such out of the way places like Midway and Palmyra Island. In between times we moored in Pearl and issued small stores – rags, diesel spare parts and toilet paper. Sometimes we would take Commander Base Force [the commander of the base] aboard. The early part of 41 we took him and his family to Hilo, Hawaii for 4 days.

We had about 145 men aboard and the ship was really strict and squared away – inspection every Sat until noon with rope yarn Sundays [a time usually set aside for easy chores] and Wednesdays starting 1200 (not 1159 either).

This is a little background on the ship and conditions. Well, about mid October 41 we were assigned to tow 4 barges loaded with army supplies and all 4 holds loaded as well to go to Canton Island. – The army was to set up an air base. We carried the civilian contractor personnel aboard.

Well, we made it, but with 3 barges, lost 1 due to heavy weather.

Canton Island – a T shaped building owned by Pan Am Clipper. The top of the tee was the hotel section – the vertical line was their store room. The parallelogram in the center was the dragged area for the clipper landing. The x was an English gov’t rep [?home?]. The □ was a coral black house set up by Astrology people to observe an eclipse sometime in late 30’s. And the . on the tip was 125’ metal tower for communications. The Antares laid off shore going back and forth off loading supplies to the other side. Well after a week of this, really bad weather blew up and at the same time the Pan Am warehouse caught fire. We needed that warehouse to keep the army’s frozen meat in. We sent our fire and rescue team ashore with our handy billy pump [portable gas powered water pump]. I was the SM [signal man] on the team. The Antares had to lay off, well off out of sight. The hotel wouldn’t put us up despite our fighting their fire (they had no pressure in their water line). So after 14 hours, the fire was put out so we all walked down the strand to the coral house, it did give us some shelter until the storm blew over. We collected rain water which was all we needed. After 4 days our O in C [officer in charge] of the party was a LtJG [Lieutenant Junior Grade / officer 2] – USNR [United States Naval Reserve] – quite a good chap with a lot of smarts. Well, he told me to climb the tower to see if the Antares was in sight. I did and told him the Antares was not in sight but a 3 stack Cruiser was. Well he turned white as a sheet – the point ? someone knew something, but I wasn’t one of them.

About a week later a destroyer came in to escort us back to Pearl (another strange event). We completed off loading and were directed to Palmyra Island to pick up a barge and tow it to Pearl.

Late Saturday nite we came across a Cruiser div [division] patrolling. Guess this was about 50-60 n.m.[nautical miles] south. Our DD [destroyer] escort left us and joined up with them.

I had the 4-8 watch besides that [I would have been outside because of] my anchor detail anyway. Well we had to wait until the tug KEOSANQUA came out and relieved us of the tow. We were all looking forward to a bit of liberty. The sea detail was set. About 0615 Vargas – Cox – BMOW [boatswain mate of the watch] alerted the bridge to an object in the water half way between us and the tow – Cdr. Grannes (C.O.) [Commanding Officer] shouted “Submarine” – about that time Murphy – SM1 [signal man 1st class] tried to notify the WARD, a DD on anti sub patrol but they had already seen it and at 0637 opened fire – dead on first round. We couldn’t do as good even if we had weapons. It truly was the best firing that I had ever seen. She straddled it the first round. It didn’t look anything like an SS [submarine]. It was more like an elongated barrel. Anyway, the time I noted in the QM notebook was 0637. I don’t know what time the Ward put down but I’m sure with her being credited with firing the first shot would be the accepted official time which is OK with me. Anyway we dawdled off the entrance still between 2-4 miles out. 0755 came and we could clearly see what was going on at Hickam A/F [airfield] and the smoke at Ford Island. We in turn were heavily straffed, the bridge, chart house, and radio shack were all wood. The Bridge was abandoned for the few moments of each straffing run but at our speed it wouldn’t make any difference. Our main battery was a 30 cal. rail mounted machine gun which was in the armory out of commission.

I remember jumping from the bridge to the 02 level, thru the sky light over the wardroom table. Breakfast dishes were still on the table down the passageway to the well deck. I stayed there thru 3 separate strafing runs. There was a rifle cabinet with 6-30 [double aught] rifles enclosed in glass with a lock on it. I was going to break the glass but there was no ammo in it. This was the peace time navy. Anyway, after the strafing we re-manned the bridge and made our way into Honolulu HR [harbor] mooring to the dynamite wharf – though we didn’t know it at the time. Wasn’t very glamorous was it and I doubt if anyone in the whole area was any more scared than we were. This was the day I first smoked a cigarette and never quit. It wasn’t during the day that the shakes started, it was at nite – but all day I expected we would at least be called to go and assist but leadership was shattered and I did think about that long and hard. To this day, Brian, I get flash backs about what happened.

It was two days later when we went into Pearl. All I can say it was a good thing the carriers were not there. Also, the fleet used to anchor off Lahina on the Island of Maui, had they been there and the Japanese attacked them there then we would have had nothing left to salvage – that’s a deep water anchorage.

People ask me what we did at Pearl and I tell them we wiped the ass of the fleet until we ran out of toilet paper. I say this jokingly of course. I was transferred to a light cruiser shortly afterward – the U.S.S. Columbia (CL56).

I met a man quite by accident here in BHC [Bull Head City] who joined the Antares in June of 42 and stayed with her till the end of the war. He told me two 5” 38 guns were added, one forward and one aft. Also he knew a lot of the guys I knew and it was good. Haven’t seen him in awhile.

Well, my dear Son, I hope you can read this and understand what I wrote – an author I’m not. Guess I could have said, “I was off the entrance with a barge in tow waiting for a tug.” Hardly anything worth getting a medal for, but I’ll apply for it one of these days. Oh, that 3 stack cruiser at Canton Island, it turned out to be an Australian, the Japanese weren’t the only ones who had them. Now we know why LtJG Oates turned white.

Once again, have a most happy birthday.


That ends the letter. But, if you are interested in the relevant official naval ship reports of the events of Dec 7 you can find them below.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Spring Break Visit Home

I traveled out of Orlando for a few days last week during Spring Break. There were two reasons for doing so.
  1. To play Ultimate Frisbee with old JMU alumni at a reunion tourney, Fools Fest.
  2. Fools Fest was in Fredericksburg, so I got to see my family.
The tournament was okay. It was great to see a lot of my old Hellfish. We didn't play that hot though. 1-6 on the weekend. And some of the teams we played were not fun at all. Players making bad calls and not honoring Spirit of the Game. I could go on, but will stop.

I also got to see my family and had a great time with them. My sister picked me up from Dulles Int'l Airport in DC. While waiting for my dad to pick me up, I hopped on the Metro to do a little sightseeing. I went to Arlington Cemetery and saw the Changing of the Guard and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I saw several school groups and was thankful that they took time to watch the ceremony. Maybe most of the students didn't care, but in a society that I think is increasingly becoming uncaring, this ceremony, at least for a moment, pulled them the other way towards caring about people that fought for the dignity of human life.

The other reason for going to Arlington Cemetery was to see my Grandmother's grave. I never knew her, but have only heard great things about her. This excursion was a part of a new hobby to learn more about my family history. Hopefully, I will write more about that later. One quick teaser I obtained over this trip. My grandfather wrote a letter to my father before his death detailing his experience of being at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Also, while sightseeing, I went to the highpoint of DC, Fort Reno. This is not one of the official 50 states, but since I was in town, I thought the visit would be interesting. Unfortunately, it was not that glamorous. If you want to read more, goto my highpointing page, click here.