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Friday, December 7, 2012

Veteran Recalls Pearl Harbor Attack

In this photo provided by the U.S. Navy, a Navy launch pulls up to the blazing USS West Virginia to rescue a sailor, Dec. 7, 1941, during the attack on Pearl Harbor (U.S. Navy/AP)

It’s estimated that around 1,000 veterans of World War II die every day. Some of those passing were on the Hawaiian island Oahu 71 years ago today, Dec. 7, 1941.

It was around 8 a.m. that Sunday morning when Japanese planes screamed out of the sky, hitting the U.S. airfields and the battleships docked in the harbor.

Navy veteran Howard Snell was on Oahu the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. (Kingman Daily Miner)

Howard Snell, who was born in Minnesota, was an 18-year-old Navy chief petty officer. He was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, which was out at sea that morning. Snell was left on Oahu, where he was attending the cook’s and baker’s school at the submarine base, when the bombs started to fall.

“It was mayhem,” Snell told Here & Now. “All I saw was smoke, oil slicks and explosions, and as a young man I couldn’t comprehend that.”

Snell, who now lives in Kingman, Ariz., survived the attack and went on to serve on the USS Enterprise during the Battle of Midway in June 1942. He was also on the USS Morrison when that U.S. destroyer was sunk by Japanese kamikazes on May 4, 1945.

Snell is one of the shrinking number of American vets who survived Pearl Harbor. That’s why he’s active in the organization, the Sons And Daughter of Pearl Harbor Survivors, which is holding its convention in San Diego right now.

“This is the first convention. Their idea is that we’re going to carry on and now it’s the grandsons and granddaughters that are carrying on,” Snell said.

There were 15 Congressional Medal of Honors awarded for bravery during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. One of them went, posthumously, to man from Charlotte, Mich., named Francis Charles Flaherty.

Ensign Flaherty was on the USS Oklahoma, which started to capsize when it was hit by three torpedoes. As more torpedoes hit, he stayed in one of the Oklahoma’s turrets, providing light so the other members of the turret crew could escape. He went down with his ship.

The last thing Snell said to us was “go Navy.” The Midshipmen play Army in the annual football rivalry game between the two service academies Saturday in Philadelphia.

Guest:

  • Howard Snell, Navy veteran.

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  • Alex Ashlock, Here and Now

    Howard talked about baking “field bread” for the troops after the Pearl Harbor attack. Here’s the recipe. http://www.seabeecook.com/cookery/recipes/field_bread_straight.htm

  • ben

    Thanks for the story. Although I was born in 1943 and have no war memory, as more time passes I feel more strongly Pearl Harbor should be a major national holiday; my main reason being I feel Pearl Harbor was the triggering event putting our country on the trajectory to where we are now — had Pearl Harbor NOT taken place, how different would we now be? (of course there would be no commercial interest since sandwiched between T-day and Christmas there would be virtually no retail gain; and similarly the distractions of this time of year already lessen our awareness.
        On a personal vein, while I have no war memories, my mother did lose a brother, and I feel I remember him visiting in uniform. Almost certainly he would have been on leave prior to shipping to Europe. Being born in ’43 I should have still been in high chair, but even this makes sense as my visualization is actually looking down at him: since he was sitting in a kitchen chair, were I in a high chair this is likely correct.

    • Alex Ashlock, Here and Now

      Thanks for sharing the memories. I was born in 1955, after my dad spent sveral years serving in World War II and Korea. I never got him to talk about it. Regret that.  

  • Bridget Poizner

    I conduct video interviews for families and
    was in my car when I heard your interview with Mr. Snell. I was quite
    excited to hear that he was in San Diego where I live and that there
    were several other Pearl Harbor veterans also in town attending a
    conference. I was able to get in touch with the organizers of the event
    and found myself 6 hours later having the opportunity to interview on
    camera him and 5 other Pearl Harbor survivors. Copies of these
    interviews will be given to each of them as well as submitted to the
    Veterans History Project. Thank you for starting that sequence of
    events!–Bridget Poizner

    • Alex Ashlock, Here and Now

      That’s awesome Bridget! I hope I get a chance to hear those tapes.

  • Sinclair2

    There is no such thing as an 18 year-old chief petty officer in the Navy. 

    Also, it’s Medals of Honor, not Medal of Honors.   Good article!

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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