A day not to be forgotten

Now in their eighties, more than 15 Pearl Harbor survivors came together on Wednesday to remember the day they will never forget.

The Jack Murdock Auditorium at Naval Undersea Museum, Keyport was filled with those wishing to pay tribute to the men who sacrificed their lives on that fateful day, Dec. 7, 1941.

Each survivor was afforded the opportunity to share his experience during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy and Air Force. And while it was an opportunity that many took advantage of, a somber feeling lingered in the auditorium as the stories of valor and sacrifice were told.

Douglas Smith was aboard the USS Downes, a destroyer in dry dock, when the attack occurred. He was on the quarter deck, watching planes dive on Ford Island. Wondering why the Navy was practicing on a Sunday, he soon realized it was not the Navy, but enemy fire.

“We didn’t have any firing pins in our 5-inch guns,” he said. “Just before we took a hit on the bridge we abandoned ship.”

He recalls running as fast as he could. At the time, he said, he was 19 years old, weighed about 150 pounds and was in pretty good shape. He remembers looking over to one of his shipmates running next to him who weighed about 300 pounds and quickly passed him.

“I was running and he passed me up ... I’ll never forget that,” he said with a chuckle.

But in a more solemn tone, he added that it was day he’ll never forget.

“Being 19 years old, it was something I’ll never forget. Same with these men in (Iraq) and Afghanistan. They’ll have memories they’ll never forget.”

Jorgen Tweiten was aboard the repair ship USS Rigel when the attacks occurred and also has images of that fateful day burned into his memory.

“I can’t describe the feeling I had to see these ships come down,” he said. “I kept running back and forth and I could see the bombs coming right towards us ... They put 66 holes in the ship.”

Like many sailors that day, George Lundquist, who was stationed aboard the USS Phoenix was stunned as the destruction amassed around him.

“I had a bird’s eye view because I had no place to go, I was already at my battle station,” he said.

Watching a plane come down, he recalls not being able to move, but just standing there as it came closer.

“It just came down between the ships,” he said.

As part of Wednesday’s ceremony, retired Navy Capt. Michael Mathews presented slides of pictures of the destruction.

“We simply weren’t ready to respond to an attack that morning,” he said. “The reality of the attack soon became clear.”

Mathews spoke of the USS Arizona and the memorial that now sits above the sunken battleship and the men entombed below.

“It’s a very moving memorial,” he said.

He described the meaning of its shape including the sagging middle which represents initial defeat and the rising sides which stand for victory in World War II. He also spoke of the sides of the memorial which represent “a continuous 21-gun salute to the men entombed below.”

He added that because the Navy still considers the Arizona to be in commission, no other ship will ever bear that name again.

As he spoke of the defeat that day, he added that it was not the end for the Pacific Fleet.

“The biggest mistake the enemy made that day was they completely underestimated the American people,” Mathews said. “We are truly grateful for the sacrifice of this generation. Remember Pearl Harbor and keep American alert.”

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